by Wesley Ratko

SEPTA Silverliner V

SEPTA officials told board members of the Chestnut Hill Community Association that work would begin this week to repair four unused tracks at the Chestnut Hill East train station.

The SEPTA representatives, who appeared at the board’s March 24 meeting, noted that the tracks, which have been out of service since the early 1990s, would be rehabilitated to accommodate the storage of trains during midday hours.

Frances Jones, assistant general manager for governmental affairs at SEPTA, introduced the project and explained that a lack of rail yard storage and space to coordinate train deployment on the entire system has prompted the authority to reopen train yards that can accommodate the increased demand.

“This work is mandatory,” she said, “in order to provide storage capacity in a location where trains can be quickly put into service.”

Beginning this week and lasting through mid-August, SEPTA’s in-house Track Department will begin work to rehabilitate the four existing tracks at the station that are not currently in use. A portion of the outbound lot (accessible from Newton Street) will be blocked off during the project for equipment storage and access, reducing the lot by ten spaces.

Upon completion of the track work, the outbound parking lot will be repaved.

Work will be done from 7a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Crews will work through one weekend during the summer, but as of Thursday night did not know which weekend that work will take place.

SEPTA project engineer Steve Hulme said that for safety reasons, the existing walkway across the tracks from the outbound lot to the boarding platforms would be permanently removed. Access to the platforms from the outbound lot will be provided via existing sidewalks along Newton Street and Bethlehem Pike. Hulme told the board that the project should not impact passengers who are not likely to notice any change in service.

The increased demand is being driven by an increase in new rail cars now coming into service. Harry Garforth, SEPTA’s manager of rail planning, explained that the authority has purchased 120 new rail cars, known as Silverliner 5s. These are the first new rail cars SEPTA has purchased in 25 years, and they will replace the oldest cars – some close to 60 years old – in its aging fleet. The purchase will result in a net gain of 47 new cars in the system by 2012.

“And that’s good news because gas prices are going up and our ridership is going up as well,” Garforth said. But more cars, he added, mean an increased need for storage, especially at midday.

Once the improvements are complete, four or five trains a day will be moved to the Chestnut Hill East station after the morning rush, where they will stand until 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon. At the start of the evening rush, the cars will go back into service.

“It’s not our intention to store trains there at night, but anything could happen,” Jones said. She told the board that if there is an emergency or any changes, SEPTA representatives will return and update the community association on its plans.


CHCA and Chestnut Hill Local budgets

Mark Keintz presented the board with two budgets – one for the CHCA and another for the Local. After walking board members through the CHCA budget, Keintz declared that it was “a mighty precarious set of numbers.”

“It’s in the black by $133 if all of these assumptions are met,” he said.

He added his recommendation that once a Community Manager has been hired, the budget should be revisited and the new manager given a chance to provide some guidance relating to strategies the board can apply over the remainder of the fiscal year.

Key among the budget’s assumptions is a 10 percent increase in membership for the coming fiscal year, something board member Dina Hitchcock took exception to, calling it “fanciful thinking.”

“I’ve watched for 10 years, and every time we need money we just say it’s there … and I’m thinking we need to be very realistic about what we can bring in,” she said.

Board member Tolis Vardakis explained that to meet the membership increase assumed in the budget meant bringing in 160 new members.

“Ever since I’ve been on this board, I’ve been on Membership,” said board member and social division vice president Jane Piotrowski. “Every year I come to the board and I ask them to go out and bring in three new members and it doesn’t happen.”

She said she believed membership should be the focus of the association going forward.

“We talk about main events – well, that should be membership.”

Keintz explained that there were three sources of income for the CHCA: membership, events, and grants and/or donations. Income from grants could be impacted should the 501(c)(3) classification be approved for the Community Association.

“We can’t have all three fall,” he said, “otherwise this particular division will not financially survive.”

“It seems to me we’re using our budget as a goal setting tool,” said board member Jonna Naylor. She suggested that a potentially untapped market for membership could be a close neighborhood like Mt. Airy.

“We all benefit from Chestnut Hill,” she said. “Let’s all join in supporting Chestnut Hill.”

The community association budget was passed with minority opposition.

Regarding the budget for the Local, Keintz said that the major assumption made was that there would be no Web portal.

“If there is a Web portal, this budget is going to have to be revisited,” he said. “There will be financial issues if a portal is started and financed.”

The proposal for a community Web portal hosted by the Local and managed by a portal manager was supposed to come before the board at a special meeting on Monday, March 21. That meeting was postponed when a consultant for the plan suggested a portion of the plan regarding advertising sales for the entity be revisited. The portal proposal will come before the board at a special meeting on Thursday, April 28.

Keintz said that the budget is a statement that says within a few years, the paper version of the Local would be seen as ancillary to the business of drawing advertisers and business to the Web. Right now it’s the other way around.

Keintz noted a $64,000 line item in the income section for the coming fiscal year for revenue derived from website advertising, a fivefold increase over the previous year. Lou Aiello asked Local associate publisher Larry Hochberger whether income from the website has been trending upward. Larry explained that the income trends up and then plateaus at certain times.

“We’re actually at a leveling off period right now,” Hochberger said, “but we are waiting on some new technology that will allow us to do more.”

Before unanimous passage of the Local’s budget, Keintz reiterated that a decision on whether to proceed with a Web portal would require this budget to be revisited.