SEPTA: KOP Rail Project on HoldWritten by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is sidelining the King of Prussia Rail Project, citing its “further review of rising costs, which have been exacerbated by inflation and high interest rates.” This follows the transit authority’s approval last month of a final-design contract.
KOP Rail would have extended the existing Norristown High Speed Line (NHSL) four miles into King of Prussia, providing a “one-seat” ride from any station along the NHSL, including 69th Street Transportation Center in Upper Darby and Norristown Transportation Center.
SEPTA on March 17 reported that with each year of delay, the cost of the project increases by some $100 million. From August 2020 to August 2022, the estimate rose from $2.08 billion to $2.6 billion. The price tag now stands at $3.02 billion.
KOP Rail has not been recommended for federal New Starts funding in Fiscal Year 2024, according to SEPTA. A major factor preventing its advancement is “the lack of flexibility in SEPTA’s capital budget,” the transit authority said. “In discussions this week [week of March 12], the Federal Transit Administration raised concerns about whether SEPTA could fund its share of the project, which would include any cost overruns. SEPTA’s capital budget is constrained compared to peer transit agencies that have more state and local funding available. SEPTA would not jeopardize other critical projects, such as the Market-Frankford Line fleet replacement, Trolley Modernization, or station accessibility improvements, to advance an expansion project.” (Last month, SEPTA awarded a contract to Alstom Transportation, Inc., for 130 new Citadis™ light rail vehicles, as part of the Trolley Modernization program.)
According to the transit authority, all KOP Rail project activities have stopped, and the final design contract was not executed.
How will the project’s allocated funding be used now? While SEPTA said it will “bolster essential infrastructure work,” details will be provided when the transit authority’s proposed capital budget and long-term program is released in April.
“SEPTA’s capital budget has been underfunded for decades,” SEPTA General Manager and CEO Leslie S. Richards said. “This has left the authority with significantly fewer resources than peer agencies to pursue system expansion while also addressing critical infrastructure needs. With the funding we have currently, SEPTA must prioritize essential infrastructure work and safety and security improvements to maximize the reliability and effectiveness of our aging system.
“We are disappointed. King of Prussia Rail would have delivered real benefits to our city and region by providing reliable public transportation connecting our three largest employment hubs in Center City, University City, and King of Prussia. It would have eased congestion on area roadways and reduced air pollution. We greatly appreciate all the hard work that our staff has put into this initiative, and we are grateful for the support of those who advocated for the project alongside us.”