May 8, 2017

Philadelphia's Rail Park Poised To Bring New Life To Center City

  • By: Katherine Flynn

photo by: Studio Bryan Hanes

A rendering of Phase 1 of the Philadelphia Rail Park project.

Starting in the 1980s, the two Reading Railroad lines that once carried passengers and freight in and out of Philadelphia’s Center City sat idle and unused. But with Phase 1 of a proposed three-mile rail park set to open in the footprint of the original tracks in early 2018, the railroad line is once again poised to bring a rush of people and activity to this area of the city.

The first phase, which is being overseen by the Center City District Foundation and is currently under construction, will cover a quarter-mile stretch of the former late-19th-century rail line. It will involve the restoration, including lead-based paint removal, of a former railroad bridge, as well as the replacement of contaminated soil in the stone-supported earthen ramp that forms the basis of the site. Work on this first, $10 million phase broke ground in November 2016, with the help of a $3.5 million state grant. The Center City Foundation is also overseeing the ongoing fundraising process.

“The largest amount of the budget [will go] towards restoring the remnants from the past,” says Michael Garden, the vice president of the nonprofit Friends of the Rail Park, which is overseeing the planning and fundraising aspects of the revitalization effort. “On top of that is landscaping.”

Heineken Cities Project Callout: Philly Rail Park

This elevated portion of the former Reading Railroad is slated to become part of the new Philadelphia Rail Park.

As part of The Cities Project by Heineken, the National Trust is collaborating with Heineken and Friends of the Rail Park to crowdfund $15,000 towards the completion of Phase 1, an amount that the Friends group hopes will go twards the renovation of a historic Reading Railroad diner car on the site of Phase 1. Other partners on the project include the City of Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation.

Eventually the three-mile park, which will span 10 neighborhoods and 50 city blocks, will include the Cut, which runs from the Inquirer Building to behind the Rodin Museum, and the Tunnel, which will run beneath Pennsylvania Avenue and feature stone arches illuminated by aboveground light. An abandoned Reading Railroad car that is currently overgrown with weeds will eventually become the park’s welcome center. Garden estimates that all three phases of the project will take about 10 years to complete.

He also emphasizes the Friends of the Rail Park’s efforts to include a variety of community voices in the planning process.

“To create a public space that invites all residents of Philadelphia requires reaching out to all those communities and getting feedback on, you know, what would this park need to look like, what services would it offer, what kind of programming would it have that would make you want to come across town and take advantage of this great asset,” he says.

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Katherine Flynn is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.


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