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How to Get Around on SEPTA, PATCO and Amtrak When the Pope Visits

Even SEPTA employees know they won't be able to easily get into and out of Center City amid the throngs when Pope Francis visits on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 26-27.

Pope Francis arrives to celebrate a mass in Asuncion, Paraguay, As the papal event nears, SEPTA officials are warning about delays. “People will have to be patient."
Pope Francis arrives to celebrate a mass in Asuncion, Paraguay, As the papal event nears, SEPTA officials are warning about delays. “People will have to be patient."Read moreAP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko

Even SEPTA employees know they won't be able to easily get into and out of Center City amid the throngs when Pope Francis visits on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 26-27.

So what's a transit agency to do?

Order 200 cots and portable showers for company headquarters on Market Street, to be used from Friday to Monday.

"We will actually be sleeping in our offices," said SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams.

Special papal visit transit passes go on sale online Monday for the hundreds of thousands of SEPTA and PATCO riders expected to pour into the city during the papal visit - including many people who must work that weekend.

Monthly transpasses will be no good on SEPTA Regional Rail lines. No one will be able to take a SEPTA train into the city after noon on Saturday and Sunday. And lines for outbound trains at night could be massive.

There will be compromises and a certain level of patience required for both visitors and regular riders. City and transportation officials emphasize that getting around will not be easy.

Constrained by U.S. Secret Service security requirements and limited numbers of transit vehicles, transit officials have designed a plan to move visitors from a handful of outlying locations - in morning hours only - to a few destinations on the edge of Center City. There will be few or no intermediate stops.

That way, they hope to avoid the kind of overwhelming confusion and gridlock that occurred during the 2008 World Series parade.

"That's what we couldn't do during the Phillies parade - manage the crowds," said SEPTA deputy general manager Jeffrey Knueppel said. "It took trains three hours to come into the city because of the crowds at each station and at the grade crossings. It was an absolutely chaotic situation.

"We're doing it this way to carry big numbers of people in a way that is safe and gives people surety that they're going to have their trip in."

The Secret Service security rules require transit agencies to limit their Center City stops and disperse crowds as much as possible.

"This being a security event, we've been heavily advised on how to deal with this," Knueppel said.

As many as 2 million people are expected to jam the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to see the pope at the Saturday Festival of Families and again at a Sunday afternoon Mass.

So, forget familiar travel patterns.

Center City will be closed to cars, buses, and other vehicles essentially from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill, from Spring Garden to South Streets. Most train and subway stations will be closed.

Parking, even at remote transit locations, will be scarce.

Outbound trains will begin to run at 5:30 p.m. until midnight each day.

The challenges extend to businesses in the city, most of which are still formulating plans for their employees who have to work that weekend.

A spokeswoman for Philadelphia International Airport, where 20,000 people work, said it is still developing plans.

"Representatives of all groups have been meeting with SEPTA to develop plans to have things go smoothly," said Mary Flannery.

Same for Comcast, according to a spokesman. The cable giant's weekend employees will not have the benefit of using nearby Suburban Station. That will be closed for the weekend.

Joann Weber, who commutes to the city from Fox Chase, was happy to hear her office will close on Thursday, ahead of the pope's arrival. She is an operating room nurse at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital Surgical Center, where elective procedures are done.

Weber, who attended Pope John Paul II's visit in 1979 - and who has two daughters in Catholic school - is content to stay at home.

"I feel lucky they closed us," Weber, 52, said. "It will save me a lot of trouble."

"If you're a health-care worker, you should just be able to use your normal pass," said Naomi Acheampong, a nurse at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital who commutes from Bensalem. "We don't get paid for that. That is really unfair."

Regional Rail passengers will not be allowed on trains without the special passes, and trains will stop at only 21 stations. The Center City stops will be 30th Street Station, Jefferson Station, and University City Station.

"We have no idea how pass sales will go on Monday," said SEPTA's Williams. "Will they sell out right away? Or if lots of people haven't even thought about it yet.

"We are doing our best to get the message out."

So are officials at Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Warminster, one of the few SEPTA stops that will board passengers that weekend. Ann Marie Gervino, director of adult-faith formation, said one priority has been to inform parishioners about the special SEPTA passes.

The church has rented three school buses, too. There is just one hitch: The destination is not yet known.

"Once we get off the bus, what do we do then?" Gervino said.

Throughout the city, there will be no shuttles for the elderly or disabled.

"Be prepared to walk at least a few miles or more," Mayor Nutter said when city officials unveiled transportation plans last month. He warned that "this will be the largest event in the city of Philadelphia in modern history."

At Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Doylestown, parish secretary Nicole Breeze said parishioners started calling several months ago, asking about a chartered bus. For the papal visit weekend, the Doylestown SEPTA line will begin and end miles away in Montgomery County at the tiny Pennbrook station.

So Mount Carmel will bus 110 people to Philadelphia.

The only PATCO stations open on the papal weekend will be at Lindenwold, Woodcrest, Ferry Avenue, Broadway, and Ninth/10th-Locust.

Trains bound for Philadelphia will originate at each New Jersey location and go nonstop to Center City every 16 minutes. On the return to New Jersey, trains will stop at all stations, departing about every four minutes.

"That's a lesson we learned from the World Series," said PATCO general manager John Rink. "Trains were jammed at Lindenwold, and then people couldn't get on at other stations."

The crush of people on the way home from Center City will be a bigger problem than the crowds on the way in, transit officials said.

"Everyone's going to crash to get out at the same time," said Rink.

The walk from the Parkway to the transit stations may spread out the crowds a bit and reduce some of the crowding, Knueppel said.

"But people can still expect to wait for several trains at night," he said.

"People will have to be patient."

Papal Transit Passes



  1. SEPTA and PATCO will start selling a limited number of special papal transit passes on Monday morning. SEPTA plans to sell 175,000 Regional Rail passes for each day Sept. 26 and 27, starting at 9 a.m. Monday, with a limit of 10,000 from each outlying station.

  2. PATCO will sell 100,000 preloaded Freedom cards, good for one or two days.

  3. SEPTA will sell one-day Regional Rail passes only online, at its website,, for $10 each, with sales limited to 10 per station, per purchase. A separate pass will be required for each of the two days.

  4. Passes must be purchased for a specific station and departure period. Only two morning periods will be available: 5:30 to 8:30 a.m., and 8:30 a.m. to noon each day. Return trips will operate from 5:30 p.m. to midnight each day.

  5. Passes will be mailed to purchasers, with a $1.95 shipping fee per purchase.

  6. PATCO will sell one-day passes for $5 and two-day passes for $10 on its website,, starting at 8 a.m. Monday, and at its Broadway station ticket office in Camden (from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday-Friday) and Woodcrest station in Cherry Hill (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays).

  7. Current holders of PATCO Freedom cards can use their existing Freedom cards, at $2.50 per one-way trip.

  8. Also, PATCO will open fences at Ninth/10th-Locust to let people out of the fare lines, instead of requiring them to go through turnstiles.

  9. For non-rail passengers, three-day papal passes for subways, trolleys, and buses will go on sale for $10 online on July 27. SEPTA will sell 750,000 of those passes, good for Sept. 26 through 28.

  10. On subways, trolleys, and buses, customers can also use tokens, and regular weekly and monthly passes.


  1. All Amtrak trains will require reservations for the weekend of the papal visit. Visitors are encouraged to book tickets now, available on the Amtrak website,

SOURCES: SEPTA, PATCO, Archdiocese of PhiladelphiaEndText