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Ridership takes a hit because of SEPTA's rail woes

SEPTA released its summer ridership numbers Thursday, and Regional Rail's troubles have clearly taken their toll.

SEPTA removed 120 railcars from service over Independence Day weekend due to cracks found in a key weight-bearing component, and the loss caused delays, scheduling chaos, and packed cars. The ridership numbers for July were almost 21 percent below those from the same month in 2015. In August, ridership was off 10 percent. This year, Regional Rail is averaging 107,000 daily riders, according to SEPTA's statistics, 14.8 percent fewer than last year.

All those lost riders are translating to lost revenue. SEPTA received $7 million less in passenger revenue than it had budgeted in July and August, largely due to the Regional Rail problems. SEPTA had budgeted about $13 million in revenue from Regional Rail in both July and August. July's actual revenue was $10.5 million and August's was $11 million.

While the faulty cars' manufacturer, Hyundai Rotem, is picking up the costs of repairs, it is unclear whether SEPTA will be able to recover any of the lost revenue that resulted from the loss of the vehicles. General manager Jeff Knueppel has said returning Regional Rail to a normal schedule is a necessity to bring back lost riders.

Repaired Silverliner V cars began returning to service this month and all are expected to be repaired by November. The rail service may be able to return to a normal weekday schedule by early October, though, Knueppel has said, as  more of the cars return to service.

In other business at SEPTA's monthly board meeting, the authority approved leasing about three miles of unused freight rail to Richland and Springfield Townships for use as walking and bike trails to connect with Lehigh County's trail at the border of Bucks County. The stretches of unused rail on the Bethlehem Branch will be leased free of charge for 30 years. The municipalities will handle any construction and maintenance needed, and SEPTA reserves the right to convert the right-of-way back to rail if needed.