PATCO Looks to Increase Service to Philadelphia with New Station

Franklin Square stop would reopen for first time since 1979.

In potentially excellent news for the future of transit service in Center City Philadelphia, PATCO announced last week that it would be reopening a station at Franklin Square last used in 1979, but which remains in adequate condition. Trains currently run stop-free past the platforms, which are located between existing stations at 8th and Market in Philadelphia and across the river at City Hall in downtown Camden. Though the region’s rapid transit network remains disorganized and requires significant upgrades to provide world-class service, the announcement is encouraging news for a quickly developing center city.

PATCO claims that the reopening makes sense because of recent improvements in the neighborhood around the station. The National Constitution Center opened in 2002, followed by the redevelopment of a former hospital into a new condo complex. The Northern Liberties neighborhood north of the station is growing. The station’s renewed operation would also coincide with the opening of a new transit line in South Jersey, which would feed into PATCO and presumably increase ridership. In the longer term, PATCO has proposed building a light rail system from Franklin Square to the waterfront along the Delaware River. That project would allow direct transfers between PATCO and light rail once Franklin Square is reopened.

As the Examiner reports, the station itself has a sketchy history. It opened in 1936, but closed several years later due to limited ridership; it reopened during World War II to provide service to troops, but closed in the late 1940s; it saw new service in 1953 when PATCO was expanded, but then shut its doors a few years later; finally, it operated between 1976 and 1979 for Bicentennial visitors. Can we expect the $5-10 million being invested in this station’s renovation to provide for a permanent transit facility? Or will the Franklin Square stop close once again a few years down the road?

Why hasn’t the station been particularly attractive in the past? The answer lies in its location and the connections offered to the rest of Philadelphia from it. For one, it’s only six blocks away from the PATCO and SEPTA station at 8th and Market, so it’s competing directly with another stop. Second, though Franklin Square itself is a relatively handsome park, other than the Constitution Center, there are few destinations directly surrounding it. To make matters worse, the park’s northern and eastern boundaries — specifically, the connections to the aforementioned Northern Liberties — are desecrated by the huge interchange between the Ben Franklin Bridge and the Vine Street Expressway. Not exactly a walkable zone.

Second, even if the walk to the station were enjoyable, the people of the neighborhood have little incentive to use PATCO. A ride further south into Philadelphia could get them as far as 16th and Locust, where the system terminates, but that’s only about a mile and a half’s walk away — is that worth the wait for a train? Neighborhood dwellers also could be provided a commute into Camden and South Jersey, but there’s not exactly a huge employment zone there, so what’s the point?

Ultimately, then, the station is unlikely to be well-used, no matter the excitement about the revival of this area of Philadelphia.

But there’s an alternative that would provide more connections to and from the neighborhood: a reconnection of the Broad-Ridge Spur to the Locust Street Subway. Today, only PATCO trains running from New Jersey take the route from 8th and Market Streets south and west to Locust and 16th Street. Until 1969, however, (SEPTA) Broad-Ridge Spur Subway trains also took that path, using a connection just south of the Franklin Square Station. The reopening of this link — the tunnel, though lacking tracks, still exists — would reinvigorate transit service to the neighborhood via the adjacent Chinatown Station, which is just a block away from Franklin Square. Customers using that station, as well as people traveling from north Broad Street, would then get access to southern Central City along Locust Street.

The reopening of the Broad-Ridge Spur’s abandoned Spring Garden Station could be timed concurrently with this project. That subway stop is located within comfortable and convenient walking distance of much of the redeveloping areas and could open up far more development potential than the Franklin Square stop, encroached upon by the surrounding freeways, would.

Existing Philadelphia Transit Service Proposed Philadelphia Transit Service
9 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Reconnecting the BRS is a great idea, but I don’t think you could do it without doing something that ought to be done anyway: creating a fare union between PATCO and SEPTA. Having to pay twice to switch lines in the urban core is just silly and is a barrier to transit use, and it makes shared stations between the two systems unworkable anyway. Heck add NJT’s River Line, the new DMU light rail lines, and the improved Atlantic City line into the system as well. I realize that there would be the huge bureaucratic hurdles of rival agencies to overcome here, but surely it could be done?

  • TLP

    It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t know how much extra ridership connecting the Ridge Spur back to Locust St would actually create. PATCO currently has stops at 12/13th and 15/16th on Locust Street — The Broad Street Line has a stop at Broad (14th St) and Walnut/Locust Sts. The only extra destination the Spur really provides is 8th and Market, which you can also reach by transferring (free) from the BSL to the MFL. Both of these lines run much more often than the Ridge Spur, so the advantage of the short cut is minimal.

    Still, the idea of unifying the fares is a good one, and hopefully will happen eventually. It will take some political wrangling between SEPTA, PATCO, and NJT (they run the Riverline, the AC line, and potentially the new south jersey extension) but it can happen.

  • Ned

    Sounds like a good plan but what about compatibility between the BSL and PATCO? For example, are the power sources the same, train dimensions the same, etc.

  • TLP

    @Ned: Both lines are standard guage and have similarly-sized cars. Both run from a third rail, though I don’t know the actual specs and if the two systems are completely compatible. Though, since BSL trains used to run in the Locust tunnel, it probably wouldn’t be too much trouble to put them back.

  • Steve

    The problem with re-opening Spring Garden Station on the BRS is that there’s nowhere to go in the area and not a lot of people live around there as yet despite the new residential developments.

    And yes, PATCO cars can operate on the Ridge line and vice versa. The specs for the lines haven’t changed since they were built.

    Franklin Square – the station and the park – needs to be made more accessible. If indeed a station entrance is built on the south side of Race Street with something of a concourse ot make it easier to acces the park on foot, that would help matters termendously.

  • eldondre

    It’s my understanding that the PATCO tunnel actually runs to 18th st, a rittenhouse stop would add some utility to the line for Philadelphians. this post also indicates that the PA side expension would add more utility if they simply extended the current PATCO tunnel rather than focus on a waterfront trolley.

  • newboldphilly

    6 blocks between stations on a subway isn’t duplication. Most stops on the BSL are 5 blocks apart and in Center City they’re 3 blocks apart. Same thing with the MFL.

    It’s important to note, though, that the Franklin Square Station is in a sort of no man’s land between Chinatown and Old City. It’s not really that close to many destinations in Northern Liberties.

    On the other hand, Old City is a much different place than it was 30 years ago. The area between Market and Vine is full of condos, shops and restaurants. The Constitution Center pulls in a lot of visitors and the office market around there is a lot more robust than it has been in years past.
    I don’t think PATCO will have any trouble picking up a few hundred daily boardings if they can advertise it well and if they market it as a convenient (and cheaper) way to get from Rittenhouse to Old City.

    The problem with the area in general isn’t necessarily the bridge and the ramps. The Chinatown community, instead of focusing all of their energy on building north of Vine should look to all of the parking lots to their east. In order to bring 18+ hours a day of vitality to that immediate area there needs to be a better mix of retail, office and residential. Right now hardly anyone lives there save for the condos directly across 7th St. from the park.

    I think moving the Mint and knocking down that atrocious concrete slab of a building (that takes up the entire block) would help in that department a great deal. Bring the residential part of Old City right up to Independence Mall

  • Hey, thanks for linking and citing my Examiner article. I have one historical nit to pick:

    PATCO was not expanded in 1952 – the Bridge Line and Ridge Spur were, when the Locust Street subway was opened to its current terminus at 18th Street (last station: 15th-16th). The Philadelphia Transportation Company operated the Bridge Line for the Delaware River Joint Commission (1933-52)/Port Authority (1952-present), and Bridge Line rolling stock was fully compatible and interchangeable with Broad Street Subway stock — the tunnels, tracks, and power supply are all built to the same specs, and Bridge Line cars were stored and maintained at the BSS’ Fern Rock yard and shops.

    Work on the Lindenwold High-Speed Line began ~1965, and the line went into service in 1969.

  • eldondre

    This station could serve the northern section of old city that is cut off by the bridge if there’s a decent pedestrian connection to it. right now there is no such thing. The reopening of this stop is smaller news than fare unification, a Rittenhouse stop, and even the addition of faregates to the locust st side of the Walnut-Locust station.

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