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Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Serving Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties

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A Message to SEPTA Customers

Thunder Storm Impact to All SEPTA Service | Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The weather forecast for yesterday predicted rain in the afternoon and at 11:30 a.m. flash flood watch advisories were being sent out indicating the possibility of stormy weather coming towards the tail-end of rush hour into evening. While a watch is never a guarantee that flooding will occur, we've learned from many weather events to be prepared for the worst. Based solely on the watch alert, rescue buses were strategically staged at 3 locations in proximity to Rail service and our Power, Signal, and Track Maintenance forces were put on notice to have storm coverage in place.

As it turned out, the storm accelerated much more quickly than forecasted and the change to flash flood warnings didn't go out until the storm was practically on our doorstep and directly in the path of the start of the evening rush. What hit our service region was a major storm with thunder, lightning, torrential rain and wind. The National Weather Service reported up to 4 inches of rain, which caused widespread flooding, and high winds - some reported up to 63 miles an hour - that toppled trees. All of this caused delays, power outages, and gridlock on streets and highways across the Delaware Valley.

SEPTA Transit service was mainly impacted by the heavy rains, which caused severe flooding. Heavy rain and flooded track areas were the cause of service delays and disruptions on Route 101/102 Trolley service and on the Norristown High Speed Line. Rail service was temporarily suspended for portions of these lines and shuttle buses were deployed although Operations was hampered getting vehicles to shuttle points because of street flooding and heavy roadway traffic. Three buses were dispatched to shuttle the Route 101 between Aronomink and Media before service resumed at 9:25 p.m.; Route 102 was shuttled between Collingdale and Sharon Hill until 8:35 p.m.; and the Norristown High Speed Line ran 8 shuttle buses between 69th Street and Bryn Mawr until 9:23 p.m.

Market Frankford Line service remained in operation between 69th Street and Frankford Transportation Center although Yard Operations were impacted by heavy flooding at 69th Street. Buses, across the region, and City Trolley operations were hampered by street flooding, traffic, and detours but no routes were cancelled or suspended.

Regional Rail was also hit hard starting with an off property tree falling on the catenary wire across the inbound track 1,000 feet north of the Fern Rock Regional Station. This portion of the system serves the Lansdale/Doylestown, Warminster, and West Trenton Lines. The tree fall caused the loss of 1of 2 tracks at Fern Rock and power to that area. The lighting strikes then piled on - impacting the signal system - and more downed trees began to affect our traction power. In a frustrating back and forth - the signals and then the power would momentarily come back on only to go out again. The staged Maintenance forces immediately began repair work but the impact to service was overwhelming especially for West Trenton customers. The age of the substations that serve West Trenton presented the biggest challenge to restoring power last night. The Yardley, Bethayres, and Neshaminy substations date from the 1930's, among the oldest remaining in the system and there is a contract is in place to upgrade and replace these substations.

The majority of stranded trains were stopped at stations but there was one Lansdale/Doylestown Line train #5249, heading towards Center City stopped on the tracks. Although we had buses staged and ready to assist, the terrain at the train location combined with the heavy rain and flooding made it very difficult to position buses to rescue the 180 stranded customers on board. Buses were also dispatched to rescue stranded trains at Glenside and one train at Noble.

Flooding at Elwyn impacted service on the Media/Elwyn Line and there were cascading delays throughout the system for hours after the last section of power was restored at 7:30 p.m. because of the way trains continue to other lines. To ensure that customers were able to return their home station and vehicles select trains were also extended on the Paoli/Thorndale and Wilmington/Newark Lines.

Last night, Transportation Managers remained on the platforms at Center City stations until late at night, assisting customers. The Control Center was constantly reminding the crews to provide updates and information although the intermittent power problems made it difficult to provide direction. We are reviewing customer feedback on our communications efforts and also evaluating the accuracy of the SEPTA app information and station message boards with an eye towards changes in our customer contacts in difficult situations.

At the height of the storm, SEPTA forces were able to remove the downed tree and begin making repairs to catenary and signal systems. They were able to get power restored so that service could resume Wednesday night and be ready for AM travel but PECO was not available until this morning to coordinate with SEPTA on the final storm repairs. This work was completed this morning but some Lansdale/Doylestown, Warminster, and West Trenton customers traveling earlier today may have encountered service delays in the area of Fern Rock.

As a flash flood watch quickly escalating to a flash flood warning demonstrates - we can't control the weather but we can do everything possible to be prepared for weather emergencies throughout the year. SEPTA will continue to advance infrastructure repairs to harden our system against weather impacts. We are already planning after action meetings to review the whole event and look at our communication programs from frontline announcements to real time information access on our apps, service alerts, and the website. We regret any inconvenience you experienced last night getting to or from your destination.