Civic News

New express trains are good for economic development, but riders want more

The express rides were scheduled in an effort to be more commuter-friendly.

A SEPTA regional rail train.

(Photo by Flickr user John Mueller, used under a Creative Commons license)

The news that Delaware Transit Corporation (aka DART) and SEPTA are scheduling two Philadelphia-bound trains as express rides, at evening rush hour, sent riders like The Kitchen’s Zach Phillips into a fit of ecstasy.
“These two express trains are life-changing,” Phillips said. “These are a major, major deal, especially for people like me.”
People like him are Philly residents who commute via regional rail to Wilmington for work. In a release about the new express trains, Delaware Transit Corporation president John Sisson said that the trains were scheduled in hopes of improving economic development in Delaware.
Here’s the nitty-gritty with time changes: In the evenings, rush hour trains currently depart Wilmington at 4:44, 5:06, 5:50 and 6:02 p.m., each taking approximately 45 to 50 minutes to get to 30th Street Station. Express trains — which, starting April 11, will leave Wilmington at 5:15 (instead of 5:06) and 6:15 (instead of 6:02) will pare off 9 to 13 minutes of ride time, according a release from DART and SEPTA. The express trains, by the way, will serve all four Delaware stops.
David Curtis, a Wilmington resident who has closely studied Wilmington’s train situation for the past two years, said the move is a part of JPMorgan Chase’s announcement in October that it is bringing in 1,800 jobs to Wilmington by 2019. Delaware Public Media reported that the company has been working with SEPTA and the Delaware Transit Corporation, which is “chipping in $1 million annually for the next three years” for increased train services.
Mike Zbranak, JPMorgan Chases’s managing director and head of the new Delaware Technology Center, said in a release that the company appreciates the two new express trains. “The community, including our employees, will certainly benefit from this increased access to public transportation and we’re excited about it,” he said.
JPMorgan Chase employees won’t be the only ones happy about the improved rail services, Curtis said, adding that he has spoken to a few dozen companies of varying size in Wilmington who have been hoping for better evening commuting options.


Commuting has become an increasingly popular option, particularly for young people who want to live in a big city. Ridership in New Castle County has steadily grown, SEPTA said, and the Wilmington/Newark line provided about 1.3 million passenger trips in 2015. Curtis said Wilmington ranks in the top 25 of SEPTA’s 230 stations for overall ridership, and that it ranks fourth in terms of ridership per train (because Wilmington has infrequent train service compared to most other heavily-used SEPTA stations).
Commuter Zach Phillips said Wilmington would really benefit from people beginning to appreciate that the city is part of greater Philadelphia.
“My general sense is everybody, people, don’t think of Wilmington as a legit suburb of Philly as something they can commute to, or somewhere they can commute from,” he said, adding that King of Prussia and Chestnut Hill (which is inside Philly city limits) take just as long, if not longer to get to Center City, yet people consider them suburbs without pause. He’s even had seemingly unaware clients purchase Amtrak tickets to Wilmington on several occasions.
“There’s a much bigger pool of talent and resources in Philly, and we need to make that as easy as possible for that stuff to flow into Delaware, and right now we’re making it hard,” Phillips said. “We have this beautiful train station very centrally located to everything you could want in Wilmington, and we just don’t have enough trains going.” (Phillips’ offices are literally on the train platform, so he would know.)

The Wilmington Train Station.

The Wilmington Train Station. A beauty. (Image via The Flickr Collection on Getty Images, used under a Creative Commons license)

He and Curtis agree on that, while both say the new express trains are a good start. Last December, SEPTA added later night trains to Delaware on the weekdays, but the latest weekend train departing Wilmington is at 6:40 p.m. while the latest leaving Philadelphia is around 7:30 p.m. “I can’t even stay out for appetizers if I’m going out to dinner in Philly,” Curtis said.
Hal Real, founder and president of World Cafe Live, said he’s frustrated that the regional rail schedule isn’t conducive to seeing an 8 p.m. show in either Wilmington or Philadelphia locations because trains don’t run late enough. Students at the University of Delaware are getting shortchanged too, he said. “Newark folks cannot use SEPTA to come to WCL Wilmington shows because they can’t get back to Newark via SEPTA train,” he wrote in an email.
Weekend hours don’t bother Phillips as much, as he already lives in Philadelphia, but what he’d like to see next is more morning options for commuters into Wilmington. At the moment, there’s a 6:38 a.m. (arriving 7:25), a crowded 7:43 a.m. express (arriving 8:21) and a 9:33 a.m. (arriving 10:26) that leave 30th Street Station.
“There’s a huge gap there,” he said. “They’ve just got to give us one more morning train — if they gave us more than one, more than one would be great — but one in between those times, it would be like, OK, now we are living a lavish lifestyle.”
Future changes remain to be seen, but for now, Curtis and Phillips — along with many others — are pleased about what the two outgoing express trains can do for helping build up Wilmington.
“These two trains are very good,” Phillips said. “This is exactly one of the things we needed.”

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