Six Philly-Area Rail Proposals That Never Came to Be (But Still Could)

Now that SEPTA has agreed on a route for the proposed King of Prussia rail extension that would connect the mall town to the Norristown High Speed Line, we look at other unfulfilled suburban rail proposals.

Illustration by Nick Massarelli

Schuylkill Valley Metro

Proposed: Early 1990s.
Goal: Light metro from Center City to Reading.
Proponents: Montco officials hoping to stimulate economic development.
Opponents: The city was lukewarm; rail advocates thought the project was politically motivated.
Fate: Years later, then-gov Ed Rendell pronounced the project dead when the FTA rejected a funding proposal.

Cross-County Metro

Proposed: Early 1990s.
Goal: Connect communities from Trenton to Downingtown along a former Pennsylvania Railroad line.
Proponents: See: Schuylkill Valley Metro.
Opponents: Rail advocates, claiming it was a waste of money.
Fate: A federally funded study found little interest from prospective riders. It died quietly after that.

West Chester Branch Restoration

Proposed: 2011.
Goal: Restore service from Elwyn to West Chester.
Proponents: West Chester.
Opponents: None at present.
Fate: Restoration as far as Wawa is now under way, with service expected to resume in 2020. A new study by PennDOT and SEPTA wrapped earlier this year.

Bethlehem Branch Restoration

Proposed: 2000.
Goal: Bring back service between Lansdale and Quakertown.
Proponents: Montco and Bucks communities along the line.
Opponents: None at present.
Fate: Current plans call for restoring service as far as Perkasie. DVRPC and SEPTA are scouting for funding.

Newtown Branch Restoration

Proposed: Mid-1980s.
Goal: Restore service between Fox Chase and Newtown.
Proponents: Growth-minded Bucks County officials.
Opponents: Montco communities along the line, who cherish their peace and quiet.
Fate: After a test using diesel railcars proved disappointing and an attempt to electrify the line flopped, Montco converted part of the route to a trail.

Glassboro-Camden Line

Proposed: 1996.
Goal: Light rail from Camden to Rowan U.
Proponents: Glassboro and Gloucester County officials targeting population and job growth.
Opponents: Wenonah residents voted against a station in their town.
Fate: Uncertainty over who’d run the line quashed an environmental study in 2014. Study resumed last August; line operation remains unclear.

Published as “Rails to Nowhere” in the March 2018 issue of Philadelphia magazine.