Starting in July, SEPTA is Taking our ‘R’!

Starting in July . . . SEPTA is taking our ‘R’.   I had heard rumors and come July. . . it becomes a reality. The Paoli R5 is loosing its ‘R’.  SEPTA has made it official, they will no longer use the R-number system for designating the rail service routes.  Rails service routes will just be known by their end destination.

A bit of historical trivia – the R-number was devised by a University of Pennsylvania transportation professor in the early 1980’s in anticipation of the opening of the Center City commuter tunnel. The tunnel connected the former separate regional rail networks of the Pennsylvania and Reading train lines and made it possible to operate the trains from one suburban terminal to another via Center City. There have been changes to the system over the years and now only about one-third of the Regional Rail trains make end-to-end trips through the tunnel, which is a primary SEPTA argument to remove the R-numbering system.

With SEPTA’s replacement of the R-number system to the ‘end destination’ system, where does that leave our R5 – will the train line be known as ‘Paoli’ or Thorndale or ‘Paoli/Thorndale’?   All outbound trains stop at Paoli but all outbound trains that stop at Paoli do not continue on to Thorndale. (Thorndale has a reduced schedule as a final destination).  SEPTA is using the end destination labelling  as the way to designate the train routes which works fine with outbound trains from the city.  That is once SEPTA determines what the end destination is for the R5 . . . will the train be known as ‘Paoli’ or ‘Thorndale’ or ‘Paoli/Thorndale’?   (I already want our ‘R’  back!).

Using SEPTA’s idea of naming the train by its end destination, I then wonder how the inbound trains will be labeled.  Some have suggested that SEPTA should just name the trains according to where they end, regardless whether they are inbound or outbound.  Schedules can include outbound destinations for inbound trains at the top, just below or above the train number. Trains terminating in Center City can be labeled “30th Street” or “Temple University” accordingly, depending on which direction they’re headed.

But there’s more . . . if you are that person who depends on SEPTA’s color-coding to make it easier to get around, that too is coming to an end.  Come July there will be no more color-coding of individual routes which are currently on schedules and signage. The color codes will be replaced by the light bluish-gray color that is now used in the Center City District.

All of this sounds very confusing to me – why can’t we just keep our ‘R’?

Not a Very Merry Christmas for Local Developer

Along with me, I am sure all of you have been watching the development of the Uptown Worthington project on Route 29.  This redevelopment project taken on by Brian O’Neill and O’Neill Properties Group on 100 acres of the former Worthington Steel factory was supposed to be a model for the planning concept ‘New Urbanism’.  The project had a price tag of $540 million, 1.6 million sq. ft and was supposed to include 753 luxury residences, nearly 800,000 sq. ft. of upscale retail and about 185,000 sq. ft. of office space.  Having Wegmans Market in our backyard was exciting news for a lot of us! 

Now it looks like Uptown Worthington may be a model for great projects falling to the woes of today’s economic crisis.  O’Neill Properties Group is in danger of having to give the keys back to Citizens Bank.  Citizens Bank has secured a $61 million judgment against the developer who borrowed money to build the project.  Court documents filed a couple of weeks ago show that the bank entered the judgment against Brian O’Neill, after the bank and the King of Prussia developer were unable to come to terms on the loan.  In researching the situation, I determined that O’Neill Properties originally arranged an $86 million loan with Citizens Bank through Malvern Hill Associates and other O’Neill-affiliations for the land acquisition and construction costs.  O’Neill guaranteed the loan, which was initially made in 2006 and amended in October 2008 when the financial markets worldwide were in turmoil. As of this date, Mr. O’Neill has not filed a petition to strike the judgment (the legal option when someone places a judgment against them.)  

The million dollar question (or rather $61 million question) – what does this news mean for the project? I am not sure what the timeline is for O’Neill Properties to resolve the loan issue . . . and what happens in the meantime, does the project continue with O’Neill Properties?  I’d like some of our developer, planners, and contractors to weigh in on this one.  Does my much anticipated Wegmans Market get completed?  Will Citizens Bank become the developer in this project?   

This turn of events for Brian O’Neill certainly must be causing pause for Peter Monaghan and Strategic Realty Investments (SRI).  Here we have SRI, the recently-named master developer of the Paoli Transit Center project which is to include multi-use development, just down the road from the current financial woes of the Uptown Worthington project.  I don’t personally know Brian O’Neill, but in the interest of the community, here’s hoping that some good news comes his way (in the form of $61 million!).  For Peter Monaghan, O’Neill Properties Group’s misfortune must be an eye-opening revelation, so here’s sending best wishes to Strategic Realty Investments for their success with the Paoli project!

Strategic Realty Investments to be Master Developer for Paoli Rail Yards

 I just received notice from State Rep Paul Drucker’s office with the following press release from Harrisburg.  Strategic Realty Investments has officially been named as the master developer for the Paoli rail yard redevelopment project.  I know Peter Monaghan personally, one of the principals of Strategic Realty Investments, and I appalud the choice.  Peter is a wonderful, community-spirited person and this project will be greatly helped with him at the helm!  This is good news for the community.

Developer chosen for Paoli rail yards

 HARRISBURG, Dec. 16 – State Rep. Paul Drucker, D-Chester/Montgomery, said today that Strategic Realty Investments has been selected as master developer for the Paoli rail yards, a 20-acre site located in Tredyffrin and Willistown townships.

 The developer will team with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Amtrak, the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, Tredyffrin and Willistown townships, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and numerous stakeholders to create a new mixed-use development on the former brownfield.

 The site will be home to the new Paoli Transportation Center, which is expected to include a modern train station to accommodate hundreds of daily riders and a state-of-the-art garage.

 “I believe there is no more important initiative in the Paoli area that could simultaneously help business economic development as well as improve the quality of life for local residents, and it is encouraging to see progress is continuing,” said Drucker. “This announcement is the latest indication that all our hard work is paying off and that the new station and surrounding development will become a reality.”

 “Transportation infrastructure is the heart and soul of economic development and this project is a prime example of how public transportation is a vital part of local economies,” said state Rep. Joe Markosek, D-Allegheny, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. “My sincere thanks and congratulations go to Representative Drucker for bringing this important project to my attention, and for his enthusiastic support and persistence through the process.”

 Drucker said funding for the project is expected to come from private and public sources, including potential American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funding.