Facebook Page
Philly NRHS - Septa History


Home Chapter History National Info Chapter Info CINDERS Newsletter Our FP7A Transportation Links Railfan Links


The Philadelphia Chapter of the

National Railway Historical Society

Established in 1936


SEPTA History

  Click here for current map of SEPTA Rail Division Dispatcher Desk Assignments

The impetus that eventually led to the creation of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) began in the early 1950's. The components of what would become SEPTA then consisted of the subway, trolley and bus routes of the Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC), the bus and trolley routes of the Philadelphia Suburban Transit Company (PSTC also known as Red Arrow Lines), the Philadelphia & Western interurban line (P&W), the bus routes of the Schuylkill Valley Lines and the commuter rail lines of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) and the Reading Company (RDG).

  All of these were privately owned companies that fared well in the period of rationing during the war years, when they experienced some of their best years in terms of ridership. Unfortunately, the post-war era was marked by a steady decline in use of mass transit due to a number of factors, especially the growing popularity of the automobile and the population shift to the suburbs. Also detrimental to confidence in the system were the many labor strikes that plagued the companies, particularly PTC.
  The formation of the Urban Traffic and Transportation Board by Philadelphia city government could be seen as the birth of the movement toward quasi-governmental assumption of mass transit services in the Philadelphia area. Authorized by a City Council resolution on December 17 1953, the advisory board, which reported to the mayor, was created in January 1954 with the purpose of examining the current transportation problems and future transportation needs and plans with emphasis on inter-county and inter-state cooperation. At the time, the counties of Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware, Chester, Bucks, Berks and Lehigh in Pennsylvania as well as the states of New Jersey and Delaware were served by SEPTA predecessors. The board worked with the transportation companies as well as the city's Department of Public Property and county and state agencies to propose solutions for the region's future transportation requirements.
  The board operated until 1960 and laid the groundwork for the creation of the Passenger Service Improvement Corporation (PSIC), formed on January 20 1960 to work with the PRR and RDG to provide improved service on the local commuter lines. A non-profit funded mostly by the government, PSIC would provide financing for new equipment (namely the Budd Company Silverliner II's built at the Red Lion Plant off the Reading West Trenton Line in Northeast Philadelphia) that would be leased to the railroads.
  On September 8 1961, the city of Philadelphia and the counties of Bucks, Chester and Montgomery sign on to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Compact (SEPACT). Delaware County did not initially participate due to the exclusion of subsidies for PSTC. Co-operating on regional transportation issues allows SEPACT to qualify for demonstration grants from the federal Housing and Home Finance Agency. SEPACT also produced at least three studies for the US Department of Transportation detailing the operational improvements proposed and implemented on the commuter lines.
  With the private transit companies struggling to provide service and the railroads looking to exit the passenger business altogether, the need for the government to create a permanent body to run urban mass transit in the Philadelphia area had become apparent. As established by act of the Pennsylvania General Assembly on August 17 1963, SEPTA held its first organizational meeting on February 18 1964 with the original SEPACT members joined by Delaware County.
  Originally SEPTA's function was to coordinate government subsidies to the railroads and transit companies, absorbing PSIC and SEPACT in 1965, and by 1966 all commuter lines were operated by the PRR and RDG under contract with SEPTA. Inevitably negotiations led to the purchase of the assets of the PTC, which was the largest urban transit company in the world still in private hands when SEPTA formally took control of it on September 30 1968. This would become SEPTA's City Transit Division (CTD) which included all bus, trolley, and trackless trolley lines within the Philadelphia city limits as well as the Market-Frankford Elevated and the Broad Street Subway.
  The next step for SEPTA was to acquire PSTC and the P&W, which it did on January 30 1970. This became the basis for the new Suburban Transit Division (STD). The P&W became the Route 100 Norristown High Speed Line and the two remaining Red Arrow trolley lines, the Sharon Hill and the Media lines, became Route 101 and Route 102. The Frontier Division was created by the addition of the Schuylkill Valley Lines in 1976.
  On February 1 1968 the Pennsylvania Railroad merged with the New York Central Railroad to form Penn Central Railroad (PC), which took over the operation of the commuter lines operated by the PRR. Between 1970 and 1977, the commuter fleet was upgraded with the purchase by the city of Philadelphia and SEPTA of Silverliner IV's for both the RDG and PC lines. Unfortunately both PC and RDG filed for bankruptcy during this time and, while the new cars helped, the physical plant continued to deteriorate, causing many service outages. After years of economic decay and political wrangling, the Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973 led to the merging of many bankrupt Northeastern railroads, including PC and RDG, and the formation of the Consolidated Railroad Corporation, aka Conrail (CR).
  The contractual arrangement with SEPTA continued when Conrail assumed operation of all the Philadelphia commuter lines on April 1 1976 until the implementation of the Northeast Rail Act of 1981, which allowed Conrail to divest itself of the responsibility of all commuter service operations. This responsibility passed to the local transit authorities, which included SEPTA in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, NJT in New Jersey and New York, ConnDOT in Connecticut, MBTA in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Metro North in New York and MARC in Maryland and Washington DC. SEPTA officially took over on January 1 1983, forming the Regional Rail Division (RRD).
Sources Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority
  Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society - Hagley Museum and Library
  The City of Philadelphia
  Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers
  Copyright © 2004 John P. Almeida


Direct website questions or comments to phillynrhs webmaster

Website created June 12, 2002

Last Updated November 25, 2004