Transitizing the commuter lines / PA Commuter Rail

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Transitizing the commuter lines / PA Commuter Rail

Postby swedishmeatball83 » Thu Jul 01, 2010 9:53 am

Hello All -
I have read several times that SEPTA adopted a transit-like mentality concerning their commuter lines, which seems very odd to me. I recently saw it written about here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SEPTA_Regional_Rail

Criticism
Transitize
Ever since SEPTA assumed full operations from Conrail in 1983, critics have regularly accused SEPTA management of having little understanding of traditional railroad operations or ridership. The fact that SEPTA has refused to operate diesel trains since 1981, expand services without electrification, and has truncated service on several lines since 1983, lends creedence to the idea that SEPTA management operates the commuter rail network half heartedly, and views its commuter rail operations in transit terms rather than than something uniquely different.[8]

On several occasions, SEPTA has tried to convert the Reading Company side of the system (R2 Warminster, R3 West Trenton, R5 Lansdale-Doylestown, R6 Norristown/Manayunk, R7 Chestnut Hill East, R8 Fox Chase/Newtown) from traditional railroad operations to transit-type operations. The concept was quietly discussed prior to the 1983 takeover of commuter operation, but dismissed as infeasible for the short term. If transitized, the regional rail system would operate outside of the U.S. railroad network, freeing it from most railroad-oriented federal regulations, including railroad work rules, federal safety equipment inspection requirements, and Railroad Retirement. As of 2010, this idea continues to surface and has not been ruled out by SEPTA.[9] Future expansion projects, such as the ill-fated Schuylkill Valley Metro, are designed with transit-type operations in mind and frequent headways.

PA Rail
Over the last 15 years, several proposals have been drafted by state legislators to create a state rail passenger service authority that would oversee all commuter rail operations throughout the commonwealth. The goal would be to relieve SEPTA of its management duties while the commonwealth concentrates on growing the currently constrained network. SEPTA's services would be utilized to operate the trains only.[10]


So here are my questions:
1) Is SEPTA still trying to push for the Reading side of the system to become a transit operation? Or have they pushed this to the backburner?
2) Is the Commomwealth still considering creating this "PA Rail" idea, and stripping SEPTA of managing the commuter lines?

Thanks to all.
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Re: Transitizing the commuter lines / PA Commuter Rail

Postby R3 Passenger » Thu Jul 01, 2010 10:26 am

I'm going to try to take a stab at this one.

SEPTA did attempt to transitize the Fox Chase-Newtown segment of the R8 line using BSS operators. They called it the Fox Chase-Newtown Rapid Transit line. However, there was a major crash in 1982 in Southampton where a single RDC unit did not successfully trigger the crossing gates at Second Street Pike. The service eventually folded a year or so later.

SEPTA's newest fad on the RDG side is rail trails. The lower section of the Newtown branch is now a trail, and part of the old Bethlehem branch is also a trail. As for the SVM, the remainder of the R6 Ivy Ridge line is also becoming a rail trail.

Personally, I do not feel that SEPTA can fully transitize their rail system since three of their busiest lines run on Amtrak trackage.
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Re: Transitizing the commuter lines / PA Commuter Rail

Postby delvyrails » Thu Jul 01, 2010 12:49 pm

swedishmeatball83, What is the source of the bold text in your original post?


I think most will concur with R3 Passenger regarding the unlikelihood today of any system "transitization". An additional physical obstacle is the lack of sufficient downtown terminal capacity for any part that would become transitized.


Transitization has been something of a sub rosa matter that has sprung from a 1960s ideology (a) that railroad passenger service and its attributes are hopelessly old-fashioned and inefficient, and (b) that the railroad would best be used as a "mine" from which viable parts could be taken and made parts of an expanded rail transit system. (Hence the SEPTA-introduced term "Regional High Speed Line" to match the Market Frankford and Broad Street High Speed Lines.)

A few advocates reached managerial positions where they were quietly able to advance their cause. A major favorible source of political power was the former strength of the transit unions who naturally wanted more members.

During the 1970s and beyond, one of the weaknesses of the commuter lines was their relative state of disrepair, which increased operating costs to the degree that transitization to some looked like a plausible outcome.

The courts decided against system-wide conversion. Gradually, the physical improvements susequently made to the commuter system worked to increase its cost-effectiveness and attractiveness to the point that today the system has a greater coverage of operating costs by fares than many of the rail transit lines.
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Re: Transitizing the commuter lines / PA Commuter Rail

Postby Jersey_Mike » Thu Jul 01, 2010 1:17 pm

Transitization was most recently reared it's ugly head in the form of SEPTA's RDG side signaling projects where the initial concepts for home signals involved L/R and *L*/R aspects. Fortunately they backed down to at least using a real NORAC aspect, *G*/R, although it's the same transit style setup.
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Re: Transitizing the commuter lines / PA Commuter Rail

Postby Matthew Mitchell » Thu Jul 01, 2010 1:56 pm

I concur with John about the current state of affairs. There is no plan to transitize the railroad, but because of the overlap between the transit and railroad sides of the company, we get inappropriate attempts to put square pegs in round holes like the cab signal system that does not indicate routing and is overly conservative in speed and braking curves.

I think it can't be overemphasized that SEPTA managers have been fixated on the unit cost differentials between the RRD and the transit modes, and saw transitization as a way to cut costs and save the system. I think there's something to that--the legacy costs of the RRD (payroll taxes, FELA, regulation) erode the natural economic advantages of the railroad, but that doesn't mean transit-derived solutions are always cheaper.

And I wouldn't take the trail leases as part of some larger plan--each of them makes sense in its own context, and I think it's coincidental that they were all done around the same time.
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Re: Transitizing the commuter lines / PA Commuter Rail

Postby MACTRAXX » Thu Jul 01, 2010 6:21 pm

Speaking of SEPTA RRD Transitization: Was that the basic idea of one Mr. David Gunn in the early 1980s?
When the name change from RHSL to RRD was made in mid 1985 was that the time this was put to rest?

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Re: Transitizing the commuter lines / PA Commuter Rail

Postby ExCon90 » Thu Jul 01, 2010 6:51 pm

My recollection from that time is that the whole idea of using the term Regional High Speed was part of an effort to get the commuter rail lines out from under the prevailing liability laws relating to railroads, which established (and establish) an adversarial relationship between employer and employee following a personal injury as opposed to workers' compensation principles which apply elsewhere. SEPTA was putting forward the idea that the commuter rail operation should be subject to workers' compensation since it was not really a railroad ("nobody here but us trolley drivers"). After that got shot down there was no reason not to revert to railroad nomenclature.
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Re: Transitizing the commuter lines / PA Commuter Rail

Postby limejuice » Thu Jul 01, 2010 7:25 pm

Jersey_Mike wrote:Transitization was most recently reared it's ugly head in the form of SEPTA's RDG side signaling projects where the initial concepts for home signals involved L/R and *L*/R aspects. Fortunately they backed down to at least using a real NORAC aspect, *G*/R, although it's the same transit style setup.


What transit system uses L/R and *L*/R aspects?
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Re: Transitizing the commuter lines / PA Commuter Rail

Postby Matthew Mitchell » Thu Jul 01, 2010 8:41 pm

I'm not sure what Mike's notation means, but on SEPTA's subway and el, green over red means the train will be going to the track on the right and red over green means the train will be going to the track on the left, regardless of whether the switch is left or right handed.

Normal railroad practice (to oversimplify) is for the high green to mean a straight move and the red over green to mean a diverging move.

Code: Select all
1   2       Subway  Track 1     Track 2          Railroad   Track 1     Track 2
 \   |                  R           G                           R           G
  \ |                  G           R                           G           R
   \|
   

1   2       Subway  Track 1     Track 2          Railroad   Track 1     Track 2
|  /                   R           G                           G           R
| /                    G           R                           R           G
|/

And in the 562 system they're installing north of Wayne Junction, everything's flashing green over red regardless of how the switches are set.
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Re: Transitizing the commuter lines / PA Commuter Rail

Postby oknazevad » Fri Jul 02, 2010 12:04 am

Full disclaimer: I've removed that boldfaced passage multiple times from the article, as the only sources offered are a dozen years old at newest, and were from Rumorpace, er, I mean Railpace. I frankly don't believe there's any validity to the idea that SEPTA is currently pursuing so-called "transitization". After all, if they were trying to make the Regional Rail more subway-like, why would they be getting rid of the transitesque route numbers?!? I think it is a dead letter issue.
Last edited by oknazevad on Fri Jul 02, 2010 12:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Transitizing the commuter lines / PA Commuter Rail

Postby Silverliner II » Fri Jul 02, 2010 4:21 am

limejuice wrote:
Jersey_Mike wrote:Transitization was most recently reared it's ugly head in the form of SEPTA's RDG side signaling projects where the initial concepts for home signals involved L/R and *L*/R aspects. Fortunately they backed down to at least using a real NORAC aspect, *G*/R, although it's the same transit style setup.


What transit system uses L/R and *L*/R aspects?


Lunar (straight) and *Lunar* (diverging) aspects are used on Atlanta's MARTA, Washington DC's Metro, PATCO, the Norristown High Speed Line, and on the Market-Frankford Line, just for starters, with a single or double "Red" being the Stop aspect, depending on the system.

Matthew Mitchell wrote:And in the 562 system they're installing north of Wayne Junction, everything's flashing green over red regardless of how the switches are set.


A slight modification on the Metro-North signal system which uses a single flashing green for all proceed aspects, regardless of how switches are set; cab signal indication governs. Yet, they don't have the wacky extended slowdowns that happen from cabs being set to drop too far in advance of an interlocking, or having cabs set to drop to enforce track speed, even with clear blocks ahead.
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Re: Transitizing the commuter lines / PA Commuter Rail

Postby Tritransit Area » Wed Jul 07, 2010 8:15 am

I may have missed this somewhere, so please forgive me and direct me to appropriate place if I have. However, I must ask this question:

What is so wrong with a transit style Regional Rail commuter system? People are always accusing SEPTA of doing this, and recoil at the idea. I'd love frequent comfy service to Center City and beyond. It could be like WMATA's Metrorail or the BART. Fantastic, right? I mean, isn't everyone complaining about lack of service to Warminster and beyond? Wouldn't this help to solve the problem?
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Re: Transitizing the commuter lines / PA Commuter Rail

Postby delvyrails » Wed Jul 07, 2010 8:58 am

"Fantastic"? Yes. Great for armchair dreaming and map penciling.

But in the real world, the questions are: "What do travelers want, how many of them are there, and what are they prepared to pay for?" and "What does this all cost to build and maintain?" Service needs and economics make the bridge from fantasy to reality.
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Re: Transitizing the commuter lines / PA Commuter Rail

Postby MelroseMatt » Wed Jul 07, 2010 12:07 pm

copythisusername wrote:But this is something that has been thoroughly debated on this site. I am aware that there are many railroaders (of course!) on railroad.net forums. I have found that some people's definition of "railroad" is broader than others. I personally think that anything that runs on rails can fit under the purview of the word "railroad." Of course, the Montreal subway is a mystery under my definition...


Montreal metro is a railroad, even with the rubber tires, there are flanged steel wheels inboard in case of a flat, and the trains ride on the steel wheels when navigating switches, which allows the use of conventional switch designs.

Now hush up before the folks at 1234 Market get ideas about putting tires on the trains. Its probably more likely than adding bathrooms.


On the topic of transitizing - that's pretty much how I use the railroad. With some notable exceptions, the service at Melrose Park is every 30 minutes - the same as PATCO overnight. Its amazingly convienant when the schedule is on hourly cycles (trains at :05 and :35 for example), which helps make taking the train into the non-event that it should be.

When I have to fumble for a schedule, it makes taking the train seem like a big deal. I get images of the Victorian era residents of my block getting dressed up in top hats and sun dresses to go riding on the railroad, tickets clutched tightly in hand eagerly awaiting the steam drawn 9:41 local to Wycombe to visit aunt Gladys.

More practically, irregular RR times are just another hurtle to winning more riders. The last time I took NJT from NY Penn, I was lucky enough to bring a schedule, so I knew I had 6 minutes between stepping off my 2 train to run to track 1 to make final boarding for my super-local to Trenton. My buddy was a little intimidated by the level of transit planning I undertook on this trip to NY, and even though he takes the DC Metro all the time, he was still talking about driving to NY next time.
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Re: Transitizing the commuter lines / PA Commuter Rail

Postby swedishmeatball83 » Sat Jul 10, 2010 8:57 am

delvyrails wrote:swedishmeatball83, What is the source of the bold text in your original post?

Hello delvyrails - source of quote came from here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SEPTA_Regional_Rail. These quotes are based on articles in a magazine called Railpace.

R3 Passenger wrote:SEPTA's newest fad is rail trails. The lower section of the Newtown branch is now a trail, and part of the old Bethlehem branch is also a trail. As for the SVM, the remainder of the R6 Ivy Ridge line is also becoming a rail trail.
Based on this, SEPTA appears to be a direct descendant of National City Lines.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_City_Lines. My Lord, this is disgraceful.
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