For years, SEPTA has talked about extending train service to the King of Prussia area, which would connect the region’s second-largest employer to its largest, Philadelphia.
But the project is expensive, and it is not projected to carry as many riders as other parts of SEPTA.
Still, SEPTA is moving forward and has begun soliciting proposals from engineering firms for the final design work, set to begin this fall.
Should SEPTA build the King of Prussia line? We asked SEPTA and a frequent SEPTA rider to weigh in.
No: It’s time to set aside King of Prussia Rail for other budget priorities.
By Daniel Trubman
Although it is often promoted as a creator of (temporary) construction jobs and as a way to juice up property values, public transit primarily exists to provide a convenient service that allows residents and visitors to travel around our region.
As SEPTA begins spending funding from the recently passed infrastructure bill in the proposed FY 2023 capital budget, it will be critical for SEPTA to prioritize projects that will efficiently grow transit ridership with the limited resources available.
The proposed King of Prussia Rail project fails to pass that test and should be shelved.
Despite an ever-escalating projected budget of $2 billion, the King of Prussia Rail project is forecasted to carry fewer passengers than many of the system’s bus routes. With so many pressing needs and alternative options for growing ridership, it’s time for SEPTA to press pause on the King of Prussia Rail project.
While improving transit service to the King of Prussia Mall may be a worthy goal, SEPTA’s faulty planning process has produced a fundamentally flawed project. To resolve complaints from local residents, SEPTA proposed a route that purposely avoids dense neighborhoods, severely restricting potential ridership. And instead of sensibly routing the line along U.S. Route 202 in a way that would offer access to jobs and amenities, SEPTA opted for a complex path requiring the construction of a trench and viaduct, which raises costs. The end result? SEPTA’s own analysis determined that the line will only generate a few thousand weekday trips each year, despite the multibillion-dollar cost.
SEPTA has already thrown too much good money at this inferior project (including $40 million of COVID-19 relief funding originally intended to sustain service during the pandemic). Spending money on a transit project that few people would actually ride is by definition a failure, regardless if secondary goals are achieved.
Indeed, the benefits of the rail project are so limited that neither local municipal officials nor the owners of the King of Prussia Mall have expressed a willingness to contribute a single dime to the project.
In the meantime, SEPTA does not lack for other crucial projects that are desperately in need of additional funding.
“SEPTA does not lack for other crucial projects that are desperately in need of additional funding.”
SEPTA’s Trolley Modernization project is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine one of the nation’s largest light-rail networks. Unfortunately, this project remains underfunded by nearly $700 million. Constructing a subway line along Roosevelt Boulevard — which could have several times more passengers than the King of Prussia line — could have a transformative effect on our city and region. The cars on SEPTA’s Broad Street Line and the Market-Frankford Line (which have been literally falling apart) will soon need replacements. SEPTA is exploring a Regional Rail Master Plan to study how the system can be transformed to serve a much larger population, but the project will only work if it’s properly funded.
If SEPTA is to avoid a ridership death spiral, it must focus its limited budgetary resources on projects that will induce many residents and visitors in the region to switch to transit, not outrageously expensive vanity projects few will actually ride.
At some point in the future it may be wise to reconsider how SEPTA can deliver higher quality transit service to King of Prussia for a reasonable cost, but in the meantime — given its massive projected cost and measly forecasted ridership — the King of Prussia Rail project simply does not qualify as a smart transit infrastructure investment.
Daniel Trubman is a Philadelphia resident and frequent transit rider. @dmtrubman
Yes: King of Prussia Rail is a critical investment in our future.
By Leslie S. Richards
SEPTA’s King of Prussia Rail project is a major investment in our future. Committing to this infrastructure project now will enhance access to employment, create jobs, alleviate congestion — and position Greater Philadelphia to compete with other regions that are already expanding transit to attract and retain new businesses, residents, and visitors.
By extending the Norristown High Speed Line four miles into King of Prussia, KOP Rail will address a significant gap in the region’s transportation network and connect our three largest employment centers — Center City, University City, and King of Prussia — with frequent and reliable rail service. It also benefits drivers, as KOP Rail will reduce roadway congestion by 18 million vehicle miles traveled every year.
“KOP Rail will reduce roadway congestion by 18 million vehicle miles traveled every year.”
Momentum for KOP Rail is building locally and nationally. Over the past year, the Federal Transit Administration approved the project for entry into the Capital Investment Grants program pipeline — a major milestone to receive federal New Starts program funding — and we will soon begin final design. We share the federal government’s confidence in KOP Rail.
Now is the time for our region to unite behind this transformational project and the benefits it will deliver for Greater Philadelphia.
Following an exhaustive, yearslong planning process that included input from residents of Upper Merion, our riders, and other stakeholders, SEPTA has identified the most cost-effective route, with five new fully Americans with Disabilities Act accessible stations, with the greatest potential for ridership and fewest community impacts. Independent analysis of KOP Rail anticipates the resulting project will alleviate traffic congestion and support sustainable transit-oriented development, while generating thousands of new jobs, including permanent ones. The construction jobs alone will add up to $600 million in earnings for workers.
For the thousands of daily riders expected to use this new service, KOP Rail represents much more — particularly, new and enhanced access to opportunity. Currently, it takes at least 75 minutes by bus to travel between Center City and King of Prussia. The same trip on KOP Rail, utilizing a seamless connection to the Market-Frankford Line, would take 45 minutes. That saves 30 minutes of travel time each way and one hour roundtrip.
For a parent picking a child up from day care, a family member taking care of a loved one, or a student juggling classes with a job, that hour is priceless. And, for the one-third of Philadelphia households that do not have access to a car, that saved hour can remove the barrier to a family-sustaining job.
SEPTA has worked with a broad coalition of elected officials, business leaders, community members, and transportation stakeholders to develop a comprehensive program of projects to help our growing region meet current and future demands. Together, these projects of regional significance — including KOP Rail and Trolley Modernization — will improve mobility and enhance the region’s economic competitiveness.
We aren’t letting the investment in KOP Rail shortchange our work on other projects that already serve thousands of residents. SEPTA’s new 12-year capital program commits more than $390 million toward KOP Rail and $1.15 billion for Trolley Modernization, to acquire new vehicles and upgrade the infrastructure. The budget also dedicates billions toward fixing any aspects of our infrastructure in need of repair, provides $1 billion for station accessibility improvements, and funds implementation of our major planning initiatives — including Bus Revolution, Reimagining Regional Rail, and Project Metro.
Advancing KOP Rail does not prevent SEPTA from pursuing other transformational projects or critical day-to-day operations and maintenance work. Instead, it shows how we — as a city and region — can do big things when our world-class region works together.
Leslie S. Richards is SEPTA’s general manager and CEO.