SEPTA: ‘Reimagining Regional Rail’ Post Pandemic

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is embarking on a yearlong, three-phase analysis and public feedback process for “Reimagining Regional Rail.”

It is a key initiative of SEPTA’s strategic plan for fiscal years 2021-26, which “envisions Regional Rail as part of a lifestyle network of frequent, all-day and all-week services that connects people to a range of destinations across the region. Reimagining Regional Rail will create a vision of what that looks like and will identify the infrastructure, equipment, operations and policies needed to get there.”

Pre-pandemic, Regional Rail (see map below) served 132,000 riders daily. “But initial research revealed that even pre-COVID, many riders who would benefit from Regional Rail choose other SEPTA services for a variety of reasons, including higher fares, infrequent service and accessibility,” SEPTA reported.

In Phase 1 this fall, SEPTA will work to “better understand what works well, and not so well,” with Regional Rail, and set goals. This includes gathering feedback from current, past and potential riders as well as operators, staff and other stakeholders. “These conversations will help our region identify a long-term vision, as well as shorter-term improvements to services, schedules and fare polices that make Regional Rail more convenient,” SEPTA reported. The agency has already launched a survey and will host a virtual meeting on Oct. 12.

SEPTA is looking to answer questions like:

  • How often should trains run?
  • What mix of express and local service should there be?
  • What should stations be like?
  • What should the trains be like?
  • How should Regional Rail connect to rapid transit, trolleys, buses and other rail service?
  • How should fares be integrated with other transit services?

As part of Phase 2 this winter and spring 2022, SEPTA will develop options and ask for feedback. Phase 3—running through summer and fall 2022—will focus on finalizing the Regional Rail vision and creating a plan to achieve it.

“Thanks to our region’s legacy of investments in rail infrastructure, including the Center City Commuter Tunnel which [in 1984] linked together two iconic railroads [the Pennsylvania and the Reading], Philadelphia has the best regional rail infrastructure in North America,” SEPTA Assistant General Manager of Planning Jody Holton said. “It is time we reimagine our system based on the region’s changing and diverse travel needs—not just 9-to-5 commutes to work.”

“With Reimagining Regional Rail, nothing is off limits,” SEPTA General Manager and CEO Leslie S. Richards said. “We are rethinking frequency, route lengths, fares, connections to buses and rail transit and more—all in the name of making Regional Rail more useful to more people.”

Leslie Richards, General Manager, SEPTA

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