Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Bucks County commuters scrambling to find alternate routes after train accident
Posted: Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Commuters at the Woodbourne SEPTA station on the West Trenton Line were more anxious about catching a train Wednesday than riding on one, following the fatal Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia on Tuesday night.
“I was panicking trying to find a way to get into work,” said Nicole Hartman. She lives in Doylestown, but usually takes the Trenton Line into Philadelphia to work after dropping off her child at a sitter in Levittown.
The accident has closed Amtrak’s heavily traveled Northeast Corridor on which SEPTA’s Trenton Line runs. That closure means roughly 12,000 commuters like Hartman had to find alternate routes into Philadelphia at short notice Wednesday.
The Woodbourne station is one stop on the nearby West Trenton Line, which had additional cars and services for Wednesday’s commute.
John Edwards’ train arrived at the Woodbourne station shortly before 9:30 a.m. The Philadelphia resident said he’s been taking the Trenton Line to get to a Bristol Township church he’s painting. The closure meant he had to find another way to work on a different train and unfamiliar connecting bus routes, he said.
The Trenton Line — the fourth most heavily traveled SEPTA rail line running 60 trains daily — is expected to remain closed for at least a week, though there is no timetable when Amtrak will allow SEPTA service to resume, according to Jeff Knueppel, SEPTA’s deputy general manager. The Trenton Line is one of three Amtrak-owned lines on which SEPTA operates; the others are the Wilmington-Newark (Delaware) Line and the Paoli-Thorndale line that runs through Montgomery and Chester counties.
While SEPTA saw minimal disruptions Wednesday on its remaining regional rails, including the popular West Trenton Line, Knueppel anticipates Thursday will be a different story.
“I think tomorrow is going to be the real challenge,” he said.
To fill the service gap SEPTA has rolled out its contingency plan (http://septa.org/service/rail/2015-special-west-trenton.html) to accommodate both displaced Trenton Line riders and supplement the gap in Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor service to 30th Street Station in Philadelphia that includes shuttle service to its Frankford hub, additional parking spaces and enhanced service along the West Trenton Rail Line.
SEPTA is encouraging Trenton Line commuters to use its free SEPTA shuttle service at the Cornwells Heights station to the Frankford Transportation Center where they can connect with the Market-Frankford elevated train into Philadelphia. The hub’s parking garage has nearly 1,000 parking spaces and an extra 200 are temporarily available nearby, SEPTA said.
The Cornwells Heights station shuttle into Center City will run from 6 to 10 a.m. through the rest of this week and for evening commuters the shuttle will run the opposite route from 3 to 7 p.m. The shuttle service will run every 30 minutes during morning and evening service hours.
Another option for commuters is the Route 14 bus line, which operates every 10 minutes from the Neshaminy Mall in Bensalem; SEPTA will be adding a stop at the Frankford Transportation Center where riders can get on the El. The mall has allotted SEPTA an additional 200 parking spaces behind Sears for the additional bus riders.
There are six additional trains for both inbound and outbound service and SEPTA will run cars every 30 minutes all day; normally train service is hourly during off-peak hours, officials said. SEPTA also will honor NJ Transit fares and current TrailPasses on the West Trenton Rail lines.
SEPTA has also secured an additional 100 to 150 temporary parking spaces within walking distance of three West Trenton Line station stops at Somerton, Bethayres Station, and Noble in Jenkintown for anticipated overflow parking.
The contingency plan takes SEPTA through Friday, and plans are still being formulated for alternative and enhanced service for the weekend, Knueppel added.
Across the Delaware River, NJ Transit is cross-honoring Amtrak rail tickets between New York City and Trenton as well as the closed Northeast Corridor, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Nelson. The transportation agency will run its regular train service into the Trenton Transit Station, and Philly-bound commuters can use a free SEPTA shuttle service to get to the West Trenton Rail Line. Riders will have to present a valid SEPTA or Amtrak fare to use the shuttle.
Nelson added that the transportation agency is also running buses between Cherry Hill in Camden County and 30th Street Station in Philadelphia for commuters along the Atlantic City Line, which has been disrupted by the derailment. The transit agency also added an extra car to its Camden River Line, which runs between Trenton and Camden, with stops in Burlington County, just across the Burlington-Bristol Bridge. NJT’s southern division bus services south of the I-95 corridor are running as usual and bus service to Philadelphia is available at the Trenton train station.
While no commuter numbers were available Wednesday, Nelson said the River Line is “definitely seeing an increase” in commuter traffic as a result of the Northeast Corridor closure.
None of the half dozen commuters interviewed at the Middletown station expressed reservations about getting on a train following the accident.
“The only inconvenience to me is there is nowhere to park,” said Eileen Sutton, of Lower Makefield, who rides the West Trenton line regularly for her job at a Philadelphia hospital.
Middletown resident Amanda Morell, who was headed to Temple University, said she was taking the train for the first time ever Wednesday morning. Morell, who’ll attend Temple in the fall, wasn’t worried, though.
“This kind of thing happens too rarely. I’m not nervous,” she said. “I know they have to know what they are doing.”
Her friend, Middletown resident Collin Mazer, who’s also attending Temple in the fall, agreed.
“Chances are a lot better for me to get in an accident driving here,” he said.
Hatboro resident Valerie Ann Lutz, who commutes on the Warminster Line to her job at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, said via social media that she didn’t know about the derailment until she stepped off the train Wednesday morning.
“I think I am the only human who was not aware,” she said.
While the news left her with some reservations — she takes Amtrak on a “semi-regular” basis for work trips — she doesn’t plan on letting it stop her from traveling by train.
“Obviously, it’s just an accident that happens, and it can happen at any time,” Lutz said. “I feel horrible for the people who were affected by this — with all of us as train riders, it hits home a little more.”