New Philadelphia Light Rail Project Would Extend Rail to Waterfront

Philadelphia Waterfront AlternativesLine would run from City Hall along the surface of Market Street north to Penn Treaty Park and south to Pier 70.

The Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), which runs the PATCO service from suburban New Jersey into Center City Philadelphia, will pursue the construction of a surface light rail line along Market Street with connections to new waterfront service. The project would be the city’s first serious transit expansion in years, though it currently lacks the funds to build the project. The line would cost more than $1 billion to build and be finished in ten years.

DRPA’s involvement in the project reflects on SEPTA‘s inability to produce significant transit expansions in the Philadelphia region, which is desperately in need of new services. The waterfront orientation of the project is a justification for DRPA, but the truth is that these new lines, which will act as continuations of the existing subway-service Green Lines, probably should be managed and built by SEPTA, which is supposed to be the overall transit agency for Philadelphia.

Nevertheless, the project as currently planned would be an exciting generator of development along the waterfront, which has seen a large amount of new construction in recent years. The northern area of the line, while just blocks from the Market-Frankford El, is separated from that corridor by the vast expanse of underutilized space surrounding Interstate 95. The southern portion is currently even more isolated, almost a mile from the Broad Street Subway and also cut off by 95. So there is certainly a need for a new service, especially one that would shoot straight downtown as would this one.

The surface-running trains on Market Street could be an incentive as well for locals to make their way over to the waterfront, since the transit service will be visible and convenient. One can imagine the section between City Hall and the Old City becoming an tourist trap.

Yet, as is typical with projects such as these, DRPA needs to find the money to build the project. PATCO has already committed to a long new line extending south from Camden to Glassboro. Meanwhile, neither Philadelphia or Pennsylvania have the necessary funds sitting around. So this proposal is a long way off.

Image above: Philadelphia waterfront transit alternatives, from DRPA

9 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • anonymous

    A billion just for the mile on Market Street, or for the whole shebang?

  • tacony palmyra

    What a waste. The Market Street subway used to alternate runs between the Frankford Elevated and a (now demolished, of course) el that ran south down Delaware Avenue popularly known as the “Ferry Line” — named for all the connections to ferries across the River. The terminus was South Street.

    The idea that a surface rail line should be built down the middle of East Market Street, duplicating the existing subway below (which has stops every 2 to 3 blocks), numerous popular SEPTA bus routes, New Jersey Transit buses, and within a short walk of the existing PATCO line, is total madness. It’s a shame SEPTA doesn’t have the capability to rebuild that old Delaware Avenue El—or you could put it at-grade or underground, whatever’s preferable. That, along with reconfiguring the tracks so that the subway can stop somewhere between City Hall and 30th (presently only the subway-surface lines can stop there) would be a much more rational way to extend service to the waterfront. Then of course, the operational issues: East Market Street is the heart of Old City, one of the city’s biggest nightlife hotspots, but of course nobody uses the El to get there because SEPTA decided in the mid-80s that after a late-night accident they had an excuse to stop run trains after midnight. You can take PATCO home to New Jersey at 3am of course.

  • NCarlson

    Looks good to me, but I would think route 23 should still be a higher priority. The whole thing also seems a bit loop heavy, especially if the Navy Yard extension is actually intended as a loop and not two options.

  • eldondre

    This project is a total waste of money and should not be built under any circumstances. the most useful PATCO expansion in Philadelphia woudl simply be an extension of the tunnel either southwest to university city via south st area OR north to west market and the parkway. If the focus must be the waterfront, tacony-palmyra is correct. I think a spur that runs down the center of 95 to south st woudl do quite well, serving both the waterfront as well as south st/queen village. from there, it could be extended under front st, then under 95. Philadelphia NEEDS RAPID transit, not hokey, expensive trolleys.

  • As with the LA Orange Line extension to Chatsworth, the T-shaped route that you’re describing is impossible to form an opinion on unless you explain the operating plan. Would there be direct service between each of the three points of the T, thus creating three separate routes?

    Whenever I’m told that these things are details to be worked out later, I get suspicious. I’ve seen too many projects where the service outcome was not what the technology advocates sought.

  • This post is a little misleading. Only 1 alternative of the 3 being studied has trains running down Market Street. Here’s the breakdown:
    Alt-PA1 – The line would run down from the waterfront to connect to Franklin Square and thus the previously abandoned Franklin Square PATCO station would reopen.
    Alt-PA1 Extended – This version would run from the waterfront up to Franklin Square and then underground to connect to the Subway-Surface lines loop at city hall. It would make use of the Arch Street subway tunnels that were constructed years ago for a center city subway loop and remain intact. This is the best alternative as it would connect to the most modes including a direct connection to the existing Subway-Surface lines.
    Alt-PA2 – This is the one discussed in the article above and would consist of a Subway Surface line running down Market street.
    Alt-PA3 – This would be a line running from the waterfront to a loop using 7th Street, Cherry Street, 8th Street, and Filbert Streets.
    To see more information go to:
    http://www.patcopaexpansion.com/alternatives.html

    I honestly think it would be best to go with Alt-PA1 Extended as it is essential to connect directly to the existing Subway-Surface lines to create more routing options. The line should really be underground in the downtown until it gets to the waterfront as Philadelphia has very narrow streets. It’s a shame SEPTA has only shrank their services in the last twenty years. They really are pretty pathetic at doing anything to expand their services. Philadelphia really deserves better. I’m glad DRPA has the vision enough to at least start the planning process. At least someone is working in Philadelphia’s best interests.

  • Brandi –
    In the article I linked to above, Robert Box, head of DRPA, says the most probably, trains will run on the surface level on Market Street. That’s why I didn’t mention the other alternatives.

  • eldondre

    Actually, PA2 seems like the best alternative. The amount of existing tunnel is almost useless under Arch and the additional curves would slow up travel.

  • thunda

    Totally agree with eldondre (we have a whole thread on this topic at philadelphiaspeaks.com). This project is a total waste of energy and money that could fund much more usual transit expansions, like the #100 spur or the Navy Yard extension. There is already a multitude of transit services along Market Street, and the waterfront simply isn’t a draw except for the big box stores, whose large wares almost require people to drive. In any case, I think you’re overestimating transit’s ability to drive development. The Delaware riverfront isn’t desolate because of a lack of service, but because of excessive zoning, high taxes, and a general lack of development in a city whose economy has struggled for decades.

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