SEPTA’s trolleys along the Route 15 line will be taken out of service and replaced by buses for at least a year beginning Sunday, as the historic PCC II streetcars undergo evaluation and maintenance.
SEPTA maintains that it’s not saying goodbye to the trolleys, which run from the 63rd-Girard stop to Richmond-Westmoreland. They just aren’t expected come back until a PennDot bridge project is complete, said Scott Sauer, SEPTA’s assistant general manager for operations.
The project, he said, is an effort to “try to get more life out of them.”
PennDot’s reconstruction of I-95 had already prompted changes to the line, as the Route 15 trolley east of Frankford Avenue has been replaced by buses since 2012.
The decision to take the trolleys off the line — there are 18 in the fleet — results from a combination of factors, said Sauer, including the current mixed use of buses and trolleys, scheduling with the trolley’s operators, and the PennDot construction.
“It’s kind of the right moment for us to pull them in, take a look at them, rebuild things where needed, where necessary, and to get those cars back on the line,” Sauer said.
The cars were built in the late 1940s and saw an overhaul in 2002, according to a 2019 Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) report examining modernization efforts for Route 15 between Frankford Avenue and Broad Street.
And it’s not the first time bus service has been used on the line, with bus replacement floated as a consideration as SEPTA undergoes trolley modernization and bus revitalization.
“SEPTA staff report that buses frequently substitute for trolleys on Route 15 due to mechanical failures and expressed doubts that all of the PCC-II’s will remain operational between today and trolley modernization,” noted the DVRPC analysis, which included a microsimulation of curbside bus service for the portion of the route.
A 100-page report on revitalizing SEPTA’s bus network suggests that the agency consider converting the Route 15 trolley on Girard into a bus route, which “should be extended to 69th Street.”
As of Sunday, however, buses will serve along the normal Route 15 line.
“People love the trolleys; the trolleys are Philadelphia,” Sauer said. “I’m a trolley person — I grew up around the trolleys, I operated the trolleys — so I know how people feel about them. So once they hear rumblings that the trolleys might go away, people get upset, and they fill in the blanks.”
Joe Lee, 35, of Port Richmond, began wondering about the status of the Route 15 trolley line after seeing chatter on social media about possible changes to service.
Lee isn’t a frequent rider, but recognizes the important connection the line serves to the area’s residents, where public transit access can be lacking.
He called the ongoing I-95 construction there “insane.”
“It’s just so crazy that they’re going to spend all this money to do all this work, last however many number of years it’s been, and then they’re not going to actually bring back the trolleys?” Lee said earlier this month. “Or there won’t be a timeline to bring back the trolleys? Like, that’s just crazy to me.”