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With Philadelphia on track to enter the green phase of coronavirus recovery by the end of next week, SEPTA announced that Regional Rail service frequency will be increased on Monday, June 29.
After months of dismal ridership numbers and severely reduced service, trains will run hourly weekday service on most lines. The Airport and Paoli/Thorndale lines will run every 30 minutes, and the Chestnut Hill West and Cynwyd lines will remain suspended.
SEPTA suspended six Regional Rail lines and adjusted some routes when it implemented its Lifeline Service Schedule in April, as the region was in the thick of the pandemic.
“This is a significant step forward for SEPTA and our region as we work through the phases of COVID-19 recovery,” SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards said via press release. “We are excited to see more customers returning, and we want to assure them that we are ready with safe and reliable service.”
The transportation authority revamped most of its service with new social distancing guidelines to prepare for the region’s progression into the yellow phase. Some subway/El train stops remained closed, but as of Monday all but two Market Frankford Line and Broad Street Line stops will be open. The Fifth Street/Independence Hall stop on the Market Frankford Line and the Susquehanna-Dauphin station on the Broad Street Line will be closed for construction into July.
SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said the increased frequency is paced for ridership demand — currently, about 10% its normal rate on the Regional Rails — and staffing availability.
Nearly 70% of the 297 SEPTA employees who tested positive for COVID-19 had returned to work as of June 19. When SEPTA increased service for transit, officials warned of delays and cancellations due to staffing issues related to COVID-19.
Just last Monday, SEPTA canceled two early morning trains on the Norristown High Speed Line due to “COVID-19 related staffing issues.” However, Busch said they expect staffing will be sufficient for Regional Rail so cancellations and delays will not be as much of an issue. And other SEPTA transit ought to see improvements in staffing returns, as well, he said.
“We’re expecting to see the trend continue in a positive trend,” Busch said.
The authority also continues to boast of its stepped-up cleaning efforts, which include twice-daily sanitizing of all vehicles, and “around the clock” cleaning, disinfecting and power-washing at all open stations.
SEPTA also now requires riders to wear face-coverings throughout the system, something that is here to stay until there is a vaccine, Busch said.
“That part of it is definitely not going away,” he said.