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

March 17, 2019

How congestion pricing, MaaS, and new transit policies will benefit all

By working in tandem, these elements will result in better public transportation infrastructure, more egalitarian access to transit options, affordable or free services, and a healthier environment.

March 13, 2019

How private-sector vendors can successfully navigate transit agencies

What I found in my public sector roles was that often private sector vendors did not understand how we operated nor how to interface effectively with us as the public agency.

March 6, 2019

Labor Concerns Should Not Deter Deployment of AV Bus Tech

Transit agencies don’t need to wait for fully autonomous vehicles to become a reality before they can begin saving money, augmenting safety, and enhancing efficiencies in their bus operations.

February 28, 2019

The Major Tech Gap Impeding Mobility Innovation

Cities spend billions of dollars maintaining, upgrading, and operating their public transit networks, but this market receives remarkably short shrift in conversations about the future of mobility.

February 25, 2019

How AVs, TNCs and public transit will shape the future of transportation

In the next three to 15 years, autonomous vehicles will be the norm for commuting and other trips.

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