SEPTA Acquisition Process: Questions & Answers

This document has been prepared for the individual landowner. It has been designed to briefly outline and answer the most commonly asked questions pertaining to the land acquisition process used by Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).

Should your property be needed for public transportation purposes, similar to the King of Prussia (KOP) Rail Extension Project, you may be assured that SEPTA representatives will answer any questions you may have and will be available to assist you throughout the land acquisition process.

SEPTA takes great care in properly performing its duty to evaluate and provide appropriate and just compensation to impacted property owners.

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Right-of-Way (ROW) is the term used to describe “right of passage” over another’s land. When SEPTA acquires the title to your land, SEPTA becomes the owner and it then gives the “right of passage” to the public.

SEPTA also often acquires lesser easements that allow you, the landowner, to keep ownership of your land but in some manner restricts your usage of the area to activities that do not interfere with SEPTA’s needs.

SEPTA also often acquires a right to use your land temporarily to complete its project. Upon project completion, the land reverts back to your full control.

It is SEPTA’s goal to establish the most direct and useable railroad facilities at the least possible cost to the public. To accomplish this, SEPTA undertakes intensive studies on several possible routes in order to find the route that will result in the least possible inconvenience or impact to the public and to private landowners and to comply with environmental regulations.

Statistical data concerning the economy, population needs, and traffic volume trends are analyzed for the area under study. Aerial and ground surveys are taken, and consideration is also given to such factors as safety, drainage, and soil types.

Beginning in 2012, SEPTA evaluated more than 30 alternatives for a new rail connection between the existing Norristown High Speed Line (Philadelphia - Norristown) and destinations in King of Prussia. The evaluation process resulted in the selection of the PECO (Philadelphia Electric Company)/Turnpike First Avenue alternative as the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA). The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was released for public review in October 2017 with a comment period culminating in a series of Public Hearings in November 2017.

In January 2018, the SEPTA Board approved the adoption of the LPA. The LPA was adopted into the fiscally constrained long-range transportation plan in February 2018.

The combined Final Environmental Impact Statement/Record of Decision (FEIS/ROD) was signed in January 2021. The FEIS/ROD identifies environmental and community impacts and commits to specific mitigation and minimization actions to eliminate or reduce negative effects. The Record of Decision (ROD) is the official decision document of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for KOP Rail to continue into the next phase of project development.

Eminent domain is the term used to describe the statutory right to acquire privately owned land for public purposes. SEPTA may exercise this right to acquire property when necessary for SEPTA’s purposes.

SEPTA’s right to exercise the power of eminent domain is detailed both in SEPTA’s enabling legislation (Title 74, Chapter 17 of the Pennsylvania Statutes) as well as the Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Code (Title 26 of the Pennsylvania Statutes). These statutes prescribe the procedures SEPTA must follow in order to acquire private property.

If it is determined that relocation may be necessary, SEPTA will reach out to you directly.

In the event your property is identified as necessary for public transportation purposes, SEPTA will engage with you, the landowner, throughout the acquisition process. This includes a determination of the “Just Compensation,” which you are entitled to receive in exchange for your property.

You will be contacted several times throughout the acquisition process. Your first contact will usually be a letter informing you that your property will be affected by a SEPTA project. Various SEPTA representatives will also personally visit you. All appointments will be made at your convenience, within reason. It is SEPTA’s desire to make this process as smooth and efficient as possible.

The amount of “Just Compensation” for your property will be determined by SEPTA staff, and/or by independent right-of-way consultants or real estate appraisers certified by the Pennsylvania State Board of Certified Appraisers which are hired by SEPTA.

A written offer for your property will be mailed (FedEx) to you. If requested, a SEPTA representative will meet with you and/or your representatives to explain the project and parcel acquisition at your property or at a location of your choosing (within a 25-mile radius of your property).

Each owner is treated on the same basis and each claim is settled on its merits.

The vast majority of property acquisitions are settled on an amicable basis. Keep in mind, a careful procedure is used to arrive at an offer of “Just Compensation” for your property, and SEPTA cannot, by law or by our policy, offer you less than the written offer of “Just Compensation.”

If, however, an agreement cannot be reached through negotiations, SEPTA, in order to proceed with the project, will be forced to file a “Condemnation Proceeding” (Declaration of Taking) in the Court of Common Pleas. At the point of condemnation, you will be offered the full amount of the determined value for your property as “Estimated Just Compensation.” Although negotiations will be ongoing, you may elect to accept the “Estimated Just Compensation” without jeopardizing your right to contest the amount in court, or you can refuse the payment and it will be deposited in your name with the Prothonotary of Montgomery County. Once a declaration of taking has been filed, either you or SEPTA may petition, within six years, for a Board of Viewers, or the amount paid will be considered payment in full, in accordance with the Statute of Limitations. At a Board of View, the Viewers will consider your testimony, as well as SEPTA’s, and make an award. If either party is still dissatisfied, an appeal may be made to the Court of Common Pleas. Under most circumstances, however, this procedure is not necessary.

If you do not believe that the offer provides “Just Compensation”, and if you can provide factual information pertaining to the value or damage of your property which was not available during the valuation process, please bring the information to SEPTA’s attention.

Local real estate trends and the value of comparable properties will be taken into consideration when determining the value of your property.

In addition to amounts offered as “Just Compensation,” you are also entitled to the following benefits:

  1. All fees incidental to the transfer of your property to SEPTA.
  2. Any mortgage prepayment penalty you would be required to pay as a result of the acquisition.
  3. Reimbursement for up to a combined total of $4,000.00 per property for reasonable expenses paid for an appraiser, engineer, or attorney to evaluate SEPTA’s offer.
  4. If SEPTA acquires a residence or business that you occupy, you will be entitled to Relocation Benefits. You will receive a written 90-day notice prior to vacating any acquired property.
  5. SEPTA requires clear title to the property it acquires. Any liens, mortgages, judgments, taxes, or other obligations with regard to your property must be satisfied either prior to or at the time of settlement, or partial release obtained, as applicable.

For your convenience, payments will be processed as quickly as possible and, once agreement is reached, payment can be expected within two to three weeks.

Before you receive payment, however, you are responsible for providing SEPTA with several things, including but not limited to:

  1. A clear title to the property being acquired. Any liens, mortgages, judgments, taxes, or other obligations with regard to your property must be satisfied either prior to or at the time of settlement.
  2. A completed Form W-9, Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and certification.

Guidance on completing these requirements will be provided to you by your SEPTA representative.

All obligations that directly or indirectly require the expenditure by SEPTA, of any of its funds, are subject to the appropriation and availability of funding through SEPTA’s budgetary procedures. SEPTA’s annual budget is subject to approval by SEPTA’s Board of Directors.