6 Phantom SEPTA Subways, and Where to Find Them

Clues to the system we might have had are strewn across the city.

The Roosevelt Boulevard subway isn’t the only rapid transit line Philadelphia was supposed to have but never got. There are actually a whole bunch of routes that have been proposed at some point but never realized over the years since the first city transit plan was released in 1912.

In some cases, though, the city did drop hints of what was to come — or what was supposed to. These bits of unfinished — or unbegun — lines can be found at several places on and off the current SEPTA system, and with one exception, you can even see them. Here’s a guide to the Ghosts of Subways That Never Were. There’s also a bonus: the only abandoned subway station on the SEPTA system.

Route: Center City Loop Subway

Location: 1300 block of Arch Street
The original 1912 rapid transit expansion plan had the Broad Street trunk line turning into a loop subway when it reached Center City. The “delivery loop” would have collected and distributed riders closer to where they wanted to go by running under Arch, Eighth and Locust streets before returning to Broad Street. When contracts were let for the system in 1915, short stretches of tunnel were excavated in the 1300 blocks of Arch and Locust streets before work was halted for lack of funds.

Can you see it? No. It’s not even clear whether or where there is an access panel for the tunnel on the surface. But there must be, for we’ve heard reports of a few intrepid individuals who have been inside it. (The Locust Street tunnel, after widening, became part of a subway route that opened in 1952 and is now used by the PATCO Lindenwold Line.)

Route: Passyunk Avenue Spur

Location: Between Tasker-Morris and Snyder stations
When headed toward the stadiums on the Broad Street Line, perhaps you’ve noticed that the train makes a slight jog to the right as it leaves Tasker-Morris station. This is where a spur down Passyunk Avenue to Southwest Philadelphia was to have branched off from the Broad Street trunk. This line, itself a substitute of sorts for the Woodland Avenue elevated proposed in 1912, was a later addition to the city’s transit plans, which didn’t make much difference in the end, as it suffered the same fate as the others.

Can you see it? Yes. If you look out the windows on the right side of a southbound train, you may note some empty space just before entering the Snyder station. Northbound, you will see the tunnel widen a bit just before entering Tasker-Morris, where the track jogs back to the left; this is where the inbound track would have joined the main stem after passing under it.

Route: Roxborough Spur

Location: Henry Avenue, where it crosses the Wissahickon Creek
A subway-elevated line to Roxborough had been part of the city’s transit plan from the beginning, but its route shifted over the years: Where the original plan had the line following Ridge Avenue — and climbing a steep hill in the process — later revisions moved the route north to Henry Avenue, where the grades would not be as difficult.

Can you see it? Yes. If you’re walking along the Wissahickon Valley pedestrian path, look up as you pass under the graceful stone Henry Avenue bridge, built in the 1930s. You should be able to make out two box culverts with openings in them beneath the road deck. These are the tunnels that would have carried Roxborough subway trains.

Route: Northeast and Germantown spurs

Location: Just north of Erie station
In addition to the subway up the Boulevard, which was to have followed Pike and Ninth streets to reach it, the plan the city approved in 1915 called for a subway-elevated line to Germantown. Several different routings were proposed over the years, via Germantown Avenue or Belfield Avenue; the latter would have run through Wister Woods Park had it been built.

Can you see it? Yes, if you pay attention. Two ramps, both with active track installed, head up from the local tracks just north of Erie. They’re hard to see from the station platforms, but easy to spot if you look out from the right-hand-side windows of a local train leaving Erie northbound — the ramp begins after the train passes through a switch just beyond the platform — or entering it southbound — the train slows to a near-stop just before a set of switches ahead of the station; look up after it does this.

Route: Oak Lane Extension

Location: North of Olney Transportation Center station
This, too, was a later addition to the original city subway plan; the growth of the neighborhoods to the north of Logan led planners to add an extension to the Broad Street line that would serve the Oak Lane neighborhoods. The most likely route would have followed Ogontz Avenue through West Oak Lane to the city line, but at least one plan had the extension continuing up Broad Street.

Can you see it? Yes. From the express platform northbound, you can see a single track continue straight ahead up a slight incline. This is where the Oak Lane extension would have continued northward; the track is used today to turn around Ridge Spur trains. The ramp is also visible as you look out the left-side windows of express trains headed to Fern Rock northbound and entering Olney southbound.

Route: Market Street Subway extension

Location: Around 43rd and Market streets
A few advocates grumble that for what SEPTA ended up spending replacing the 1907 Market Street elevated, it could have finished the job the city started in 1932 when it began to extend the Market Street subway tunnel westward. The West Philadelphia subway extension was completed to 44th Street in 1955, but the city had plans to further extend the tunnel all the way to the city line — if it could just figure out how to get it under the Mill Creek sewer.

Can you see it? Yes. The best way to see where the tunnel would have continued westward is to sit in the front left seat of a westbound Market-Frankford Line train. Where the train veers right to head to the incline, note a signal control housing ahead of you. It occupies the short tunnel stub where the extension would have connected to the existing tunnel.

Bonus:Spring Garden Station, Ridge Spur

The Ridge Spur subway, the replacement for the Center City subway loop, opened in 1932 with four stations: Fairmount, Spring Garden, Race-Vine and Market Street. The original Market Street station is now used by PATCO, and Ridge Spur trains use a newer stub platform above it. Old Race-Vine was replaced by present-day Chinatown station as part of the Commuter Tunnel construction project. Fairmount remains open and decrepit. That leaves Spring Garden, the only abandoned station on SEPTA’s rapid transit network. The station was closed in the late 1980s, and since then, it has become a graffiti showcase, with every inch of its walls covered with huge tags, mostly in silver-gray or muted colors.

Can you see it? Yes, though it’s hard to take it all in from a passing Ridge Spur train thanks to its speed and the dim lighting on the now-unused platforms. It’s on the right side about halfway between Fairmount and Chinatown in both directions.