Kensington El riders return to a cleaner and more policed Somerset Station

SEPTA reopened the Kensington station Monday with a heavier police presence and a cleaner environment for the hundreds of people who rely on the El stop.

A SEPTA police officer stands on the platform of the Somerset stop

A SEPTA police officer stands on the platform of the Somerset stop on the Market-Frankford line. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Somerset Station platform was clean and clear Monday as riders boarded trains and workers continued to make improvements to the station after a two-week closure.

It was the first official day open after the March 21 closure to repair broken station elevators, paint, address safety concerns, and make additional upgrades, including painting and adding a transit police booth outside the Kensington station.

For neighborhood resident Haley Diamond, the station’s reopening meant a return to easier travel. Diamond said she used the Route 3 bus or walked to Huntingdon Station while the station was closed. She said Kensington Avenue traffic slowed the bus service and the walk to Huntingdon Station through crowds of people was a “pain.”

“It’s a lot easier having the station open,” Diamond said as she exited the station. “For sure.”

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Passengers wait at the Somerset Station on the Market-Frankford line. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

SEPTA said it closed the station primarily to repair the elevators, damaged by urine and needles. They’re still out of service, but officials expect them to be functional this week.

The lifts won’t reopen without an elevator attendant “to help us make sure people keep moving through the elevators, that nobody is allowed to stay in there,” SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richard said last Thursday at a community meeting organized after neighborhood residents protested the closure.

The elevators at Somerset Station remain closed because of damage caused by urine and discarded needles. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“We do not want to see the elevators get to the same state of disrepair,” Richards said during the virtual discussion.

At least four transit police officers were on duty at the station Monday afternoon. Two stood near the turnstiles and one stood on the landing that was once a de-facto shelter for people experiencing homelessness and drug use. Passengers moved through the station, entering and exiting smoothly.

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In an effort to meet neighborhood demands for involvement and transparency, SEPTA officials met regularly with Kensington community members to discuss the progress of Somerset’s repairs and next steps to keep the station open and safe. Both sides plan to continue talks as SEPTA moves forward with similar upgrade efforts at Allegheny Station.

Before boarding a westbound train, rider Carlos Harmon said SEPTA must deal with the issues that led to the elevators being shut down in the first place in order for the station to remain in its current state.

“How long will it be cleaned up,” Harmon said. “If you don’t deal with that element, it’ll just come back.”

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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