Updated 04/07/21 4:40 p.m.
Kensington’s Somerset Station, managed by SEPTA and located on the Market-Frankford Line, will reopen on Monday, April 5 after two weeks of repairs and changes to improve safety and security, according to a SEPTA press release.
The station was closed on March 21 to repair two elevators that were damaged by human waste, urine, and used syringes. After the closure, community members called on SEPTA to re-open the station and offer better conditions for riders and transit workers.
The completed repairs and maintenance work includes reinforced structures, improved lighting, new signs, fresh paint, and deep cleaning. However, the elevators will most likely not be repaired in time for the station’s reopening on Monday, according to the press release.
SEPTA told Kensington Voice last week that it was also working on a plan to improve security at the station for riders and transit workers, while providing more outreach efforts for the vulnerable population, too.
Today, SEPTA announced that the new SEPTA Transit Police officers assigned to the station “will work closely with social outreach specialists who will be assigned to Somerset Station to connect those in need with substance use or behavioral health treatment and other services.”
SEPTA will also “replicate the model” at other impacted stations, having already sent inspectors to Allegheny Station to evaluate needed repairs and maintenance work, according to the press release. SEPTA later added that replicating the model includes repairs, but not necessarily closures, at the other stations.
Last week, Kensington Voice asked SEPTA to respond to some of the action items listed in a joint statement from three Kensington organizations. And on April 1, Kensington Voice asked SEPTA to explain the model that will be replicated at other stations. Here’s what SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said, verbatim.
Editor’s note: This article will be updated as more news comes in.
KENSINGTON VOICE: Can you summarize the model that will be replicated?
SEPTA: The model will vary some depending on factors at different locations, but the basic parts will be:
- Added measures for customer and employee safety and security, such as an increased visible police and security guard presence (the 60 security guards are being brought on under a 90-day contract, and about mid-way through we will reassess that and other facets of the program).
- Partnering with the city, community groups and other organizations to add social outreach specialists and other resources for those in need of treatment, counseling or shelter. While the additional security will serve to reinforce the message that stations are for riders, everyone will be treated with respect and dignity. Those in need of services, treatment and counseling will be able to connect with resources through help offered by outreach workers.
- Stepped-up maintenance and cleaning efforts. This includes day-to-day upkeep and also assigning construction crews where needed to address infrastructure issues like we have done at Somerset. Even with work continuing at Somerset, we have already sent crews to the Allegheny Station to begin assessments for similar efforts there. We don’t expect to close Allegheny Station because the larger footprint of the station will allow our crews to perform the work while it stays open for service. While work progresses at Allegheny, we will further develop action plans for other locations.
KENSINGTON VOICE: Is there a scheduled date for the reopening of Somerset Station? If there isn’t a date, how and when can this information be provided to the Kensington community?
SEPTA: We expect to have more information on the reopening date by mid-next week. Before the closure, it was estimated that crews could need over a month to make some critical repairs, including to steel structures that have been damaged by urine, human waste and discarded needles. This includes vital supports for elevators, stairs, pedestrian crossovers [and] other infrastructure. Fortunately, after having a chance to examine the station closer this week, we expect it can be reopened in less than a month from the closure. Some repair work will likely continue after the station is reopened.
In addition to making significant progress this week with repairs and maintenance work, SEPTA is close to finalizing a plan to enhance security at the station for both customers and employees. This will also include more outreach efforts for the vulnerable population, including those experiencing homelessness, struggling with drug addiction and suffering from mental health issues.
KENSINGTON VOICE: Will SEPTA add a shuttle service or be increasing bus services along Kensington Avenue during the remainder of the closure? If so, when will this begin and how frequently will the service run? If not, why can’t this be provided by SEPTA?
SEPTA: While the station is closed, SEPTA has put in place a temporary service plan to allow customers to use the Route 3 Bus – with a free transfer – to connect to and from the Market-Frankford Line at Allegheny or Huntingdon Stations. Information on the alternate service is posted online at http://septa.org/alert/mfl.html and http://www.septa.org/covid-19/service-information.html.
SEPTA transportation supervisors are closely monitoring operations, including passenger volume on Route 3 Buses, and initial reports indicate that the alternate service is running well. SEPTA will continue to monitor conditions closely to determine whether additional service, such as a shuttle, will be needed.
KENSINGTON VOICE: Will SEPTA consider helping create an advisory board, made up of Kensington representatives and partners from different sectors including the City and SEPTA, that is involved in the decision-making in regard to reopening the Somerset Station and long-term solutions to the problems that led to its closure?
SEPTA: We have had a number of meetings with community groups, along with elected officials, and that will continue through the Somerset Station closure and beyond. The Authority is committed to doing its part to help address challenges along the Kensington Avenue corridor, which includes the Allegheny, Somerset and Huntingdon stations.
KENSINGTON VOICE: Will SEPTA create an advisory board for Somerset Station?
SEPTA: There are no plans for a formal advisory board at this time, but we are fully committed to working with community groups as we develop these strategies.
KENSINGTON VOICE: How will SEPTA improve the working conditions (current conditions: syringes, human waste, etc.) for SEPTA employees at Somerset Station once it reopens?
SEPTA: Increased police presence, including two SEPTA Transit Police officers at the station throughout the day. We have always had a police presence at Somerset, however, these will be static patrols dedicated to the station. There will also be a police booth added at the street level, similar to one that we have at the Allegheny Station. Also, the repair work is designed to enhance safety and security. This includes enhanced lighting, signage and rust-inhibiting paint.
We are also moving forward with plans to hire temporary security guards, and they will be dispatched along the Market-Frankford Line at all stations between 15th Street and Frankford Transportation Center. This will be accompanied by additional efforts to connect members of the vulnerable population to services, such as shelters, [addiction] counseling and assistance for mental health problems. SEPTA knows it will not be able to solve these larger societal issues alone, but is committed to working with the city, the community and partner organizations to make meaningful short- and long-term changes.
KENSINGTON VOICE: Community organizations are asking for a “guarantee of increased services available for the unsheltered and those suffering from addiction.” In addition to other possible services, will SEPTA add more social workers to its SAVE Unit who can respond whenever needed, including overnight? If not, why can’t this be provided by SEPTA?
SEPTA: We are committed to working with community organizations on these efforts. SEPTA has already added to its SAVE Unit – during the pandemic alone, it went from a one-team pilot program to four teams, and now is at seven – and we expect to continue expanding the program. We are considering other ways to provide social outreach and assistance, and we expect to have more details on those plans in the coming weeks.
You can read the full list of action items, here.
You can read our Community Listening Post, where we asked community members their thoughts on the closure, here.
Editors: Zari Tarazona, Claire Wolters / Designer: Henry Savage
Kensington Voice is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at brokeinphilly.org or follow on Twitter at @BrokeInPhilly.