Newtown (SEPTA station)
SEPTA regional rail
Newtown Station site, October 2009. Platform and signage remain.
|Structure type||station shed (demolished)|
|Platforms||1 side platform|
|Closed||January 14, 1983|
In the railroad's original plans, the line was to continue to the north, but this expansion was never built. Newtown Station was built in 1873 and torn down in 1960. A new shelter was constructed in 1976. It later became a part of SEPTA's Fox Chase Rapid Transit Line. The station, and all of those north of Fox Chase, was closed on January 14, 1983, due to failing diesel train equipment SEPTA had no desire to rehabilitate.
SEPTA experimented with the line by operating the Fox Chase-Newtown diesel segment as the Fox Chase Rapid Transit Line. SEPTA insisted on utilizing transit operators from the Broad Street Subway as a cost-saving factor, while Conrail requested that railroad motormen run the service. This was a result of a labor dispute that began when SEPTA inherited approximately 1,700 displaced employees from Conrail. When a federal court ruled that SEPTA had to use Conrail employees in order to offer job assurance, SEPTA cancelled Fox Chase-Newtown trains.
Service in the diesel-only territory north of Fox Chase was cancelled at that time, and the Newtown station still appears in publicly posted tariffs. Although rail service was initially replaced with a Fox Chase-Newtown shuttle bus, patronage remained light. The traveling public never saw a bus service as a suitable replacement for a rail service, and the Fox Chase-Newtown shuttle bus service ended in 1999. The Newtown Station shelter was torn down in 2004.
Resumption of train service
In the ensuing years, there has been interest in resuming passenger service by Bucks County officials. The Newtown Board of Supervisors has repeatedly pushed for the resumption of regular commuter service since 1983, with the board passing a resolution in December 2009 in support of the trains.
The issue of resuming passenger service has been a political albatross from the day service ended. Newtown remains the victim in all the political squabbling that has amassed over the years, as they have always given strong support of returned commuter service and have the most the gain. Author Joseph Schwieterman commented in 2001 that "few communities experiencing the loss of service have engaged in as protracted a dialogue about bringing back their passenger trains as Newtown. The continuing impasse has left many transit advocates skeptical that the borough will ever be accessible by rail again."
In September 2009, the Southampton-based Pennsylvania Transit Expansion Coalition (PA-TEC) began discussions with township officials along the railway, as well as SEPTA officials, about the realistic possibility of resuming even minimal passenger service to relieve traffic congestion in the region. Plans call for completing the electrification to Newtown, as originally planned in the late 1970s.
PA-TEC's efforts have received bipartisan support by both Bucks and Montgomery County officials, as well as at the state level, despite SEPTA's overall reservations. However, SEPTA has also confirmed that they are indeed open to revisiting the line if there is strong political support in both counties.
In November 2011, Newtown Democratic Council candidates accused SEPTA board Chairman Pasquale Deon and the agency’s general manager, Joe Casey, of improperly meddling in borough politics regarding use of the Newtown Station site parking lot.
Council commented that SEPTA's involvement “is yet another example of public funds and resources being used to benefit political candidates. Documents show that Republican council candidate Paul Salvatore went directly to the chairman of SEPTA, a prominent Newtown Republican businessman, with Democratic literature, seeking his help to counter it. And he got it, with the SEPTA general manager directed to send a letter to Newtown Borough attacking the Democratic campaign piece."
The dispute had begun in August 2011 when the Republican challengers in Newtown distributed campaign literature that highlighted four goals, one of which was a plan to convert the Newtown Station parking lot into basketball and tennis courts. In September, the Democratic incumbents responded, noting that the property contained “environmental hazards,” which would have to be cleaned up at great expense and recommended the town seek out other alternative sites for recreation. Republican Paul Salvatore contacted Deon, a longtime friend whom he had discussions with on the SEPTA site prior to the campaign, and brought the new Democratic flier to his attention, as Deon is SEPTA’s board chairman.
Pennsylvania state law forbids Deon from being involved in political matters due to the fact he is a partner in the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Newtown Council added that "any actions that he took on behalf of the residents of Newtown Borough he did in his capacity as Bucks County representative to SEPTA.”
Salvatore had attached the Democrats’ campaign literature in a September 12 email to Deon that read, “Check out the literature the Democrats are putting out about the SEPTA lot. It implies that there is hazardous waste there but to anyone’s knowledge no tests have ever been done. Please contact me about this matter.” The following day Deon forwarded the email to Jeffrey Knueppel, chief engineer at SEPTA, with one line that read, “Please get me something quick on this. Thanks.”
This led to a series of emails among SEPTA officials and a letter dated September 19 to the borough signed by Casey that read: “In a campaign leaflet being circulated by two candidates for election to the Newtown Borough Council, there is an allegation that unspecified ‘environmental hazards’ exist at the parking lot at SEPTA’s Newtown Station.” The letter noted there is no indication on the surface of any environmental issue. Determining whether there is an issue underneath the surface would require subsurface investigation and historical search, the letter concluded.
According to 2002 Newtown park and recreation minutes, SEPTA did not want basketball courts on the property because of liability. In addition, borough officials requested that SEPTA “test for PCVP contamination which would have a definite impact on whether the committee would recommend the redevelopment of the lot,” and at some point Joseph Kelly, administrative assistant to Deon, “indicated SEPTA is committed to cleaning up the site.”
Meeting minutes state that SEPTA “discourage(s) disturbing the soil, digging up or removing the existing blacktop or adding blacktop to the site .... SEPTA would permit the borough to cover the existing blacktop with brick.” In addition, meeting minutes from 2003 state that the borough council was “given certain constraints by SEPTA who preferred that the borough not disturb the soil.” Jane Spector, who designed a conceptual plan for the property, told park and recreation officials that “a condition of the lease is that there would be no remediation of soils by SEPTA, nothing that, considering the property’s history, soils should not be moved or disturbed; no soils test have been done,” according minutes from a 2003 meeting.
Deon and Casey did not respond to the Bucks County Courier Times when questioned about their actions.
- Tulsky, Fredric N. (January 29, 1982). "Conrail Staff Must Run Trains: court ruling bars SEPTA takeover". Philadelphia Inquirer. SEPTA must use Conrail workers rather than its own personnel to run trains over the region's 13 commuter lines, a special federal court has ruled in a decision that offers some job assurance for 1,700 Conrail employees next year. The special court, in an opinion issued Wednesday, ruled that SEPTA had acted legally in October when it replaced Conrail workers with its former subway operators on the line.
- SEPTA Tariff No. 154; effective July 1, 2009
- Bucks Views website, documenting out-of-service Newtown train line
- Fisher, Elizabeth (December 17, 2009). "Supervisors urge restoration of rail line". Bucks County Courier Times (Newtown, Pennsylvania: NBC10.com).
- Schwieterman, Joseph P. (2001). When the Railroad Leaves Town: American Communities in the Age of Rail Line Abandonment, Vol. 1 Eastern United States. Truman State University Press. p. 267. ISBN 0-943549-98-1.
- Werner, Jeff (March 5, 2010). "SEPTA: Reactivation of Newtown rail line a difficult prospect". Bucks Local News (Newtown, Pennsylvania).
- Duarte, Gema Maria (November 4, 2011). "Democrats say SEPTA Should Stay Out of Local Politics". Bucks County Courier Times (Newtown, Pennsylvania). Retrieved November 15, 2011.
- Newtown Line.pa-tec.org – PA-TEC study on resuming SEPTA commuter service between Fox Chase and Newtown