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Old Posted Mar 5, 2018, 6:47 PM
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Philadelphia transit tour

I was in Philadelphia last week. Here are some photos, supplemented by a few older ones from previous trips, and a handful from other photographers.

Philly has a very diverse transit system. Lots of modes, lots of operators. It's a pretty fascinating place. Let's look at a map.

This unofficial map shows all the rail transit in the Philadelphia area. It comes from the late and great Peter Dovak, and shows more than the official SEPTA map:



We'll hit each of these modes from the map one by one. Plus buses and bikes at the end.
  • The orange, light blue, and red are subways/els
  • The dark blue lines that dominate the map are regional/commuter rail.
  • The green is streetcars
  • The purple is light rail
  • The yellow defies categorization.

So, let's do it. I hope you love the raw metal look--lotta aluminum & steel in Philly.


Subways & els:

There are 3 lines on 2 different systems. SEPTA runs the Market-Frankford line (light blue) and the Broad Street line (orange), while PATCO runs a line connecting Philadelphia with New Jersey (red).

They're all pretty interesting.

The Market-Frankford Line (MFL) runs on a Chicago-style el for much of its length. It's a cool structure.












In Center City the MFL goes into a subway. Meanwhile, the Broad Street Line (BSL) is a subway for its whole length. The subways are old pre-war claustrophobic-style tunnels, like New York and Boston.








The inside of a train.




In Center City several of the subway stations are connected via a series of underground pedestrian passages, allowing free transfers. Wish we had this in DC.




The PATCO line to New Jersey looks and feels pretty similar, except the trains are shorter and the railcar interiors are nicer.






As you ride PATCO over the Delware River to cross into NJ, you get pretty nice views.




New Jersey defies categorization:

All right, let's do New Jersey next. In addition to the PATCO, you get two other rail lines.

First, the RiverLine, a light rail/commuter rail hybrid that goes from downtown Camden to downtown Trenton. In the two downtowns it runs on-street like light rail, but inbetween it runs in an off-street right-of-way like commuter rail. It uses Deisel Multiple Unit (DMU) trains, sometimes called deisel light rail.

Here it is in downtown Camden:








And here it is in-between the two downtowns, in the suburbs.








There are a few similar DMU lines around the US. Probably the most prominent is the Austin Capital Metrorail, which also runs on-street at its downtown end.

Moving on, the second defies-categorization line in NJ is the New Jersey Transit line to Atlantic City, a sort of quasi commuter rail-intercity rail line. AC is 60 miles from Philly and takes about an hour and half on the train. I don't really know whether New Jerseans think of this line as more of a regional rail line or more of a short intercity line, but in my head it's more the latter.

You may be familiar with NJ Transit's New York-focused commuter rail system. This is its only Philly-centered line.


Photo by wyliepoon on Flickr. Except where otherwise noted, the rest of the photos in this thread are mine.


Photo by Pablo Maneiro on Flickr. Except where otherwise noted, the rest of the photos in this thread are mine.


Regional rail:

Philadelphia calls its commuter rail "regional rail," and with good reason. Unlike most US commuter rail, Philly's runs all day and on the weekends. Some lines are more frequent than others, and I don't really know which are which, but it's generally legit transit in a way that, say, VRE is not.

They use EMU trains, Electric Multiple Units, which are sort of light rail-esque in the sense that there's overhead wires, no locomotive, and trains tend to be only a couple of railcars long, as opposed to the loooong trainsets of infrequent commuter rail.








The hub is 30th Street Station, also Philadelphia's Amtrak station. It's the 3rd busiest Amtrak station in the US, after New York Penn and DC Union.


Photo by Dan Gaken on Flickr. Except where otherwise noted, the rest of the photos in this thread are mine.


Trolleys:

Philadelphia has the United States' largest streetcar system, with 40 miles of vintage lines covering 8 routes, all dating from the pre-war era (although there's been some rehabbing/rebuilding).

5 of the 8 lines form the Subway-Surface system, beginning as mixed-traffic streetcars in West Philadelphia, and then converging into a subway tunnel to go into Center City. You can see how that works on the map at right.




The on-street portions of these lines are very pre-war in style. Mixed traffic, running in the center of the street (so riders have to step down off the curb into the street in order to get on), with stops that are just flags on the side of the road.

The vehicles themselves date from the early 80s, and are pretty small.












Interior.




The Green Line Cafe, branded after the trolleys. I definitely bought breakfast here. I'm such a sucker.




Here's the subway. This is the end-line loop station, where the trolleys turn around under Philadelphia City Hall and head back out. The other stations are more regular.






The other Center City trolley subway stations are co-located with stations on the MFL subway. MFL is in the center, with the trolley on the outside.




The Girard Avenue line is branded as part of the Subway-Surface network, but it never enters the subway and is operationally completely separate. It's also a really interesting line.

First of all, it uses literal PCC streetcars, originally built in 1947 (since rehabbed).






Secondly, it runs in an almost-transitway. It does share its lanes with cars, but they're center lanes of a multi-lane street, and the stations are islands. It would be pretty easy to turn this into a legit transitway (politics notwithstanding).








OK, head out to a different part of town, to far West Philly. Where the MFL el ends at 69th Street station, three other rail lines begin, heading further out into the suburbs. Two of them are trolley lines, and a third is light rail. But these trolley lines function a lot like light rail, so it's kind of a weird distinction.

Here's 69th Street station, where you can see a heavy rail and trolley turn-around loops right next to each other.




Here's the trolley turn-around loop.






The two trolley lines take off together on dedicated tracks down the middle of the street.




After a while they split off and run in a suburban interurban style, almost like regional/commuter rail except with trolley vehicles. They go off-street and have adorable little station houses at many of the suburban stops.


Photo by Peter Ehrlich on Flickr. Except where otherwise noted, the rest of the photos in this thread are mine.


Light rail:

The third line that begins at 69th Street station is the Norristown High Speed line. The name is anachronistic--it's a "high speed trolley," essentially light rail from before the term light rail was invented. This is basically the same as the two trolley lines that begin at 69th Street, except it uses different vehicles (powered by third rail instead of wires) and never goes on-street.




Photo by Sean Marshall on Flickr. Except where otherwise noted, the rest of the photos in this thread are mine.


Buses:

The most interesting thing about Philly buses is that SEPTA is one of only 5 US cities that still runs trolley buses--buses powered by overhead wires. There are 3 trolley bus lines, all in North Philadelphia.


Photo by gg1electrice60 on Flickr. Except where otherwise noted, the rest of the photos in this thread are mine.



Normal buses are far more numerous.




There are some interesting stops.




North Philly seems to have all the interesting bus stuff. In addition to the trolley buses, from the northernmost stop on the BSL subway there's a specially-branded limited stop line called the Boulevard Direct. It's not BRT but it's a nice upgrade over a normal bus.


Photo by Jarrett Stewart on Flickr. Except where otherwise noted, the rest of the photos in this thread are mine.


Two photos of bike stuff:

Philadelphia has bikeshare and bike lanes, but it seems to be behind NY and DC in terms of bikeway quality and bikeshare fleet size.

Anyway here's the bikeshare.




And a protected bikeway in West Philly near UPenn.




That's it. Hope you enjoyed. Here's a Philadelphia City Hall photo, required by law to be included in all Philadelphia threads.

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Last edited by Cirrus; Mar 5, 2018 at 7:02 PM.
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  #2  
Old Posted Mar 5, 2018, 7:14 PM
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Great idea for a thread! Philly looks great in these shots.
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Old Posted Mar 5, 2018, 7:23 PM
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This is awesome! I've always been fascinated by Philadelphia's various transit modes. Thanks.
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Old Posted Mar 5, 2018, 9:36 PM
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Great tour- Philly oozes urban in every way.
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Old Posted Mar 5, 2018, 11:11 PM
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Great job! Oh the stories I can tell from Philly public transit ha ha! It's a great system, though, and quite comprehensive...I know many people who don't own a car and get around just fine.
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Old Posted Mar 5, 2018, 11:25 PM
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Very nice set.
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Old Posted Mar 6, 2018, 1:34 AM
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That was great!
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Old Posted Mar 6, 2018, 2:10 AM
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Nice pictures!

You would find Delaware's transit interesting, even though it's not that great. We have our own transit system, DART, for bus service, but then have SEPTA regional rail service (which is limited once it crosses from Pennsylvania). But then 10 years ago, Delaware began talking about its own regional rail service, most specifically from Wilmington to Dover, with a stop or two in the far-flung Wilmington suburbs of Middletown and Dover. And then, there was talk of extending MARC service past Perryville into Newark, so that people could get off the MARC and right onto SEPTA at the same spot. So there's a big mix of different transit companies here!
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Old Posted Mar 6, 2018, 2:23 AM
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Awesome! I always enjoy your transit tours!
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Old Posted Mar 6, 2018, 3:17 AM
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I stopped in Wilmington briefly on this same trip, and am planning on posting a brief thread. There's not much transit related except the Amtrak station, though. I think I miiiight have taken one picture of the big bus stop on the square in front of city hall.
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Old Posted Mar 6, 2018, 6:08 AM
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I was in Philly in fall 2011.

There is hardly public "transit" system in Philadelphia let's face fact.

The first picture is good though, great angle, only if under clear blue sky.
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Old Posted Mar 6, 2018, 6:58 AM
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Welcome to America, Antwerpian. Philadelphia has, at absolute worst, the 6th best transit system in the United States. You can find 5 cities with claims to maybe being better, but you cannot find 6.
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Old Posted Mar 6, 2018, 9:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cirrus View Post
Welcome to America, Antwerpian. Philadelphia has, at absolute worst, the 6th best transit system in the United States. You can find 5 cities with claims to maybe being better, but you cannot find 6.
Well that's too bad but I only found 4 being certainly or possibly better, i.e. NYC, Chicago, SF, Boston ... couldn't figure out the fifth one, so it must be Philly then. I don't count Washington, D.C. and Washington, D.C. defintely not qualified as the fifth neither.

Then who is the mysterious fifth element except Philly, enlighten me.
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Old Posted Mar 6, 2018, 3:48 PM
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DC is the only other US city with "a claim to maybe being better." Let's not argue about whether DC or Philly beats the other, as my claim was only that they're close enough to be debatable, and city-versus-city threads are not allowed on this forum. No other US city is even in the conversation. After those 6 you're talking about Baltimore, Seattle, and LA, which are far behind. Yes, it's too bad that the US isn't better at transit.
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Old Posted Mar 6, 2018, 5:02 PM
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Great tour!

I never even thought about Green Line cafe being related to the transit line due to their expansion to other parts of Philly! Now it makes sense!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Murphy de la Sucre View Post
I was in Philly in fall 2011.

There is hardly public "transit" system in Philadelphia let's face fact.

The first picture is good though, great angle, only if under clear blue sky.
Since you've been gone the coins are gone

But honestly, I don't own a car and its easy to get around. Why do you say there is hardly a system? I don't have any problems
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Old Posted Mar 6, 2018, 7:08 PM
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this is rad, thanks.
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Old Posted Mar 6, 2018, 7:58 PM
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Wow...right up my alley. You got around pretty well.

North/Northeast Philadelphia has a fair variety of modes (the Boulevard Direct, trackless trolleys and The El all operate out of either FTC or Arrott in the NE).

The subway-surface trolleys are getting a hard look-at by SEPTA. Earlier this year a smart and ambitious plan to modernize that entire system was put forth which would, among other things, replace the single end LRVs which use legacy technology with more typical modern articulated LRVS.

Next time you're in town ride the Broad Street Subway to the last northern stop, Fern Rock. It's open air but below grade and revenue trains take a long loop around the railyard before platforming. Some of the original 1928 rolling stock still resides there and is a treat to see.
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Old Posted Mar 6, 2018, 9:04 PM
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Really cool thread - enjoyed it.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Cirrus View Post
Secondly, it runs in an almost-transitway. It does share its lanes with cars, but they're center lanes of a multi-lane street, and the stations are islands. It would be pretty easy to turn this into a legit transitway (politics notwithstanding).

Any plans to turn this into a dedicated ROW? This setup was very similar to the St. Clair line in TO. It was a mixed route with stations set up as islands but converted around mid-late 2000s to a full ROW. Indeed politically controversial.

Nothing overly fancy - curbs separating traffic and the stations are nicer and more comfortable. Like this.
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Old Posted Mar 6, 2018, 9:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by volguus zildrohar View Post
The subway-surface trolleys are getting a hard look-at by SEPTA. Earlier this year a smart and ambitious plan to modernize that entire system
I've seen some headlines on the modernization scheme. Makes a lot of sense to me.

Interesting that the article seems to say SEPTA has already settled on 80-foot trams. If true, that's probably the Seimens S70 streetcar that Atlanta uses:


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Old Posted Mar 6, 2018, 9:07 PM
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Neat-o.
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