Center City's Weekly Press
Port Authority studies new
trolley lines in Philadelphia: The politics and design opportunities for
bi-state rail projects.
By Scott W. Maits
side new projected routes
Delaware River Port Authority is looking at building a major new Light
Rail trolley line in Center City, both north and south along the
Delaware River Waterfront in Philadelphia. This could extend the
existing West Philadelphia Subway Surface Trolleys from their City
Hall/Juniper Street Subway Terminus further east through Center City or
it could result in a new, less central if easier to implement, stand
alone trolley line connecting at a reopened Franklin Square Lindenwold
Line Station to PATCO. The city study is being carried out as a
supplement to plans consultants have developed for a "modified PATCO"
Rapid Transit styled branch through Gloucester County, New Jersey to
Glassboro or even Millville from Camden and the City. Originally plans
included extending the PATCO Subway west to 30th Street Station, too.
planning Open House at the Arch Street Meetinghouse went very well two
weeks ago for the proposals. Mostly young urban and professional types
who said they would use such new rail lines attended and all were
excited about the environmental, social and traffic mitigating potential
on both sides of the river. The meeting was attended by city officials
as well as Center City District President, Paul Levy. There was praise
for the general concept of building a new trolley line from Center City
along Market East past projected casino sites (both on Market/Chestnut
and on the southern waterfront) Independence Mall and Old City to Penn's
Landing and to the growing waterfront recreational, shopping and
residential areas. There are potential growth areas also along Columbus
Boulevard to the Stadiums and Navy Yard in a later extension.
week's final public meeting for these proposals in Deptford, New Jersey,
former Pennsylvania Governor Schweicker, now the President of the
Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, made an inspiring speech on
behalf of the economic importance of what he termed are vital world
class rail investments being considered by this study.
Jersey side rail plans are generating some controversy among residents
about whether it should follow the North-South (NJ route 42), the
Atlantic City Expressways, or a combination of the N-S and 55
Expressways. Both of these highway oriented concepts which are being
considered in New Jersey would use expressway medians with center of the
highway stations (like SEPTAs fume swept at the Spring Garden Frankford
El Station), and routing mostly away from towns. Unfortunately, in
addition to the major economic and social benefits of these rail
investments, such highway routings would certainly also facilitate more
plan, and now perhaps the leading option of the three being considered
in New Jersey, is to build the line though older town centers along the
existing and partially intact former passenger railroad. Several very
large Park and Ride lots have been adopted in the design from the
highway routes to where this old rail corridor encounters expressways.
This type of line center of town routing would stir New Urbanism
revitalization and Transit Oriented Development along the wide right of
way of what is now an existing freight railroad line via the county seat
of Woodbury. This historic small city has officially and
enthusiastically endorsed the line which would go through the middle of
town on the active railroad on its web home page www.woodbury.nj.us .
Other residents, business, towns and cities have expressed strong
support of the concept of a rail line, though not all can agree where it
should go because they see other mitigating problems. Further official
developments from the Port Authority can be followed at www.drpa.org .
railroad tracks in question were for a formally electrified commuter,
multi-track, high speed steam railroad passenger route that reached the
shore points. But because most train service was lost years ago, the
planning is now plagued by the common start-up NIMBY objections of some
residents in some suburban towns along the route. Planners have yet to
work out additional grade separation locations in several of these old
railroad towns which would assuage some of the critics' complaints.
there were no plans to have the Port Authority build any new routes in
Philadelphia. But political pressure from powerful Pennsylvania State
Senator Vincent Fumo, and others, concerning basic questions of spending
equity for rail projects has forced the issue of waterfront rail
connections and trolleys in Philadelphia.
The fact that
there was an operating vintage trolley museum along Penns Landing for
many years on the still existent, landscaped standard gauged railroad
tracks on Columbus Boulevard helped to drive the idea of an extended and
professional trolley operation there.
the example of San Francisco which built a very similar surface
streetcar branching along its waterfront from its central core using old
restored Art Deco styled Philadelphia trolleys (which SEPTA claimed were
"junk") to run a stylish and popular line has helped to promote the
success of the idea. Trolley ridership along this San Francisco line,
compared to the previous waterfront bus went up an unbelievable 1000%.
Frisco's combined "Main Street" surface Market Street route combined
with a waterfront running Embarcadero Line are even more popular in the
city then their iconic famous cable cars now. In the last 20 years,
Light Rail in other cities throughout the country has also helped
develop communities, towns and waterfront districts.
Philadelphia the first project to be considered for the Delaware River
Port Authority is to extend its PATCO subway line west to 30th Street
Station or even 34th street somewhere in high tech University City. This
is not only for the benefit of the city ridership, but also to allow
PATCOs 10 million annual riders to connect to Amtrak's Northeast
Corridor. This would allow NJ rail riders the first direct access to the
"Main Street" of the world's richest market, a direct connection to
SEPTA's Regional Rail System, the Philadelphia Subway Surface trolley
network, and access to the fast growing University City academic and
high-tech job areas.
In brief, the
mechanics of this system are as follows: the creation of an expensive
seven block PATCO tunnel extension from Rittenhouse Square, under a
strictly residential section of Locust Street to the Schuylkill River
Park, then north on the ground next to the CSX tracks along the river to
30th Street would be built. Some kind of elevator an/or short moving
walkway on one of the existing bridges by JFK Boulevard would connect to
plan would likely face fatal opposition from residents along Locust
Street, especially from the coalition promoting the exciting new
Schuylkill River Park trail along CSX's East Coast Mainline Freight
which would result from the very high cost of tunneling are the fact
that the line would pretty closely follow the Market Street Subway and
Subway Surface Trolley tunnels to 30th Street. This particular alignment
almost certainly would not get approval for critical federal funding.
Secondly, the fact that this alignment required so much tunneling while
still largely missing the regional high-rise business district and half
the city's most important central destinations, as well as any
reasonable possibility of further extension to fast growing University
City is another fatal flaw.
routing options for this "core access" improvement extension of PATCO to
30th Street were promoted, but not seriously studied, the desire to have
the Port Authority improve connections to the Delaware River Waterfront
came to the fore. This was, of course, driven by the fact that the
Delaware is part of State Senator Vincent Fumo's district. Fumo sits on
the Board of the DRPA which is headed by Governor Edward G. Rendell who
is the current the Chairman of the cross river development organization.
and how this proposed new city Light Rail Line project is progressing
and why it is being tacked on to the Gloucester County Line study in New
Jersey will be described in future articles, as well as the difficulties
of developing any new transit systems. We will also look at the
potential cost saving alternatives, such as adopting surface transit
running east of City Hall instead of the very expensive subway tunnel
under Market Street.