SEPTA Regional Rail’s Chestnut Hill West Line, one of two lines suspended in COVID-19 schedule changes last spring, will return with some service in March, general manager Leslie S. Richards said Thursday.
Announced during the authority’s monthly board meeting, Richards unveiled plans for the line to return March 7 with a “restricted service schedule.” Riders will be able to travel on the line from around 6:30 a.m. through 7 p.m. SEPTA will not provide hourly service but will have “several trains” running daily, Richards said.
“We’re very happy to bring that line back,” she said.
SEPTA suspended some Regional Rail lines in April as many of its suburban riders adjusted to telework. As the commuter trains began to make a slow return over the summer, SEPTA kept the Chestnut Hill West and Cynwyd Lines, which have some of the lowest ridership, suspended. Before the pandemic, the Chestnut Hill West Line had about 4,400 weekday riders, while Cynwyd carried about 500.
SEPTA kept the Chestnut Hill West Line suspended because of Amtrak construction work that would have otherwise made service “unreliable,” Scott Sauer, assistant general manager of operations, told The Inquirer last week, when he also offered no timeline on its return. The lack of information left some riders wondering if SEPTA planned to shutter Chestnut Hill West, though Sauer maintained that it had no intention of closing the line.
The authority points to the Route 23 bus as well as the Chestnut Hill East Line as alternatives for those awaiting the Chestnut Hill West Line’s return.
SEPTA expects to have more information on the Chestnut Hill West schedules “in the coming weeks,” said spokesperson Andrew Busch. The authority is still experiencing depressed ridership amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with levels down about 85% from normal on Regional Rail and 65% on buses, trains, trolleys, and subways.
Richards also reported during Thursday’s meeting that 300 SEPTA employees received COVID-19 vaccines last week through a partnership with Main Line Health.
“SEPTA workers have shown up, and we’ve sacrificed to make sure our region kept moving throughout this crisis, and it is a huge relief to begin to get them vaccinated,” she said. “It’s given them a big boost, and it’s helped our morale.”
More than 1,000 SEPTA employees have contracted COVID-19, and about 640 have returned to work. Ten SEPTA employees have died of complications from COVID-19, according to SEPTA.
The board also heard from a number of transit advocates Thursday who expressed concern over the seven SEPTA Transit officers who are being investigated after attending former President Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 rally ahead of an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that left five dead. One of the officers has been temporarily reassigned from patrol duties to an administrative role as SEPTA continues its investigation.
Yasha Zarrinkelk, coalition organizer of Transit Forward Philadelphia, told the board the authority has “a serious equity issue to address in its culture of policing.”
There have been no updates on the investigation as of Thursday, Busch said.
SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. “Pat” Deon Sr. welcomed State Rep. Martina White (R., Phila.) as its newest member during its meeting Thursday, replacing former State Rep. Marcy Toepel. The authority’s 15-member board is made up of two representatives each from Philadelphia and its four collar counties, as well as four appointees from the General Assembly, plus a pick from the governor.