SEPTA Regional Rail
Two Silverliner IV trains pose at Trevose on the SEPTA R3 line. Photo by Richard Panse, May 2012.
Station By Station
The Center City Tunnel and Approaches
All Regional Rail lines use the Tunnel to some extent. Most scheduled trains run through it, coming in from one outlying terminal and heading toward another. Inbounds from the Pennsy (western) side can short turn at Suburban Station (Penn Center), Market East, Temple, or North Broad. Those that end at Temple or North Broad usually continue on out of service to the reversal area in Roberts Yard, just shy of Wayne Junction. Short turns coming in from the Reading (northern) side do not have as many possibilities to turn back and they usually end up in Powelton Yard, just west of 30th Street. A handful turn back at Arsenal tower just south of University City station.
The Tunnel area basically starts west of 30th Street Station, where lines come together to form a six-track station with three platforms and all inbounds on the 3 southernmost tracks, outbounds on the 3 northern ones. R5 Lansdale, R6 Norristown and R8 Fox Chase are on the southernmost platform, R1 Airport, R2 Wilmington/Warminster and R3 Media/West Trenton share the center, and R5 Paoli, R6 Cynwyd (and R6 30th St from Norristown), and R8 Chestnut Hill West are on the northernmost. SEPTA Regional Rail's 30th Street Station is actually above ground, not in a tunnel, however it is still part of the center city "tunnel" corridor. The elevated platforms are open-air and would feature a railfan-friendly view of the SEPTA and Amtrak rail yards was it not for the ugly Cira Centre office skyscraper. Platforms are concrete with yellow tactile edging. Connections can be made with the main Amtrak 30th Street Station which features a grand terminal building that has ticket offices, an info desk, small caf s and food stands, Amtrak security, Club Acela, car rental places, Amtrak train platforms, and a former connection to the Market-Frankford and Subway-Surface lines (closed because of crime concerns).
The six tracks merge to four once out of 30th St. and the tracks begin their descent into the tunnel proper. The tracks continue on a downgrade after crossing the Schuylkill Expressway, Schuylkill River, Schuylkill Park and Trail, and CSX's East Side line. 21st street in particular ducks considerably to clear the bridge carrying the tracks across it. Once the tracks reach 20th St, the tunnel is entered. Trains operate very slowly here due to the maze of turnouts and curves. Suburban Station comes into view shortly.
At Penn Center/Suburban Station, there are 4 main through tracks (two in each direction). Track 0 (zero), a stub, shares a platform with the southernmost Track 1, and there are 6 stub tracks north of the through tracks for turnbacks. During middays several trains can be seen on the stubs, mainly R5 Paoli expresses which start here. Track 0 was originally intended to serve R1 Airport trains when it was thought that these would shuttle between here and the Airport, minimizing delays and conflicts. Today, Track 0 is rarely used. The four through tracks also stub-ended here until the Tunnel extended them eastward. Penn Center-Suburban Station has "A" and "B" loading areas which are specific for certain lines on each track, thus multiple trains can load and unload. Unfortunately, since cars only have end doors, this is a slow process.
Suburban Station is a major transit hub, connecting to the Broad Street, Market-Frankford, and Subway-Surface lines and many bus routes and downtown office buildings. It has many shops and restaurants which are collectively called "MetroMarket". Suburban Station is currently being renovated to include air conditioning, more retail space, new entrances, modern conveniences, and restored historic and architectural splendor (including marble and bronze touches). This station has recently become wheelchair accessible with the addition of elevators. There are grand entrances at 15th and 16th streets. The 15th street entrance has stairs, escalators, glass covering, trees and landscaping, and even a statue. The 16th street entrance has a kiosk that is glass-covered and contains an elevator and stairs. There is also an open courtyard that will feature an art sculpture environment called Lifelines which will have five 36-foot-high glass leaf-shaped towers. They will be illuminated at night, inviting viewers to look into the courtyard.
After departing Suburban Station, the line curves a little bit to the north and crosses over the Broad St. Subway tracks. We then immediately arrive at Market East Station. Market East is part of a large complex, which includes the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the Gallery Mall, the Philadelphia Marriott Hotel, the Hard Rock Cafe, Reading Terminal Market, and the 11th St. Station of the Market-Frankford Subway. There is also a connection to PATCO and the Broad St. Line Ridge Spur. The station itself is located underground, but has several windows on the roof (skylights), giving the station a very airy feeling. There are two high island platforms and four tracks. Each platform has one end labeled "A" and one labeled "B", to allow two trains to load at one time from one platform. There are elevators and escalators up to a huge mezzanine with ticket windows, waiting rooms, and some shops and restaurants. Market East Station is fairly new and wheelchair accessible. This is the last underground station.
(A former station at Market East, Reading Terminal, was actually a separate, elevated, station which did not have a connection to Penn Center-Suburban Station. It served the Reading Railroad. It still exists today, out of service, on top of the Reading Terminal Market and the Convention Center. The former embankment is still intact, north of the Vine St Expressway and (though overgrown with trees) the old, now abandoned, Spring Garden station is also still visible.)
Out of Market East, the tracks turn quickly to the north and trains pick up speed for the climb back to embankment. A few switches are cleared as the train achieves daylight at Fairmount Avenue, entering the former Reading embankment which took trains into Reading Terminal. The line varies from embankment to elevated structure from here to just south of North Broad. This portion of the line was rebuilt in the Railworks program several years ago. Railworks brought a new station - Temple - which replaced another by the same names two blocks south of the current location. In Reading days, most trains skipped Temple, but today all but a few rush-hour limiteds call here. It is quite busy with the university of the same name only a short walk away, and students can be found waiting for and exiting trains here most hours of the day. This station is wheelchair accessible and is modern/renovated.
North of Temple, trains continue quickly to North Broad, once a fairly important stop on the Reading, now relegated to only certain trains - the R5 and R6, having only outer platforms (the old station had center islands between each set of tracks). The former Pennsy North Philadelphia Station, recently rehabilitated, is two blocks north, and up until the late 1960's there was considerable interchange traffic between the two stations. With neighborhood fortunes and travel choices changing, this has decreased to practically zero. It used to be that rich bankers that lived in Chestnut Hill would take the train to North Phila. or North Broad and then switch to a train going to New York so that they could get to Wall Street. This station is wheelchair accessible.
Leaving North Broad, trains duck beneath the Broad Street/Lehigh Avenue intersection, and overtop the Broad Street subway, and continue to 16th Street Junction. Just before 16th Street, the Amtrak Main Line and the edge of the North Philadelphia station platforms pass overhead.
At 16th Street, 2 tracks branch off to the northwest for R6 Norristown runs. The 4 track ex-Reading line continues on a north-northwestwardly course, passing closed stations at Tioga and Nicetown, and curves into Wayne Junction. Just before Wayne Junction, the Roberts Yard passes by to the west. North of Wayne Junction station, R7 Chestnut Hill East trains branch off to the north, and the 4 tracks merge into 3 before turning northeastward. A former Reading freight line also joins the main line at this point. This is the end of the tunnel corridor.
R1 trains leave 30th Street Station and share tracks with R2 Newark/Wilmington and R3 Media/Elwyn trains through a subway beneath 32nd Street, which ends at Walnut Street. The line is in a short cut behind the locally-famous Palestra, the University of Pennsylvania's basketball arena, and Franklin Field, its football stadium. Just past South Street, the University City station appears. This was completed in the early 1990's (it was originally going to be called Civic Center) and opened up several ridership possibilities in the nearby university area - both Penn and Drexel - as well as the hospital complex on Civic Center Boulevard. The former Conrail "High Line" freight bypass around 30th Street is just east of the station. The station has two entrances: stairs from South Street, and a larger entrance on Convention Av which features wheelchair accessibility, a ticket office, information, and an electronic display. The platform level has a roof and the platform is a neat concrete diamond pattern with tactile edging. This station is very nice.
Once trains leave the station, the line joins Amtrak's main line at Arsenal junction, a complex connection of Amtrak, SEPTA, and two ex-Conrail freight lines. R1 trains usually take the westernmost track (used in both directions) and clear the junction. Just south of here, R3 Media trains split off to the west.
R1 trains leave the Amtrak line at Brill junction, west of 58th Street, and curve onto a bridge which crosses the 4 Amtrak tracks. The bridge leads onto a single-track line and has a connection to the inbound outside track, which is infrequently used. The single track continues to the connection with the ex-Conrail 60th Street Branch, where the line once again becomes a 2-track operation. It used to be that operation alternated trains on either track, thus there was no inbound or outbound to speak of, and trains were not switched at the Airport, so whichever track the train took at this point would be its track on both legs of its journey (to and from the Airport). Now, all trains must take the "inbound" track to and from the airport because tracks can not be switched at the airport and the "inbound" track is the only track with access to the new side platforms at the airport.
Once onto double track, trains open up and move quickly along. Freights still use this portion of the line and there are a handful of sidings in this stretch which still see freight cars. In a few minutes, Island Avenue passes over the tracks, and the Route 36 subway-surface trolley car loop at Eastwick can be seen on the north side of the line. Trains begin to slow for the Eastwick stop, a temporary affair built in 1997 to serve nearby office developments. The boardwalk-like platforms are going to be replaced with a more modern station in the near future - a station that will be part of a new "Eastwick Transportation Center" which would also serve a few bus routes. The current station also serves those bus routes and is wheelchair accessible. There were originally plans to have two stations around here - 70th Street and 84th Street - however only one was built (Eastwick / 84th St).
Out of Eastwick, the only intermediate stop, the trains parallel Bartram Avenue and the Airport comes into view across I-95 to the east. The freight line diverges to the west and R1 trains begin to climb onto a long viaduct which crosses Bartram Avenue, the 12 lanes of I-95, and Airport access roadways, settling down to ground again in the Airport Terminal complex, between the arrival and departure roads (departure is to the east and the closer of the two roadways).
Long island platforms serve Terminal A and Terminal B (1 platform with 2 stopping areas), Terminals C and D (1 platform with 1 stopping area), and Terminal E. Tracks stub at Terminal E. New platforms have been built on the west side of the western ("inbound") track for direct access from baggage claim. The new platforms allow one-level access and also wheelchair accessibility. These require that all trains operate on the western track, since the eastern track has no such connection. All platforms are concrete with yellow tactile edging. All stations have a concrete roof. Also, all stations have electronic displays and ticket vending machines.
R1 trains operate every 30 minutes from 6 AM to 12 midnight, 7 days per week. All operate through the Tunnel area to Temple, with some continuing on other lines past that point. At one time, R1's were paired up with R6 Norristown trains, but present (5/16/99) timetables call for alternate weekday trains to continue as R2 Warminster runs. On weekends, trains alternate between R2 Warminster and R3 West Trenton continuations.</p>
The R2 runs along the busy Amtrak Northeast Corridor south of Philadelphia. For the most part, the right-of-way is four tracks wide and Amtrak trains generally speed through the center tracks, with R2 trains relegated to the outer ones. This service has been provided by the Pennsy and now SEPTA for many years. Under SEPTA's auspices, service was initially cut back to Marcus Hook, just shy of the Delaware border, but with funding assistance from the Delaware Department of Transportation, trains returned to Wilmington once again.
The line follows the tracks shared with R1 Airport and R3 Media trains through University City station and onto Amtrak trackage at Arsenal interlocking. R3's duck onto their own line just southwest of Arsenal and R1's leave at Brill near 58th Street, allowing R2 trains to continue along the Corridor. Trains run in a slight cut through residential Southwest Philadelphia, changing to embankment just before exiting the city. SEPTA's Elmwood Depot, the home of the subway-surface fleet, passes on the left at Island Avenue, just shy of the Delaware County border. In the County, the line splits a heavy residential area, with the first stop in Darby, followed closely by Curtis Park, Sharon Hill, Folcroft, Glenolden, Norwood and Prospect Park (formerly called Moore-Prospect Park). These stations all have somewhat nondescript buildings, with several featuring old highway overpasses that were built years ago when the line was first grade-separated. Many of these bridges are being replaced.
At Prospect Park, a nicer stone building is on the inbound side. At this point, the line crosses over most intersecting roads, with very shallow clearances. Busy Route 420 ducks under the tracks here and a small business district lines the route, known locally as Lincoln Avenue. Ridley Park, with another stone station building, follows, retaining the close spacing, with Crum Lynne next, returning to the nondescript type of station. Not far from Crum Lynne are the I-95 overpass and the closed Baldwin stop. The Baldwin locomotive plant was here years ago, with the stop within the plant property. One building on the site has been used for various purposes over the years and SEPTA had re-opened the stop with a large park-and-ride lot. It was open even as recently as 2002 however it is once again closed. Eddystone station follows closely afterward.
Past Eddystone, the line vaults onto an embankment and enters Chester, a town which has fallen on hard times. Chester station is an attractive brick building which will be rehabilitated as part of SEPTA's efforts to create a Chester Transportation Center. The center is close to what remains of the city's business district, decimated by nearby malls, and is the terminal or stop for several bus routes which serve the city. The city also has two (only one in operation) additional stops, the next at Lamokin Street (which was discontinued in 2004) and Highland Avenue, on a more prosperous side of town.
Once past Highland, the tracks pass through an area occupied by several oil refineries. Short-turn runs ending at Marcus Hook will cross over at the interlocking here to the inbound outside track, where they will lay over for the inbound run. Other trains remain on the outbound outside for the stop at Marcus Hook, the last in Pennsylvania. Shortly south of Marcus Hook, trains cross the Delaware border and vault across Naamans Road, past the large Phoenix Steel complex, curving toward the Delaware River and coming alongside I-495. Claymont station has a large parking lot on the right with a security tower which is manned while the lot is open. Claymont station is wheelchair accessible.
Out of Claymont, the Delaware River is close by on the left and I-495 is at the right. One of the famous Pennsy flying junctions comes up, to allow freight bypass tracks to avoid Wilmington station. These tracks serve Amtrak's shops, which come up on the left. The passenger main goes from four tracks to three past the junction and remains that way as it curves into Wilmington. Trains terminating at Wilmington switch to the inbound outside track and end their runs at the low-level platform to the left. The high-level platform in the center is used by Amtrak trains. Downtown Wilmington is about 1/2 mile north of the station. Wilmington station is wheelchair accessible.
Newark trains continue through the station, doing so since an arrangement made between SEPTA and Delaware DOT in 1997. Next up is a brand new station, Churchman's Crossing, which has a parking lot that has 125 spaces and approx. 98% full on weekdays. R2 Newark trains end their runs at the nondescript Newark station roughly 11 miles west of Wilmington. Delaware DOT built a large parking lot here for commuters. Both Newark and Churchman's Crossing are wheelchair accessible stations.
R2 service operates hourly in the midday period to Marcus Hook, with alternate trains extended to Wilmington. Peak-hour service only is provided to Newark with the exception of one midday run which requires a transfer to bus at Wilmington. Only a handful of trains operate through with the R2 Warminster, with most paired to R6 Norristown trains especially in the evening hours. Saturday sees hourly Marcus Hook service, with five trains to Wilmington, all paired with R6. On Sundays, all service ends at Marcus Hook with 1-hour headways and all paired with R6.</p>
R2's leave the ex-Reading (R5 Lansdale) northwest of Glenside, turning northward on a line that is at grade and features many grade crossings. Ardsley is the first stop, just across busy Susquehanna Road, with a typical Reading wooden building. Just before the next stop, Roslyn, the tracks merge to one, with the station on the right. The station has been rebuilt extensively. Out of Roslyn, the line crosses a busy intersection, with the principal road at this crossing, Easton Road, being the line's parallel route. Almost just past the crossing, Crestmont station appears.
The line crosses both Old Welsh Road and Old York Road, both busy thoroughfares, before stopping at Willow Grove. The locally-famous amusement park of the same name was only a couple of blocks from here, but it has been replaced by a shopping mall. A passing siding just north of the station is used often for meets between inbound and outbound trains. Shortly past this, the line ducks under the ex-PRR Trenton Cutoff and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Fulmor station was located here, although it was closed several years ago.
Hatboro is next. Until the extension to Warminster in 1974, Hatboro was the terminal stop for the line. A handsome station still stands here. When electric wires were strung to Warminster, roughly a mile and a half north, trains were extended to this point. Warminster features a modern station with high-level platforms.
R2 Warminster has hourly midday and weekend service. Trains run through to the Airport as R1. Only selected peak-hour trains run through to the R2 Wilmington.</p>
The ex-Pennsy side of R3, the Media line, is an interesting one in that it is decidedly non-Pennsy in nature. The PRR lines generally were well-built and, in some cases, overbuilt, with extensive grade separation, flying junctions and multiple tracks. The Media line is not quite this way and resembles the Reading side lines in its nature - a two-track or less line with several grade crossings, substantially built in some places, a set of tracks in others.
The line leaves the Amtrak main south of 30th Street past University City (described on the R1 page) station, after passing through Arsenal interlocking (the complex juncture of ex-PRR passenger and freight lines), and follows its own two-track cut on a west-southwestwardly course across the grid of Southwest Philadelphia. 49th Street is the first stop, a lightly-used one (being directly beneath Chester Avenue, which has subway-surface Route 13 offering convenient service to Center City). This station is so lightly used that it has been proposed for closure. 49th Street has recently been renovated complete with concrete platforms, tactile edging, signage, and wheelchair access ramps, making this station accessible.
Shortly out of 49th, the tracks begin to parallel Baltimore Avenue a couple of blocks to the south of this road (itself containing the tracks of subway-surface Route 34). Angora station, another low-volume stop, comes up at 58th Street. These stops increase in importance when SEPTA's transit side suffers a strike, the last one continuing for 40 days in June and July 1998.
Trains enter a long, high trestle over Cobbs Creek, the end of Philadelphia and the start of Delaware County, and enter Fernwood-Yeadon stop beneath a curving highway bridge. The next stop, Lansdowne, is a busy one, very close to the center of this old suburban town, with a handsome brick station which has been recently restored. Past Lansdowne and the next stop, Gladstone, the line vaults onto another large, high trestle across Darby Creek and goes to grade for nearly the rest of the trip. A couple of busy grade crossings are encountered before the line goes onto an embankment for the Clifton-Aldan station. The stop is above Springfield Road, with the Route 102 Sharon Hill light rail line's tracks in the road (making for interesting meet pictures), and has an old stone station building. Out of Clifton-Aldan, the tracks return to grade and more roadway crossings. Stops at Primos, Secane and Morton (formerly Morton-Rutledge) are all close to grade crossings and trains usually will create tie-ups on the intersecting roads, especially busy Route 420 at Morton. Past Primos, the line begins to move away from its close proximity to Baltimore Pike. Morton station is wheelchair accessible.
After Secane, Swarthmore station is next. Swarthmore is close to the college of the same name and this contributes to the high volume at this stop (it is often the highest-used station on the line or a close second when it's not in the top spot). Swarthmore station is wheelchair accessible. Busy Route 320 ducks beneath the tracks here.
Leaving the station, the tracks enter another high bridge over Crum Creek and then vault over a newer trestle across I-476, the Blue Route. West of the Blue Route, a wooded semi-rural area is entered, with both Wallingford and Moylan-Rose Valley stations in this area. The surroundings are quiet and somewhat exclusive and remain a secluded and desirable area of Delaware County. Surprisingly, the proximity of the rail line has helped these communities stay livable, and locals have fought parking lot expansion at these stations which might bring in more outside traffic. Many residents walk to the train stations.
Media rises out the woods, literally, just past a slight curve. The station building is a plain brick affair, the type seen on Pennsy lines dating to the 1950's which often replaced elderly wooden structures. Until the late 1970's most service ended here, hence the name "Media line", with double track ending just out of the station. Service continued on to West Chester from this point on selected trains. In the Pennsy era, and even into the early days of SEPTA, West Chester trains in off-peak periods were single-car and required a change at Media. Only peak-hour trains went through from Philadelphia. West Chester service ended in the late 1980's. The line, electrified all the way, is mainly single-track. A portion of it is used by an excursion line with diesel locos.
Service to Elwyn began in the late 1970's, with selected trains continuing past Media to an existing stop which had its parking lot greatly expanded. Media station is a few blocks from the center of town and has limited parking. Elwyn station was a good alternate for luring drivers along the busy Route 1 corridor without snaking them through the residential area of town to a station with poor parking. At first, Elwyn had only one track, but a second track was placed from Media to this stop in the mid-1980's and most service was extended to here at that point. Just before reaching Elwyn, another long and high bridge is crossed.
Both Media and Elwyn are modern, accessible stations. SEPTA plans to extend service to Wawa, where another park-and-ride would exist. No plans are on the books for resumption of service beyond Wawa at this point. The former stops on the line from Media to West Chester were as follows: Media (in operation), Elwyn (in operation), Williamson School, Glen Riddle, Lenni, Wawa (possibly to be re-opened), Glen Mills, Cheyney, Westtown, West Chester University, and West Chester. Currently, catenary wire goes to Lenni, a SEPTA training site.
Current service levels on R3 have hourly service in midday periods with additional trains (and a couple of limiteds) in the peaks. Weekday service is paired with R3 West Trenton. Saturdays feature one-hour headways and Sundays two-hour service, with all weekend service ending at Market East.
R3 West Trenton
R3's leave the ex-Reading trunk after the Jenkintown station and take a generally northeast heading, almost arrow-straight, through the eastern reaches of Montgomery County. The line stays in a shallow cut as it runs around the northwestern edge of Jenkintown, calling at Noble station at Old York Road in a busy commercial area in this section of Abington Township. From there, the line begins to climb onto embankment, whizzing through a grade crossing just east of Old York Road and calling at Rydal and Meadowbrook stations. These stops are in a fairly sparsely settled area and are not very busy. Just northeast of Meadowbrook, the former Newtown line crosses at grade. There is occasional talk of resuming commuter service on this line, possibly tying it into R3, but nothing has materialized despite the extremely large residential growth in the Newtown area.
The line continues to parallel adjacent Valley Road until it swings away near Bethayres. Busy Huntingdon Pike crosses nearby, so there is considerable park-and-ride activity at Bethayres. Your train comes up from its cut to surface-level trackage with a few grade crossings. Next up is Philmont, another busy stop. Your train slides out of Montgomery County and into the far northwestern corner of Northeast Philadelphia, stopping at Forest Hills after a grade crossing of busy Byberry Road. Somerton, just after the Bustleton Avenue overpass, the next stop, is also a busy one. Despite the SEPTA bus routes in this area which tie directly into the Market-Frankford line at Frankford Terminal, many commuters in this area opt for the more expensive train, since the bus rides to Frankford are long and, in some cases, indirect.
You leave Philadelphia and enter Bucks County, stopping at Trevose, which serves a small residential area. At the next stop, Neshaminy Falls, the ex-Reading CSX Trenton Line joins us, with its single track on the eastern edge of the right-of-way. (The Trenton Line, called the New York Short Line by the Reading, leaves the R8 Fox Chase line near Lawndale station and continues across the western side of Northeast Philadelphia as a freight-only route. Several studies have been conducted on the possibility of commuter service on this line, although the passenger-unfriendly CSX would probably oppose this.) In Reading days, the line was four tracks wide, and there were connections between the the routes, but Conrail removed one track and severed connections. From here to Woodbourne, passengers leave outbound trains on the 'wrong' (left) side, and planking crosses the inbound track at door locations to facilitate this.
The train goes 'into the country' through a sparsely-settled corridor, with some of the longer distances between stations on the SEPTA regional rail system, so speeds can be high along this portion of the line. After passing beneath US-1, Langhorne station is next, followed by Woodbourne, where the Reading had a substantial freight yard. Conrail's ex- PRR Trenton Cut-off, now called the Morrisville Line, crosses overhead here, and a connection has been made between the two lines to reroute some freight traffic from the lower portions of the Trenton Line. North of Woodbourne, the CSX freight track merges into the outbound SEPTA track.
Yardley is the line's last stop in Pennsylvania. It proceeds to cross a concrete arch bridge above a canal and the Delaware River, finally arriving at West Trenton. The station building on the outbound track is privately owned and no longer provides a rail-related function. Due to the freight activity on the line, trains unload at the outbound platform and proceed into a medium-sized yard adjacent to the outbound track, where they take layover and switch ends. Generally they will proceed to the inbound platform a few minutes before departure time.
R3 is expected to gain some passengers when work begins on the I-95 reconstruction project, since it is generally within the highway's demand corridor. Several parking lots have been expanded and push-pull trains have been designated for certain trips to handle the anticipated crowds.
The following stations have been renovated and are fully accessible: Bethayres, Forest Hills, Somerton, Trevose, Neshaminy Falls, Woodbourne (accessible inbound only), Yardley (accessible inbound only). The last two are inbound only because outbound trains are on the center track and can not be reached by any platform.
The premier Reading side service is the Lansdale line, which serves the entire ex-Reading main trunk through Jenkintown and along the former Bethlehem Branch. It has a steady following and flows through an area which is seeing much new development, both residential and commercial, which funnels in commute traffic in both directions.
The main line swings north at Newtown Junction where R8 Fox Chase trains branch off and continues almost due north as a two-track line. Fern Rock, the first station on the line, is fairly new and serves as a transfer point to the adjacent Broad Street Subway. The subway yards and shops are to the west of the station. The former lightly-used Fern Rock station is about a quarter mile north. Fern Rock has high-level platforms. It was built just before the Railworks project and served as the southern terminal of R2, R3 and R5 trains when the main line was shut down for construction. Patrons transferred to subway express trains for the continuation to Center City.
The line drops from embankment to cut and leaves Philadelphia for Montgomery County just before Melrose Park station when it vaults over Cheltenham Avenue, the city-county boundary. Elkins Park is next, with the line still on embankment. At Old York Road, a closed station building is passed. This is the headquarters of the Chelten Hills model railroad club.
Tracks go back to a slight cut and begin to curve once again when Jenkintown is reached. Jenkintown is a busy station and the building contains a barber shop and an Italian restaurant. Just north of the station, the tracks split, with R3 West Trenton trains following the set to the right. Our train goes left and begins its northwestward trek through Montgomery County.
Glenside, another busy stop, is next, with the station on a massive concrete bridge across Easton Road. Some R1 Airport trains turned back at Glenside in past years. Shortly out of Glenside, a branch to the north leaves the line. This is the route of R2 Warminster trains.
The line continues, varying from cut to grade, through several small communities which sprung up around stations. North Hills and Oreland come and go. At Fort Washington, the remnants of an old Reading freight house are adjacent to the creaky wooden platforms and stone station building. Patronage here is high, both with commuters as well as workers headed from the city to the Route 201 bus which operates through the sprawling Fort Washington Office Complex. At the next stop, Ambler, the inbound side of the station was relocated to allow inbound trains to stop without blocking busy Butler Pike, the town's main drag. The old station building is just north of the current stop. Several grade crossings will be encountered between here and Lansdale.
Penllyn station has an old freight building at the northern end of the outbound platform. Gwynedd Valley's station building also houses a small restaurant/cafe. The line, still on grade, passes through a large rock cut north of Gwynedd Valley that is a daylighted tunnel, a casualty of electrification. North Wales and Pennbrook stations follow next. Upon entering the town of Lansdale, a Conrail freight line joins the line from the southwest. This line connects with the R6 Norristown line and is owned by SEPTA but no passenger service is provided and it is not electrified. After crossing Main Street, the Lansdale station comes into view. The main tracks continue northwestwardly, eventually reaching Bethlehem, and SEPTA ran RDC trains as far as Quakertown until 1981. Wires end on the main tracks just past the station building.
A second set of tracks curves to the east side of the station, and trains continuing to Doylestown follow this route. In Reading days, service to Doylestown was much less frequent than today and some off-hour trains were single-car affairs which required a change from main line Lansdale runs or diesel trips to Bethlehem. The line curves to the northeast once out of Lansdale station and becomes single track on grade for the entire length of the branch. Stations are located at Fortuna, Colmar, Link Belt, Chalfont, New Britian, Delaware Valley College and finally, Doylestown. Almost the entire branch is in Bucks County. This area is another growing residential one and patronage has risen steadily over the years.
A siding is located past Chalfont station and all outbound trains are shunted into it despite signalling on the line. The line is quite rural in nature and is loaded with grade crossings of busy roads. There are several freight customers along the line, so freight cars and locos can be seen.
The Doylestown station, in the county seat of Bucks County, is south of the main part of the town. The county buildings are just north atop a hill along Easton Road, the main road through town. An unused freight station, to the west of the passenger stop, has been proposed for reuse. A small yard for layups is located here, although few trains occupy it on a regular basis other than overnight storage.
Trains operate on 1/2 hour headways to Lansdale in middays, with every other train through to Doylestown. Several peak-hour expresses and limiteds are scheduled. Weekend service sees a train every hour all operating to Doylestown. The vast majority of runs are tied to R5 Paoli trains.
This line is the busiest on the system. It follows the storied ex-Pennsy "Main Line" through the affluent suburban area which has taken the same name, generally paralleling Lancaster Avenue through the northwest suburbs of Philadelphia. Up until the mid 1970's, there was 15-minute midday service on the line, with Bryn Mawr locals on the :15 and :45 out of Suburban Station, followed by Paoli runs on the :00 and :30 which bypassed intermediate stops below Bryn Mawr (except for Ardmore). Even today, this line has a considerable ridership between intermediate stops.
The line is also misnamed. The Paoli name dates to the end of commuter service at that town, which was revised after SEPTA takeover to various points west of Paoli. Service went as far as Parkesburg at the western extremes of Chester County until the mid 1990's, when trains were cut back to Downingtown. One problem with Parkesburg service was that trains had to continue another 20 miles or so into Lancaster County to change ends and cross over for the inbound journey. Today, most trains go to at least Malvern, just west of Paoli, but the Paoli name lives on.
Trains leave 30th Street upper level and descend through the Powelton Yard cut, through fabled Zoo Junction, and then onto the Main Line. Multiple tracks remain through most of the area between Zoo and the former 52nd Street station. These served a freight yard at one time, and Amtrak is considering relocation of its coach yard to this area from 30th Street. The tracks go through a complicated grade-separated junction which allows the freight yard leads to move to the north and the R6 Cynwyd tracks to branch off to the northwest. 52nd Street station, now closed, is located within this maze of bridges, and the station is a two-level affair (outbounds stopped at the upper level, inbounds at the lower, with the street still one more level down). This station may reopen as part of a transit center in this area. Route 10 subway-surface trolleys are on Lancaster Avenue and Lansdowne Avenue one block to the south.
Once out of the junction, the tracks go back into a slight cut and merge into a 4-track main. Overbrook station, an architectural gem slated for restoration, is the first stop out of 30th Street. Above the station, City Avenue crosses, the boundary between Philadelphia and Montgomery County. Once past Overbrook, stations come up on short spacings. Merion is next, with the track on a slight embankment, and streets squeezing beneath on narrow low underpasses. Wynnewood Road is just to the west of the station, with a small shopping center in sight. Narberth, the next stop, is in the center of the town's business district. Past Narberth, the tracks curve to a northwest alignment generally a block or two east of Lancaster Avenue.
Wynnewood is followed by Ardmore, a busy stop which also serves Amtrak trains. The station is a nondescript brick building. Suburban Square, touted to be the first suburban shopping center, is just east of the stop, with the center of Ardmore a block west along Lancaster Avenue. An old freight station is just east of the stop on the outbound side.
Haverford is passed and Bryn Mawr is next. As noted, the station was once a busier place with trains calling here on transit-like schedules. A restaurant/cafe occupies part of the inbound brick station building. An interlocking tower is at the west end of the stop, but it is no longer in service. Haverford marks the start of college towns served by the line, which help to keep intermediate station patronage high even today.
Rosemont marks the crossing of the Montgomery/Delaware County boundary, with Villanova station next. The station is smack in the middle of the Villanova University campus and a short walk from the Villanova station of SEPTA's Route 100 Norristown High-Speed Line, just across Lancaster Pike (the designation changes several times). One of the more significant stations on the line, architecturally speaking, is the stone building at Villanova.
Out of Villanova, the line crosses over I-476 and Route 100 in that order and comes into Radnor. A nearby office park generates significant reverse commuting and a shuttle bus route connects the station with other office buildings nearby. Radnor is the home of TV Guide.
Saint David's and Wayne, both fairly busy stops, are passed, and Strafford station is after these. Strafford is a very unique station with a fancy wooden building which was part of the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After the Exposition, the building was moved here. It is slated for restoration. A branch of what is today's Route 100 once operated to this station on its own adjacent right-of-way and had a terminal at the west end of the inbound platform, which was reached via a 180-degree curve from the south.
Devon and Berwyn stations come and go. Berwyn is slated for major renovations. Daylesford, once a rickety wooden shelter which was a flag stop, has been spruced up a little with new shelters and expanded parking.
Paoli is a nondescript brick station, similar to those at Ardmore and Bryn Mawr, with a long platform on each side with smaller brick shelters located at various points along the platforms. The shelters mark waiting locations for those boarding long-distance trains in Pennsy days. Most trains ended their runs here in Pennsy days and headed into the former yard, on the north side of the tracks just past the station, to reverse. The yard is gone and trains continue westward into Chester County, with most terminating at Malvern, the next stop. Malvern trains continue on to the Frazer Shops, another two miles west, to reverse.
Some trains continue on to Downingtown, the current western extremity of service. Once past Frazer, the tracks are joined by ex-Conrail freight-only trackage that was once PRR's route around Philadelphia, called the Trenton Cutoff. SEPTA is studying the feasibility of use of this line for a circumferential passenger route through the northern suburbs which it calls the Cross County Metro. The next station encountered is Exton, near busy Highway Route 100 and the new Exton Bypass. The Exton station was built shortly after Downingtown service was begun and its huge parking lot is usually full. Just to the west is Whitford station, also with a large parking lot. Whitford had been proposed for abandonment once Exton was opened but patrons had other ideas about this and the station was kept open.
Service has been expanded in this area to help commuters cope with ongoing reconstruction work on nearby US 202. One of the region's busiest highways, it is being widened, but the work will take several years, and station parking lots in the affected area have been enlarged to lure some drivers onto the trains.
With a former Reading freight line south of the line at this point, we enter the station in Downingtown. This station sits in the southwest of town, next to Lancaster Avenue. It was used between 1986 and 1989 as the terminal of R5 service. Service to Parkesburg was added in 1990, but dropped again in 1996. Then, for three years Downingtown was the terminal station, but trains continued further west to Thorn interlocking to cross over and reverse direction. So in 1998, SEPTA began construction of a station in the area, the site of a former Pennsylvania Railroad yard. In September 1999, test runs began, and with the schedule change in November of that year, service to the station in Thorndale had begun. The stop is three miles west of Downingtown, and sits on an embankment above South Bailey Road, at Business Route 30. The station is actually within the interlocking itself, and the line here is eight tracks wide (though only about four actually go through, the rest are partly buried or removed). The outbound side has a low-level platform, with a mini-high at the west end. The inbound platform is all high-level, and ramps lead to both platforms. Currently, the trains all stop only on the inbound side. The station is mostly brick, with concrete platforms. There is a parking lot here with 450 spaces. Trains will generally run much slower entering Thorndale from the east than leaving; this is because the trains cross over to reach the inbound side prior to arrival. The same moves were made when the line ended in Downingtown. Thorndale Station opened on November 22, 1999 (though the schedules changed on the 21st).
The line is extremely busy at all times. Various peak-hour limiteds and expresses operate on the line, with a handful of Bryn Mawr short turns also scheduled. Thorndale runs usually feature the push-pull train sets. Among the limited and express trips are the relatively new and famous Great Valley Flyer limited train, which runs nonstop from 30th Street Station all the way to Paoli, then local into Thorndale. Expresses to Bryn Mawr with local service beyond to Malvern (and in some cases, Thorndale) also operate, with the Bryn Mawr locals not far behind. In middays, trains run to Malvern every half hour and alternates run through to Thorndale, though one two-hour gap between trains is present. The alternating continues into the evening hours, with two trips side by side once the line reaches hourly service, and then the final two trips operate to Malvern and Thorndale respectively. On Saturdays, half-hourly service to Malvern is also in effect, but the Thorndale trips are rather unpredictable. The gaps range from one hour to 90 minutes to two hours between trips serving Thorndale. Since the R5 Lansdale/Doylestown side has hourly service, half of the line's trains terminate at Market East and do not run through to Lansdale/Doylestown. Sundays trips operate hourly service as far west as Malvern but all operate through to Doylestown. Trips actually turning back in Paoli are very rare these days (only four on the schedule; two weekday evening peak, a Saturday morning, and a Saturday afternoon run at present), but strangely, SEPTA has never changed the line to "R5 Malvern/Thorndale.
The R6 Norristown line branches off the ex-Reading main line at 16th Street Junction and continues on its double-track alignment. On the east side (to the right as you travel outbound), the R8 Chestnut Hill West parallels the line for a short distance. In this area, a proposed connection between the two was to be built which would allow R8's to enter the Reading side and avoid a troublesome junction onto the Amtrak Northeast Corridor (outbound R8's must wrong-rail for a short distance to access the branch and this is often cause for delays in the schedule). The connection has not been built and probably will not be at this point. The lightly used Allegheny station (22nd Street in Reading days), a ramshackle affair in need of lots of work, comes and goes. Most trains treat it as a flag stop.
The R6 line moves from embankment into a cut, crossing over an ex-Reading freight line now used by CSX trains to the north, and travels on a northwestward bearing. Your train vaults over the Roosevelt (US 1) Expressway between two grade crossings and enters East Falls, a fairly busy station on a bridge over Midvale Avenue. East Falls is one of the few neighborhoods in Philadelphia with no direct, convenient transit connection to Center City or the rapid transit lines, so many folks use the train. Once out of East Falls, the line continues to the northwest, crossing School House Lane at grade, and enters a high stone arch bridge across the Wissahickon Creek and Lincoln Drive, following a high embankment into Wissahickon station. The slope of adjacent Ridge Avenue shows that Philadelphia is far from a flat city, and the hills to the east which can be seen from the train as you leave Wissahickon are further indication of this.
The line is at grade through this area for a short stretch, entering an elevated structure (built in the late 20's, recently rebuilt) just before reaching Manayunk station. The Manayunk area, with Main Street, the focal point, a block to the west, is one of the more up and coming areas of Philadelphia, and weekend trains are full of young folks headed to the bars and night spots in this area. Manayunk is one of only two stations on the line to not have station parking (the other being Allegheny). Just out of Manayunk, the el ends, and trains are back on embankment for a short stretch. The former R6 Ivy Ridge viaduct, a massive concrete arch bridge across the Schuylkill River, passes overhead. This bridge has recently been rebuilt. The former Pennsy Manayunk station is adjacent to the line up at viaduct level - after consolidation, the stop became known as Manayunk West, but the West part didn't stick.
The two lines run parallel to each other for a short stretch, with the Pennsy grade a little higher than the Reading. Ivy Ridge station is next, with two platforms and a short shelter on the inbound side for patrons. This was hastily built when the R6 Ivy Ridge quit in the late 80's. The relatively new Ivy Ridge stop, at the top of the long stairway, served as the terminal for the other side of R6 until its demise.
The line enters a very bucolic area alongside the Schuylkill River and follows the river into Norristown. Despite the wooded surroundings, you are still in the City of Philadelphia for a short while. The closeness of the river has hurt the line at times, when floods have caused closures and temporary cessation of service. The former Shawmont station is passed in this stretch, with Miquon marking the entry into Montgomery County. A former paper plant in this area once generated considerable freight traffic, but only spotty non-passenger rail service remains.
The line continues along the river through a sparsely populated area, then enters the town of Spring Mill with a good deal of residential and commercial development along with its station. Spring Mill has recently been renovated, with improvements including new platforms with tactile strips, new signage, and wheelchair accessibility. Also, the parking lot has been expanded by 100 spaces to bring the number of spaces up to 117.
The surroundings become more urban and built-up when the train nears Conshohocken station. Conshohocken is an old but gentrifying town which sees a good deal of traffic headed for Center City each morning. Some reverse commuting to jobs here and in neighboring West Conshohocken, across the river, can be found as well.
Leaving Conshohocken, the line once again enters a wooded area along the river, with some commercial properties on the land side. A couple of closed stations at Ivy Rock and Mogees are passed, and a connection with the former Conrail Morrisville freight line allows freights to use the R6 line to access the ex-Conrail line on the west side of the Schuylkill north of Norristown. Thus, some freight activity can be found on this segment of line.
Once again, the landscape changes and the setting becomes more urban, an indication that Norristown is near. The top of the Montgomery County Courthouse and the clock on the adjacent bank can be seen shortly on the right. The Norristown Transportation Center, formerly DeKalb Street Station, is the main stop for Norristown and only a two-block walk to the courthouse at the center of town. Connections can be made to various Frontier Division bus routes and Route 100, the Norristown High Speed Line, back to 69th Street Terminal. Out of the station, the freight tracks curve to the left, and the single electrfied track goes to the right, passing under the Dannehower Bridge/Markley Street, then paralleling Markley Street. Once across busy Main Street on the west edge of the Markley Street intersection, guaranteed to be a traffic stopper, Main Street station comes and goes. A short distance later, the end of electric wires comes at Elm Street, a high platform stop. Midday and weekend layup trains can be spotted here, although photo angles are not all that great.</p>
R6 trains run every hour in middays, with a handful of peak-hour extras, and every hour on weekends. Most weekday trips end at 30th Street, with weekend runs paired with R2 Marcus Hook or Wilmington trains (no service to Wilmington on Sundays). Late night trips also run through to R2 destinations.
This branch is the lightest of the SEPTA commuter lines and has been proposed for closure. A small but vocal (and politically connected) ridership base has saved the line, which by any other indication should not be in operation today given its total ridership in the neighborhood of 300 customers.
R6 trains branch off the R5 Paoli line west of 52nd Street at a junction that is no longer remotely controlled and which must be entered with the assistance of the train crew (signing a register in a wayside box before clearing a spring switch). The line is single track from the start, with the former outbound track pulled up a few years ago (although catenary remains). The line enters its own embankment on the western edge of Fairmount Park and enters a small residential area at Wynnefield Avenue station, with a very low bridge crossing Wynnefield Avenue (the bridge seems even lower when approached by auto from the west, given the slight downgrade of the street). The embankment drops to grade by the next stop, Bala, beneath City Avenue, the boundary between Philadelphia and Montgomery County (also mistakenly referred to as City Line Avenue). Whichever you call it, the road crosses above on a steep arch bridge, which is always a headache in icy weather. Bala is renovated and has accessibility improvements, including tactile warning strips and a high platform for wheelchair accessibility.
Just under a half mile north, Cynwyd station appears, the end of the line, beneath another steep-approached bridge carrying busy Montgomery Avenue. Cynwyd is on the edge of a small business strip centered on Bala Avenue - what looks like train patron parking is actually a half business parking area, half car dealer lot. The right-of-way, mainly overgrown, continues north past the former Barmouth station and then onto the massive concrete arch across the Schuylkill (Expressway and River) into Manayunk. This is out of service, awaiting both track and structural repairs. SEPTA has proposed this right-of-way for its Schuylkill Valley Metro, which would take over the R6 Norristown (Reading RR) trackage beyond Ivy Ridge if it is built. The former PRR Norristown line was converted into bike trail in 1981.
Service on R6 Cynwyd is very erratic. Five trips run in the AM peak, one midday, and six in the PM peak. All trains end at Suburban Station (Penn Center).
R7 Chestnut Hill East
After following the ex-Reading trunk to Wayne Junction, we diverge to the west to a separate island platform at this station which serves both directions of our line. Leaving the Junction, we pass the ex-Reading Electric Car shop and head almost due north for a short stretch, passing through some park area. We pass the former station at Fishers, then turn to the northwest on a high embankment alongside Belfield Avenue, making the first stop at Wister. We continue, making a sharp right turn, into the Germantown stop, a short walk from the Germantown/Chelten commercial area. Turning toward the northwest once again, we set a straighter course, still on embankment, calling at Washington Lane station, then begin to drop down to a shallow cut. Stations at Stenton, Sedgwick and Mount Airy come and go, with Mount Airy being the first with an actual station building (those at other stations have been razed, mainly after having been damaged by fire). The noted local architect Frank Furness designed Mount Airy and Gravers stations, and efforts are being made to preserve them.
Leaving Mount Airy, the line returns to embankment to cross through Cresheim Park, vaulting over a former Pennsylvania Railroad branch, Cresheim Creek and Cresheim Valley Drive, and, in the process, leaving the Mount Airy section of the city for the Chestnut Hill neighborhood, and returning to a surface right-of-way. Wyndmoor, another nice station building, and Gravers (noted above) are each fairly busy stops, with lots of homes and apartments nearby, and connections to SEPTA's transit system less convenient than in Germantown and Mount Airy. These stations are also closely spaced, with only about 3 city blocks between them.
The terminal stop at Chestnut Hill East, adjacent to Bethlehem Pike, has a small yard in addition to the station tracks. It too is only a few blocks northwest of Gravers. It is also only two blocks east of the R8 Chestnut Hill West terminal. Trains are generally not stored in the yard, as was the practice in Reading days, but are deadheaded back and forth to Roberts Yard. On occasion, some cars may be spotted here in midday.
When budgets get tight, this line is usually viewed as the expendable of the two Chestnut Hill services, although it is more direct to Center City than its cousin on the west side. There are more viable options on SEPTA surface transit, especially from Mount Airy south. The line was considered as a possible rapid transit extension when the City was building the Broad Street Subway, and a proposed service would have left the trunk line at Olney to intercept the R7 somewhere north of Chelten Avenue, which would have served all stops northwest of Washington Lane. This did not happen, and the R7 soldiers on.
This route was once operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad, evidence of which can still be seen at several stations including Torresdale which still sports the Pennsy keystone logo on the Trenton-bound platform's side walls. We will begin at Trenton and ride to Philadelphia.
While railroad operations use the terms westbound for referring to trains going to Philadelphia and eastbound for trains heading towards Trenton and New York, the line is more easily pictured as running north-south from Trenton to Philadelphia. The descriptions of the stations and tracks will assume the tracks are running geographically north and south.
Trenton's station building is over the tracks and offers a trainspotters dream view of trains from NJT, SEPTA and Amtrak. The waiting room is on the west side and there is also an exit on the east side. The track level is located in an open cut, and has island platforms for tracks 4 and 5 and tracks 1 and 2, and a low platform for track 3. There are two center bypass tracks used by Amtrak trains not stopping in Trenton and several storage tracks used to lay up SEPTA trains to the west of track 5. In order from west to east, the layout is as follows: two storage tracks, 5(High)-4(High), westbound bypass, eastbound bypass, 1(High)-2(High), 3(Low). An unusual feature at Trenton is the dual use of track 5. Trains from both SEPTA and NJT will platform at the same time, with 1-2 car lengths between the front of the NJT train and the rear of the SEPTA train. The main Trenton platforms can hold approximately 18-20 cars! While some express SEPTA trains leave from track 4, most SEPTA trains will leave from track 5.
Our train arrives and we board for our ride to Philly. Shortly after departing, track 5 merges with track 4, and we prepare to cross the Delaware River. The famous "Trenton Makes" bridge is located parallel and to the west of the railroad. (This bridge is named after the red neon sign on the bridge which reads "Trenton Makes The World Takes".) After we cross into Pennsylvania, we parallel the Delaware River along the east side of the tracks. All Pennsylvania stations between here and North Philadelphia will have two low platforms unless noted.
Our first stop is Levittown/Tullytown. The station is at grade level, with a fieldstone station building on the west side of the tracks. There is a short canopy over part of the platform. Our line rises to an embankment and we enter our next station, Bristol. The current station building is on the west side, and there is an old station building in need of renovation on the east side. The station is fairly high off the ground due to having been relocated from the original right of way through the center of Bristol. The platforms are concrete and have a short canopy. While the platforms are low, they have nice canopies and rails on the rear such as might be found on a high platform station. This station can barely hold six cars, the front half of the first car and the rear of the last car is off the platform. (There are no center doors on SEPTA trains.) The line descends to grade and we enter Croydon. There is a brick bus shelter on the southbound platform.
We cross over more water and approach a flag stop, Eddington, which consists of two bus shelters and is skipped by most SEPTA trains. This station is near grade level as is most of the remainder of the line. Directly to the west of the station is I-95.
The next stop, Cornwells Heights, was greatly expanded in the mid-1990's, when a new station with high-level platforms and a 1600-car park-and-ride lot were constructed. The parking lot is so large that shuttle vans are used to transport riders to and from the most distant spots. It has direct connections with I-95 (an exit from I-95 southbound and entrance to I-95 northbound) as well as PA 63-Woodhaven Road. The new station and lot opened in 1997. Originally, some Amtrak Clockers stopped here, but that varies from schedule to schedule. The state Department of Transportation helped fund the improvements to be used by I-95 drivers over the next few years as programs begin to completely rebuild the highway. Cornwells Heights is the last station in Bucks County.
Next up is a closed station, Andalusia, which had two low platforms. The street stairs, minus railings, are still in place. This station was closed in October 1992 due to low ridership, but even prior to that it was only a flag stop. It did not have much patronage due to the lack of any close-by residential development.
Crossing a short bridge over the Poquessing Creek, the train arrives in the far northeastern stretches of Philadelphia and the first stop in the city itself, Torresdale, which is a very busy stop. It has a moderate-size parking lot, but more spaces are needed as can be seen on adjacent Grant Avenue, where cars are parked everywhere space permits. Torresdale is also a popular station for reverse commuting, especially on weekends when people take day trips to New York, changing at Trenton for NJ Transit runs.
I-95, which has been to our west for several miles, vaults over the tracks in the stretch south of Torresdale. Philadelphia's prison complex passes by on both sides of the tracks (the older, closed Holmesburg Prison, a fortress-like stone structure, is to the west of the tracks). I-95 will stay to the east until the tracks curve away from it a few miles to the south. After a roughly two-mile swift run, we approach the next station, Holmesburg Junction. A freight line branches off to the west here, and there are several industries in this area and to the south, so freight trains are often seen around this station.
In short succession, the nondesrcipt and fairly lightly used stops at Tacony, Wissinoming and Bridesburg come and go, and our train begins to curve to the west. As we approach the curve, the train will slow, as there is a 50 mph restriction in the curve. The former stations of Frankford and Frankford Junction (where the platforms are still in place) pass. At Frankford Junction, the ex-Conrail Delair line, which crosses the Delaware River on a swing bridge, leaves the Corridor. There are two tracks on this line, which was formerly electrified, one of which is operated by CSX, the other by NJ Transit for its Atlantic City trains. There is often a freight waiting in this area, either to enter the Corridor track operated by CSX or to cross the bridge. The bridge is the last railroad structure across the Delaware River - from here south, the only moves on trains (other than PATCO) between the Pennsylvania/Delaware and New Jersey sides were by carfloat, and these services are long gone.
Clearing Frankford Junction, we pass beneath the blue structure of the SEPTA Market-Frankford Elevated line and through a sea of tracks which serve branch lines and spurs. After running due west for a short stretch, the line turns to the southwest and begins to cut across the grid of North Philadelphia, not the prettiest part of the city. The North Philadelphia stop is reached - a not very busy stop at times - but the station has been extensively rehabilitated and new commercial properties added to its parking area to revitalize the area. SEPTA's Broad Street subway line has its own North Philadelphia station adjacent to the Amtrak depot, and the North Broad regional rail stop is roughly two city blocks to the south. Upon leaving North Philadelphia, we pass over the ex-Reading trunk of the regional rail network and through another maze of switches which allow R8 Chestnut Hill West trains to access the Corridor.
After running through a varying embankment/cut across the west side of North Philadelphia, we suddenly cross CSX's main line from Harrisburg, Kelly Drive, the Schuylkill River, West River Drive and the Schuylkill Expressway, then vault over Girard Avenue. The Philadelphia Zoo is to our immediate east as we enter the Zoo Junction area, a complex maze of trackage which puts us in a short tunnel, then along a track shared with R5 Paoli/Thorndale trains. The two tracks split and we find the Powelton Yard just to our left, often filled with trains awaiting service in off-peak times. We enter 30th Street Station and follow the Center City trackage onto the ex-Reading trunk line.
R8 Chestnut Hill West
The ex-Pennsy service was the second one to be built to Chestnut Hill. After the Reading began Philadelphia-New York (acutally, Jersey City) service in the 1880's to compete with Pennsy, the PRR decided to take on the Reading for the lucrative Chestnut Hill market. Chestnut Hill was then, and is today, a very trendy and affluent part of Philadelphia, and many of the city's power brokers and business barons lived there and commuted to Center City on the railroad.
R8 trains leave 30th Street Station and proceed past Powelton Yard, through Zoo Junction and onto the Amtrak Northeast Corridor. Once through Zoo, the trains must cross to the far northern track to access the Chestnut Hill line just shy of North Philadelphia Station. This involves 'wrong-way' moves which can be a dispatcher's nightmare, and often delays R7 and R8 trains especially as Amtrak assigns priority to its own runs.
Your train takes the diverging track, a sharp turn to the left, and may make a quick stop at North Philadelphia. This stop, a decrepit station, is the line's adjunct to the main Amtrak stop. It has not been rehabilitated as the main station has, and sits in disrepair. SEPTA proposed to discontinue the stop due to low patronage in 2000 but public outcry kept it open, so it remains a flag stop for some trains. At one time, many power brokers changed from Chestnut Hill trains to Corridor runs on their daily commutes between Chestnut Hill and Wall Street, but at present this number is very low if it still exists at all.
Out of 'little' North Philadelphia, your train rises on embankment with the R6 Norristown tracks just to the left. An on-again, off-again proposal has been made to tie R8 to R6 in this area to avoid travel on the Amtrak Corridor and the awkward switching moves, but nothing has materialized. (This would make the transfer between R8 and Amtrak trains a two-plus block walk instead of a short jaunt, since R8's would call at North Broad on the ex-Reading trunk). Some freights may be seen in this area as a few customers still use rail service, and a small yard is on the right north of Hunting Park Avenue. The line dives into a cut and makes its first 'real' stop at Queen Lane, an attractive structure with a wooden overpass between platforms. Queen Lane has been rehabbed. New elements include new signage, asphalt platforms with tactile strips, and high platforms for wheelchair accessibility. Also, historical touches have been added/restored.
Staying in the cut, Chelten Avenue is quickly next. The stop resembles a subway station more than a commuter one, with high platforms. It is a few blocks west of the Germantown/Chelten commercial area. At this point, the R8 and R7 begin to 'parallel' each other, although separated by over 1/2 mile at this point, and closer to a mile further up line. The line comes closer to surface for stops and Tulpehocken and Upsal (the latter on a structure above Greene Street, having such a low clearance - just over 10 feet - that SEPTA buses have to detour around the area). The railroad varies between shallow embankment and shallow cut through stations at Carpenter and Allen Lane. Allen Lane station has a wooden overpass similar to that at Queen Lane, and the station building has been proposed for major restoration.
The line returns to surface and passes through the former junction with PRR's Fort Washington Branch, long abandoned, although a bridge on this line still crosses Germantown Avenue and R7 still passes above the right-of-way to the east of the Avenue. A high trestle vaults over Cresheim Creek and Cresheim Valley Drive, demarcating the end of Mount Airy and the start of Chestnut Hill. This trestle was rebuilt in the 1980's, replacing a spindly metal one dating to the start of the line. The new trestle is, unfortunately, nondescript and looks more like a highway bridge than a rail structure.
Your train returns to a shallow cut, calling at St. Martins and Highland (a flag stop for off-peak runs). After a consistent northwest bearing, the line curves to the east after Highland into the terminal at Chestnut Hill West, literally steps from the Bethlehem Pike intersection and right on the Hill's main drag, Germantown Avenue. The terminal has two tracks with high platforms, with the tracks deadending. Most trains call at the south platform, with the northern track used generally for storage. At one time, SEPTA's Route 23 trolley ran on Germantown Avenue, looping at Bethlehem Pike, but the line is now a bus route.
R8, along with R7, has several architecturally interesting stations, and some are occupied by residents, shops and other concerns. Neither has grade crossings.
R8 Fox Chase
Fox Chase is a short but interesting line. It leaves the Reading main just before the main line curves due north past the former Logan Station at Newtown Junction and shares tracks with CSX freights coming off the ex-Reading line from Falls Junction toward the former New York Short Line.
At Wayne Junction Station, R8 Fox Chase trains join the main line north (also holding the R1 Glenside, R2 Warminster, R3 West Trenton, and R5 Doylestown). Just before Fern Rock Station, R8 trains switch to a new, double tracked right of way shared with CSX freight trains. After traveling east for a short distance, the line curves north and pulls into the first station solely on the R8 line, Olney, which has two low side platforms. At Olney another mix of bridges crosses Mascher Street and Tabor Road below at a former junction point with other ex-Reading freight lines, now either abandoned or greatly downgraded.
After Olney, the line crosses Tookany Creek and Tookany Creek Park on a high bridge, and then crosses over the Montgomery County border. The line runs close to the boundary of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties, weaving in and out of each. Lawndale station comes next, and is right on the border. Lawndale is just within the limits of Philadelphia, and is located on an embankment. Lawndale has two low side platforms with mini-high platforms, and can be fairly busy at times. After Lawndale, trains switch over to the southbound track, as the northbound track will shortly leave us.
After weaving around the boundary a couple more times, Cheltenham station comes into view. Cheltenham is single-tracked, but we can see the CSX track to Bensalem branching off behind our SEPTA track. Cheltenham station is located in a shallow cut underneath Martins Mill Rd. There is a narrow low platform on the west (left) side of the tracks, with a parking lot and a small station house behind it. There is also a narrow staircase to the street.
After Cheltenham, the line remains single-tracked. We pass a large apartment complex on our right and then vault over busy Cottman Avenue, immediately arriving at Ryers station, which is on a high embankment. Ryers is a lightly used station, due to the close proximity of the larger Fox Chase station and the fact that people in this section of the city would rather drive to Center City than take the train. There is an extremely short and very low platform with a wooden bus shelter on the east (right) side of the track. There is also a long concrete staircase to Cottman Avenue from the south side of the platform, and a small commuter parking lot to the west of the station.
After Ryers, the line is back in Philadelphia once again, with the Montgomery County border about 7 city blocks to the west. We cross Oxford Avenue at a skewed-angle grade crossing and enter a narrow right of way between Oxford and Rockwell Avenues, with the backs of stores within a foot's distance from the tracks on both sides. Just before Fox Chase Station, the line becomes two tracks once again. The train now arrives at Fox Chase station, the terminus of the R8 line and easily the crown jewel of the line. Fox Chase has modern high platforms and a station house, as well as a sizeable parking lot.
Until 1983, diesel shuttles continued past this point to Newtown. The revival of rail service on this line is very controversial, with two adjoining counties (Bucks and Montgomery) fighting each other over it (Bucks wants it, Montgomery does not). The line crosses the R3 West Trenton at grade several miles north of Fox Chase and this has been suggested as a junction point for continued service to Newtown, a growing area. It is written in the current SEPTA 10-year capital plan that service to Newtown will reopen in a few years. Any expansion of service would likely be electrified, which would allow through running with the remainder of SEPTA's trains. The issue, however, may be moot, as rail has been removed at several grade crossings of major highways in both counties.
The Fox Chase line was electrified in 1966 as part of a pre-SEPTA program. Prior to this, the schedule was much more infrequent and solely served by diesel trains, mainly Reading's small RDC fleet. The electrification opened up new business, even though the surrounding area had already been firmly established by that point - there is competition with various SEPTA bus routes serving both the Market-Frankford El and the Broad Street Subway, but the train is much faster and more convenient, especially since the bus trips to the El or Subway are not short ones.
Current service patterns on R8 Fox Chase are hourly in middays and Saturdays, hour-and-a-half headways on Sundays. Several years ago, Sunday service was almost a budget-cutting casualty, but rider clamor kept the line open. All trains run through to the other side of R8 (Chestnut Hill West).
Suggested One-Day Tours
For the rider who wants to get a taste of the system on limited time, here are some options:
Tunnel/Combined: take Broad Street Subway northbound to Fern Rock. Transfer to any inbound Regional Rail train. Also, you can take the R7 or R8 to North Philadelphia, walk to North Broad, then board any inbound train back to the Center City station where you started.
R1 Airport: take outbound to Airport / Terminal E, walk to the arrival / baggage claim / pick-up driveway, take 37 or 108 bus to Island Ave. There you have three options: (a) transfer to 36 subway-surface trolley to Center City, (b) stay on your 108, go to 69th Street Terminal, and transfer to Market-Frankford El, (c) stay on your 37, go to Broad & Snyder, and transfer to the Broad Street Subway.
R2 Wilmington: take outbound to Darby (first stop past University City), walk north on 4th Street to Main Street, take 11 (subway-surface trolley) to Center City. Or, take to Sharon Hill or Folcroft, walk several blocks to Chester Pike, take 102 trolley to 69th Street, transfer to Market-Frankford El, or leave 102 at Springfield Road/Woodlawn Ave for R3 train to Center City.
R2 Warminster: take to Willow Grove and transfer to the 55 bus going southbound to Olney, get off at Noble station and catch the R3 back to Center City. Also, can 'yo-yo' up and down line from Glenside as side trip from R5 Lansdale.
R3 Media: take to 49th Street, take 13 (subway-surface trolley) to Center City; or take to Angora, walk north 2 blocks, take 34 (subway-surface trolley) to Center City; or take to Clifton-Aldan, take 102 trolley to 69th Street, transfer to Market-Frankford El (or backtrack as above to R2); or take to Media, walk north on Orange Street to State Street, take 101 trolley to 69th Street, transfer to Market-Frankford El.
R3 West Trenton: take to West Trenton, take NJ Transit 608 bus to Amtrak Station (CHECK SCHEDULES!!!! THIS BUS OPERATES INFREQUENTLY!!!!), take R7 Trenton to Center City.
R5 Lansdale/Doylestown: no really good ones that do not involve long bus rides. Best might be R5 Doylestown to end, take 55 bus to Willow Grove, take R2 Warminster back to Center City. Also, you could take it to Fort Washington, board a southbound 94 bus to Chestnut Hill West, then take the R8 inbound to Center City.
R5 Thorndale/Paoli: take to Villanova, walk through college campus toward Lancaster Ave, cross Lancaster Ave, take 100 trolley to 69th Street, transfer to Market-Frankford El, or take 100 to Norristown and change for R6 to Center City (Can also be done from Bryn Mawr, slightly longer walk) The two lines cross close to Radnor but the stations are not very close and require a very indirect walking route.
R6 Norristown: take to Norristown Transportation Center, take 100 to Villanova, Bryn Mawr (for R5) or 69th Street (for Market-Frankford El).
R6 Cynwyd: There are two options: you can "yo-yo" the line (go to Cynwyd and come back, no transfers); or you can take the R6 to Bala, take the 65 bus to Overbrook station, then take the R5 back to Center City. Note: touring this line is not recommended due to infrequent service (and no weekend service).
R7 Chestnut Hill East: take to Chestnut Hill, walk three blocks to R8 station, return on R8.
R7 Trenton: see R3 West Trenton.
R8 Chestnut Hill West: see R7 Chestnut Hill East or R5 Doylestown.
R8 Fox Chase: the only options involve long bus rides - from Ryers Station, take 70 bus to Fern Rock and transfer to Broad Street Subway or 24 bus to Frankford Terminal and transfer to Market-Frankford El. Also, from Fox Chase, take the 18 bus to Olney Transportation Center then take the Broad Street Subway back.
The "Grand Tour": Take R3 Media to end, follow walking route for 101 trolley, take 101 back to 69th Street, transfer to 100, take 100 to Bryn Mawr or Villanova (and return on R5 as described above) or Norristown and return on R6 (or cut short slightly by leaving R3 at Clifton-Aldan for 102 to 69th Street and follow on 100).
The "Western Expedition": Take the 10 subway-surface trolley all the way out to 63rd & Malvern, walk 4 blocks north (on 63rd street) to the Overbrook station, take the R5 to Villanova (shortcut: take the R5 to Villanova from Center City, avoiding the long trolley ride), take the Route 100 line to 69th Street, take the route 101 trolley to Media, walk to the Media rail station, take the R3 to Clifton-Aldan, take the 102 trolley line to Sharon Hill. Now you have three options: (a) take the 114 bus to Darby Transportation Center then take the 11 subway-surface trolley to Center City; (b) turn left on Chester Pike, walk to Sharon Ave, turn right, walk to Sharon Hill station, take the R2 back to Center City; or (c) turn right on Chester Pike, walk to Primos Ave, turn left, walk to Folcroft station, take the R2 back to Center City.
Three things to keep in mind: On the regional rail, buy your tickets at open ticket windows to avoid surcharges. Transit lines require exact change, tokens, or day card. And buy the official SEPTA suburban street and transit map so that you do not get lost, as some of the above transfers are indirect. The map is available at the SEPTA Museum and Shop at 1234 Market Street.
SEPTA Regional Rail Train Numbering
From a train's number (published in the timetable), you can figure out the line, direction, approx. time of day, origin/terminal, and day of the week. Each train number has four digits (or three of the first digit is a zero). The first digit represents the origin/terminal. It can also represent the day of the week (weekday/weekend). The second digit represents the line number. The third and fourth digits tell you the direction and approximate time of day.
|0||Weekday, normal origin/terminal|
|1||Saturday, normal origin/terminal|
|2||Sunday, normal origin/terminal|
|4||Originates on a different line number (2nd digit shows destination line)|
|6||30th Street / Powelton Yard|
|7||Penn Center / Suburban Station|
|8||Market East Station|
|9||Temple / N Broad / Roberts Yard|
The second digit. The second digit tells what line number it is. For example, an R8 train would have a second digit of 8 and an R2 train would have a second digit of 2. When a train goes through to a different line (first digit 4), the second digit is the destination line. For example, a train that started in Newark as an R2 and terminates in Norristown as an R6 would have a first digit of 4, a second digit of 6 (not 2), and the last two digits would make an even number (explained below).
The last two digits. The last two digits can tell you the direction and approximate time of day of the train. The direction is determined by whether the number is even or odd. An even number is a train going from the Penn (western) side to the Reading (northern) side. An odd number is for a train going from the Reading side to the Penn side. As mentioned, the last two digits can also determine approximate time of day. For example, train 6200 is the first R2 train of the day, which is going from 30th Street to Warminster. Also, train 349 is a midday R3 train going from West Trenton to Elwyn. Note: most weekend train numbers (last two digits) have the last train around 60-80, while the last train on a weekday is usually around 70-100.
Some examples using all four digits: Train 6667 is an evening R6 train going from Norristown to 30th Street. Train 1818 is a Saturday morning R8 train going from Chestnut Hill West to Fox Chase. Train 568 is a weekday afternoon R5 train, going from Thorndale to Doylestown. Train 398 is the last weekday eastbound R3 train, going from Elwyn to West Trenton.
Image 40863 (285k, 1044x788)
Photo by: Ted Siuta
Image 52865 (130k, 800x600)
Photo by: Bob Vogel
Image 67929 (25k, 788x430)
Photo by: Bob Wright
Location: West Trenton
Image 94485 (272k, 1024x768)
Photo by: Andre Samuel
Image 95405 (337k, 1044x788)
Photo by: John Barnes
Location: North Broad
Image 96366 (345k, 1024x768)
Photo by: Andre Samuel
Image 99806 (309k, 1024x768)
Photo by: Andre Samuel
Location: North Broad
Image 103978 (273k, 1044x702)
Photo by: Richard Panse
Image 106665 (208k, 1044x788)
Photo by: S.J. Dibai
Image 106690 (288k, 1044x788)
Photo by: S.J. Dibai
Location: Chestnut Hill West
Image 106861 (200k, 1044x664)
Photo by: S.J. Dibai
Location: 52nd Street (Abandoned)
Image 114934 (217k, 1044x702)
Photo by: Richard Panse
Image 114938 (301k, 1044x666)
Photo by: Lee Winson
Image 130721 (278k, 1044x705)
Photo by: Lee Winson
Image 131505 (288k, 1044x788)
Photo by: Bob Wright
Location: Suburban Station/Penn Center
More Images: 1-50 51-100 101-150 151-200 201-250 251-300 301-350 351-400 401-450 451-500 501-550 551-600 601-650 651-700 701-750 751-800 801-850 851-900 901-950 951-1000 1001-1050 1051-1100 1101-1150 1151-1200 1201-1231
Photos By Location
Warminster, Hatboro, Willow Grove, Crestmont, Roslyn, Ardsley, Darby, Curtis Park, Sharon Hill, Folcroft, Glenolden, Norwood, Prospect Park-Moore, Ridley Park, Crum Lynne, Eddystone, Chester, Highland Avenue, Marcus Hook, Claymont, Wilmington, Churchman's Crossing, Newark
West Trenton, Yardley, Woodbourne, Langhorne, Neshaminy Falls, Trevose, Somerton, Forest Hills, Philmont, Bethayres, Meadowbrook, Rydal, Noble, University City, Grays Ferry Avenue overpass, 49th Street, Angora, Fernwood-Yeadon, Lansdowne, Gladstone, Clifton-Aldan, Primos, Secane, Morton-Rutledge, Swarthmore, Wallingford, Moylan-Rose, Media, Elwyn
Doylestown, Delaware Valley College, New Britain, Chalfont, Link Belt, Colmar, Fortuna, Lansdale, Pennbrook, North Wales, Gwynedd Valley, Penllyn, Ambler, Fort Washington, Oreland, North Hills, Overbrook, Merion, Narberth, Wynnewood, Ardmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Rosemont, Villanova, Radnor, St. Davids, Wayne, Strafford, Devon, Berwyn, Daylesford, Paoli, Malvern, Exton, Whitford, Downingtown, Thorndale
Elm Street Norristown, Main Street Norristown, Norristown TC, Conshohocken, Spring Mill, Miquon, Shawmont (Closed), Ivy Ridge, Manayunk, Wissahickon TC, East Falls, Allegheny, CP 16 Junction (Near 17th & Indiana), 52nd Street (Abandoned), Wynnefield Avenue, Bala, Cynwyd
Trenton, Morrisville Yard/Tower Area, Levittown, Bristol, Croydon, Cornwells Heights, Torresdale, Holmesburg Jct., Tacony, Bridesburg, North Philadelphia , Schuykill River Bridge, Girard Avenue Bridge, Wister, Germantown, Washington Lane, Stenton, Sedgwick, Mount Airy, Wyndmoor, Gravers, Chestnut Hill East
By Bob Wright and Gregory Jordan-Detamore.
SEPTA Broad Street Subway • SEPTA Market-Frankford Elevated • SEPTA Regional Rail • SEPTA Rt. 100: Norristown Line • SEPTA Rt. 101/102: Media-Sharon Hill Line • SEPTA Subway-Surface Streetcar Lines • PATCO High-Speed Line