SEPTA: Reinvesting and rebuilding

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
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With funding in place, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority is delivering on its promise to restore essential infrastructure.

As a result of the passage of Pennsylvania Act 89 (House Bill 1060) in November 2013—Pennsylvania’s most comprehensive piece of state transportation legislation in decades, providing capital funds to advance transportation improvements throughout the state—the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is now in the position to restore essential infrastructure that supports safe and efficient service to its more than 1.1 million daily riders.

The agency’s Rebuilding for the Future program (funded through Act 89, launched in October 2014 and initiated by SEPTA Deputy General Manager and former Chief Engineer Jeffrey Knueppel) design and construction is under way on projects in Philadelphia and suburbs Delaware, Montgomery, Bucks and Chester counties. In Fiscal Year 2015, SEPTA will invest more than $570 million in infrastructure and vehicle rehabilitation projects. Over the next five years, SEPTA says it anticipates dedicating approximately $3.4 billion to system restoration.

Substation Program

Rebuilding for the Future’s substation program will replace major power components of SEPTA’s regional rail and transit traction power substations such as transformers, transformer breakers, trolley breakers, feeder switches, substation switchgear and protective relaying. The program will focus on many substations originally built more than 80 years ago. These projects will take place over the program’s first five years, with budgets ranging from $3.4 million to $50 million.

Projects under this portion of the program include upgrading the Doylestown, Lenni, Woodbourne, Morton, Jenkinstown, Ambler, Lansdale, Bethayres, Chestnut Hill East, Hatboro, Neshaminy, Yardley, Clifton, and City Transit substations; the purchase of 16 railroad transformers; and upgrading Center City Commuter Connection indoor switching stations.

Power Infrastructure Program

SEPTA’s Power Program will complete seven catenary replacement projects, including 17 miles of 80-plus-year-old catenary on the Media/Elwyn Regional Rail Line. The $10.7 million project, which began in spring 2014 and is slated for completion in winter 2017, also includes construction of new catenary support poles.

Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation

SEPTA’s Bridge Program involves replacement of Regional Rail and Norristown High Speed Line steel bridges and viaducts and rehabilitation of nine stone arch Regional Rail bridges.

Ranging in size from 339 to 3,165 feet, the majority of SEPTA’s bridges were constructed in the early 1900s, with the oldest—the Crum Creek Viaduct—built in 1895. Individual projects will focus on improvements to bridge timbers, paint, catenary, signals, superstructure steel, and substructural steel repairs, with budgets ranging from $7.6 million to $77.5 million.

Projects include the $1.5 million complete superstructure replacement and substructure repairs to Bridge 6.48 over Whiskey Run, located near Papermill Station on the Route 101 line. Work began this past spring and is expected to be completed this summer.

SEPTA, in partnership with the City of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), is also managing design and construction of the replacement for the Woodland Avenue Bridge over the Media/Elwyn Regional Rail Line in southwest Philadelphia. The bridge also carries SEPTA Routes 11 and 36 light rail lines. The single-span bridge will be replaced beginning in the spring of 2017 and will be completed by early 2018. The project is valued at $5.07 million.

Station Improvements This program focuses on renewal and reconstruction at customer facilities as well as travel amenity enhancements at regional rail and transit stations, and bus and trolley loops.

Station and loop improvement work will include building renovations, constructing new high-level platforms, pedestrian tunnel and stairway repairs, new security and safety systems, escalators, customer waiting shelters, new boarding platforms, signage, lighting, painting, sidewalk repaving, landscaping, ADA improvements, and improving bus intermodal connections. Project budgets range from $5 million to $122 million.

Roof Replacement

The Roof Program involves replacement and upgrading at numerous facilities and will include new mechanical equipment, electrical connections, brick repairs, roof-mounted HVAC equipment, and replacement of old roofing systems. Project budgets range from $1.5 million to $15.8 million.

Maintenance and Transportation

SEPTA’s Maintenance and Transportation Facilities Program focuses primarily on the replacement and upgrade of equipment and systems that will enhance safety and operational efficiency, including upgrades to existing fire sprinkler systems, boiler replacement, addition of emergency generators, upgrades to vehicle washers, and surface paving. One project—the $2.7 million Frankford Transportation Building—is included as part of this effort. Construction began in spring 2015 with completion scheduled for summer 2016. Project budgets in this program range from $1 million to $7.5 million.


The Right-of-Way & Track Program will focus on stabilization of soil and rock slopes, storm water control, erosion control, soil compaction, earth-bridge construction, sink holes in the right-of-way and track areas for regional rail and transit as well as continuous welded rail, street track, and yard track work. Budgets will range from $3.9 million to $26 million.

Projects in this program include the $26 million Norristown High Speed Line tie replacement and continuous welded rail (CWR). Work on the project began in September 2014 and is scheduled to be completed by winter 2021.

Other projects include the $5.5 million Route 102 Sharon Hill Line Street Track project. Work includes renewal of embedded track on Woodlawn Avenue and Springfield Road, between North Street and West Madison Avenue in Delaware County. Work began this summer and is expected to be completed by spring 2016.

Communications and Signals

The Communication & Signals Program involves modernization and installation of emergency signals and systems, upgrades to computer aided radio dispatch systems and train control systems, as well as advancing upgrades to the systems used to enhance operational and customer communications including real-time arrival information and AVPA (audio-visual public address). Project budgets range from $3.4 million to $33 million.

New Fleet

In May 2015, the SEPTA Board of Directors approved spending up to $154 million for new ACS-64 electric locomotives to replace the agency’s existing AEM-7 and ALP-44 locomotives, all of which have exceeded their useful life. The locomotives will be manufactured by Siemens Industry, Inc. and will be virtually identical to the ACS-64 electrics that Siemens is currently delivering to Amtrak. The first units are due to be delivered in early 2018. In conjunction with the planned purchase of new multi-level passenger cars, the agency says it will be able to provide additional capacity to accommodate growing ridership. Thirteen locomotives will initially be purchased, with an option for five more.

Trolley Tunnel Blitzes

Beginning July 31, 2015, SEPTA forces worked around the clock during a 16-day Trolley Tunnel outage, performing maintenance and construction work. Crews replaced nearly 7,500 feet of track between 22nd and 30th street stations; installed new railings and stairs at eight stations including 13th and 22d; made general station improvements and repairs with a focus on 19th Street Station; replaced 2,880 feet of wire support assemblies; and performed graffiti removal, painting and general maintenance at every station along the Trolley Tunnel loop.

Part of SEPTA’s Rebuilding for the Future program, this is the second year the agency has taken a blitz approach to its Trolley Tunnel maintenance. In July 2014, SEPTA replaced 14,000 feet of rail, two switches, 24,000 feet of overhead contact wire and other track components. SEPTA says this blitz is a continuation of the worked performed in 2014.

Trolley Modernization Project

On June 15, 2015, SEPTA began a modernization project on its Route 101/102 (Media/Sharon Hill) trolley lines. Work includes grade crossing renewals, track replacement and surfacing and replacement of wood bridge ties/timbers and walkway; general bridge structure repairs and maintenance; replacement of overhead trolley wire; vegetation clearing and tree trimming; installation of new trolley wire support structures in select locations; repairing or replacement of retaining walls at Drexeline and Springfield Mall Stations; replacement of drainage pipe and repairing drainage trenching at Springfield Mall Station; and grade crossing warning device improvements at seven locations—MacDade Boulevard, Andrews Avenue, Bartram Avenue, Chestnut Street, Walnut Street, Broad Street and Spruce Street.

On Route 101, superstructure replacement and substructure repairs will be made to the Whiskey Run Bridge.

In Collingdale, Clifton Heights and Aldan, SEPTA will replace Route 102 rails and concrete roadway and repave the parking lanes on both sides of the street along Woodlawn Avenue and Springfield Road between North Street and West Madison Avenue. SEPTA will also install rubber rail boots around the new rails to lessen vibration and noise. The trolley track and roadway was last replaced in this area in 1983. The work will be completed in 10 phases over a 12-week period, with rolling street closures along the construction zones.

SEPTA will use the shutdown to begin the early action phase of installing a new Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) system that utilizes radio communications between vehicles and the signal system to automatically prevent collisions between trolleys by enforcing safe stopping distances. The system also prevents trolleys from exceeding civil speed limits. The CBTC system is scheduled to be completed by summer 2018 and will also include upgraded interlockings for improved reliability and operational flexibility.

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