Kensington residents scored a victory Thursday, when SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards announced that Somerset Station would be reopened on Sunday following a two-week closure that caught many residents by surprise.
The transportation authority closed the Market-Frankford Line station on March 21 to repair two elevators damaged by urine and needles. An authority official disclosed that the station had to be closed because workers could not access the elevator shaft to assess the damage without coming into contact with urine from the upper levels.
The closure highlighted the spillover of drug use and homelessness in Kensington onto SEPTA, and exemplified the authority’s struggles with homelessness and its impact on service.
Initially, SEPTA officials estimated the station might remain closed for months. Residents banded together and demanded transparency and participation in the process to safely reopen the station.
After weekly meetings with residents, led by City Councilmembers Maria Quiñones Sánchez and Mark Squilla, that detailed the work, Richards announced Thursday that Somerset Station would officially reopen Monday, April 5, at 5 a.m., though residents will have access to the station Sunday.
Repairs to the elevators were not as extensive as officials initially thought, according to the general manager, hence the shortened timeline.
But elevators may still be down once they are repaired, until an elevator attendant is in place to ensure they do not “get to the same state of disrepair,” said Richards.
Two officers will be stationed at Somerset during its operating hours. The officers will work closely with social outreach specialists who will be assigned to Somerset Station to connect those in need with substance use or behavioral health treatment and other services, according to officials.
There will also be overnight patrols, SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch later added.
Richards also said SEPTA will need the community’s help in maintaining the station, but she assured that officials are not asking for free labor.
“We still have a lot of work to do with you,” said Richards. “We need community partners to help us to be present. These will be paid positions. We are not asking for free labor here.”
Similar work will take place at Allegheny Station as well, but SEPTA plans to keep that station open.
“I’m cautiously optimistic here,” said Eduardo Esquivel, a six-year Kensington resident and president of the Kensington Neighborhood Association. “The way that the entire metro area has treated our neighborhood makes me view my celebration once I actually see the train stopping in and once I actually see things getting back to normal and staying that way for a while.”
Esquivel added, “I will also declare more of a victory when I see the kind of community participation, or community engagement that we’ve been asking for.”
“We’ve had a long, long time of being promised things and not seeing the results,” Esquivel said. “In the meantime, our neighbors have been forced to deal with every kind of awful thing over and over again.”
WHYY 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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