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Planning to take the train or bus or trolley to work tomorrow?

How are you going to get home?

So far, SEPTA officials aren’t saying if they’ll cancel bus, train or trolley service, or when, as the region braces for its third big snowstorm of the winter. Unlike the other two, this one is coming in middle of a work week.

That leaves hundreds of thousands of area commuters with one big question: What to do?

“We’re going to keep the system running as much as we can,” said SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney. “We will make an hour-by-hour decision.”

His advice to commuters: “Monitor the storm overnight and then check in the morning” for fresh news about the status of transit.

But even if SEPTA can get you to work, there’s no guarantee the agency will get you home.

“That’s the hard part,” Maloney acknowledged.

Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation and utilities, supported SEPTA’s new policy of shutting down rather than operating until buses and trains were getting stuck in many locations.

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“It’s no good to try to keep operating in a blizzard,” Cutler said. “People need to be conscious that there is going to be a very serious snow event, and I expect that at some point, the system will not be able to operate.”

“One hour’s notice is probably the best they can do.”

Matthew Mitchell, of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, criticized the new policy and said SEPTA should try to keep the trains running.

The new policy, he said, “is lowering the bar… it’s just easing management’s job.”

“No one says this is going to be easy,” Mitchell said. “But part of the reason we invest in this rail system is so that we can count on it when the roads are bad.”

“They need to realize that thousands of people are relying on them, and it’s now more important than ever” to keep trains running.

Maloney said SEPTA wanted to avoid a repeat of problems encountered in the December storm, when 166 vehicles – mostly buses – had to be towed, and scores passengers were stranded for hours on a powerless Route 100 Norristown High Speed train.

On Saturday, during the most recent storm, SEPTA shut down all bus, trolley and regional rail service, but kept the Market-Frankford and Broad Street subway lines operating.

Only 44 vehicles needed towing as a result, Maloney said.

SEPTA hopes to keep the subways running for this storm, too, Maloney said.

On Regional Rail trains, the big concern is the air-cooled traction motors beneath the cars. If snow is blown or pushed into the motors, they can fail and stop the train.

Top SEPTA officials are supposed to meet later today to refine their plans for the storm.

In the meantime, anxious commuters can do little but wait.

SEPTA’s customer service number is 215-580-7800. The Web site is www.septa.org.

In New Jersey, PATCO trains currently are scheduled to continue to operate.

“We’re here to serve the public, and we want to try to do that,” PATCO General Manager Robert Box said. “And if we shut down, it would be hard to start up again. The way we keep the tracks clear is by running trains.”

PATCO trains may be running slower than usual, Box said, but “we’ll have plenty of trains.”

“Our goal is to keep the line open, preserve the equipment, and be ready for Thursday, when we expect everybody will be coming back to work.”

NJ Transit, which halted bus and train service in South Jersey last weekend, said it plans to operate a regular weekday schedule tomorrow. “Depending on the impact of the storm, it may be necessary for NJ Transit to modify service as conditions change,” the agency said.

NJ Transit bus customers “may experience delays, detours or service suspensions on their routes in the event of extreme winter weather conditions.”

NJ Transit service information is available by calling (973) 275-5555.

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