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Passion for trains helped create SEPTA

William Harris Polk, 93, formerly of Jenkintown, a civil engineer and public transit expert who was active in the creation of SEPTA, died of heart failure April 25 at Normandy Farms Estates in Blue Bell.

William Harris Polk, 93, formerly of Jenkintown, a civil engineer and public transit expert who was active in the creation of SEPTA, died of heart failure April 25 at Normandy Farms Estates in Blue Bell.

While growing up in Madison, Wis., Mr. Polk visited one of his grandmothers at the local train station, where she was a ticket clerk. He loved watching the trains pull into the station and discovered his passion, said his son, William R.

Early in his career, Mr. Polk worked for a steel company in Chicago and a railroad in Milwaukee, then was with Pittsburgh Corning Corp. for 11 years.

In 1961, Mr. Polk joined the staff of the newly organized Passenger Service Improvement Corp. in Philadelphia.

The nonprofit agency was formed to increase ridership on local rail lines.

Mr. Polk was charged with developing the city-sponsored North Penn-Hatboro line, serving Philadelphia and the North Penn and Hatboro areas.

"The line's success showed that a regional transit system could be done effectively," Mr. Polk later told a reporter.

In 1964, the Passenger Service Improvement Corp. and a another organization, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Compact, were absorbed by SEPTA, which the Pennsylvania legislature had established that year to provide transit for Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties. Mr. Polk joined SEPTA's staff and later was a transportation consultant in New York City.

In 1970, Gov. Raymond Shafer appointed him as deputy secretary for the newly formed Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. For the next 13 years, Mr. Polk worked with communities to improve rail and bus service.

After retiring in 1983, he served on the Montgomery County Transportation Advisory Committee and SEPTA's Regional Citizens' Advisory Committee, where he was an advocate for preserving rail and bus lines threatened with closure.

Mr. Polk and other members of the Jenkintown Kiwanis Club spearheaded the improvement and renovation of the Jenkintown Railroad Station.

He founded a Railroad Club at Normandy Farms Estates, where he had lived since 2000, and was a member of the National Railway Historical Society. He commuted to work by train and traveled by train cross-country on vacation, his son said.

"There was always a train component when we took family trips," his son said. "It might be a visit to railroad tunnels or a manufacturing plant to inspect new railcars."

Mr. Polk had a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin.

His first wife, Lurena Whidden Polk, died in 1950.

Since 1952, he had been married to Jean Cooper Polk.

He was an elder with Grace Presbyterian Church in Horsham and Oreland Presbyterian Church.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Polk is survived by daughters Carolyn Rock and Elizabeth, three grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 7 p.m. June 7 in the auditorium at Normandy Farms, 9000 Twin Silo Dr., Blue Bell. Burial was in Rose Hill Cemetery, Ambler.

Memorial donations may be made to ACTS Retirement Living, 375 Morris Rd., West Point, Pa. 19486.