SEPTA approves borrowing to buy new railcars

The SEPTA Board approved the authority’s first borrowing plan in 12 years Thursday afternoon, agreeing to spend up to $250 million to purchase 120 new Silverliner V regional rail cars and reconstruct the Wayne Junction regional rail station.

Since state infrastructure spending was cut last year, SEPTA had been planning on leasing the rail cars but decided on borrowing $208 million to buy them outright because low interest rates mean borrowing is slightly cheaper.

The authority is borrowing $23 million to reconstruct the 110-year-old Wayne Junction station because it won a $4 million competitive grant for the project from the Federal Transit Administration and didn’t want to walk away from the project because it would “jeopardize” SEPTA’s ability to win federal money in the future, according to general manager Joe Casey.

Matt Mitchell of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers supported the plan, with the caveat that SEPTA not use borrowing as a way of funding ordinary repair and maintenance projects to avoid getting into the debt problems faced by the Delaware River Port Authority and the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund.

That doesn’t appear likely anytime soon.

Casey said there are “no immediate plans” for more borrowing and that the authority needed more funding to advance a host of other stalled projects.

There is one other regional transportation project that’s gotten federal money: The Center City District’s plan to reconstruct Dilworth Plaza, which won $15 million in federal stimulus money.

Dilworth Plaza sits atop City Hall station, SEPTA’s busiest, which the authority wants to spend $100 million to rebuild. Since doing that would involve ripping up the plaza, the two projects need to be closely coordinated.

Casey said that, instead of borrowing to pay for the entire cost of the project, SEPTA was instead looking to advance specific portions of the reconstruction in tandem with the Dilworth Plaza work.

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