Reading Removing Viaduct Rails


Photo: Peter Woodall

The Reading Company is removing the ties and track and clearing the Reading Viaduct of its spontaneous landscape so cherished by urban explorers and park dreamers.

“While we were shocked at first,” says Reading Viaduct Project organizer Sarah McEneaney, “removing the rails, the ties and clearing the area would cost a lot of money if the city was doing it. The ties are pretty toxic. We do know that the catenarys are staying.”

Park advocates say the rail removal has been long in the works, but possibly expedited because of a planned first phase park on the street-accessible “SEPTA spur.” Reading is using the spur–the only grade connection along the Viaduct–for machinery and labor access to the site. Funding is in place for design of a park on the SEPTA spur; advocates hope construction will begin next year.

“We’re obviously very disappointed and sorry we didn’t organize sooner or more effectively to save the rails,” says Paul Van Meter of ViaductGreene, the group advocating for combining an elevated viaduct park with the submerged rail bed that runs west to the Rodin Museum, for a combined 3 mile linear park.

“It’s particularly disappointing because last Monday in New York, the High Line unveiled its phase 3 plan–to leave rails and keep the naturally-appearing landscape, what we find to be a fiscally responsible approach and what we thought was a valid option for at least some of the Viaduct.”

But Van Meter and McEneaney both concede that most of the rails would have to have been taken up anyway. Van Meter estimates the rails to be worth about $200,000; he is pleased to see they aren’t being melted down, but simply unbolted. Though disposition of the rails is unclear, the hope is that some of them can be acquired and incorporated in park design. Van Meter says it’s also still possible that the rails and the landscape above Spring Garden Street, in the most open and wild section of the Viaduct, can remain.

Meanwhile, with city and SEPTA officials behind them, both groups are gearing up for next steps, including raising project funds. The Reading Viaduct Project has held three community meetings for the SEPTA spur and ViaductGreene continues to sell the idea of a 3 mile linear park. Van Meter says they’d like to do greening projects in the Callowhill neighborhood that will link thematically to the Viaduct above.

“Onward and upward,” he says.

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. His essays and book reviews appear in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, The Millions, and Fanzine.


  1. Sell the spikes for a $20 each donation.

  2. Could it possibly be that the most evolved, successful and financially responsible design goal is not to “design something cool…but to experience what’s really cool, which is the context?” It should remain an option!

    “It will feel completely different—and much wilder—than the first two phases. It’s what we always wanted, what we envisioned at the beginning. I think people will really love it.”“It will feel completely different—and much wilder—than the first two phases. It’s what we always wanted, what we envisioned at the beginning. I think people will really love it.” “It will feel completely different—and much wilder—than the first two phases. It’s what we always wanted, what we envisioned at the beginning. I think people will really love it.” -Robert Hammond

    “Modesty would be its real power” -James Corner

    “…At first, it seemed like a huge let down. This part of the High Line, with the most spacious views of the Hudson River, is, in many ways, the pinnacle moment of the project. And yet, Corner was saying nothing would be designed? The notion seemed quite disappointing and, the moment read as a missed opportunity. Corner went on to explain that the hope was that “Modesty would be its real power” as the final loop of the project would allow people to be on the authentic High Line and the real design goal was not to “design something cool…but [to allow people to experience] what’s really cool, which is the context.” And, Corner is right. It would seem superficial if DS+R and Corner tried to modify their auditorium seating or their peel up furniture planters for this space. It would become just another variation with no defining characteristic. In fact, the lack of designed elements brings the space a sense of natural peace – a real escape from the city that exists as it was meant to be – and a space that we cannot wait to experience.”

  3. Photos of before the rail demolition (2010/2011). Looks like it’s the only book in print on Philadelphia’s Reading Viaduct


  1. Philadelphia's Reading Viaduct: An Elevated Park Connecting Neighborhoods
  2. Scrapping and clearing the Reading Viaduct landscape
  3. Viaduct Phase I: Design Visions For The SEPTA Spur | Hidden City Philadelphia
  4. Rails. Baldwin, our Place. | viaductgreene blog
  5. Rails. Baldwin, our Place. – VIADUCTgreene
  6. Philadelphia’s Reading Viaduct gets the ‘High Line’ treatment | SmartPlanet
  7. The Future of the Reading Viaduct: First Renderings Released
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