Train Geeks Freaking Out Over 30th Street Station Renaming

Not so fast, Chaka Fattah!

30th Street Station. Photo | Jeff Fusco

30th Street Station. Photo | Jeff Fusco

Earlier this week, we told you that United States Congressman Chaka Fattah wants to rename 30th Street Station after his barrier-breaking predecessor, William H. Gray III, making it the clunkily named William H. Gray III 30th Street Station that precisely zero people will call it. It’s a nice enough idea and not one that you’d expect people to get up in arms about. But you apparently have never met a train geek.

One such train geek is Bennett Levin, who is not just a train geek but a train geek with credentials. Here’s a sampling of Levin’s CV:

• President of the PA Railroad Technical and Historical Society
• President of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners
• Member of the National Railway Historical Society
• Member of the Railroad and Locomotive Historical Society
• Member of the Lexington Group in Transportation History
• Member of the Advisory Board of the Railroad Museum of PA
• Former member of the Historical Commission of the City of Philadelphia
• Founder and director of the Broad Way Historic Preservation Conservancy
• Founder and president of the Juniata Terminal Company

Oh, and he also headed the Liberty Limited, a special train to transport injured soldiers from the Walter Reed and Bethesda military hospitals to Philadelphia's Army Navy football game in 2005, 2006 and 2010.

Levin is none too happy about Fattah's proposal, which seems certain to become a reality in the very near future (it just passed in the House).

In an open letter to Fattah, Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey, and Congressman Bob Brady, among others, Levin has opposed the measure, suggesting that Gray is the wrong guy for this particular honor.

Here is part of the letter:

Pennsylvania Station, 30th Street, Philadelphia; as it is captioned on the National Register of Historic Places, is the most significant monumental structure remaining from what was at one time this nation's most significant corporation and transportation enterprise. The building itself and the "West Philadelphia Improvements" which accompanied its construction stands as testimony to vision and leadership that the company itself provided to not only the City of Philadelphia but to the Nation itself.

I knew Bill Gray. I did business with Bill Gray. I respect Bill Gray. However, Bill Gray has absolutely no connection with the Pennsylvania Railroad, or the neighborhood in which the station stands.

If there is such an overwhelming need to attach a name to this magnificent edifice then I would respectfully suggest that Congress consider several other Philadelphians who were national leaders and who were directly connected to the Pennsylvania Railroad and who had a far more significant impact on the history of this great nation than the current nominee who you are actively considering for this unique and distinctive memorial.

Levin then goes on to suggest people that you've likely never heard of, but all people who were much more significantly involved with trains in Pennsylvania than was Gray.

And Levin's not the only one upset about it. There's now a petition over on (where else?) to demand that Mayor Nutter put a stop to the new name. As of Thursday morning, it had 306 signatures.

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  • Boots Electric

    I love how if you are passionate about something that makes you a geek, i.e., worthy of being mocked. Levin makes valid points. We should mock non-geek Chaka Khan Fattah for failing to do some basic research. Then again, his aim is clear: adding to his perceived legacy, in the hopes that someday another useless politician will name the South Street Bridge, or some other structure in which he had no part building, after him.

    • vfiorillo

      We love geeks! Non-pejorative.

  • jt

    Forget the geek moniker; Levin’s points are valid. Bill Gray was a good civil servant but naming 30th St. Station after him is not right. Chaka Fattah exemplifies the do-nothing Congress we have today. As for Fattah’s legacy, it’s already been written. Ineptitude, greed and failure at its highest level.

  • David Grimes

    It is Pennsylvania Station, get it right.

  • kclo3

    Does Amtrak have any say in this? I suppose not, as they still need all the political support they can muster.

  • vidroopianman

    I think the article is demeaning. And calling someone a train nerd just because they disagree about renaming a building that happens to have trains run through it is stupid. It’s like someone calling a person a bridge nerd because they don’t want to rename a bridge. And this article implies that being a train nerd even matters at all.. it doesn’t. It comes down to the fact that Chakka Fattah wants to satisfy his ego by getting something named after his predecessor and he knows no one will contest it (as if there aren’t more important things to worry about). But this is the way the world works. Vapid, egotistical people get all the accolades, while the people who genuinely deserve to have their contributions brought to light get screwed over.

    • Carleton MacDonald

      This has happened many times before. Example: The renaming of Washington National Airport.

  • Tommy Grover

    Like “Columbus Blvd” wasn’t bad enough? He didn’t even discover America. At least he’s not going for yet another MLK.

    • RichC, brings duck to cockfigh

      its been 20 years, and no one except Siri calls it “Columbus Blvd”

  • Jeff

    This article is trash, along with the writer of it. To call a large group of people geeks and to basically bash them is very low to do. If only the writer actually knew how successful and knowledgeable of a person that Bennett Levin is (not to mention wealthy). Some things are better off left alone and not meant to be changed, and Bennett made very valid points on them…

    • vidroopianman

      I agree, this article is piss poor journalism. Journalism should be objective and non judgemental. All this guy does is make fun of passionate people.

      • Kitty

        You can’t even spell “judgmental”

  • amtrak92

    Don’t make fun of Mr. Levin he is a good friend of mine. And honestly one of the most generous men I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

  • RichC, brings duck to cockfigh

    I, for one, can’t wait to visit the “Wilson Goode Memorial Liberty Bell.”

  • Rich Brome

    There is essentially zero public support for this. The majority of Philadelphians do NOT want this. If our democracy functioned at all, this would not happen. Period. It’s not that citizens have anything against Bill Gray, it’s just that they’re smart enough to see this kind of renaming as utterly pointless; it’s politicians wasting time and energy instead of tackling real problems. The results will be confused travelers and Amtrak & SEPTA wasting money on new signage. Not only does no one want it, its will be bad for the city. Hey Congressman: knock it the heck off and get back to work!

  • Mike H

    Some of us “train geeks” happen to work for railroads too. Get a new job Victor!!