Maintenance and construction projects can present quite the conundrum for transportation organizations with rail operations: shut down a major portion or entire line in one shot to get the work done while offering substitute service for riders? Work overnights and weekends for long stretches of time? One solution to the maintenance/construction puzzle is the “blitz” — a balancing act between productivity and customer inconvenience.
For the second consecutive summer, SEPTA is utilizing the blitz method, which is favored by freight rail lines, to complete much-needed repairs and upgrades for its trolley tunnel — a five-mile, single-track passageway that carries approximately 40,000 commuters every day between downtown and West Philadelphia on five trolley routes. In 2013, the tunnel was closed for 10 days while SEPTA’s in-house crews completed numerous projects, such as replacing approximately 10,000 feet of worn overhead wire and 2,500 feet of support troughing, along with power cleaning, painting and making repairs to stations.
RELATED: Track Maintenance Equipment Gets Job Done Faster, Safer
In 2014, the tunnel will be closed for 17 days while the authority’s crews replace nearly 24,000 feet of worn overhead contact wire; weld together long rail strings and install more than 14,000 feet of new rail; replace two concrete-embedded track switches; replace worn track components and clean the track drains and stormwater system throughout the tunnel; test back-up and emergency lighting cables; and complete numerous station maintenance tasks and station repairs. SEPTA will also complete a major station upgrade at the 15th Street westbound station in just one month because much of the work will be done during the closure.
In all, some 250 employees will participate in the 390 hours that the tunnel is closed to ensure all projects are complete by the start of the service day on August 18.
“This ‘blitz’ concept is used in the transportation industry because it allows organizations to maximize productivity during improvements projects while minimizing the period of inconvenience to passengers and communities that we serve. This is especially true when there is a single track operation, like our trolley tunnel,” said SEPTA Deputy GM Jeff Knueppel. “Because the tunnel is in use all day, every day, with the exception of a few hours on Sunday evenings, and is a single track operation, it is difficult for our crews to get productive work windows. Without this blitz and 17-day closure, we’d have months of nighttime and weekend shutdowns to complete all of the various projects.”
A key factor for the to the blitz’s being able to happen is that SEPTA’s Market-Frankford subway-elevated line runs parallel to the trolleys through downtown Philadelphia, eliminating the need to use buses for service substitution.
RELATED: SEPTA to save $4 million yearly in rail energy costs
Portions of SEPTA’s trolley tunnel date back to the turn of the century — the 20th century. It’s been 30 years since the rails have been renewed and eight years since the wires were replaced. With 662 trolleys per day (200,000 per year) traveling through the tunnel, the infrastructure must be reliable. It is a single track operation — if one section of track goes down, trolleys cannot operate.
“We chose this time of year to do the work because our ridership is at its lowest,” said Knueppel. “When our riders return from vacation and head back to school en masse at the end of August and beginning of September, they will be using a trolley tunnel that is safer, more reliable and more attractive.”
SEPTA’s Trolley Tunnel Blitz also demonstrates the importance of government investment in transportation, as major construction elements for the project were funded by Pennsylvania’s Act 89, a landmark bill which was approved by the Commonwealth’s legislature and signed by Gov. Tom Corbett last fall to provide a dedicated, long-term funding solution for transportation infrastructure investments in Pennsylvania.
In case you missed it...
Read our previous blog, "How to Maximize Peak Performance from Your New Transit Maintenance Facility"
...as a transportation planner who has worked on bus rapid transit-style systems in the greater Washington region, I’ve noticed a disconnect in the public’s expectations versus the reality of the systems they’re getting. It got me wondering: do people have an accurate picture of what BRT means or the benefits the systems provide? During public-planning sessions, I’ve heard a lot of feedback on BRT. The gist is, “That’s really nice that the bus is a different color and the station platform is fancy, but I just want it to be on time.”
After acts of terrorism — domestic or international — law enforcement agencies are almost always asked: “How are you ‘ramping up’ your security efforts?”
Billions of taxpayer dollars are spent buying buses and railcars every year. Although the national unemployment rate has declined since the Great Recession, for low-income families and communities of color, the unemployment rate remains in the double-digits and good, family-supporting jobs can’t come fast enough. We need strategies that revive U.S. manufacturing and other industries that can create the kind of jobs we want.
The recently adjourned 2016 Democratic National Convention put Philadelphia in the national — and international — spotlight once again. For the third time in four years, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority transported thousands of visitors to the City of Brotherly Love and its surrounding counties. As with the U.S. Open in 2013 and the World Meeting of Families and Papal Visit in 2015, public transit was a key component for all event activities.
Everywhere, evidence reveals how we’re moving into a less-consumptive, sharing-based society. Whether it’s people’s homes, torrent files or a car ride downtown, sharing is in. As environmentally conscious and economically prudent reducers and re-users, millennials are choosing non-traditional forms of transportation. This behavior has already had a huge impact on the way the transit industry is planning for its future.