Transit Briefs: SEPTA, East-West Rail, CTA

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
SEPTA will close ticket sales windows at 14 Regional Rail stations on Feb. 3.

SEPTA will close ticket sales windows at 14 Regional Rail stations on Feb. 3.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is shuttering ticket windows at 14 Regional Rail stations. Also, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) officially recommends a Palmer stop for the East-West passenger rail project; and Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) ramps up recruitment.


SEPTA will close ticket sales windows at 14 Regional Rail stations on Feb. 3, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“These sales offices are closing due to decreasing demand for in-person sales,” SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch told the newspaper. The offices each process “fewer than 20 transactions per week, he said.” Contractor Edens Corp. has offered reassignment to the 15 ticket agents who will lose their jobs, the paper reported.

SEPTA said that Regional Rail riders “are increasingly using Key cards, which can hold cash value for pay-as-you-go travel or weekly, or monthly passes, to ride the trains,” according to the Inquirer. “In addition, they have the option of buying Quick Trip tickets from conductors on board with cash, credit, and debit cards, as well as Apple Pay and Google Pay.”

The stations that will no longer offer ticket windows are: St. Martins, Oreland, Clifton, North Hills, Roslyn, Chelten, Chestnut Hill East, Mount Airy, Cheltenham, East Falls, Carpenter, Melrose Park, Wallingford, and Morton. The ticket office at Conshohocken closed Nov. 23.

In-person ticket sales will continue at 56 “outlying” commuter stations, according to the newspaper, which noted that Regional Rail ridership is down due to the pandemic, “in part because more people are working at home or hybrid rather than full-time in office buildings.”

SEPTA Regional Rail service, the paper said, “carried 58% of the weekday passengers it did in 2019 as of Nov. 30, the latest SEPTA count available. That marks a high for Regional Rail since the pandemic; by contrast, other transit, including buses, subways, and trolleys, carried 68% of the customers it had before as of Nov. 30.”

In related news, Chicago’s Metra closed its remaining ticket windows at outlying stations on the BNSF Line on Jan. 8 and will close those on all other lines, including at downtown stations, on Feb. 1. Vending machines have been installed “at the busiest stations,” according to the commuter railroad, and tickets can also be purchased through the Ventra app and conductors on trains. Metra said “some of the agents” will become customer service representatives.

East-West Rail

(MassDOT Image)

The MassDOT has officially recommended Palmer as a stop on the planned East-West Rail project, now called Compass Rail, which will connect Boston and western Massachusetts, according to WWLP 22, part of the Nexstar Media Group. The recommendation was made during a Jan. 17 Board of Directors meeting. Studies were conducted last year on the future stop, which the media outlet said will be located at the Steaming Tender restaurant, selected due to its “proximity to the central corridor line.”

According to WWLP 22, the restaurant will construct 2,100-plus parking spots, a ticket booth, and a “high and low platform with stairways”; it would also provide pedestrian access from Main and Bridge streets.

The news outlet reported that “[m]ore than $100 million in federal money was previously announced to fix the tracks between Palmer and Worcester,” and MassDOT “will be allocating $4 million for the planning and design of Compass Rail, which will include public outreach, site selection, and environmental studies.”

“The promise of this railway network is immense, with the potential to catalyze economic growth, promote regional development, and bolster social cohesion,” said State Senator Jake Oliveira, according to WWLP 22. “I’m thrilled to see MassDOT take the next step in this generational project, and I’m glad they realized what we’ve known for some time. Palmer is the ideal location as a gateway to western Mass.”

The Massachusetts Legislature’s rail panel in November released a report finding that the East-West Rail project along the Boston-Worcester-Springfield-Pittsfield corridor should be run by the MassDOT rather than a regional rail authority. The report also included a new project price tag: $6 billion; the cost was originally estimated at $3 billion. Amtrak would operate the trains, sell the tickets and market the service; the tracks are owned by CSX.


(CTA Photograph Courtesy of FTA)

CTA is seeking to double the number of Rail Flagger hires in 2024, it reported Jan. 18. This position is a steppingstone to becoming a CTA Rapid Transit/Train Operator.

The starting hourly rate for a Rail Flagger is $21.84. The position is first made available to existing CTA personnel, per the requirements of the collective bargaining agreement with the union representing rail operations personnel. CTA then seeks external candidates. The transit agency only fills available Rail Operator positions from its pool of existing Rail Flaggers, it said, noting that the “training and experience in railroad operations one attains by serving as a Rail Flagger is an important prerequisite.”

Applications will be open to the public Jan. 26. Also on that day, CTA will hold its first job fair of 2024 at Malcolm X College in Chicago. The transit agency will focus on hiring applicants interested in a career in rail operations; it will seek Rail Flagger candidates in particular.

“Job fairs are critical to our ongoing efforts to further improve the delivery and overall reliability of our transit services,” CTA President Dorval R. Carter Jr. said. “We continue to make fantastic progress in strengthening our workforce, having already surpassed our hiring goals for bus operators. And we anticipate doubling the number of rail operators in the training pipeline in 2024, which will be key to us meeting our service goals.”

The transit agency said it made “notable progress” toward hiring more than 2,200 employees in 2023, “exceeding its goals.”

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