SEPTA to receive $317 million federal grant to replace Market-Frankford Line fleet

The federal funding comes amid SEPTA’s financial struggles and transit funding discussions in Harrisburg

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman speaks about federal funding for SEPTA at a press conference in Upper Darby on Feb. 21, 2024.

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman speaks about federal funding for SEPTA at a press conference in Upper Darby on Feb. 21, 2024. Office of U.S. Sen. John Fetterman

The Philadelphia region has more federal funding coming down the pipeline – this time to SEPTA and its Market-Frankford Line. 

Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker, U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon and other local electeds joined federal transit officials Wednesday to announce recipients of the Federal Transit Administration Rail Vehicle Replacement Grant Program – including SEPTA, which will receive a $317 million grant to support the replacement of the Market-Frankford Line railcar fleet. 

Scanlon, a Democrat representing the 5th congressional district in Delaware County, called the investment a “game changer” for passenger experience and the sustainability of the line. 

“The bipartisan infrastructure law, which we were able to pass 2 1/2 years ago, is marking a brand new era,” Scanlon said Wednesday. “We know that this grant means not just smoother commutes and lower costs to businesses, but also more good-paying jobs, stronger supply chains, greater climate resiliency, reduced congestion (and) expanded transit routes.”

The federal funding, distributed through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, is more than three times as much as the authority has ever received from a competitive federal grant.

According to SEPTA, the total cost of purchasing the vehicles – around 200 cars – is an estimated $800 million. The current fleet, which has required extensive repairs in recent years due to cracking steel beams, was introduced in the late 1990s. SEPTA was forced to remove dozens of cars from the fleet in 2017 due to structural issues, and crews have been rehabilitating the vehicles in the years since, resulting in reduced service hours. 

“We need an investment here that will provide the type of quality transit that this region deserves,” SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards said Wednesday.

SEPTA said about 96 functioning cars are needed to provide the El’s scheduled level of weekday service. On average, about 85 cars are available, with a steady stream of them rotating off the line for inspections or needed repairs, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. 

SEPTA said the authority is on track to bring a contract award to its board for approval by late spring or early summer – setting up a five-year timeline for the new fleet to arrive. 

Richards added that she’s hopeful state lawmakers will take action to further support SEPTA as it deals with a long-term budget shortfall. Without the $160 million funding increase Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed in his budget address, Richards said SEPTA will have to make tough decisions regarding services and fares. 

“The money as it is proposed by Gov. Shapiro, if we don’t get at least that level (of funding), there will be severe cuts and fare increases,” Richards said. “This is a critical time.”

Parker commended the federal officials for their work in bringing further investment to the region, noting the $20.4 million grant announced last week benefiting the Philadelphia International Airport. 

“If we get the new rail cars and people are still afraid to ride, it’s been for naught,” Parker said, stating that public safety issues must be addressed to ensure accessibility and safety along the line. “We’ve got to make the tough decisions to ensure that this investment is put to good use.”

Parker concluded the press conference by saying she looks forward to working with local, state and federal partners to ensure the region has a “first-class, modern mass transit system.”

“Our regional economy doesn’t deserve anything less,” she said.