• Newtown Branch - Leyland Railbus Test Photo

  • Discussion relating to Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (Philadelphia Metro Area). Official web site can be found here: www.septa.com. Also including discussion related to the PATCO Speedline rapid transit operated by Delaware River Port Authority. Official web site can be found here: http://www.ridepatco.org/.
Discussion relating to Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (Philadelphia Metro Area). Official web site can be found here: www.septa.com. Also including discussion related to the PATCO Speedline rapid transit operated by Delaware River Port Authority. Official web site can be found here: http://www.ridepatco.org/.

Moderator: AlexC

  by BPP1999
I don't disbelieve you, but why? Are our local leaders that unsophisticated and brainless? They don't see a benefit to this? Or are they simply pandering to the few wealthy doctors and lawyers in Abington that don't want the line restarted? If so, isn't that tragic?
  by Clearfield
Extending the line through Abington doesn't buy much. To gain full advantage, you need to extend back to Newtown. Newtown wants the line reactivacted I've heard. Bucks County leadership couldn't care less, AND Bucks would need to pony up additional operating subsidies. Good luck with that.
  by SCB2525
Perhaps SEPTA's complete disinterest and active dodging of the notion of expansion of regional rail that has more to do with it. When you don't even entertain the proposal for a project in any regard and your last study is 20 years old (even though that study itself overtly illustrates the need for reactivation, years before the corridor's true boom in population), it tends to spread apathy amongst local governments and populations. Removal from long-term capital budgets hurts even more. It's constantly said that 'there's no money' but very rarely do I hear of SEPTA having any expansion proposal (that isn't grossly gold-plated) to submit for federal money. NHSL to KOP may be an exception but we'll see how that pans out.

Frankly, I'm sick and tired of hearing about every other metro area across the country building this light rail network or this commuter extension, etc when SEPTAs last major expansion was the Airport branch in '85. Even if 5 major projects came to pass before Newtown like Quakertown, Boulevard BSL extension, Reading, etc. I wouldn't be as annoyed in general.
  by BPP1999
I can't disagree with any of this. And, I think NHSL to KOP at $400M sounds like another gold-plated waste but like you said we shall see.

I will say this, though. In fairness to SEPTA, they have been underfunded for years. Their rail infrastructure is old and certain sections are in dire need of TLC. Their press conference from last month sure indicated to me that a large amount of new capital funding will go to regional rail. So, after 4-5 years, when critical maintenance is complete, maybe they will then start considering expansion. After all, Pottstown, Wawa, and Upper Bucks County (Quakertown/Perkasie) are on their capital plan, and they seem interested Navy Yard as well. Really, in terms of Regional Rail, these projects represent a big piece of the missing link. Add Newtown and get Wawa to West Chrester and we're almost there.

This does not have to be so hard. In other regions of the country, it wouldn't be.
  by bikentransit
I'd be sympathetic to SEPTA if they didn't completely butcher the line (intentionally or a product of the times?) under the rapid transit fiasco or turn it into the wasteland that it is today. But it appears there is plenty of blame to go 'round. Bucks County had the opportunity in '83 to restart the line and they did nothing, and back then it would have been easy. For years, people have been begging to get the line turned back on, and still they did nothing. It appears the most effort they did was the bus study a few years ago. I'm somewhat surprised how much SEPTA praised the need to open the line in that 1991 study. It speaks volumes. I think there's some hidden code/lingo in their position today about it not being feasible. Someone is basically feeding them that line, and it probably comes from Bucks County who has no interest in funding it or doing anything with it. The county has fine rail service in Doylestown, Warminster, Langhorne and Bristol. This should go down in history as one of the worst abuses of a transportation authority's handling of infrasturcture they were tasked with preserving (and I don't mean as in a museum), and they let it completely go to pot.
At least with the other suspended lines, minus Ivy Bridge and Hellertown, the lines are intact and see rail traffic. Newtown is one corridor that should have been handled better, even had its freight service subsidized instead of kicked off by SEPTA when they killed the Conrail contract in '81. At least that way something would have kept the rails warm.

I wouldn't rule out that some fancy lawyers in Abington or astute entrepreneurs in Bryn Athyn also have a hand in this.
  by Tadman
I think one other thing worth discussing is the mindset of the times. In the 1980's, rail expansion was unheard of except for airports (and Philly, Chicago, and a few others did so). This was because gas was cheap and traffic was much easier.

In the 1990's, a few real expansions happened across the country, such as Chicago's NCS line and LA's Metrolink.

Today, transit is really important as gas prices are up and appear to be staying up. Traffic is also awful in many big cities.

So when we criticize localities for not being expansion-minded in 1981, it's non just Philly. I remember Chicago was entertaining cutting certain assets like the Blue Island branch or the Brown line much in the same way Newtown was dumped. Today you'd never hear of that.
  by Patrick Boylan
I hope I get forgiven for contributing to the off topic discussion, but I consider SEPTA's recent doomsday scenario threats "hear of that".
  by The EGE
The MBTA extended service from Reading to Haverhill in December 1979 (previously cut in 1976), South Acton to Gardner in January 1980 (cut in sections in 1960, 1965, and 1975), Lowell to Concord in January 1980 (cut 1967) and Attleboro to Providence in 1988 (cut 1981), Franklin to Forge Park in 1988 (1930s), plus the 1987 decision to keep the Fairmount Line (reopened in 1979 as a temporary bypass). They also opened useful infill stations at Shirley, West Natick, Chelsea, Yawkey, Mishawum, Ruggles, South Attleboro, and Dedham Corporate Center between 1981 and 1990.

While that's just one agency - which did have cuts during that time - I don't think it's fair to say that rail expansion was unheard of.
  by SCB2525
And then the 2000's expansions of the Old Colony Lines, abandoned in the 1950s!!!!
  by trhickey
trhickey wrote:After we were done with it, it rolled off to Cleveland...
Oops! What I meant to say is that we got it from Cleveland and it shuffled off to Buffalo when we were done with it.
  by trhickey
The City of Philadelphia initially electrified the Newtown Line as far as Fox Chase, the city limits, under the leadership of the late Edson Tennyson. Later, after Tennyson had moved onto PennDOT, he pushed SEPTA to electrify the line all the way to Newtown, either all the way from Fox Chase or just north of Ayers Junction on the West Trenton Line (although there were environmental issues with the latter connection due to the presence of the Snail Darter, an endangered species).

Philadelphia and Bucks County were always supportive of the project but Montgomery County--which lay between the two---was not due to the objections of Bryn Athyn Borough and its politically well-connected Pitcairn family who saw this as an opportunity to get the trains out of their backyard and convert the line to a nature trail.

Being a MontCo staffer at the time, I remember our Executive Director espousing a "3D approach"---delay, defer, defeat. It worked...
  by bikentransit
So Montgomery County and Byrn Athyn Borough (or its influential residents) essentially conspired to stonewall SEPTA from upgrading the line or reactivating diesel service thereby robbing residents to the north of commuter rail service.
  by trhickey
You're conflating a number of elements that transpired over a number of years. Conspiracy theories notwithstanding, here are the facts of the matter.

In the late 70s, PennDOT pushed for the extension of electrification of the Newtown Branch north of Ayres. Montgomery County raised concerns about the affect increased rail traffic would have on adjacent properties (including Bryn Athyn). DVRPC conducted an analysis that demonstrated the capital investment would yield very few new riders (most of the ridership gain came from existing rail passengers diverted from West Trenton, Warminster, and Doylestown Line stations), SEPTA noted the congestion problems with running more trains down the two-track trunk south of Jenkintown, and there were environmental issues with the reconfigured Ayres Junction (the habitat of the endangered snail darter).

All SEPTA diesel services were suspended in 1981 due to a confrontation with Conrail over work rules (including the fireman position found only on diesel trains). However, SEPTA restored RDC service to Newtown (and only Newtown) later that year as the Fox Chase-Newtown High Speed Line with tacit support of the counties involved. The RDCs were operated under Broad Street Subway work rules until 1983 when service was suspended due to low ridership and insufficient operable equipment.

In 1983, SEPTA took over commuter rail operations from Conrail and the true state of the rail system infrastructure soon became known. The attention of SEPTA and its funding partners turned from new extensions (such as Newtown) to the restoration of the existing system to the state-of-good-repair.

SEPTA tried to restore service to Newtown and Pottstown (again with tacit support from the counties) using modern railcars from overseas and a contract operator. In 1985 it conducted field tests using the BREL Railbus demonstrator mentioned in this post and also considered Italian and Hungarian self-propelled rolling stock. An RFP was issued in 1986 for a turnkey contract to operate both shuttles, restore the infrastructure, supply rolling stock, and finance the improvements (what nowadays we would call a "DBOM-F"). In March 1987, two bids were received but unfortunately there had been a change in SEPTA executive management and the initiative was dropped.

Time passed with SEPTA orchestrating grand schemes like Cross-County and Schuylkill Valley Metros but interest in Newtown waned. By 2006, Bucks County through its Bucks County Transportation Management Association proposed converting the right-of-way to bus rapid transit but that concept also failed. The conclusions of the DVRPC analysis from the 1970s (updated in 1995 and 2006) still held true: restoring transit (rubber-tired or steel-wheel) in the Newtown Line corridor brought about a poor return-on-investment in terms of new riders.

I think you'd be hard pressed to say that the current state of Newtown service wasn't for want of trying.
  by bikentransit
Those studies that claim riders would be stolen from other lines would have been a good thing considering the parking situation at all stations in the area. Moot point since the line is gone and land that could have built parking for newtown riders. It would however have been a better investment than the Key card system, which is a hopeless failure.