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June 16, 2015

City and transit officials announce preliminary transportation plans for Pope Francis' visit

Religion Papal Visit

Stations that will be open during papal visit to Philadelphia this fall.

It will be the largest event in modern Philadelphia history and possibly the second- or third-largest event in the United States and if you want to be a part of it, you better be prepared to walk.

That's the assessment and advice from Mayor Michael Nutter as he and other officials announced Tuesday strict guidelines, including radically different SEPTA routes, for anyone wishing to join Pope Francis on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in late September.

"Be prepared to walk at least a few miles or more," Nutter said during a press conference. "Private vehicles are really not a viable option. Public transportation routes and schedules will be altered for efficiency and capacity purposes."

As many as 2 million people are expected to pour into Center City to attend open-air events hosted by Pope Francis on Sept. 26 and 27. The papal visit follows the World Meeting of Families, a four-day event that also will flood Center City with thousands of visitors from across the world.

Nutter predicted the papal visit will be the largest event in modern Philadelphia history and possibly the second- or third-largest event in the United States.

"They're are a lot of people coming," Nutter said. "We need to really help people understand this is a very different event. What you would normally do to get to the Eagles game or something, forget that. This is different."

Transportation officials during the press conference announced preliminary transit plans for the papal visit, which will close much of Center City to automotive traffic. SEPTA provided the most detailed plans, announcing altered transit schedules and special fares.

In an effort to shuttle passengers into Center City as quickly as possible, SEPTA will require rail passengers to board trains from 31 select stations during Pope Francis' visit. Center City drop-off locations will be announced later after security plans have been finalized. All other stations will be closed.

"This will allow us to speed up service, recycle the trains and increase our system capacity," SEPTA Chief Executive Officer Joseph Casey said.

Casey admitted parking at these stations will be challenging, but said SEPTA is working with local municipalities to provide additional parking space.

"Realistically, we expect people to be dropped off," Casey said. "It is a challenge."

The stations available for boarding are shown below. They include stops on the agency's regional rail, subway, trolley and high speed lines.


SEPTA also will require all regional rail passengers to purchase one-day passes during the papal visit. The passes will be sold in advance for $10 on a limited — but yet to be determined — capacity. People who use monthly passes will also be required to buy the one day passes and no discount is being offered.

Special three-day passes, valid from Sept. 26-28, will enable passengers to ride all subways, buses and trolleys for $10. At least 26 buses will be on detours due to street closures.

SEPTA will operate on its typical weekly schedule during the World Meeting of the Families, held Sept. 22-25, Casey said. 

Amtrak will require all passengers to purchase reserved tickets during the papal visit, said Rina Cutler, Amtrak's major station planning and development.

"We are planning to move a lot more people through than we currently do on a daily basis," Cutler said. "We're closely with our partners, SEPTA and New Jersey Transit, to optimize schedules where we can and make changes necessary to accommodate large numbers of people."

An influx of passengers also is expected at Philadelphia International Airport. Chief Executive Officer Mark Gale predicted crowds will increase about 20 percent above the airport's 85,000 daily average, an impact comparable to Thanksgiving traffic.

"Airline schedules are fairly well-defined in advance," Gale said. "There may be some additional sections that are added on and planes will be fuller than they typically are, but we do believe that we will see crowds in excess of that 85,000."

The World Meeting of Families announced that Philadephia residents can register online to receive a "Papal Visit Playbook," a guide for residents and visitors seeking to navigate Center City during the event.

The visit is expected to give Philadelphia's economy a nearly $418 million boost, according to the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Noting that Francis has drawn massive crowds at international events, including more than 6 million people in Manila in January that broke records for Papal travel, Nutter warned that Philadelphia's crowds could be larger than forecast. 

Nutter urged the city's 1.6 million residents — particularly those who work in Center City — to solidify their travel arrangements as soon as possible.

"There is no specific, scientific, documentable way for us to actually figure out today, 90 days out, how many people will actually show up," he said. "This could in fact be the second or third largest event in the history of the United States. We're working to make sure that Philadelphia is open and accessible."

Reuters contributed to this report.