SEPTA Market-Frankford Line to get 200 new rail cars thanks to $317M grant

Thursday, February 22, 2024
SEPTA's Market-Frankford Line to get 200 new rail cars thanks to $317M grant
SEPTA's Market-Frankford Line to get 200 new rail cars thanks to $317M grant

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Regional leaders gathered in Upper Darby, Pa. on Wednesday to celebrate the recently awarded $317 million federal grant to modernize SEPTA's Market-Frankford Line.

The grant from the Biden Administration will allow SEPTA to replace 200 railcars along the Market-Frankford Line, also referred to as the "EL."

"This is truly a historic day for SEPTA," Kenneth Lawrence, the SEPTA Board Vice Chairman, said during Wednesday's press conference.

Officials said SEPTA is in dire need of upgrades, adding that the aging railcars are on average 25 years old and need to be replaced.

"It has become challenging to keep those rail cars in service," Nuria Fernandez, the administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, said.

U.S. Representative Mary Gay Scanlon, a Democrat representing Pennsylvania's 5th congressional district, called the rail cars "tired" and "increasingly prone to mechanical failure and system delays."

SEPTA's General Manager and CEO Leslie Richards added, "Constant maintenance and downtime are limiting the number of trains we can put out on the line every day, preventing SEPTA from providing the frequency and reliability to support the needs of our customers."

Regional leaders, including local, state, federal and SEPTA officials, held a press conference Wednesday afternoon at the 69th Street Transportation Center in Upper Darby, where the EL ends. That's where they formally announced the awarding of the federal grant and provided additional details on how the money will be used.

Action News spoke with commuters at the 69th Street Transportation Center about the funding and the promise of new rail cars for the line.

"There's a lot of people who commute every day. The trains are usually packed. We both commute at least three days a week, so having nicer cars would be better," said Megan Malarick, from Drexel Hill.

Sen. John Fetterman (D) was among the lawmakers in attendance. The team said he led the effort for the grant by co-authoring a letter last month to the Department of Transportation seeking federal funding.

Fetterman told the crowd at Wednesday's press conference, "It's a big deal for anyone who uses this kind of rail to get to where they work, to where they go to school."

RELATED: Gov. Josh Shapiro proposes $282.8 million in state funding for public transit

Lawmakers who joined Fetterman in pushing for this funding include US Sen. Bob Casey, Jr, and US Representatives Dwight Evans, Mary Gay Scanlon, Madeleine Dean, and Chrissy Houlahan.

They explained that what set SEPTA apart from other struggling transit systems was the dire need for upgrades and modernization.

The aging of the rail system, budget shortfalls, and declining number of passengers all played a role in the decision to award the grant, officials said.

According to the 6abc data journalism team, ridership on the Market-Frankford Line hasn't recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

In 2019, the average weekday ridership on the EL was almost 172,000 people. In 2023, it was only about 89,000.

People who take the El on a daily basis tell us upgrades and improvements are necessary.

"To get new EL trains, I think that would be a good thing," said Victoria Nelson, from Overbrook.

"They are definitely old. They definitely need updating. They could look cleaner. So, I think it's great that they got this," said Ryan Malarick, from Drexel Hill.

SEPTA said the plan is to award a contract for the new rail cars this summer, but the agency warns that could be a lengthy process. In the meantime, SEPTA said it is working to keep the current fleet safe and operational.

On Wednesday, lawmakers also stressed that future economic growth in the region depends heavily on SEPTA.

While other transit systems across Pennsylvania are also struggling, lawmakers said SEPTA would be the first to see service cuts and fare hikes without additional help. The transit agency is currently facing a $240 million shortfall for the 2025 fiscal year.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) has already proposed $160 million of state funding to help keep other SEPTA lines up and running. SEPTA officials said the agency desperately needs that money.

"We've made it very clear. If we do not get in this budget the money as it is proposed by Governor Shapiro, if we don't get at least that level, there will be severe cuts and fare increases on SEPTA," Richards said.