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Re: Septa Regional Rail: Dumb Question

Posted by Market-Frankford on Mon Apr 10 23:28:23 2006, in response to Septa Regional Rail: Dumb Question, posted by Teddmann on Mon Apr 10 20:22:10 2006.

First of all, it's not a dumb question. The answer is rather complex. I'll start off by showing you a map of the lines before numbering, around 1980.

As you can see, Suburban Station/Penn Center and the Reading Terminal were not yet connected. In order to streamline operations and provide through-train service, it was decided to build a tunnel link. The porposals actually go all the way back to when the lines were run by seperate companies. The companies weren't enthusiastic about it, however, both would soon go bankrupt and fall into the hands of SEPTA (actually Conrail for a couple years before SEPTA). With SEPTA in control of all trains, progress was accelerated.

Another part of the through-train plan was a rail link called the Swampoodle Connection. The purpose of the SC was to allow the Chestnut Hill West line easier access to its tracks. The issue at hand was getting the trains through a flat junction where northbound trains had to cross over all of the tracks of the NEC to get from the NEC northbound local track to the Chestnut Hill West northbound local track. (See Picture 1). A little further to the west, the Norristown line splits off the Reading main line at 16th Street Junction. (See Picture 2). A little bit to the north, the Norristown and Chestnut Hill West lines come very close to each other. (See picture 3).

Aerial Photo - Picture 1 - N. Phila. Junction
The line on top that goes from the bottom left to the top right is the NEC. The line that splits off to the north is the Chestnut Hill West line. Northbound CHW trains have to go from the bottom (of the NEC in the image)track all the way up to the line that splits off to the north. The Reading mainline is the set of tracks below the NEC.

Aerial Photo - Picture 2 - 16th Street Junction
The 4-track line is the Reading mainline. The 2-track line that splits off to the left is the Norristown line. The 2-track line that passes over the Reading main line at the top of the picture is the Chestnut hill West line.

Aerial Photo - Picture 3 - Where the SC would have been
This picture shows just how close the Norristown and Chestnut Hill West lines get. (The CHW is on the right and the Ntown is on the left.) Between the two is where the connection would have been built.

Since northbound Chestnut Hill West trains must cross over all tracks of the NEC, that junction often has delays becuase a CHW train is waiting for a mainline NEC train to cross, or vice versa. They figured that a good way to reduce delays would be to build a connection between the Norristown and Chestnut Hill West lines. Chestnut Hill East trains would then run up the Reading mainline, split off with the Norristown line at 16th Street Junction, then split off at the Swampoodle Connection and follow through on its route.

Since the opening of the tunnel would bring through-train service, they needed to figure out an operating plan. They chose Vukan Vuchic, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, to develop a through-train operating plan.

Vuchic was a fan of the S-bahn suburban train networks of Germany. Many of those once had seperate downtown termini, which were later connected. They ran through-trains that were named "S" and then a number. That is where he got the idea to name the Philly lines "R" and then a number.

There were three things that Vuchic assumed that affected the line pairings. The first was that the Swampoodle Connection would be built (which never happend). The second was that that the Airport line would be built (which did happen). The third was that, on the Paoli line, Bryn Mawr locals and Paoli expresses would run as seperate lines. He numbered the Pennsy lines from south (R1 Airport) to northeast (R7 Trenton). He matched them with Reading lines of approximately equal ridership. He proposed that following routings/pairings:

R1 - Airport - West Trenton
R2 - Marcus Hook (later Newark) - Warminster
R3 - Media/West Chester (later Elwyn) - CH West
R4 - Bryn Mawr - Fox Chase
R5 - Paoli (later Thorndale) - Doylestown
R6 - Ivy Ridge (later Cynwyd) - Norristown
R7 - Trenton - Chestnut Hill East

The Center City Commuter Tunnel was finished in November of 1984. The Airport line wouldn't open for another 5 months, and the Swampoodle Connection wasn't even at the construction stage when that happened, so a temporary plan was put in place. The R3 was originally soposed to go from Media/West Chester to Chestnut Hill West, however, since the SC wasn't built, this wasn't possible. Also, since the R1 Airport line wasn't operating yet, the West Trenton line needed a partner. The Media/West Chester and West Trenton lines were linked. The CH West line was paired with the Fox Chase line and given the new temporary designation of R8. The R4, the line that was originally soposed to go to Fox Chase, was dropped, and the R5 assumed control of all Bryn Mawr/Paoli line trains.

In Arpil of 1985, the R1 Airport line opened. it was decided to leave it without a partner for two reasons. The first was that it had double the service of most lines. The second was that on-time preformance on the Airport line is more critical than that on other lines, so it was best to leave it not relying on another line.

That brings us to our current system:

But even now, many trains don't run through with their respective line. General pairings are as follows:

R1 Airport - R2 Warminster
R2 Newark - R6 Norristown
R3 Media/Elwyn - R3 West Trenton
R5 Thorndale - R5 Doylestown AND some terminate at N. Broad
R6 Cynwyd - terminates downtown
R7 Trenton - R7 CHE
R8 CHW - R8 Fox Chase

R1 Airport - R2 Warminster AND R3 West Trenton
R2 Wilmington/Marcus Hook - R6 Norristown
R3 Media/Elwyn - terminates downtown
R5 Thorndale/Malvern - R5 Doylestown AND some terminate at Market East on Saturday
R6 Cynwyd run on weekdays only
R7 Trenton - R7 CHE
R8 CHW - R8 Fox Chase


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