Thursday, April 22, 2004


For the second consecutive month, Fearless Leader did not provide a report during the SEPTA Board's "rubber-stamp" meeting. This month, however, she did turn her time over to AGM of Operations/Excuses Patrick Nowakowski, who gave a detailed status report on the sorry state of the on-time performance on SEPTA's Regional Rail system.

But first, the good news (such as it is). SEPTA reported it's trains were on-time 91 percent of the time last month, which marks what SEPTA had set as a mediocre (at best) annual goal. This marks the first time in nearly 2 years that on-time performance on the Regional Rail system topped 90 percent. Next month's performance will probably be impacted the system-wide shut down at Market East earlier this month. Now, back to the commentary...

After rattling off several excuses ranging from Amtrak's poor track condition and repair work along the Northeast Corridor, the bugs in the new centralized control center, the Rail Power Project, catenary failures, weather problems, slippery rail conditions, the CSX derailment at Neshaminy, and recent reports of suspicious items (particularly the April 1 incident at Market East), Nowakowski presented a chart showing the on-time records for all weekday trains in the system between December and March (a chart that happens to be posted in the employee room at Suburban Station behind the Passenger Dis-services office - and is in plain view to the public).

Nowakowski then reviewed a sample run (#302) to break down the performance of that individual run, indicating a difference in performance between the regular engineer and replacement engineers, which seemed harmless enough. Until BLET rep Tom Dorricott identified that run as his own. One couldn't help but think that it was a deliberate attempt by SEPTA to call out one of it's more vocal critics.

To be fair, some of these issues are out of SEPTA's control, and improvement is not only anticipated, it should be expected from the management, which has allowed not only the Regional Rail system to become as mediocre as the Phillies (I'm convinced that Fearless Leader and the rest of the Rotating Resumes at 1234 Market have swapped places with Phillies management), but also the bus operations side as well - not just in the city, but in the suburbs as well (and I've documented enough of these problems that I don't feel like going over it again, at least not right now)...

In other "rubber-stamp" related news:

  • SEPTA approved a controversial contract to Viacom Outdoor to continue to serve as the advertising provider for SEPTA's bus and rail fleet, which would result in a loss of nearly $10 million in revenue to SEPTA. SEPTA was forced to enter into this agreement after the FTA rejected SEPTA's original plan to offer Viacom a 5-year extension of the contract. Board Vice Chariman James Schwartzman voted against the item "in protest" of the FTA's handing of the contract. He also noted that the new deal would result in $40 million less in revenue to SEPTA over the next 5 years as SEPTA enters a major financial crisis. Today's Inquirer offers more details on the deal.
  • The Board ratified contracts for City and Suburban employees represented by TWU 234 and UTU 1594. The respective unions have already ratified the one-year deals.
  • The Board also entered into a 25-year with Chester County regarding use of the soon-to-be-built West Chester parking garage/transportation center at 220 W Market St. The parking deck is being built as part of the construction of a new criminal justice center across the street from the proposed garage site. Once construction begins, SEPTA will be forced to detour buses such that no service will be available along Gay and Market Sts between High and New Sts. This was approved at a "special meeting" prior to the regular meeting. The county is expected to take action shortly, allowing construction to begin later this year.
  • During the public comment session, TWU president Jean Alexander recapped the union's activities in lobbying Harrisburg for more funding for SEPTA and other transit systems in Pennsylvania. Board member Herman Wooten suggested that the TWU seek help from other labor unions for the cause, a suggestion that Alexander noted was already being done.
  • John Thomas Cooper, a DVARP officer (but speaking on his own behalf), hinted that a plan for the $chuylkill Valley corridor would involve a transfer at either Norristown or Port Kennedy/Valley Forge. The actual proposal is slated to be formally introduced tomorrow, though if one could read between the lines of Cooper's comments, it would appear that SEPTA may operate electrified service to Valley Forge and diesel service to Reading. Cooper also criticized SEPTA (and, to an extent, PennDOT) for holding strategy sessions outside of public view. Cooper's comments on $chuylkill Valley are also articulated in a letter to the editor in today's Inquirer.
  • DVARP President Don Nigro noted that electrification of the entire corridor from Norristown to Reading would cost an additional $100 million, and advocated either a dual-mode or engine change option as opposed to a transfer. That noted, however, Nigro also presented DVARP's opinion that SEPTA should seek an alternative for the corridor that would be "something that's cost effective for the region."
  • Outspoken consumer advocate (now working for Emperor Street) Lance Haver offered a brief statement offering support for SEPTA's proposed operating budget, as did Tom Hutt of the Northwest Philadelphia Campaign for Public Transportation. Hutt noted that SEPTA's tactics regarding the budget this year are less confrontational against the ridership at large than they were last year, instead commending SEPTA for focusing its collective energy on Harrisburg.

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