Winter wreaks havoc, leaves transit weary

Posted on March 21, 2014 by Heather Redfern - Also by this author

SEPTA uses a jet engine to melt snow and ice on the tracks of its rail lines.
SEPTA uses a jet engine to melt snow and ice on the tracks of its rail lines.

The winter of 2014 was relentless, with its deep freezes, ice storms, record snowfall, torrential rain and mudslides. The polar vortex was a “hot” topic of conversation across the country and we became intimately familiar with the new phenomenon of naming winter storms — Janus, Nika and Quintus, anyone?

The end of the season will be welcomed by transportation organizations across the country, especially in Philadelphia, where the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA) service was impacted by 16 storms and weeks of extremely frigid temperatures.

Proactive measures helped SEPTA “weather” the intense winter. Ahead of snow and ice storms, SEPTA twice detoured more than half of its bus routes that operate along roads notoriously prone to weather-related problems.

RELATED: "Arctic temperatures wreak havoc on Chicago rails"

On Feb. 13, SEPTA suspended all bus service from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and, along with Regional Rail service, from 10 p.m. until the Feb. 14 morning rush hour.  

“Conditions were too hazardous for us to safely operate our vehicles,” said SEPTA Assistant GM, operations, Ron Hopkins. “We couldn’t risk having vehicles full of passengers stranded for hours during the storms in areas we wouldn’t be able to reach with our service trucks.”

Pulling buses off the streets also gave municipalities the opportunity to plow streets without having to navigate around the vehicles.    

SEPTA staff monitor the snow's impact on the system.
SEPTA staff monitor the snow's impact on the system.

In addition to detouring and interrupting service, SEPTA brought in personnel to work around the clock at its Headquarters Command Center and in the field to monitor conditions. Mechanical staff at bus depots and rail yards were able to address vehicle equipment concerns, while track inspectors, maintenance crews, signal maintainers and power crews staged at various locations throughout the system were available to attend to issues quickly. By deploying extra staff, SEPTA was in the best possible position to quickly identify problems and take corrective action to minimize the impact to riders.

SEPTA’s Market-Frankford and the Broad Street lines  — its two busiest routes — operated with train service overnight, rather than switch to regular Night Owl Bus service, to keep additional buses off potentially icy roads and help with efforts to continue service on those vital transit arteries.

Trains were stored in tunnels, to be out of the elements and ready for the next day’s commute. SEPTA also ran pilot trains on its Regional Rail commuter lines and trolley routes overnight to help prevent ice from accumulating on overhead wires.

The transit system's engineering, construction and maintenance crews trim trees on the Lansdale/Doylestown Line during the Feb. 5 storm.
The transit system's engineering, construction and maintenance crews trim trees on the Lansdale/Doylestown Line during the Feb. 5 storm.

While the proactive plan helped SEPTA preserve service, the weather did wreak havoc on its budget — as it did transit organizations across the country. In just a matter of weeks, a modest surplus of $200,000 was a multi-million dollar deficit — a word that is taboo to SEPTA Chief Financial Officer Richard Burnfield. The transit system has had a balanced budget for 14 consecutive years.

SEPTA had allotted for $4 million for winter costs. By Feb. 25, the agency had spent almost $11 million on labor (in-house and contracted); equipment rentals; and materials such as salt, traction motors, overhead wires, insulators and bus pneumatics. School and business closures caused by snow and ice led to lower ridership (down 6% and 8% in January and February, respectively), and therefore, reduced revenue. 

“Deficit is not part of my vocabulary,” Burnfield said. “We will have to take a hard look at our operating budget for the rest of the fiscal year to see how we can bring it back to a balanced status.”

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "What if we sold transit fares like cell-phone minutes?"

View comments or post a comment on this story. (0 Comments)

More Transit Dispatches Blog Posts

July 19, 2017

Reimagining the Public Transportation Rider Experience for the Digital Age

Transit systems move millions of people each day, getting us to where we need to go, influencing our moods, and shaping our collective stories. But, faced with fluctuating ridership, uncertain budgets, and the sky-high expectations of a digital savvy customer — open app, get car — how can centuries-old transit systems keep up?

July 12, 2017

The Case for Outcome-Based Procurement in Transit

Would you buy cash-handling services and dictate to the security firm what type of armored truck and cash counters to use? By the same logic, why would you buy an innovative transit product or platform and mandate how the vendor designs the technology? You likely would not — and why would you?

June 14, 2017

Why Investing in 'Half Measures' When Hiring Frontline Employees Will Bring Public Transit to Its Knees

The public transit industry faces a severe human resources crisis... we began to focus on the science behind identifying and hiring more resilient human beings up front, in order to make it easier to build resilience and preparedness with employees once they are onboard.

June 7, 2017

Making it Easier to Do Business with the Transit Industry

Doing business with a large transportation organization is not as daunting as one might think.The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority uses technology and in-person networking to facilitate relationships with companies pursuing opportunities with the authority.

May 30, 2017

The Evolution of Streetcar Technology

While streetcars may seem like an old fashioned or nostalgic mode of transportation, today’s streetcar is far from your grandmother’s trolley. The modern streetcar has evolved in major ways in response to shifts in community needs as well as technological advances.

See More

Post a Comment

Post Comment

Comments (0)

More From The World's Largest Fleet Publisher

Automotive Fleet

The Car and truck fleet and leasing management magazine

Business Fleet

managing 10-50 company vehicles

Fleet Financials

Executive vehicle management

Government Fleet

managing public sector vehicles & equipment

TruckingInfo.com

THE COMMERCIAL TRUCK INDUSTRY’S MOST IN-DEPTH INFORMATION SOURCE

Work Truck Magazine

The number 1 resource for vocational truck fleets

Schoolbus Fleet

Serving school transportation professionals in the U.S. and Canada

LCT Magazine

Global Resource For Limousine and Bus Transportation

Please sign in or register to .    Close