Urbanism

9th and Girard is Ripe for a Regional Rail Revival

June 21, 2021 | by Edward W. Duffy

In a recent Hidden City article I discussed the merits of reactivating a regional rail stop in Tioga which SEPTA had terminated in the 1980s. Such an action would open up new opportunities for neighborhood residents to easily and quickly access growing employment centers in West Philadelphia and at the Philadelphia International Airport. Exploring further opportunities for growing regional rail service, I believe that there is potential for reviving a stop at 9th Street and Girard Avenue, a section of the city that is currently exploding with residential construction.

Reviving a stop there? Was there ever a stop to begin with? SEPTA has no monopoly on service discontinuation. It was long practiced by the transit company’s predecessors Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) and Reading Railroad (Reading). It is unlikely that any Philadelphian now recalls the PRR’s Zoological Garden station at 34th Street and Girard Avenue or the Reading’s 31st Street and Girard Avenue station, just to name two stops eliminated long before the advent of SEPTA. Add to that list the Girard Avenue Station located on the elevated Reading Viaduct in the air rights above 9th Street.

A photo from 1946 showing Girard Station at 9th Street in the foreground and the Girard Avenue Farmer’s Market in the background. | Image courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries

There are a variety of good reasons why an old station may have to be terminated, just as there are good reasons why stations should be created. This article is not a nostalgic trip down memory lane, however tempting that may be, but an examination of what currently is happening at 9th Street and Girard Avenue and why creating a regional rail stop there could be a win-win for redevelopment efforts in the area, a growing number of neighborhood residents, and SEPTA.

It first needs to be acknowledged that 9th and Girard already has good public transit. The Market-Frankford El stops at Front Street nine blocks to the east, and the Broad Street Subway stops five blocks west. However, there are three substantial ideas to consider when judging why any additional service is needed.

The old Strawbridge & Clothier warehouse at 9th and Poplar Streets is being converted into apartments by real estate development firm Post Brothers. | Photo: Ed Duffy

First, take a drive along Girard Avenue and you will see all of the new residential construction underway. Do a quick search online and you will find that more development in the area is being proposed. The former Strawbridge & Clothier warehouse at 9th and Poplar Streets is in the final stages of being renovated with 285 units. A block away, a 120-unit project is nearing completion. At Front Street and Girard Avenue, 107 units are proposed for a former 7-Eleven convenience store site, and at Broad Street and Girard Avenue 160 units will replace the CVS pharmacy. Nearly every vacant lot in the area, large and small, has a “For Sale” sign on it, and its not unreasonable to anticipate that hundreds more units could become available in the foreseeable future. A market for regional rail service is being created right now around 9th Street and Girard Avenue.

Rendering of a mid-rise apartment building planned for the lot that 7-Eleven currently occupies at 23 Girard Avenue. | Image courtesy of JKRP Architects

Second, it is apparent that rail transit is getting its day in the sun once again. SEPTA now has an extension of its Media/Elwyn line further to Wawa underway and, long term, this may lead all the way to West Chester. The transit company proposes to restore and extend service to King of Prussia, and Amtrak proposes the same to Reading. Not for nothing is the fact that the White House is occupied by a president that goes by the nickname “Amtrak Joe.” While the probability of all of these rail dreams and schemes becoming reality is less than 100 percent, having such hopes and engaging in conversation is crucial, especially now at this propitious time. As famed architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham once wrote, “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood.”

Third, there is $5 billion in construction underway or proposed in West Philadelphia centered around University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and Schuylkill Yards. Reviving a regional rail station at 9th Street and Girard Avenue could provide a “one seat ride,” the transportation planner’s Holy Grail, to new jobs near 30th Street Station and Penn Medicine Station. It would also provide access to employment and shopping throughout SEPTA’s regional rail network. Why not give it a look?

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About the Author

Edward W. Duffy is the author of "Philadelphia: A Railroad History" (Camino Books, 2013) and "Philadelphia Celebrates: Three Great Anniversaries - 1876-1926-1976" (Camino Books, 2017).

15 Comments:

  1. John Regula says:

    “Make no little plans.”- architect Daniel Burnham
    1846-1912

  2. Dan Hoffman says:

    “Make no little plans”is a partial quote from Daniel Burnham, not Ed Bacon. Ironically, in this context, Burnham was the architect for Union Station in DC. I believe the full quote is on that building’s facade. But good advice in any case.

  3. James says:

    Even if you design a new station at 8th and Girard, you would have to design a brand new station with elevators/escalators, raised platforms, accessible bathrooms, perhaps install traffic lights for people to cross over. Cost may be as much as 50 million.

    And where is the money to pay for this?

    1. Edward W. Duffy says:

      The same place where SEPTA recently found $180 million to extend the Media/Elwyn line three (!) miles. And its ‘9th & Girard,’ not 8th.

    2. Jim Dorwart says:

      Sure elevators and raised platforms, though most of the regional rail stations do not have “stations”, bathrooms or any amenities.. There is no reason this can not be done for, relatively, very little.

      1. Lee Wall says:

        Most regional rail stops have raised platforms and ramps and are considered ADA complaint. Only a few stations have elevators or bathrooms.

  4. Without a doubt one is needed there.

  5. Deanbrowley says:

    Another f**king rip off and sellout of the city’s politicians allowing developers to do anything they want in this city and they say pay to play is illegal in Philadelphia BullS**T!!!

  6. Mike says:

    So why is the El & subway not sufficient?

    1. Edward W. Duffy says:

      Do you take either one to the Airport? To Media? Fort Washington? Penn Medicine?

      1. Davis Dure says:

        Good point! Extending the relevance of Regional Rail to a larger constituency is all the more important now that new post pandemic work habits reduce the demand from the traditional constituency.

  7. Judah Rosenthal says:

    I think you need more than some new apartment buildings to convince SEPTA, PennDOT and the Federal Government that re-building a station here is worthwhile. The Route 23 Bus already offers a direct ride to Jefferson, likewise the BSL is a few stops from City Hall/Suburban Station–either connection allows easy access to the Airport line as well as the MFL and trolleys to West Philly. I truly doubt the moneyed new residents of the aforementioned developments are transit reliant, certainly not in the old-fashioned Monday-Friday 9-5 model on which regional rail depends. Suburban commuters likewise would have no need for this station, as Temple and Jefferson are the stops where the jobs are. Costly as it is, the resumption of service to Wawa was pursued by Delaware County as a means to reduce traffic congestion, which Chester County also hopes to alleviate by resuming service all the way to West Chester. Without appreciable benefits for at least one of the suburban counties that control SEPTA, this proposal is DOA. Moreover, the viaduct is already at capacity and vulnerable to delays; adding another station would present substantial logistical headaches. The city and the Commonwealth should instead allocate resources to repairing the apocalyptic decrepitude that has engulfed the North Broad and North Philadelphia rail stations.

    1. Edward W. Duffy says:

      The Reading Viaduct handled far more passenger traffic when it was under the ownership of the Reading Railroad, whose franchise area was much greater than SEPTA’s. Reading operated daily passenger service from Reading Terminal out as far as Williamsport, Bethlehem and Reading, and even found time in its schedule to run freight trains on the Viaduct. Both the Strawbridge Warehouse and the Girard Avenue Farmers Market illustrating this article had freight sidings.

      As the Wawa project demonstrates, SEPTA is capable of extraordinary feats when it wants to. Finding anyone willing to invest $180 million for such a result shows masterful salesmanship. Imagine what could be accomplished if SEPTA devoted similar attention to the Viaduct. The recommendations made here, restoring the Girard and Tioga Stations, are just low-hanging fruit.

    2. Edward W. Duffy says:

      Judah – just came across a reference to the viaduct that may interest you, in the Volume 2 (appendix) of ‘Philadelphia Railroads,’ an August, 1959 publication of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. Discussing the segment from 16th Street Junction to Reading Terminal, it states ‘The line carries 320 scheduled passenger trains per day, electrified and with diesel-electric power, and handles switching movements to and from industrial sidings in the adjacent industrial district as well as to and from freight stations and team tracks at 10th and Berks Streets and 12th and York Streets.’ (page 55A) I would be curious to know what number of trains SEPTA considers to be the viaduct’s capacity, and how many trains SEPTA was recently running on it pre-COVID.

      Thanks, Ed Duffy

  8. JLG says:

    When will the Girard Av trolley return to service?

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