Monday, June 13, 2011

25th Street Elevated Line

Our penultimate addition to the Loop Network segment of Philadelphia2050 is the 25th Street Elevated Line, a subway which follows the Pennsylvania's Delaware Extension from the Sports Stadium District to Washington Avenue, and then an underground right-of-way to Rittenhouse Square, where it meets with the existing Loop. This underground right-of-way follows Grays Ferry to South to 19th, about two miles.

This line fills a real need in South Philadelphia. Currently, transportation access in western South Philadelphia (west of 20th Street) is relatively limited and serviced mainly by the 2, 7, and 17 north-south buses, as well as the various east-west feeder buses (7 and G on Oregon, for example). However, South Philadelphia hosts the city's most-densely populated neighborhoods (by tract) and the neighborhoods themselves are very much inherently transit-oriented, when not unbuilt with suburban-style small-box Rite Aids and other such dross. South Philadelphia is, indeed, considered a North American example of European-style urbanity, and neighborhoods such as East Passyunk and Southwest Center City are booming, while Point Breeze is gentrifying.
Existing elevated line. Formerly electrified.
Furthermore, this line is less expensive to construct, and can tap into more funding sources, than initially meets the eye. 25th Street makes sense because of an already-existing elevated line, currently used by Norfolk Southern and CSX to access Greenwich Yard and the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal; since nearly all of the subway line, other than the Rittenhouse-Washington Avenue segment, uses this easement (barrier-separated), or else otherwise existing or proposed Loop tracks, this line can be built via a public-private partnership with Norfolk Southern (the owning entity): as the existing trestle is quite literally crumbling, the partnership would involve a renovation of the trestle, benefiting all parties, along with the setting aside of about half its right-of-way for this use. Modern, ultra-efficient signaling will help enable this, as well as the single-track Arsenal Bridge creating a pre-existing bottleneck making the trestle just too plain wide for purely freight use. In exchange, direct structural ownership would transfer to the passenger rail operator for future maintenance.

The running of mass transit and freight trains side-by-side is feasible: it is commonly done in Chicago. 25th Street offers the best access of any alignment in South Philly--directly servicing SWCC, Point Breeze, Grays Ferry, Girard Estates, and Packer Park--and the formerly industrial badlands surrounding the trestle offer abundant opportunities for upzoning in the city's fastest-improving section. Finally, since one of the propositions of Philadelphia2050 is that the city is both large and dense enough to support heavy rail mass transit within the most-urban core, this heavy-rail running is accomplished via the least expensive means available, and that is the repurposing of existing infrastructure.


  1. How frequently does the freight train run? From what I saw in my old pedestrian commute under (and work near) the High Line, it was only one round trip per day.

    How wide is the trestle? Satellite view makes it look wide enough for three tracks (but there appear to be only 2).

  2. Single-track for freight should be adequate here: Arsenal Bridge at the north end of the freight line is only single-track, and the whole purpose of this line is a lead to the freight yards serving the Port.

  3. I'm sure 1 track for freight is fine -- just wanted confirmation that there's room for two tracks of transit.

    Side note -- Thanks for the site! Are you revealing elements of the 2050 plan piecemeal, or is there a pre-existing master document?

  4. Well, there's a pre-existing idea of how it all looks together in my head. I'm revealing the elements piecemeal, as well as discussing ways I'm actively working at refining it, mainly because I'm trying to get it synched in a way that can sell.

  5. Sounds like a great idea, but would it pass the FRA's muster? Generally when you use a freight right-of-way, you have to comply with their absurd safety regulations, which cause the rolling stock to be very expensive. SEPTA might have to seek an FRA waiver, which it is likely too incompetent to do. (Of course, it's probably also too incompetent to even touch any of your Philadelphia2050 stuff, so then again...)

    - Stephen Smith,

  6. I would be keeping the running ways separate, either by pushing the rapid-transit tracks to the edges of the viaduct or pushing the freight track to one edge and separating the running ways with fencing. Such a setup occurs in Chicago...this also gets rid of the FRA issues.

    On a macro scale, FRA regulation is the most absurd overregulation of any industry in this country. It's so badly regulated they've basically regulated any potential of profitability out of the passenger rail network...and then they wonder why Amtrak doesn't make money! HA!

  7. Is that enough to escape the grip of the FRA, or was the Chicago stuff just grandfathered in? I remember reading that the regs kick in whenever you're within 10 (or was it 20?) feet of a freight corridor. I could be wrong, though...

  8. The Orange Lines in Washington and Boston both run alongside mainline rail. See here for a photo of the Orange Line in Boston, which is quite close to the NEC. Neither case is grandfathered - the line in Washington opened in 1978, and the one in Boston opened in 1987. In addition, the L runs parallel to and very close to the Bay Ridge freight line, though this could have been grandfathered.

  9. I don't know if this thread is actively monitored, but I have long been interested in repurposing the 25th Street viaduct and finishing the orphaned Locust Street Tunnel to create a South and West Philly loop. Where I differ from your suggestion is that I would use more elevated lines, which are much cheaper than tunneling to create the loop. So instead of taking the Locust Street Tunnel South all the way to Washington Avenue (about 2 miles), take the tunnel on a direct path to 26th and South (less than a mile), where it comes out of the ground next to the South Street Bridge (and right in front of the new proposed CHOP towers) and continues across the Schuykill River on a new bridge to meet up at the High Line and University City SEPTA Station. Meanwhile, the 25th Street Viaduct Line will ride with the CSX tracks to the Arsenal Bridge, where it will separate from the freight tracks and go over a new bridge adjacent to it and then proceed north in on an elevated track adjacent to the High Line, stopping at University City, 31st and Walnut and 30th Street Station,. That can be extended to the rail yard project proposed by Drexel. This route would make PATCO (now incorporated into SEPTA) truly useful in bringing NJ commuters directly to the Penn Medical Complex and connecting with SEPTA Regional Rail while taking people from the Western side of South Philadelphia to 30th Street and Center City. I would not build the North Side of your loop, but with PATCO incorporated into SEPTA, you could re-link the two at 8th and Market as they once were and run trains from Jersey to Broad and Girard or trains from South Philly to Jersey.

    1. This sounds like a better idea than it really is. While I agree with you that tunneling is more expensive than elevated lines, the alignment you are proposing to avoid excess tunneling requires:

      1. A length of tunnel down South Street about half the length of mine down Grays Ferry,

      2. A new bridge across the Schuylkill,

      3. A second new bridge across the Schuylkill, as Arsenal viaduct has only one track and must be kept open to provide Port access, and

      4. An alignment that's been bulbed out an extra two miles or so with no real "destination", as it comes no closer to HUP than the current Uni City Regional Rail station.

      This has, on balance, negative cost value. It's like spending $1.25 to avoid having to spend $1.00.

    2. I think the advantage is that my alignment goes where people want to go. People from Jersey want to go to the hospital complex and South Street west, with a connection to 30th Street Station. The University City Station is at the doorstep of HUP and CHOP....I don't see what the problem is there. There is no synergy between New Jersey and Point Breeze. My understanding is that the Arsenal Bridge requires replacement---why not replace it with a 3 track bridge which would be paid for in combination with the Federal Govt and CSX? And having a South Philly-West subway line to 30th Street (with a transfer to PATCO or the MSL) would cause that entire area to boom. That being said, anything we can do to put a subway line in South Philly-West and a light rail line down Delaware Ave to the Navy Yard would create economic development that would more than pay for these projects. So I like my plan better, but yours is fine too (think it would cost a billion more or so, though--that's how much more tunneling costs).