SEPTA updates Regional Rail schedules to address delays from new safety system

SEPTA placed new Regional Rail schedules into effect Sunday in response to chronically late trains over the last few months.

The schedule update was driven in part by SEPTA’s introduction of Positive Train Control (PTC), a federally-mandated safety system for commuter and freight rail. SEPTA began activating PTC on its Regional Rail lines over the course of the past year, making it one of the first railroad operators in the nation so far to comply with the unpaid Congressional mandate. On some of the lines, the system slow down trains, leading to small, but systemic, delays, said SEPTA Assistant General Manager for Operations Ron Hopkins.

“Anytime you put in additional safety features that it has the opportunity to slow down trains because it takes away the train handling form the engineer and puts it into the safe braking distances and safe braking curves,” said Hopkins. Hopkins described the delays as small, saying PTC only added around four minutes to a 60 minute trip on some of the impacted lines.

SEPTA, like most other railroads in the United States, officially designates a train as “delayed” only when it is more than six minutes late. With that definition in place, 81 percent of Regional Rail trains arrived on-time in December, well short of SEPTA’s 90 percent target. In November, performance was significantly worse, with just 69.5 percent on-time.

PTC is far from the only cause of the delays, said Hopkins, who pointed towards the Silverliner V crisis to help explain some of the worst delays in recent months. Additionally, overcrowded platforms have slowed boarding times and trains have faced the usual raft of more-common problems ranging from small operator errors, to line congestion, to signal problems.

Still, PTC was one of the driving factors for the schedule updates. PTC slowed trains on some of SEPTA’s most heavily trafficked tracks as the safety system forced engineers to maintain larger distances from other trains. Not every rail line was slowed by the new safety technology, but because Regional Rail trains will service more than one line during the course of the day, the knock-on delays impacted most of the system.

Hopkins said he was confident that the new schedules would address the delays specifically where the trains have been slowed by PTC and other factors, emphasizing that SEPTA schedulers weren’t merely adding time at the end of the trip to game performance metrics.

“We had the data to support where the changes are—we’re not just adding time so we can be on time,” said Hopkins. “We’d never do that, we want to be sure we can back it up with the data on how our services have been operating over the last year or so.”

SEPTA made tweaks to most of the regional rail schedules and encouraged riders to check the new schedules before they head to the station. Hopkins emphasized that service levels would remain the same—meaning the same overall number of trains will run on each line.

SEPTA provided the following overview of the schedule changes in a press release:

  • Weekday train times have been adjusted for Regional Rail Lines with some trains departing earlier or later than previously scheduled.  
  • Airport Line Inbound Train #404 (departs Airport Terminals E and F at 5:37 a.m.) will no longer stop at Wayne Junction, Fern Rock or Melrose Park Stations. Inbound train #448 (departing from Airport Terminals E and F at 4:37 p.m.) will no longer stop at Wayne Junction Fern Rock, Melrose Park or Elkins Park stations. Train #448 will also depart three to four minutes earlier from Jenkintown-Wyncote and Glenside Stations.
  • Chestnut Hill East: Select trains will operate up to eight minutes later.
  • Cynwyd: Select weekday inbound and outbound trains will operate three to 16 minutes later.  
  • Lansdale/Doylestown: Trains departing between 8:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. between Delaware Valley University and Chalfont stations may depart ahead of schedule as stops will only be made to discharge or pick-up passengers (D-Stops Only). Additional morning service has been added to Elkins Park Station with train #5315 which departs from Colmar at 6:10 a.m. Service has also been added to Link Belt Station with trains #6517 departing from Doylestown Station at 7:58 a.m. and #521 departing from Doylestown at 8:52 a.m. Train #519 will originate at Lansdale Station at 8:48 a.m. and will no longer stop at Link Belt, Colmar, Fortuna or 9th St. Station. Evening train #573 which departs from Colmar at 5:23 p.m. will depart four minutes later from all stations and will no longer stop at Melrose Par or Wayne Junction Stations.  
  • Manayunk/Norristown: Select trains will operate later than previously scheduled. Weekday outbound train #6212 departing from 30th Street Station at 5:41 a.m. will not stop at Elm Street Station. Train #3224 will depart from 30th Street Station at 7:30 a.m., and will no longer stop at North Broad Station.  
  • Media/Elwyn: Many trains will depart earlier than previously scheduled.  
  • Paoli/Thorndale: Select morning trains will depart earlier and later than previously scheduled. Inbound train #9506 will now originate from Villanova Station and depart at 7:52 a.m. Train #9536 departing from Malvern at 7:42 a.m. will now stop at Haverford, Ardmore, Wynnewood, Narberth, Merion and Overbrook Stations. Weekday outbound train #551 departing from Temple University at 4:04 p.m. will no longer stop at Exton, Whitford, Downingtown or Thorndale Stations.  
  • Trenton: Most trains will depart a few minutes earlier than previously scheduled. Trains #769 departing from Temple University at 8:46 p.m., #773 departing from Temple University at 6:36 p.m. and #8775 departing from Temple University at 10:32 p.m. will now serve Eddington Station.
  • Warminster: Additional weekday morning service has been added to Melrose Park with train #4213 departing from Warminster Station at 6:40 a.m. Train #404 departing from 30th Street Station at 6:00 a.m. will no longer make stops at Wayne Junction, Fern Rock Transportation Center or Melrose Part Stations and will depart three minutes earlier from Elkins Park Station. Outbound train #448 departing from 30th Street Station at 5:00 p.m. will no longer stop at Wayne Junction, Fern Rock Transportation Center, Melrose Park or Elkins Park Stations and will depart from Jenkintown/Wyncote Station earlier than previously scheduled.  
  • West Trenton: Most trains will depart earlier than previously scheduled.  
  • Wilmington/Newark: Select inbound trains will operate a few minutes later.

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