He started as an entry-level engineer 27 years ago, and as Jeffrey D. Knueppel rose through SEPTA's ranks he prioritized connecting with workers on the front lines of the region's transportation.

In his three years as deputy general manager Knueppel on 12 occasions spent long hours on the streets with workers, from bus drivers to transit cops.

"I really think I made better decisions once I knew people's jobs," he said.

It's a habit he wants to keep as the boss.

Knueppel, 52, was selected to replace SEPTA general manager Joseph Casey at the transit agency's monthly board meeting Thursday. Knueppel has been favored to take the top job, and now is charged with keeping momentum inherited from Casey.

In his seven years as general manager, Casey stabilized an agency that for years was financially troubled and unpopular with riders. In 2012, SEPTA was named the best large transit system in North America by the American Public Transportation Association, and this year, it placed 33d in Forbes magazine's list of the nation's 500 best employers.

Casey received accolades from city and state officials at the meeting, who praised him for his role in obtaining significant funding for SEPTA. State funding through Act 89 has nearly doubled SEPTA's capital budget, to $534 million.

That influx of money meant SEPTA could address its backlog of repairs, while also growing. As those plans come to fruition, Casey said, it is appropriate his successor is an engineer.

"Jeff acknowledges he likes to build things," Casey said, "but he likes to build them on time and under budget."

SEPTA is spending up to $100 million to reopen a stretch of unused track in Delaware County to passenger rail between Elwyn and Wawa. A $650 million spur from the Norristown High Speedline to King of Prussia is planned. The decrepit City Hall and 15th Street Stations are getting a $150 million overhaul.

The agency has also promised improvements in convenience, including long-awaited smart cards as an alternative to tickets and tokens.

"Most likely it's going to be me building things," Knueppel said about his administration.

Casey retires as general manager Sept. 30. Knueppel begins Oct. 1 with a salary of $248,000.

SEPTA has 9,300 employees and is the sixth-largest transportation agency in the country. With a $1.3 billion operating budget, SEPTA reported about 330 million riders in 2014, a near record in ridership and a number expected to keep growing.

Knueppel lives in Bedminster, Bucks County, and has graduate and undergraduate degrees in civil engineering.