Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is overseeing construction of the work, which should be completed by December.
A $30.6 million project that will modernize Villanova Station on the Paoli/Thorndale Regional Rail Line is making steady progress in Villanova, Pa. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is overseeing construction of the work, which should be completed by December.
“SEPTA's goal is to provide accessible access to our stations for all users,” said SEPTA senior program manager Natalia Bobak. “We have an old infrastructure that also is in need of repair and upgrades. The capital plan looks at a variety of factors and levels of use to determine priorities. The growth and development of Villanova University around the station added to the interest of upgrading the station. In addition to our passengers, students use the tunnel to transverse the campus.”
Bobak noted that the project was split into phases due to financial constraints. Funding was received from federal grants initially; however, once Act 89 was enacted, further funding came from the state.
Phase I will improve station accessibility and will include construction of a new, wider pedestrian tunnel with access ramps and stairs, additional parking spaces, storm water management improvements, new signage, lighting and passenger amenities. The first phase addresses accessibility throughout the site from inbound and outbound platforms, while Phase II includes the high-level platforms, new canopies, station building improvements and canopy rehabilitation. Phase II also addresses accessibility to and within the station building. Ultimately, improvements also will be made to the station house itself.
According to SEPTA, daily boardings for Villanova Station total 545. The notice to proceed with construction was given to Road-Con Inc. in April 2016.
Work began on Phase I in June 2016. Shotcrete, sheet pile installation, excavation and waterproofing took place this spring. Excavation of the tunnel under the railroad tracks has already been finished, as well as construction of a new parking lot and the installation of lighting. Key tasks remaining involve placing sheet piles on the outbound side.
Storm water improvements and the parking lot expansion have already been completed. The tunnel sub-contractor completed installation of the tunnel liners and installation of support of excavation for the ramp system. The biggest challenges on the job involve working in close proximity to the railroad track, in addition to the time and distance restrictions for driving sheet piles.
Main equipment on the project includes track hoes used for excavation, predrilling before driving sheet piles and vibrating sheets into place. Crews also are using a Komatsu PC 308USLC-3 with a lo-drill attachment for pre-drilling holes, a Volvo EC330 BLC with a Hercules SP80 vibratory pile hammer attachment for installing sheet piles, a Volvo EC340DL with a bucket for excavating dirt and a Cat 305CR mini-hoe for dirt excavation in the corners of the sheet piles and assisting the big hoe.
Materials being utilized during construction include aggregates, asphalt, ready mix concrete, precast storm drainage products, drainage pipe, geotextiles, hand railing, precast concrete stairs, concrete formliner, rebar, sump pump, sheet piling, waterproofing and shotcrete.
An estimated 12,000 cu. yds. of dirt/material will be moved on the project, with the most time-consuming part of the work involving the driving of sheet piles and the welding of support rings. Storm water management requires four high-powered sump pumps running continuously.
The project calls for concrete flatwork, structural/foundation concrete, landscaping, clearing and grubbing, electrical, pavement markings, milling, support of excavation, architectural staining and anti-graffiti coating. Tunnel boring and lining, ornamental railing, placement of reinforcing steel, shotcrete and grout pumping, flagging and vibration/movement monitoring also are required. Excavation inside the sheet piles is performed in layers until the H beam support rings can be put in place to stabilize the sheets. Tunnel work started in December, and was completed around the end of April.
Engineer Bob Morro, vice president of facilities, Villanova University, said students will benefit from the construction in two ways.
“The SEPTA station is between the west campus and the main campus, so we have students who have to cross the tracks back and forth to go to their classes. There's a road over the railroad racks and a tunnel underneath them. Most students go under because there are fewer physical steps. They take the tunnel a couple of times a day. The old tunnel is still fully operational, but it's dark, dingy and floods quite often. It's six feet wide, and I think the new one is 12 or 15 feet, so it will be easier to use.
“In addition, our students frequently take the SEPTA rail into the city of Philadelphia. If they are going out at night or on weekends, the station is super convenient, so the improvements will definitely be appreciated.”
Morro said monitoring the construction progress is extremely interesting.
“It's a great project, and exciting to watch the cranes and other equipment; however, it's fenced off for safety purposes, so you can't take in everything that's going on. I wish I'd had a better view, because you can't really see into the hole. I went to the site with a hard hat, steel toe boots and safety glasses, but I still couldn't get as close as I would have liked.”
Dealing with crews carrying out construction tasks is not an ideal situation, especially while unrelated work is taking place on campus, but the improvements are worth the inconvenience, according to Morro.
“It can be disruptive to have this sort of construction taking place, but SEPTA has done a great job of keeping that to a minimum. We are all looking forward to the improvements, once completed.”
Villanova station is located at North Spring Mill Road (PA 320) near County Line Road and serves most Paoli/Thorndale Line trains. The building was constructed in 1890 by the Pennsylvania Railroad, and is within the campus of Villanova University. The eastbound and westbound platforms are ground-level and are connected by an underground non-handicapped accessible pedestrian tunnel running beneath the tracks. There are numerous parking spaces at the station, including SEPTA permit parking. The station is 12.0 track mi. from Philadelphia's Suburban Station. SEPTA serves Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.