SEPTA “pauses” the King of Prussia rail project

SEPTA announced on March 17th that it is “pausing the King of Prussia Rail project following further review of rising costs, which have been exacerbated by inflation and high interest rates.” This decision followed the project not being recommended for federal New Starts funding in Fiscal Year 2024. According to the announcement, the Federal Transit Administration determined SEPTA didn’t have the money for the rail extension that was ballooning in cost. From the announcement:

A major factor preventing KOP Rail from advancing is the lack of flexibility in SEPTA’s capital budget. In discussions this week, the Federal Transit Administration raised concerns about whether SEPTA could fund its share of the project, which would include any cost overruns. SEPTA’s capital budget is constrained compared to peer transit agencies that have more state and local funding available. SEPTA would not jeopardize other critical projects, such as the Market-Frankford Line fleet replacement, Trolley Modernization, or station accessibility improvements, to advance an expansion project.

Over the past few years, the issue of extending the line had been controversial in Upper Merion Township and in Philadelphia The debate in the suburbs was over whether it was needed and if it went forward what path it would take. In the city, transit activists didn’t believe the cost justified the limited number of people who would be served. Some believed that the money would be better spent on a subway along Roosevelt Boulevard.

SEPTA plowed ahead with the planning over the objections and had gotten very close to the process of purchasing properties to make way for the tracks and stations. In February, a contract was approved for a final design, however, it was not executed by SEPTA.

“SEPTA’s capital budget has been underfunded for decades. This has left the Authority with significantly fewer resources than peer agencies to pursue system expansion while also addressing critical infrastructure needs,” said SEPTA General Manager and CEO Leslie S. Richards. “With the funding we have currently, SEPTA must prioritize essential infrastructure work and safety and security improvements to maximize the reliability and effectiveness of our aging system.”

According to SEPTA, each year of delay results in the cost of KOP Rail increasing by approximately $100 million. The cost of the project had already risen by just under a billion dollars ($2.08 billion in 2020 to $3.02 billion as of today (March 17, 2023).

“We are disappointed. King of Prussia Rail would have delivered real benefits to our city and region by providing reliable public transportation connecting our three largest employment hubs in Center City, University City, and King of Prussia. It would have eased congestion on area roadways and reduced air pollution,” Richards said. “We greatly appreciate all the hard work that our staff has put into this initiative, and we are grateful for the support of those who advocated for the project alongside us.”

Richards added: “This process further highlights the critical need for new transit funding at the state and local levels. In order to pursue any service extensions in the future, SEPTA needs more support.”

SEPTA now plans to apply the resources that had been allocated for KOP Rail “to bolster essential infrastructure work.” SEPTA plans to provide exact details on how funds allocated for KOP Rail will be used when the proposed capital budget and the long-term program are released in April.

Just a Thought

Why would anyone give a billion dollars to an organization that can’t keep its existing vehicles clean and safe?

And Question

How could this process get so far down the track, with millions of dollars already spent, when SEPTA didn’t have the money? It is not like SEPTA’s financial position recently changed.