Unsexy, but critically needed, replacement coming for Wayne Junction Substation

It isn’t a glamorous project, but the $12.8 million replacement of an electrical substation at Wayne Junction that dates back to the Depression era will keep SEPTA regional rail lines electrified, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday.

LaHood joined Mayor Nutter, SEPTA General Manager Joseph Casey and other officials from the city and the transit agency to formally announce the federal TIGER 4 grant, which will replace aged and fragile electrical equipment in use since the 1920s.

If the substation went down, it would halt travel in Northwest Philadelphia and Bucks County, and can severely limit trains south of Market East, causing ripples of delay through the entire system.

“It’s not the sexiest, it’s not the prettiest, but it’s one of the most important projects,” LaHood said, praising city and SEPTA officials for their lobbying efforts on rail improvements. He was in Philadelphia Wednesday to speak at the World Congress on High-Speed Rail.

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No service interruption

The two-year project will mean no interruption of service, according to SEPTA, which offered a depiction of what would happen if the substation failed (PDF).

Nutter said the critical role the Wayne Junction power station plays in the regional system means if a catastrophic failure occurred, “hundreds of thousands of people would be affected and they wouldn’t even know why.”

The money will come from a discretionary grant from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, part of a joint application with PennDOT and the city that will also fund improvements on 11 area bridges.

It’s the fourth year in row Philadelphia-area projects won awards, making Philadelphia the only city to receive TIGER grant money in each year of the program, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah said.

Rehabilitative round two

The substation project is the second large-scale refurbishment funded at Wayne Junction in two years.

The 100-year-old Wayne Junction passenger station, located a short distance down the tracks, is in the midst of a $30 million rehabilitation, including preservation of the Frank Furness-designed station house, enhanced access for the disabled, and improvements to passenger tunnels.

“We’re pouring concrete over there today,” said SEPTA’s chief engineer, Jeff Knueppel.

The effort to overhaul the substation began last July, when Knueppel and Fattah led Federal Transit Administration Administrator Peter Rogoff on a tour of the facility, where a wall of relay switches — some with name plates dating from 1926 — and ancient-looking 12,000 volt breakers control power for trains carrying 17.5 million passengers a year.

In all, 25 breakers, transformers, switches, relays and controls located inside and outside the substation building will be replaced.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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