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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Allison blows through Pennsylvania, disrupts SEPTA service


When Tropical Storm Allison blew through Pennsylvania, it left behind plenty of damage and took part of a 1912-circa stone arch bridge with it, which will disrupt Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s R5 service for at least a month.

The R5 line runs from Doylestown south to Center City, then northwest to Thorndale, carrying an average of 6,000 passengers daily.

The stone bridge crossed Sandy Run Creek, which normally is ankle-deep. But June 16, when nine inches of rain doused that section of Montgomery County, the creek rose and crossed the bridge 40 feet above it.

In addition to taking out part of the bridge, the water carried ballast — and BMWs from a nearby car dealership — downstream. Also, the footing that supported the catenary slid, dropping the catenary eight feet.

It likely will take four to five weeks to repair the double-track bridge, says Richard Maloney, SEPTA spokesman. Meanwhile, shuttles are transporting R5 passengers between stations.

Luckily, service for the evening and week had concluded, so there was no immediate danger to rail passengers. However, there was increased flooding in the entire region as the evening wore on, which stopped a bus in the area. Passengers had to be evacuated out windows.

SEPTA experienced several additional washouts south of Jenkintown where R5, R2 and R3 lines share trackage. Thanks to a "Herculean effort on the part of several hundred SEPTA employees and contractors," the lines were repaired and service was restored in 36 hours — midday June 18 — says Maloney.

Damage estimates still are being calculated from the storm, which caused six deaths. SEPTA officials have been talking with Federal Emergency Management Agency and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, and are awaiting a decision or announcement in the next few days from President Bush and Gov. Tom Ridge regarding official disaster-area status.

Kathi Kube