Septa has no specific date to return service to Chestnut Hill West regional rail line. (Photo by Pete Mazzaccaro) By David Hunt Since its indefinite suspension on April 9, doubts have surrounded the …
By David Hunt
Since its indefinite suspension on April 9, doubts have surrounded the Chestnut Hill West Regional Rail line’s future.
Out of the 13 regional rail lines across the Greater Philadelphia area, 11 reopened June 29. The Chestnut Hill West and Cynwyd lines closed without clear plans for their return to service.
SEPTA said any fears that the line will not return, however, are baseless.
“There hasn’t been any discussion about discontinuing service on the Chestnut Hill West line,” Andrew Busch, SEPTA’s Chief Press Officer, said. “The line will definitely come back. We are trying to optimize the service and bring it back at the right time when we’re starting to see demand for service return.”
The neighboring Chestnut Hill East line- which serves Mt. Airy, Germantown and Chestnut Hill-has run on an hourly weekend schedule since Philadelphia was cleared to enter the Green Phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s Covid-19 recovery plan. Social distancing measures are in full effect and cleanliness is a top priority on the East line.
Pre-Covid-19 daily ridership was approximately 4,600, Busch said. Now, it’s about 400-500 riders per day. Working professionals who once frequented the Chestnut Hill East and West lines are now working remote due to Covid-19, thus contributing to lower ridership rates and the West line’s continued suspension.
“We are staying in close communication with employers in Center City and throughout the region and making sure we know what their tentative schedule is for bringing people back,” Busch said. “As we start to see ridership grow, that’ll be when we start bringing services back at a higher level. Most projections look like they’re shifting toward January.”
Another roadblock preventing Chestnut Hill West’s reopening, according to Busch, is an ongoing Amtrak construction project. Due to Amtrak and SEPTA sharing train tracks in the region, reopening the Chestnut Hill West line would require SEPTA to implement a construction-type schedule marred with long delays. The line’s indefinite suspension gives workers an opportunity to finish the project in a timely, efficient manner with virtually no distractions or delays in the immediate future.
The Chestnut Hill West line is an integral part of the community. No one knows this better than Phil Dawson, Executive Director of the Chestnut Hill Business District.
“The two Chestnut Hill Regional Rail lines are critical to the neighborhoods appeal for the people who want to work at the many jobs in Center City but want to live in the Northwest and for visitors,” Dawson said. “We understand some of the reasons SEPTA has suspended service on the West line. We know that travel demand is not what it was and that they’re dealing maintenance. Accomplishing that maintenance will be good and we’re very supportive of it coming back as soon as it is able to.”
For more information: https://septa.org/covid-19/