SEPTA Halts King of Prussia Rail Project

Philadelphia’s transit agency, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has paused the King of Prussia rail line that is proposed as a link to the Norristown High Speed Line and centre city. King of Prussia is located in suburban Montgomery County, PA and is hope to the King of Prussia Mall, one of the five largest in the United States.

According to a SEPTA press release dated March 17, “… SEPTA must prioritize essential
infrastructure work and safety and security improvements to maximize the reliability and effectiveness of our aging system.” The press release further noted that “From August 2020 to August 2022, the project estimate increased from $2.08 billion to $2.6 billion. The estimate now stands at $3.02 billion.”

All activities on the King of Prussia project are being halted, and a pending contract for final design has not been executed by SEPTA.

“The Authority will provide details on how funds allocated for KOP Rail will be used
when the proposed capital budget and long-term program is released in April.”

Like other transit agencies around the world, ridership has been severely reduced by the effect of the pandemic, pandemic lockdowns and the increase in remote and hybrid work. In 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, the transit’s work trip market share in the Philadelphia, PA-NJ-DE-MD  metropolitan area fell by half, from
9.4% to 4.7% in 2021, according to American Community Survey data. At the same
time, the work from home share quadrupled, from 6.0% to 23.6%.

Further, US transit agencies have generally been criticized for large cost overruns on rail projects compared to other nations.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm located in the St. Louis metropolitan area. He is a founding senior fellow at the Urban Reform Institute, Houston, a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg and a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University in Orange, California. He has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris. His principal interests are economics, poverty alleviation, demographics, urban policy and transport. He is co-author of the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and author of Demographia World Urban Areas.

Mayor Tom Bradley appointed him to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (1977-1985) and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich appointed him to the Amtrak Reform Council, to complete the unexpired term of New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman (1999-2002). He is author of War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life and Toward More Prosperous Cities: A Framing Essay on Urban Areas, Transport, Planning and the Dimensions of Sustainability.

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Other transit agencies like New York's should make similar concessions on major new projects in order to husband funds for operational deficits.