Friday, January 27, 2012

Zoo, and HSR in Philadelphia County

Zoo Interlocking is the junction between the Keystone Corridor and Northeast Corridor and one of the most complex interlockings in the nation, shifting passenger trains from two distinct main lines to two distinct station throats, and freight trains three ways.

In the past it was even more complex, with a fourth major direction for freight as well as two different paths for each major movement (that is, two different ways to get from the Northeast Corridor to Suburban Station, two different ways to get from the Main Line to the lower level of 30th St. Station, two different freight bypasses of 30th St. Station, etc.) Much of this redundancy has been stripped out by warring organizations over the years, leading to massive backups when any part of this intricate network fails.

However, Zoo has a key failure: although two of the main wye's three branches are able to handle high-speed interlocking, the third is not. This is not because of a failure of interlocking design, per se, but rather because the best engineering available at the time the interlocking was initially set up forced the third direction to run through a significantly tighter-radius curve than the other two.

As you may have guessed, the tightest-radius connection is the Northeast Corridor side, the east side closest to the zoo Zoo was named after. This connection was built the way it was because it had to simultaneously do two things: (1) elevate from the freight yards along the Schuylkill floodplain--now 30th St. Station, its two leads, and the Powelton Coach Yards--to the level of the river crossing, about 75 feet above the waterline, in only about a mile, while at the same time (2) accommodating the junction between this route and the Pennsylvania's mainline about halfway between.

No matter why it was built, however, it is obsolete if one wants to bring 200 mph trains into 30th Street Station. Since I have it on good authority that that atrocious tunnel proposal is dead even at Amtrak (and was always a consultant's dream to begin with), we have to look at smaller-scale (and cheaper) interventions to accomplish what we want.

Assuming an Airport routing is still desirable--it is certainly feasible--three major interventions are necessary to convert the NEC to a 200 mph + (250 kph +) route through Philadelphia County. They are:
1) Bypass Frankford Jct., which has to be traversed at ~75 mph,
2) Bypass Zoo Interlocking into 30th St. Station's north lead, and
3) Convert the former Reading's Chester Branch into an Airport routing.

See map here.

Bypassing Frankford Jct. is technically the easiest, and the least expensive: the path of Torresdale Avenue, which turns into Erie Avenue at Kensington Avenue is a natural bypass route, and a couple of takings in industrial properties--possibly little more than air-rights takings, as the HSR main would likely have to clear at least one local track before rejoining its own track--would be all the property acquisition needed. Takings would be exclusively industrial.

The trains can traverse Erie (Torresdale) either via an aerial structure or a cut-and-cover tunnel. All types of tunnels are somewhat more expensive than bridges; however, the aerial would have to clear the El at Erie-Torresdale Station, meaning it would have to be ~50 feet off the ground at its apex, rendering it somewhat more expensive than it would otherwise be (e.g. if the aerial could remain at ~30 feet off the ground). So both modes approach cost parity.

Since you can recruit DOT engineers to design an aerial (it's essentially a highway exit overpass, but for trains) whereas even the most basic cut-and-cover tunnel will likely require weaving through underground infrastructure, and since I prefer bridges over tunnels, I'll go with an aerial in this instance. Price tag's probably $250 million, once value-engineered.

Technically the most complex is the Airport routing. Its complexity has nothing to do with attempting an inner-city greenfield routing--it has everything to do with rail uses along the routing. Other than SEPTA's Airport Line, the principal use of the current line is a freight routing to (unsurprisingly enough) Marcus Hook. It is also the routing closest to the river, and thus the one with the most port-related spurs and traffic.

In order to close the Chester Branch east of Essington, CSX will almost certainly require a bypass. My proposed routing, the "Hog Island Freight Bypass", would utilize the former Pennsylvania R.R. 60th Street Branch, most of which is intact (ROW unused for freight is currently used for Auto Mall junk car storage). However, unlike the historical 60th St. Branch, the Hog Island Bypass would meet the CSX main through the former Brill property in Southwest Philly. The connection between the 60th St. Branch and the Chester Branch built for the Airport Line would remain in use as a freight spur for any traffic generated along this alignment (though I don't remember Eastwick's industries having freight rail access).

Now that we've dealt with the freight rail, the next step is to provide the optimal ROW for the passenger service. The Airport Line currently uses the 60th St. Branch to the Chester Branch, but this forces the train through a pair of slow and inefficient corners; a true high-speed routing would continue along the dead-straight Chester Branch until it meets the Northeast Corridor.

The problem with this is that this routing has a surface interchange with the CSX line across the Schuylkill; in addition, the Chester Branch between this interchange and the NEC junction is currently used by CSX as its High Line access line. However, because we moved the freight route for Marcus Hook trains from the Chester Branch to the Hog Island Cutoff, we can go ahead and run passenger trains under the High Line access line, coming out onto the Northeast Corridor. (This routing also allows Airport Line trains to stop at Bartram's Gardens.)

Next, we move to the Airport. The first look we have at the Airport is that we can add a new through cutoff between the Chester Branch and Airport termini, with a somewhat sharp curve by the station. However, this would likely be the more expensive option. A better proposal would be to instead have the through-train Airport station along the Chester Branch, due to the superior curvature (i.e. none). But this is on the wrong side of I-95. So, if this routing is the option decided upon, it will likely become necessary to convert the current Airport Line terminal access to an AirTrain-style light metro. (Fortunately, most of the infrastructure is in place for this; the primary expense would be acquisition of the proper equipment.)

While the Chester Branch has been grade-separated in Philadelphia, such is not the case in Essington, where the small town is hard against the rails. Grade separation, needless to say, is essential here; since we are close to the water line, this will likely take the form of an aerial about 20 feet above the existing freight line (i.e. Plate H double-stack clearance). As the fast passenger line being discussed would allow rerouting the Regional Rail line as well, this local will want a stop in downtown Essington--that is, where the line crosses Wanamaker Avenue. This aerial structure would thence continue across the mouth of Darby Creek and then parallel the Industrial Highway (on top of a disused rail line, possibly PRR, between the road and the Chester Branch) until it returns to the NEC, just south of Eddystone.

What kinds of expenses can be expected for such an undertaking?

1. New track installation (but no re-alignment) between the 60th St. Branch-Chester Branch junction, to the north, and the Penrose Avenue bridge (Penrose Ferry Road) to the south. This may need to be done with grade separation, as it appears to have historically been a grade junction. Assuming prior easement claims can be asserted... $300 million, most of it sunk into the grade separation at the Hog Island-Chester Branch junction.
2. Cut-and cover tunnel under the freight Chester Branch between the NEC and CSX mains... $500 million.
3. New east cutoff between Eastwick and Airport. / New Airport station, conversion of terminal network into AirTrain system... $300 million (whichever way).
4. 3-mile aerial structure from the 4th St.-Chester Branch level crossing west to new NEC junction... $700 million.
5. ~5 miles of new constant-tension electrification... $100 million.

All of these add up to an estimated price tag of... $1.9 billion. (This compares favorably with the asinine tunnel, whose initial cost estimate would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $8.5 billion and work its way up from there.)

It will cost at least $2 billion to bring HSR to PHI. This cost also includes a SEPTA expansion. (The cost of this expansion alone would be about half that, as it wouldn't need to worry about the extended aerial through Essington or grade-separating the junction between the 60th St. and Chester Branches, or restoration of the 60th St. Branch through the Auto Mall, but it would need to worry about a new alignment into the NEC on the east end, dealing with the Airport network, and extending electrification. And without the HSR line, the west-end return to the NEC isn't viable, making the line's natural terminus Essington.)

Station stops on this Airport Line would be: Bartram's Gardens, Elmwood (63rd St.), 70th St., Eastwick (84th St.), Airport (somewhat west of 90th and Bartram), Tinicum (4th Ave.), and Essington (Wanamaker Avenue). Service frequency would likely have to be half-hourly, due to the lack of slots on the SEPTA Main Line.

Let's return, then, to where we started: bypassing Zoo. Zoo sits between the Frankford Jct. bypass and Airport extension in terms of complexity and hence expense. One one hand, the Zoo bypass will be more complex than a Frankford Jct. bypass, due to the fact it has to deal with the Schuylkill; on the other, it has nowhere near as many moving parts as the Airport project.

Because of Lemon Hill, the only sensible place to diverge the bypass is where the NEC and Schuylkill Expressway split, just north of Spring Garden; a narrow easement opportunity is available between the Schuylkill and 34th St.

There are two ways of approaching this bypass: a bridge or a tunnel. Both have their challenges. The tunnel would be an immersed-tube (it's shallower) but the east approach would need to be drilled out of solid schist. On the other hand, the bridge would likely require a very steep west approach--it would have to clear the Schuylkill and the, er, Schuylkill--and it would also need a new easement through Fairmount Park. However, unlike the tunnel, the bridge would rejoin the existing line more quickly, and hence be quite a bit cheaper.

The tunnel offers superior engineering. The bridge offers advertising...but it would also attract NIMBYs who wouldn't want to change so much as a tree in the park.

My estimate is that the tunnel would cost about $1.5 billion and the bridge $750 million. In either event, however, both junctions would have to be squeezed between current infrastructure.

It is also my estimation that it is infeasible to attempt to bring 30th St. Station's north throat to speeds greater than about 120 mph (which would still lose the 1.5 minutes currently expended traversing Zoo). Both the bridge and tunnel routings I offer are likely going to have to be that speed.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Architecture of Wissahickon: Urban, Suburban, Midcentury, Victorian

The controversial Roxborough development proposal that caused quite a stir last week is at the edge of one of the city’s more remarkable neighborhoods. Staunchly middle-class, this neighborhood hangs tenaciously onto the slope between Ridge Avenue and the beginning of the Wissahickon Gorge, like a mining town halfway up a mountain.

It is also remarkable in that it has been continuously developed and filled out over the last century and a half, with a housing mix ranging all the way ... Continue reading at Hidden City Philadelphia.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

South Jersey Rail Assets

Now entering the third part of this series, I'd like to focus on South Jersey's underutilized rail assets. Where I am going is looking at what it will take to provide a complete commuter rail network throughout the Philadelphia area, and unlike Pennsylvania, South Jersey is woefully underserved, home to only the Atlantic City Line, which is an intercity service; the PATCO Speedline, which provides local service to Lindenwold; and the River Line, a light-rail commuter-rail thingamabob utilizing Stadler GTWs (a diesel variant of the Flirt). A substantial amount of South Jersey is thus rendered car-dependent.

It wasn't always like this. Like the rest of the Northeast, South Jersey was once thick with rails. It still is. Most of those rails have, however, long been converted to freight spurs, and routes which weren't but have passenger potential rail-trails. In a few cases rails were removed entirely, but the easements remain. At one point, a large commuter rail network converged on Camden, across the river, much like it still does in Hoboken today.

So the point of this post is, like the past two, to survey South Jersey's available rail assets.

We begin with the River Line and work our way, again, clockwise inasmuch is possible.

1. The River Line extends along the Delaware between Camden and Trenton, and is, as referenced, a cross between a light rail line and commuter rail. (Call it Dallas-style light rail.) It currently functions with an FRA waiver. In the long term, as other commuter rail resources fill in around Camden, it may need to be broken up, with the core line running as commuter rail and the edges light rail in Camden and Trenton.

2. A Trenton Branch of the Reading appears to wind along the path shown on the map between Trenton and West Trenton railroad stations. Conversion of this route into light rail would be welcomed.

3. At Bordentown the former Camden & Amboy main splits off from the River Line, which utilizes its Trenton Branch. Like the former Pennsylvania and Reading (Central of New Jersey) mains further to the north, can it be cross-utilized between the three commute markets? If so, the fare union should extend between Burlington and South Amboy.

4. The Atlantic Division is a former division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, running from Camden through Mt. Holly due east. It originally extended to Bay Head; the former right-of-way east of Ocean Gate--thankfully, a natural terminus--has been wiped out.

On the New York end of things, a service restoration should be considered along the former CNJ line from Red Bank to Toms River--possibly even as far as Barnegat.

5. What I am calling the Fort Dix Branch is the remnants of a cutoff between the Camden & Amboy main and the Atlantic Division; the route in use extends north from Pemberton to Ft. Dix and New Egypt.

6. The Clementon Branch is one of two lines between Camden and Atlantic City. The former Atlantic City R.R. main line, it was phased out in favor of the more northerly line. However, seeing as that line is occupied by heavy rail and intercity service, a Camden-Hammonton commuter service would be better off using this line.

7. The PATCO Speedline follows the former Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines (PRSL) main line to Lindenwold; the Atlantic City Line (ACL) follows it from Atlantic City to the Delair Cutoff (which takes it across the river). Service from Philadelphia to the various Shore towns should be considered intercity, however, and unlike the commuter services, which can terminate in Camden with a PATCO transfer at Walter Rand, these lines extend to 30th St. in a grand fishhook approach along the NEC and across the single-track Delair Bridge. (ACL service, however, can be twice as frequent--hourly.) In addition, a separate, peak-hour commuter service from Atlantic City to Egg Harbor City may be implemented.

8. The Newfield Branch originally extended from Newfield to Atlantic City. While the services of the whole branch obviously aren't needed, part of it is marked as a commuter line from Atlantic City to Mays Landing.

9. The Somers Point Branch was a branch from Atlantic City to Somers Point. Old PRSL maps show either a bridge or a ferry from it to Ocean City; this is one of the two new commuter lines suggested from Atlantic City.

10. The Cape May Branch ran from the Main Line at Winslow Jct. south to Cape May, crossing the Newfield Branch at Richland. It is a primarily intercity line, although a local dinky service may be put into place between Cape May Court House and Cape May.

11. The Ocean City Branch ran from a connection with the Cape May Branch in Tuckahoe to Ocean City. Atlantic City, Ocean City, and Cape May are the three primary intercity destinations down the Shore.

12. The Marmora Branch is a freight right-of-way that extends to a large facility at Beesley's Point. There may be justification for a dinky service along this line.

13. The Wildwood Branch runs from Wildwood Jct. on the Cape May Branch to Wildwood. Like the Princeton Branch, a dinky service would be appropriate here.

14. The Grenloch Branch is a short branch from Gloucester City to Grenloch. Despite its shortness, however, it sits halfway between the Clementon and Millville Branches in the core South Jersey suburbs. As a consequence, it would likely get ridership--if service patterns are right--on the order of the Norristown Line. In addition, this line would be targeted for heavy rail conversion if the conditions are right (generating Speedline-order ridership); this would allow for potential extensions to Turnersville and Monroe.

15. The Millville Branch was at one point the PRSL's Camden commuter operations' spine. At one point electrified, it extends between Camden and Millville, with a freight operation from there south to Leesburg, and a former passenger operation east to Woodbine Jct. via Woodbine proper. It crosses the CNJ main at-grade in downtown Vineland, and was recently the subject of a River Line-type extension as far as Glassboro. Glassboro is the natural local terminus on this line, and Millville the general.

16. The Southern Division, originally of the CNJ, between Winslow Jct. and Bridgeton may offer useful expansion possibilities. East of Landisville, however, it closely follows the Cape May Branch through a relatively sparsely-populated area.

17. The Bridgeton branch, originally of the PRSL, largely exists only as an abandoned easement north to Glassboro. Bridgeton can't handle being the terminus of two lines, but both offer tradeoffs.

The PRSL's direct alignment, straight north, takes it to Camden fastest. But it passes through a relatively unpopulated section of the state, and its peak ridership thus stunted.

The CNJ alignment through Winslow Jct. would pass through Vineland, and potentially directly access Philadelphia, rather than Camden; however, as a commuter line, it would be low on the totem pole of Delair crossings, and it would be routed by the most circuitous of all routes.

In between is the option to utilize the CNJ line from Bridgeport to Vineland, but the Millville Branch after. While it would not be as fast (or direct) as the PRSL alignment, it would pass through the most populated areas and offer reasonably direct commuter service to Camden.

Of course, a large part of this discussion depends on the ridership a Bridgeton alignment vs. a Millville one would generate. If Bridgeton does not generate as much ridership as Millville (or inadequate ridership, period), it may make sense to just operate a dinky to it, if anything at all, from Vineland--the same also applying to Millville in the case of the obverse.

18. The Salem Branch runs through the heart of Salem County, to, well, Salem. While the country is generally rural, a series of larger towns dot this line--Woodstown, Swedesboro, and Mt. Royal--suggesting that, if properly implemented, ridership may well exceed implementations. (A market in Camden wouldn't hurt matters either.)

19. The Pennsgrove Branch runs along the shore of the Delaware between Woodbury and Carney's Point. With multiple industries and larger communities along this line, it would draw some of the Camden network's highest ridership--probably second only to the Millville Branch.

Now that we know what rail assets we have in South Jersey, we can start on the next step: understanding how to use them in such a way as to maximize ridership and accessibility. Two obvious next steps for our program come out of the sheer act of surveying potential assets: (1) splitting the routes into intercity routes utilizing the Delair Bridge (as I'd intimated before), and (2) using a Camden terminus to catalyze transit-oriented development and growth--growth which would, hopefully, finally offer the city a stable fiscal base.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Some more SEPTA thoughts

In compiling my thoughts from the last post into a map, I realized that a couple of possibilities I hadn't included should be, mostly for the sake of completeness. These are two (relatively) minor spurs, one in the city and the other waaaaay at the edge of the boonies, and consideration of where Mercer Co. fits into all this.

1. The Colebrookdale Spur is the line waaaaaaaay out at the edge of the boonies, running from Pottstown to Bally. North of Boyertown its rails have been ripped up. I hadn't included it in the original compilation because it is just too far to be viable for the Philadelphia commuter market (although it may be more so for Reading). Nevertheless, the Gilbertsville-Boyertown area is sizable--in European markets, it would be large enough to demand at least daily rail service.

2. The Greenwich Extension is the ex-PRR route that extends from the Northeast Corridor through South Philadelphia to Greenwich Yard. Heavily used by freight and constrained by the single-track Arsenal Bridge across the Schuylkill, it is a poor fit for commuter rail. Nevertheless, it is for most of its length carried over 25th St. on a massive viaduct, a structure built for far more capacity than it today handles. I have in the past suggested a heavy rail line to take advantage of this excess capacity.

3. Mercer Co., N.J., is...complicated. There is a major job market in and around Princeton, the dominant local commute pattern; the remainder is about evenly divided between the Philadelphia and North Jersey/New York commute markets. (In fact, the New York and Philadelphia urban areas are divided by an extremely narrow impromptu greenbelt running about halfway through the county.) Because of this, organizational competence is absolutely essential for providing good mass transit. This would instantiate with two things: rational transfers and a local fare union between SEPTA and NJ Transit, potentially between Cornwells Heights on the Trenton Line and Trevose on the West Trenton Line, and to Princeton, New Brunswick, and Bound Brook on the NJT side. A new spur of the Raritan Line from Bound Brook to West Trenton would also be essential. Operations can be done via co-routing of SEPTA and NJT trains (terminating SEPTA trains at New Brunswick, for example, or NJT trains at Cornwells Heights); in either case, however, cross-platform, or at worst, timed transfers absolutely must be implemented. (The timed transfers between the Trenton Line and the Northeast Corridor Line are one of the few artifacts of organizational competence to be found anywhere in U.S. railroading; too bad it is neither furthered nor backed up.)

4. Speaking of intercity transit, down in Maryland, MARC's terminus in Perryville is essentially nowhere: too far to be useful for the Baltimore commute market, but too close to be useful as an intercity to Wilmington. Extend it to a natural terminus in Wilmington.

In Roxborough, Will Land Use Mistakes Follow Ethics Violations?

Current "Kingsley Court" site plan
The former Ivy Ridge Personal Care Center, ground zero of a Villanova socialite’s bilking of disabled citizens to finance her lavish lifestyle, may soon be redeveloped. The atrocious treatment there only ended in 2009. Since then the site has seen multiple arson fires. It is today a blight on the neighborhood, and it will certainly be torn down.

The most advanced redevelopment plan for the site, rejected for now ... Continue reading at Hidden City Philadelphia.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Looking at SEPTA

Lately, Alon Levy of Pedestrian Observations has been taking a long, hard look at the MBTA commuter rail operation and came to the conclusion that most of the MBTA's plans to expand the physical scope of its operations were misguided. Instead, his suggestions were to maximize the efficiency of the existing operations, primarily with the use of electrification and infill stations, likely with a long look toward uniting the disparate networks operating out of North and South Stations (although the long-term aftereffects of the Big Dig boondoggle will make that unlikely for a generation or more). SEPTA took the same approach with its Regional Rail network thirty years ago, as I pointed out in the comments, and there is no clear evidence it worked better or worse. In any event, however, I want to undertake the same kind of analysis as Alon's, looking mostly at PA (NJ is another story altogether).

This analysis will start along the lower Delaware and work more-or-less clockwise.

1. The Wilmington-Newark Line happens to be one of the three commuter rail lines that also utilizes high-speed designated lines. Since SEPTA has not relocated its stations to park-and-rides on the urban fringe, and since the Marcus Hook local works together with the local and express trains to Wilmington and Newark as well as the express Northeast Regional and Acela trains (which stop at Wilmington), service on this line is adequate--1 tph at the worst; 4 tph at rush hour. Wilmington is intercity, however; a little dinky service between Marcus Hook and Newark may be called for to handle local service there. East of Island Avenue this line operates exactly halfway between the two closest-together branches of the Subway-Surface trolley network.

2. The Airport Line, SEPTA's newest line, suffers from underridership (as do most airport lines that only serve airports). Not helping this one bit is the Airport approach this line takes, a massive fishhook. A new Airport approach would be useful, shortening and speeding up the line; commuter service would return to the line at Eastwick (and if high-speed rail is desired along an Airport routing, a little further to the east as well). Service would be returned to the original routing (IIRC the Reading Chester Branch) via a viaduct over PA 291 (Governor Printz Bvld./Industrial Hwy.) with a stop in Essington before interlocking with the NEC just west of Eddystone.

This also offers a new service paradigm for expresses, and also creates a problem with two local services both heading toward a natural terminus in Chester; one of these (the Airport one, it would have fewer stops and thus reach Chester faster) can be valved up the Chester Creek Branch--which has just begun a rail-trail conversion--to about Aston; any further would overlap with the West Chester Line (etc.: see below) complex. Bringing heavy rail to the Airport would be a wise idea--it's an employment hub. If this happens, heavy rail can use the existing Airport stations and the current I-95 viaduct for end-of-line storage (if desired) while commuter rail--and possibly high-speed rail--would have a concentrated stop at one station as close to the middle of the concourse as possible.

Finally, the current Airport Line junction with the NEC is inferior, and particularly so if a high-speed routing is desired; the technically superior routing would go straight up the Chester Branch past the interlocking with the CSX main and (under, most probably) the CSX cutoff between its main and the High Line. Infill stations would be desirable--at the Post Office, 63rd St., and Bartram's Gardens would offer the greatest balance between distance, jobs access, and residential access.

3. The Media/Elwyn Line displays the core problem with SEPTA Regional Rail: it has lost service since 1980, when the diesel lines were all shed, with one exception. Current service terminates at Elwyn, which is in the middle of nowhere (technically on the outskirts of Media) and has no park-and-ride. As you can expect, the ridership there is low.

This is not, however, the historical state of things. This line is known as the West Chester Branch, and for good reason: it goes to West Chester. Rails still exist all the way to West Chester. The West Chester Railroad serves freight customers along this line. It was electrified all the way to West Chester; the catenary poles still exist.

Of course, at the end, service was highly infrequent, and the lack of maintenance along the line made for a bumpy ride. SEPTA terminated commuter service to West Chester and beyond Paoli in the late '80s, and then offered a choice to Chester County, so the story goes, which to reopen.

However, West Chester is a natural terminus, and would draw reasonable ridership. The line passes by two schools (West Chester and Cheyney Universities), and the area this extension covers is still a core Philadelphia commuter market. Service on such a line should be hourly at the least (although service on all existing SEPTA lines is hourly at minimum already).

4. The Octoraro Branch refers to a disused route splitting off from the West Chester Branch around Lima and heading west to Kennett Square and eventually Nottingham via Oxford. The line east of the Brandywine Creek was apparently washed out in 1977 and has lain abandoned since; to the west, it is operated by the East Penn Rwy., a short line running several spur operations within the Philadelphia area and Lehigh Valley. Freight traffic runs all the way to the Herr's snack food plant in Nottingham, close to the Maryland border; at one point, this route connected into the Northeast Corridor via a Susquehanna River sub, and would have functioned as an alternative freight gateway for the PRR.

Kennett Square is an agricultural job center, and Lincoln University, a bit further on, offers a ridership draw. Additionally, the route passes Chadds Ford, a major regional draw (the home of Longwood Gardens and the Brandywine Museum). Finally, there is no direct highway route from the Chadds Ford area to the city. A good case can be made for hourly trains to Kennett Square, with bihourly trains to Oxford (Lincoln University).

5. The Newtown Square Branch is an old PRR branch serviced by diesels; service beyond Grassland (Eagle Road, perhaps? If anybody knows anything more, can they fill me in?) stopped in 1963, and all service terminated in 1981. Commuter traffic on this line was light for much of its history; it competed with a rather more direct trolley line running down West Chester Pike. Reinstating this trolley service (now Rt. 104) should be prioritized. However, this does not mean that this route should be allowed to decay away (as has been happening); it needs to be banked for the long term, and those parts that have already been lost returned to it. A rail-trail would be the most beneficial option here--the banking is a just-in-case if light rail along West Chester Pike ever reached saturation.

6. The Paoli/Thorndale Line is the second of the three Philadelphia-area commuter lines along high-speed designated corridors; the fastest express service is the Keystone Service, a push-pull utilizing AEM7s, Amfleet coaches, and ex-Metroliner EMUs converted into cab cars. Service right now terminates at Thorndale, which, like Elwyn, is in the middle of nowhere; the natural terminus for this line would be Coatesville (Thorn Interlocking allows turning; a Coatesville or Parkesburg terminus would need to turn all the way out at Lancaster. IIRC, there is a project to improve Parke Interlocking; if this allows for turning, this would make Parkesburg the natural operations terminus of this line).

One of the issues of this line, however, is that it's starting to venture into intercity territory. Lancaster is the main commuter market beyond Coatesville; the least frequent of all trains are the ones beyond Malvern (the "Paoli Local" terminus), the only ones on SEPTA's system which have bihourly frequency.

7. The Cynwyd Line is too damn short. Service needs to be extended to at least a park-and-ride off the Schuylkill Expressway, or possibly Ivy Ridge (where it was in 1986). If extended to Ivy Ridge, a connection could be made with the Manayunk/Norristown Line, thereby increasing service flexibility upstream.

8. The Manayunk/Norristown Line has much higher ridership today than in 1986, when it split riders with the Ivy Ridge line. Extensions of this line to Reading have been on and off the drawing boards for the past twenty years; the Schuylkill Valley Metro disaster basically sunk all of SEPTA's expansion plans for the past decade. Such a route to Reading would, however, be intercity; the natural termini beyond Norristown are Phoenixville and Pottstown, to which extensions can come in that order. Add to that that the line has plenty of capacity, while its primary competitor (the Schuylkill Expressway) is famously ever over-capacity, and this route has some of the region's better potential. This is also the passenger line that comes closest to King of Prussia; unfortunately, it does so in the middle of a giant office park. Perhaps shuttle services can help alleviate the problems that come with that.

9. The Perkiomen Branch saw its last service way back in the 1950s but suburban growth (sprawl) since means that service to Collegeville, with the built-in ridership boost its name suggests is there, and eventually the East Greenville-Pennsburg-Red Hill area. The major problem with this is that this line has been broken in numerous places, including in one place for a golf course (!). That area, however, is much more a part of the Allentown commuter market; a Collegeville spur would make for a better rail restart option.

10. The Chestnut Hill East and West Lines are two semi-overlapping commuter rail lines entirely within the Philadelphia commuter market. Their major problems stem from their infrastructural heritage; Chestnut Hill West has a queerly roundabout routing from North Philadelphia into Center City courtesy of its PRR heritage.

The best fix would be maintain one as commuter rail and convert the other into heavy rail. The usual proposal would be to maintain Chestnut Hill East as commuter rail because it enters the SEPTA Main Line at Wayne Jct., while converting Chestnut Hill West into heavy rail, entering the Broad Street Line around the North Broad/North Philadelphia transit node.

However, this has some major disadvantages: (1) while CHW has that roundabout Center City gateway, its routing north of that is straighter and therefore preferable for commuter rail, and its corollary, (2) CHE is much curvier, and (3) CHW passes mainly through residential areas while CHE comes quite close to Germantown--a major commercial artery--several times.

Combining this with my proposal that my Society Hill-Mt. Airy Line conception, we get a different idea, however. With a 19th St. subway to Wayne Jct., we can use Chestnut Hill East as a heavy rail routing and, with a Swampoodle Connection linking Chestnut Hill West into the SEPTA Main Line, give that line much more direct Center City service. Converting CHE to heavy rail furthermore has the advantage of giving us equipment that can better handle, and in the long run, a superior technical framework for eliminating the sharpest of, that line's curves (Wister Woods and Germantown). This routing also gives us a route that is better equipped to be extended--to Chestnut Hill College, another natural ridership generator a mile away--say. Note: Stenton and Ivy Hill are both definitely underserved by the current options. I may have more ink to spill on that later.

11. The Lansdale/Doylestown Line is the core route of the SEPTA Main Line, and one of the busiest on the Reading side. However, Lansdale, while a major North Penn area center and a natural terminus, is not the natural terminus. Service originally extended to Bethlehem and occasionally Allentown; were local service extended up to the North Penn area's other natural termini (Perkasie and Quakertown) and Bethlehem service extended, (service extension to Perkasie is currently being studied; the relatively bare-bones idea is upgrading the tracks to ridable condition and electrifying the line while utilizing existing infrastructure for stations (to be upgraded later), and extending Lansdale locals) Lansdale would be quite a busy rail junction, leading us to...

12. The Stony Creek Branch, a freight cutoff between Lansdale and Norristown. The primary attraction of this line is service to Merck, which lies right on it; with a busier Bethlehem Branch beyond Lansdale, it would also function as an express cutoff avoiding traffic snarls downstream (particularly in the busy two-track section between Jenkintown and Wayne Jct.)

13. The Warminster Line is the line that currently best accesses the part of Philadelphia's northern commuter market with the worst highway access, and hence has high ridership. Beyond Warminster the line continued as the New Hope Branch, today the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad. This route should be extended to a natural terminus at Ivyland; the next one up is New Hope, which, while a regional draw, would require too extensive an electrification to be viable until better routes are dealt with.

14. The Newtown Branch (part of which is the Fox Chase Line) was the last diesel commuter rail line SEPTA operated, ceasing service in 1983, after SEPTA had run its RDCs into the ground. While the Warminster Line passes Willow Grove, the Newtown Branch has, in aggregate, the best rail route in the northern suburbs' commuter rail market. Warminster Line saturation also suggests it's time to invest in it once again. PA-TEC has an ingenious (if rather park-and-ride heavy) plan to extend service to Huntingdon Valley, a key foot in the door for actual Newtown Branch line restoration--the line's natural terminus is Newtown itself. The Newtown Branch crosses the New York Branch at Ayres Interlocking in Beth Ayres.

15. The West Trenton Line follows the New York Branch from Jenkintown east. At Beth Ayres it crosses the Newtown Branch; it terminates at West Trenton in Ewing Township, another of those stations with nothing around it. For whatever reason, the Reading chose to terminate its Philadelphia commuter service here, and the infrastructure needed for it hence still exists. It is an operational terminus: Yardley is the more natural terminus. Since it's already in New Jersey, two possibilities can be considered: extend it to NJ Transit, or extend NJ Transit down to it, with a shared terminus at Yardley. Such a route would be considered part of the Raritan Valley Line (and short of its electrification there is no good reason to extend SEPTA service to Bound Brook).

16. The New York Short Line is a freight cutoff between the Newtown Branch and the New York Branch with some useful passenger rail possibilities. West Trenton trains using the NYSL would eliminate the need to go through Jenkintown, thus saving time; it would also avoid needing to reinstate the level interlocking at Ayres and send potential Newtown Branch trains through Jenkintown. An unfortunate byproduct of this idea, however, is that it would eliminate service to Philmont, Forest Hills, and Somerton stations. However, an NYSL express cutoff is still a useful idea: West Trenton express trains run local beyond Trevose (which is where the NYSL-West Trenton Line interlocking is).

17. The North Penn Sub, as I recall its name, is the route extending from Fern Rock south, principally along American Street. It was originally the North Penn R.R.'s mainline--hence its name. The entirety of the ROW still exists; a smart move may be to bring light rail service up it, especially if new light rail service is to go along Delaware Avenue (although that is not the smartest proposition right now).

18. The Bustleton Branch is a short branch between Holmesburg Jct. and the Bustleton area. While the section north of Roosevelt Bvld. has been obliterated, the portion south is still intact, and a spur heads from it to Northeast Philadelphia Airport. This is minor expansion written all over it, and would make a good terminus area for a local service from the interior of the Trenton Line. It would also be helpful to extend a spur from the NYSL to this branch, as the current setup forces the not-inconsiderable amount of freight traffic generated here onto the NEC.

19. The Trenton Line--at last!--is the NEC's route north from Philadelphia and is hence the third high-speed designated line in the city. It has sharp curves at Zoo Interlocking and Frankford Jct.; as I've noted before, there is no cost-effective way to do something other than put up with Zoo as the junction between the NEC and Keystone Corridor; for true high-speed service, a Frankford Jct. cutoff along Torresdale Ave. can be arranged. (A little concrete is better than a lot.) Trenton trains are reasonably frequent, and timetables for this line also include a section of the connecting NJT Penn Line timetable to New York--a rare manifestation of organizational competence in the passenger experience. So rare is it that the two can't even be bothered to time their trains for cross-platform transfers! Or accept one another's tickets!

Infill stations should be considered along the Trenton Line, particularly at Brewerytown, Fairhill, and Juniata Park.

Commuter rail in Philadelphia is a different animal than in Boston. Where in Boston concentrating on optimizing existing service would be more useful than less and less tenuous greenfield extensions, in Philadelphia, development and larger towns tend to exist beyond the edges of existing lines. I hope to get a map of these ideas going; additionally, I would like to see what kinds of service patterns would optimize our resources.

Behind Victorians

Parkside is at once one of the city’s most visible and most enigmatic neighborhoods. There are major regional attractions like the Mann Center and Please Touch Museum, the Japanese Tea Garden and Carousel House, and most especially the Zoo. Parkside and Belmont Avenues are critical commuter links into the city; thousands of cars pass by this neighborhood every day.

The part they pass by–the great row of Victorian mansions that feel like ... Continue reading at Hidden City Philadelphia.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Embrace and Enliven

Credit drexelmasterplan. The dream--and the reality.
The announcement last month of Drexel University’s draft master plan (by the Boston firm Goody Clancy) was a purposely subdued event, a presentation only to interested parties, with documents only later released publicly on the master plan blog.

What a treasure trove of documents they are! Three PowerPoints–a vision, a strategy, and implementation–show ... Continue reading at Hidden City Philadelphia.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

South Philly Crosstown Bus Is a Mistake

Courtesy The Transit Pass
Last month, SEPTA proposed a new South Philadelphia Crosstown bus service, which would link South Philly east of Broad with Market West, with 10- to 15-minute frequency. SEPTA has put quite a bit of thought into this proposal, with an online survey and open house (from half a month ago). My best knowledge is that the proposal would be a 57 spur down Market, which is much better than the initial rumors, but still falls prey to the critique below.

The Crosstown sounds ... Continue reading at Hidden City Philadelphia.