Resurrection of Multi-Tiered Service on SEPTA’s Norristown High-Speed Line

This paper describes how, since 1912, the Norristown High-Speed Line, now known as Route 100, was designed to move people quickly and efficiently. Schedule makers had a great deal of flexibility, as the railroad was mostly doubled-tracked with strategically placed crossovers, along with two island-style turn-back tracks. What made the flexibility achievable was the fact that the railroad was built to extremely high standards, and most importantly, that the Depression-era equipment operated on the railroad could achieve speeds of 70 mph. Between the 1950�s and the 1980�s, a multi-tiered rush hour schedule was operated consisting of a series of limited, express and local service. As ridership slowly declined, the limited service was discontinued by 1980, but scheduled service to and from 69th Street Terminal continued to originate and terminate at locations other than the northern terminus, Norristown. An unfortunate accident in November 1986 caused the temporary suspension of rail service on SEPTA�s Norristown High-Speed Line, and hastened the doom for the aging fleet of Depression-era trains. When service was restored, the multi-faceted, frequently-scheduled peak hour service was reduced to a simplistic system of Norristown Express and Bryn Mawr local trips. After the accident, and subsequent resumption of service, weekday ridership quickly declined from 9,800 to 6,500 trips. By 1995, the new N5 cars replaced the venerable equipment, while a major capital improvement program had upgraded track, switches, communications and the signal system. Concurrently, patronage had slowly inched its way to 7,300 weekday trips, mostly due to reverse commuting, as riders from Philadelphia became a dominant force in the line�s slow rebound. By early 2003, weekday ridership crested the 8,000 mark as gasoline prices in southeastern Pennsylvania consistently averaged over $2 per gallon. This helped fuel a resurgence of peak direction patronage back to Route 100, although reverse-commuting still dominates. Scheduled rush hour service was operated with two-car trains in express service to Norristown with single car local trains to Bryn Mawr, which was commonplace since 1997. While these two-car trains alleviated some crowded conditions, passenger loads on these trains beyond the maximum load point dropped off rather quickly, and the second car was either underutilized or ran empty for part of the trip. Compounding this issue was that Route 100 consistently operated over budget due to a combination of manpower requirements, escalating wages and fringes and the cumulative high operating cost of running two-car trains. An austere, temporary all-local, schedule commenced in Summer 2004 in order to reduce operating expenses, while a joint effort between Service Planning and Operations examined ideas to significantly improve and enhance service. A detailed evaluation of Route 100 ridership and schedules was undertaken. The goals were to justify the elimination of the underutilized two-car trains, seek solutions to move passengers quickly and efficiently, identify operational limitations, and stay within budget. The analysis concluded that several stations had noticeable ridership gains in both peak and reverse-peak directions. The prior express-local schedule that had been firmly entrenched since 1986 did not match the ridership trends. Thus, a "New Look" schedule was crafted for weekday peak hour service that focused on ridership increases, added seating capacity for present and future growth, faster travel time, addressed customer service complaints, and reduced expenses. Several patterns were developed: Norristown Limited and Express, Hughes Park Express and Locals, and Bryn Mawr locals. The schedule was implemented on November 22, 2004 after a series of operational tests cleared the way for trains to crossover at Hughes Park. The multi-tiered schedule requires fewer vehicles than the Spring 2004 schedule, generating less man-hours and car miles versus the two-car train express service that previously operated, while offering more trip opportunities for passengers.


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Print
  • Features: Figures; References;
  • Pagination: 11p
  • Monograph Title: Rail Transit Conference Proceedings, 2005

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01002127
  • Record Type: Publication
  • ISBN: 1931594155
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Jul 14 2005 1:53PM