Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Philadelphia transit tour: 14 rail lines in 10 hours

Written by 

As I write this, it's been just a week since I returned from the recent annual Rail Transit Conference sponsored the first week of June by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) in Philadelphia. It was an interesting event, with a lot I could report about, including my own presentation at the "Current Technology and Trends" session. But by far my most memorable experience was completing (or should I say "surviving"?) another of Tom Hickey's legendary multimode, multi-system rail-hopping tours — this one sampling 14 different transit modes or lines in the Philadelphia region, operated by three different agencies, in the course of 10 hours.

Hickey, an engineering consultant for CH2M Hill, and now chairman of APTA's Streetcar & Heritage Trolley Subcommittee, is famous (notorious?) for organizing amazingly comprehensive and well-coordinated invitation-only tours of major regional multi-modal transit systems. As you might imagine, it involves interesting rides of transit with lots of high-powered ambulation between some very closely scheduled connections.

If you want to burn off some calories, short of doing an Iron Man triathlon or something, a Tom Hickey tour will work wonders (lots of walking and stair-climbing to make connections). With dark humor, insiders jocularly refer to each of these events as "Hickey's death march." It's sort of like traveling Around the World in 80 Days in, well, a day.

So, on Saturday, June 1st, just after 8am, about 60 of us gathered at the conference hotel in downtown Philadelphia to embark on this adventure in serious weight loss, courtesy of Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), Port Authority Transit Corp. (PATCO), and New Jersey Transit (NJT). Including some hastily arranged ad-hoc modifications to the itinerary, here's a quick summary:

• From the Market East station downtown, the group clambered aboard a regional rail train to Norristown.

• At Norristown, we walked from the regional rail station over to the elevated Route 100 light metro station, where we boarded a special High Speed Line car to 69th St.

• At the venerable 69th St. multi-modal terminal, with about 5 minutes to spare, we then hustled through the terminal to board a special light rail interurban-style trolley (decked out in historic red Philadelphia & Western livery) to Sharon Hill.

• From there, SEPTA provided a special bus connection to Darby Transit Center.

• At Darby we were then guided aboard a chartered PCC car, one of a fleet renovated by Brookville Equipment Corp. (photo above), for a trip over segments of urban trolley routes 11 and 15 (and special connector trackage).

• Our group were then deposited at a Market-Frankford elevated station, from which we took rapid transit to the historic 30th St. intercity-regional-urban rail station.

• From 30th St., we took another regional rail train to Market East station and Reading Terminal Market (upstairs) for lunch.

• After lunch, back down to Market East, then aboard regional rail to the Fern Rock Transportation Center.

• Why Fern Rock? Well, that's a terminus of the Broad Street subway (must ride that, you know), which we stepped aboard to get to a downtown Philadelphia station of...

• PATCO's High-speed ("Lindenwold ") rapid rail line, which we rode (again, on a special train) across the Delaware River to the Walter Rand Transit Center in central Camden, New Jersey.

• At Walter Rand we were in time to catch a special NJT RiverLINE diesel mutliple-unit (DMU) train, which then whisked us northward to...

NJT RiverLINE PsaukenVOGEL• The new and nearly finished Pennsauken station (actually, two new stations, including the one for NJT's Atlantic City regional rail line, as seen in photo at left) and a tour of the construction; then, back aboard our RiverLINE train, back to Camden, in time (after getting stuck in a huge traffic jam) to catch...

• Our special PATCO train again out to the end of the line at Lindenwold station (and a tour of PATCO's maintenance facility there).

• Then it was back to Philadelphia via NJT's Atlantic City regional rail line, which carried the surviving remnants of our troupe to the 30th St. Station, where we then transferred to the last leg of our foray...

• SEPTA regional rail back to Market East.

• Whew.

It was a grueling, but exciting and fascinating excursion, as well as a testament to the crack scheduling of Tom Hickey. And you know what? If the opportunity arises in another metro area with another network of lines, I'd jump at the chance to do it again.

Lyndon Henry

Lyndon Henry is a writer, editor, investigative journalist, and transportation consultant currently based in Central Texas. He holds a Master of Science in Community & Regional Planning, with a focus in Transportation, from the University of Texas at Austin, 1981. From 1973 to 1989 he was executive director of the Texas Association for Public Transportation, and presented the original proposals and feasibility studies for light rail that led to the inclusion of rail transit in the Austin-area planning process.. From 1981 to 1985 he served as a transportation consultant to the Hajj Research Centre at King Abdul Aziz University, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He has also served as a transportation planning consultant on several other transit projects in the USA. In 1983-84 he was a member of the Austin-Travis County Transit Task Force which recommended a transit authority for the Austin area. That agency, eventually named Capital Metro, was created in 1985. From 1989 to 1993, Mr. Henry served as a board member and vice-chairman of Capital Metro. From 1990 to 1992 he was an Adjunct Faculty member at St. Edwards University, teaching a course in public policy. Since 2000 he has served as a technical consultant to the Light Rail Now Project, and from 2002 to late 2011 he served as a Data Analyst for Capital Metro in Austin. He is also a member of APTA’s Streetcar and Heritage Trolley Subcommittee and Light Rail Transit Technical Subcommittee.