March 18, 2023
Weeks after awarding a contract to a consulting firm to finalize plans to construct a King of Prussia rail service, SEPTA abruptly canceled the project.
The transit authority announced it stopped the rail line's construction plans due to a lack of federal funding. With costs projected to be more than $3 billion, the Federal Transit Administration denied SEPTA the appropriate funding to move forward.
SEPTA officials said that discussions with the FTA over whether it could afford its share of the funding for the rail line, including cost overruns, led to the decision to end the project. SEPTA committed $390 million to the KOP rail and expected 60% of the funding to come from federal grants.
"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 addressing critical infrastructure needs," SEPTA General Manager and CEO Leslie S. Richards said. "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."
The KOP rail service was introduced in 2012 as a four-mile extension with five new stations lengthening the existing Norristown High-Speed Line.
Every year that passed without construction, the cost of the rail line increased by $100 million, SEPTA said. In 2020 the project's estimated cost was $2.08 billion and increased to $2.6 billion last year. The project, which was supposed to begin construction in 2025, was projected to cost $3.02 billion.
Opposition to the rail line project said that SEPTA should focus on improving the infrastructure of its other transit lines. One critic said spending so much on a project with limited benefits (SEPTA projected the KOP line would have about 10,000 daily riders) would be a failure and misuse of funding.
In February, SEPTA awarded a nearly $125 million contract to HNTB Corporation to complete the final design of the KOP rail; however, spokesperson Andrew Busch says that SEPTA will not owe the firm any money because the contract was not finalized.
With SEPTA pumping the brakes on the KOP extension, they will free up over $300 million to spend on other projects.
"SEPTA's capital budget is constrained compared to peer transit agencies that have more state and local funding available," Busch said in an email. "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."
Richards said the rail line extension would have provided tangible benefits connecting the three largest employment hubs in Center City, University City, and King of Prussia.
"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," she said.
In New York, the Metropolitan Transit Authority halted plans to create an air train to the LaGuardia Airport in Queens. The project grew from $450 million to $2.4 billion, ABC7 reported.