Rail fans Liam and Bill McCann get an up-close view of a Broad Street Line car.
Almost every transit authority has them — the buffs who know every detail about every vehicle and piece of equipment ever used by an organization. For the second consecutive year, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) paid tribute to the passion of its rail fans by inviting them to attend its recent annual Rail Rodeo competition.
Sixty rail fans — winners of a special ticket lottery — were treated to a behind the scenes look at SEPTA’s Fern Rock Maintenance Facility, a place few outside of the Authority are able to venture. Based on the attendees’ reactions, it was an experience few will forget.
Previously only open to SEPTA employees and their families, the annual Rail Rodeo allows Market-Frankford Line and Broad Street Line operators, Regional Rail engineers and conductors and yard motorpersons to participate in various tests of operational and mechanical skill on SEPTA’s trains. The rail fans in attendance were allowed to take part in the competition, riding on the Broad Street Line during the operations test.
A SEPTA employee explains the operation of the Authority's Broad Street Line subway to a young Rail Rodeo attendee.
Rodeo lottery winners were also given the opportunity to ride the newest addition to SEPTA’s rail fleet — the Silverliner V, — “talk shop” with SEPTA maintenance staff, see demonstrations of the equipment that makes the trains run and get up close views of subway cars on lifts.
“Opening up the Rodeo to our rail fans has been a hit,” said SEPTA GM Joseph Casey. “I think our employees have enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk to people who share their enthusiasm for the rails and our lottery winners have appreciated the recognition SEPTA has given them by inviting them to an ‘Authority only’ event. Attending the Rodeo gives them terrific bragging rights in the rail fan community.”
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s Regional (commuter) Rail system was inherited from the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroads and the infrastructure in many sections of the system has been serving the Philadelphia area for more than 100 years. Fifteen years ago, overhead catenary system (OCS) failures were a common occurrence on SEPTA Regional Rail, a result of fatigue cracks and wear. The all too common OCS failures were frustrating for SEPTA customers who occasionally found it difficult to depend on train service for their travels and for SEPTA, whose crews were constantly working to repair and maintain the system.
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What do transit authorities like SEPTA, MBTA, MTA and BART have in common other than transporting thousands, even millions of riders every day? All were recently ranked as four of the U.S.’s 500 “Best Employers” by Forbes magazine.
SEPTA, MBTA, MTA and BART were among 25 organizations included in Forbes’ “Transportation & Logistics” category, along with Southwest Airlines, Amtrak, CSX, Union Pacific and Greyhound. In fact, SEPTA (#33) and MBTA (#49) placed higher than Apple (#55) and SEPTA was the highest ranked company in Pennsylvania.