SEPTA to reopen Somerset Station after repairs with a new police booth, more security

Kensington residents gather at SEPTA’s Somerset Station to protest its closure

Kensington residents gathered at SEPTA’s Somerset Station to protest its closure Tuesday, March 23, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The temporarily closed Somerset Station on the Market Frankford Line could reopen by May — and when riders return, they can expect to see a police presence.

SEPTA General manager Leslie Richards was among the SEPTA officials who met with Kensington community members Friday via Zoom to discuss the details around the temporary closure and reopening of the El station.

The SEPTA top boss told residents the damage to the elevators was not as bad as initially thought and promised the authority will have an exact date for reopening next week. Whenever that is, it is likely construction will still be ongoing.

“We don’t have an exact date, but I can guarantee you it is less than a month that we are talking about right now,” Richards said.

The round-the-clock effort to improve the station will cost more than $1 million, she told Kensington residents. In addition to the elevator repairs, the effort includes a full cleaning of the station — power washing and getting rid of debris, in-depth structural inspection of the entire station, repairs to the stairs throughout the station, painting, and lighting upgrades.

SEPTA also plans to take up such efforts at the next eastbound station, Allegheny, but the agency intends to keep the facility open throughout the repairs.

Transit agency officials said the Philadelphia Department of Health has helped with ongoing cleanup efforts at Somerset and Allegheny stations, both of which sit within the geographic center of the region’s opioid epidemic. Cleanup crews removed 1,600 syringes between the two stations, SEPTA said.

The authority also plans to add a police booth to the Somerset station. SEPTA Transit Police Chief Thomas Nestel said two officers will be stationed at the stop in two shifts from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. A security guard will also be stationed there as well. The guard is one of 60 from AlliedBarton Security Services that SEPTA expects to deploy along the Market-Frankford Line within the next two weeks.

The authority closed the troubled station last Sunday to repair two elevators that were damaged by urine and needles, but the decision spoke to a larger issue of homelessness and drug use at the station — a city-wide problem encroaching on SEPTA’s ability to provide service.

City Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sanchez said the city’s efforts to tackle the issues have fallen short. “SEPTA’s response is going to be different,” Richards promised.

SEPTA is currently developing a team trained to work with vulnerable populations to help them work with people experiencing homelessness in a restorative way. They’ve also reached out to Los Angeles and San Francisco transit agencies for help as well, Richards said.

“This is important to our business going forward and obviously important to your community and the community that we serve,” Richards said. “We will be working with you differently.”

Richards also asked the community for help maintaining the station.

Neighbors with questions and comments were directed to type them in the chat section of the Zoom call. There, community member Eduardo Esquivel rebuked the request for volunteer work.

“Our community did not create these situations,” Esquivel wrote in the chat section. “We have been asked to help with any number of issues we didn’t create by the city repeatedly. We have helped as much as we are able. Please do not make us a part of your plan for solving this unless you plan to pay my neighbors a salary for their work.”

SEPTA officials offered Somerset riders the Route 3 bus as an alternative to the train while the station is closed.  Some community members requested shuttle bus service instead.

SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said while shuttle bus service is an option, the agency doesn’t “think we can offer better service” than the Route 3 bus.

The general manager plans to continue talks with community members about the station.

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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