Tom Beck’s article in the March 3 Chestnut Hill Local, ‘Regional Rail not recovering from COVID,’ includes the telling observation by Wayne Junction developer Ken Weinstein that to …
Tom Beck’s article in the March 3 Chestnut Hill Local, ‘Regional Rail not recovering from COVID,’ includes the telling observation by Wayne Junction developer Ken Weinstein that to add patronage SEPTA needs to cut the Regional Rail fare to subway pricing. If the fares were equalized, perhaps the Regional Rail could find a new base of customers who would fill its trains and grow its ridership.
When SEPTA took over the Regional Rail system in 1983 from Conrail it believed that it could rely on its system of City Division buses and subways to handle rail ridership where its Regional Rail and city operations overlapped. This resulted in SEPTA shutting down thirteen stations primarily in North Philadelphia. But this decision, appropriate at that time, was made before creation of the Airport Line and Penn Medicine Station, before the City’s economy transitioned from post-industrial wasteland to vibrant center of “eds and meds” and tourism. SEPTA has recognized that it is now time to rethink its system and commissioned a new master plan called “Reinventing Regional Rail.”
Hopefully this planning effort will examine the feasibility of restoring one or more of the thirteen railroad stations that it abandoned. For example, the former Reading Railroad line, the 9th street branch extended southward from Wayne Junction to Jefferson Station (formerly the Reading Terminal) once had six stations between these two points, but only two remain, North Broad Street and Temple University. SEPTA abandoned Nicetown and Tioga stations and construction of the Center City Commuter Connection Tunnel marooned Spring Garden Street. The Reading had earlier abandoned Girard Avenue Station. Revival of just one of them, for example Tioga, at 20th and Tioga Street, would provide the neighborhood’s lower income residents with a “one seat ride,” the transportation planner’s Holy Grail, directly to the Schuylkill Yards, Penn Medicine, University City and the Airport. Many of the thousands of jobs at these locations employ essential workers who cannot work from home.
With the passage of federal infrastructure legislation, funds will become available for such projects, for example New York’s MTA is proposing to use them for, among other improvements, adding or restoring three Regional Rail stations to underserved areas of the Bronx. Naysayers will claim that the 9th Street El is at or near its operational capacity, but history tells us otherwise. When the Reading Railroad operated it, they ran 320 passenger trains on it daily. Of course the Reading’s service area was much greater than SEPTA’s, extending out of Williamsport, Bethlehem and Newark, but they even found time to also schedule freight trains on it, the former Strawbridge & Clothier warehouse at 9th and Poplar Streets now being converted by Post Brothers into apartments having one of the freight sidings that line the ‘El” in its heyday.
Pricing inner rail service to compete with subway lines can be a game changer for SEPTA Regional Rail and an employment lifeline for North Philadelphia residents. This warrants serious examination.
Edward W. Duffy, author of “Philadelphia - A Railroad History.”