Philadelphia Proposal: Bring Amtrak Trains to Center City

Recently there was an article in PhillyMag about bringing Amtrak into the Center City, using the existing tunnel. It’s the easiest thing in the world to board an Amtrak train in Philly and be in New York barely an hour later. Would it be an even better process if Philadelphians could board that train in Center City? There is already a tunnel , Why not use it?

It goes from 30th Street Station to Suburban and Market Street stations and is  used by SEPTA. Just let a couple of Amtrak trains per hour use that tunnel, he says, and the results might be startling:
Transit expert Bob Previdi thinks so “Having Amtrak operating in the Center City Tunnel would not only be good for business and tourism, it could also make the housing stock of Philadelphia and its suburbs more commutable to NYC. Most people in Philadelphia do not understand just how bad commuting distances are in in NYC and what opportunities there are to attract home buyers. For example, 14,000 cars a day park at the Long Island Rail Road’s Ronkonkoma Station in Suffolk County to take one hour and 20 minute train ride to/from Penn Station each way! Combine the long trek with a New York State tax rate of nearly 9 percent and even with the high monthly ticket fee of Amtrak we can still promote living in Pennsylvania as a real value.”

There’s a lot that’s appealing about this idea. 30th Street Station, grand though it is, is across the river from the heart of the city.

But in saying that the only thing standing in the way of operating Amtrak service through the Commuter Tunnel is the political will to bring the passenger and freight railroads together to implement the through-tunnel service.
Philadelphia Market East Station
Philadelphia Market East Station
The next day, PhillyMag had another article about how you can’t do it. Amtrak service through the Commuter Tunnel sounds like a great idea. But there’s this little engineering issue …

The problem with the proposal is this: Once Amtrak trains would exit the Commuter Tunnel’s east portal, there would be no way for them to get back to the tracks heading to New York Penn Station. That’s because the tracks feeding the tunnel from the north belonged to the Reading Railroad, and the Reading had no physical connections to its crosstown rival, the Pennsylvania.

The Reading did operate its own Philadelphia-New York trains, to be sure. They followed the route of what’s now SEPTA’s West Trenton Line and used the Jersey Central to reach a terminal in Jersey City, where passengers could catch ferries to Lower Manhattan.

The Jersey Central and the Jersey City train station are both gone. And even if a new terminal were built there, it would simply trade inconvenience in New York for inconvenience in Philadelphia.

A new, high-speed connection would have to be built to allow Amtrak Northeast Regional trains to run between Washington and New York via “Philadelphia City Hall.” And that would cost some money and require some land.

The good news is that there is a place where such a connection could be built. It’s near Woodbourne station on the West Trenton line. South of this station, the West Trenton line tracks pass under the former Pennsylvania Railroad Trenton Cutoff, which connects with the main Northeast Corridor line at Morrisville, just across the Delaware from Trenton. A two-track flyover there from south of the crossover to east of it would allow for the through Commuter Tunnel service.  Build that, and restore the catenary from the junction to Morrisville, and we’re in business.

It would cost less to build this than it would to build the north-south tunnel under Philadelphia with stations at the airport and Market East.

 

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