SEPTA Regional Rail stations tend to be in suburban or rural areas, but for our first Regional Rail review, we might as well have never left Philadelphia! And when I say Philadelphia, I mean the parts of it where you probably want to keep your wits about you when you walk around. Welcome to Chester!
We’re right on the Northeast Corridor, so this four-track station gets superfast Amtrak trains as well as SEPTA stoppers. SEPTA does run rush hour express trains on the Wilmington/Newark Line (and thank goodness for that – it has way too many stops otherwise!), but almost all of them stop here. There are only two trains, one morning inbound and one evening inbound, that skip Chester.
I’ll start on the west side of the station and work my way east. Over here is the outbound mini-high platform, which is just that: a platform with nothing else on it. The one on the inbound side is similar, but on the other end of the station. Both platforms feature staircases down to Avenue of the States, Chester’s main drag.
Both sides have huge sheltered portions. Underneath, it’s what you would expect: some benches, some wastebaskets, some Key Card readers, and some screens showing the next two trains. Still, these are big shelters that can easily accommodate a morning rush hour crowd, something that must be great on rainy days.
These sheltered parts get their own exits, too. The outbound elevator wasn’t working when I was here about two months ago, and apparently it still isn’t working. SEPTA, how long does it take to fix an elevator? Also, the outbound staircase from the sheltered area was gated shut. Why??? All it does is go down to the street! Ah, it looks like it also leads to a tunnel to the inbound waiting room, which is closed outside of the morning rush. Maybe to prevent people getting in, they just close the staircase during off-peak hours. Well…that’s kind of annoying.
The inbound side has a staircase from the shelter that avoids the waiting room entirely, so that was open. Also, the elevator was working! Let’s just take a look at…ohhhhhhhhh dear, what is that liquid? Actually, never mind. I don’t want to know.
I wasn’t here during the morning rush, so the waiting room was closed (there are great photos on Chester’s Wikipedia page, though). It’s too bad, too, because it actually looks really nice! The architecture is ornate, it has amenities like a ticket office, bathrooms, and a transit police substation, and the whole thing looks quite clean. Then again, maybe it’s only clean because the waiting room only opens up during the morning rush…
Okay, one last staircase. I guess this is the outbound side’s staircase that “serves” the shelter without leading into the building. It’s…a spiral! I guess it was built that way to conserve space, and though it’s a little strange, I like it. It gives the station more character. Near its base are two bike racks, which are the only two bike racks here, as far as I could see. Of course, SEPTA claims there are none, so even if I’m wrong, I’m more right than they are!
Of course, the station’s full name is Chester Transportation Center – there are a ton of bus connections here. The north busway is only partially sheltered, plus it’s along a regular street rather than a private bus road. The berths are spread out along here, and most of them just have a few unsheltered benches. The routes that board here are the 109, 114, and 118, but there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason as to which buses stop where.
Now this is a busway! The southern side is completely bus-only, and the entire thing is sheltered. Like in the northern busway, there are benches and wastebaskets scattered between each berth here. The routes that leave from the south side are the 37, 113, 117, and 119, but again, that doesn’t mean much, since there’s no consistency as to where each of those buses go. The 114 and 117 end up on the same road, but they leave from different busways. I have no idea why.
Station: Chester Transportation Center
Ridership: Huh…you know, I called this an “important” station because the fact that almost every train stops here made it seem that way, but…yeah, actually, the station gets pretty mediocre ridership. 267 boardings per weekday, 315 leaves per weekday. I guess that makes sense, though – many people in Chester are low-income, so it makes a lot more sense to spend $3.50 taking one of the frequent 24/7 buses from here to the El or Sub, rather than using a $6.00 commuter rail train that’s designed for 9-to-5 jobs.
Pros: Here’s another reason the station feels “important”: it has a ton of amenities! There’s a ton of shelter up on the platforms, the south busway is very well-covered, and the station’s waiting room is beautiful.
Cons: Aside from the northern busway being less impressive than the southern one, I think most of Chester’s problems are elements of the neighborhood the station is in. For example, that horrible elevator with the urine in it…that’s not SEPTA’s fault, really. Why would they pay someone to go all the way out here to clean an elevator when the stations in the city are such a mess? Closing the waiting room during off-peak hours? Given the demographics of Regional Rail riders and what they’re comfortable with, it makes sense. I’m not saying that SEPTA shouldn’t be keeping its waiting rooms open for anyone who needs warmth and shelter, but its decisions reflect what Regional Rail is at this time: a way for middle-class people to get to work. That’s the sad truth.
Nearby and Noteworthy: “The city of Chester has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the country. People in the city of Chester have a 1 in 37 chance of being the victim of a violent crime. Recently, a source stated that there were 73 registered sex offenders living in the area.” -Wikipedia. Yeah…I don’t think there’s much to see here.
Final Verdict: 7/10
Well, I’ll say this: the station isn’t bad. I don’t want to fault it too much for being in the condition it’s in, since a lot of the problems here are beyond SEPTA’s control. Again, I expect elevators to be clean in urban stations that have full-time staff members, but out here where there’s no one most of the time, it’s not a big surprise that no one’s cleaned someone’s residue up. It’s the same with the waiting room being closed; unless SEPTA can afford to hire someone to keep watch in there (which they probably can’t), they really have no choice but to keep it closed so it stays squeaky-clean for the morning commuters. Given how busy the buses get here, though, it might make sense to staff someone here anyway. Those open busways probably get mighty cold in the winter…
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