A Pennsylvania transit agency has called off plans for a $3-billion rail project amid rising costs and a lack of federal funding. The decision comes less than a month after selecting a designer for the project.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) says it is “pausing” its planned King of Prussia rail project in part because of the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) decision to not recommend the project for a New Starts funding grant in fiscal year 2024.

The plan had called for SEPTA’s existing Norristown High Speed Line, which connects a Philadelphia-area transportation center to suburbs in Delaware and Montgomery counties, to be extended 4 miles into King of Prussia, Pa., with five additional stations. Leslie Richards, SEPTA’s general manager and CEO, said in a statement that the project would have provided reliable public transportation, eased road congestion in the area and reduced air pollution. 

SEPTA had hoped to begin construction in 2025. The agency said it was seeking a grant through an FTA program to cover up to 60% of the project’s cost. FTA’s 2024 funding recommendations include $4.5 billion for 18 large transit projects through the program, but did not include the SEPTA project.

Inflation and interest rates pushed the estimated cost of the project from $2.08 billion in 2020 to $2.6 billion last August, and now up to $3.02 billion. The rising cost, plus what SEPTA calls a “lack of flexibility” in its capital budget, made FTA question whether SEPTA would be able to fund its share of the project including any overruns, officials say.

“SEPTA’s capital budget has been underfunded for decades,” Richards said. “This has left the authority with significantly fewer resources than peer agencies to pursue system expansion while also addressing critical infrastructure needs.”

In February, SEPTA announced that it had awarded a $125-million contract to HNTB Corp. for final design of the King of Prussia rail project. Officials now say the contract was not executed, and all activities on the project are halted.

SEPTA plans to reallocate resources from the King of Prussia project to its other infrastructure.

“With the funding we have currently, SEPTA must prioritize essential infrastructure work and safety and security improvements to maximize the reliability and effectiveness of our aging system,” Richards says.

The announcement comes a little more than a week after the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced it will not build a proposed multibillion-dollar AirTrain mass transit option to New York City's LaGuardia Airport. The preferred alternative is expected to cost under $500 million, compared to estimates for the 1.5-mile AirTrain line that ranged between $2 billion and more than $6 billion, Port Authority said.