By Dustin Slaughter
Known as the “City Branch” rail line, this north-south train route, which stretched for 15 city blocks and boasted six rail tracks that carried trains beneath Broad Street through a 52 foot wide tunnel, was a symbol of Philadelphia’s once booming industrial base – and according to Next City’s Ryan Briggs, it may see a second act.
The Branch’s last train ran in 1992. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) later bought the line, and found use for the section that crossed what is now the Broad Street Line. But SEPTA’s financial woes at the time could not make more use of the line.
The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, which is tasked with providing a blueprint for how federal grant money could be invested in public works projects, last year launched a study seeking to “provide a clear vision for the tunnel,” according to Next City.
“We’re calling it the ‘City Branch Transit Feasibility Assessment,’” says Betsy Mastaglio, a DVRPC planner leading the study, which was initiated at the request of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities and SEPTA. “We’re looking at how much it would take to put anything into the tunnel, and present that in a way that says ‘Here’s some of the benefits and costs of putting transit in the tunnel.’”
There are other groups, such as public space advocacy group “Friends of the Park”, that have a very different vision for the massive tunnel: a “transit-free park.”
“Certainly the tunnel is a little more challenging for some people to envision as public space,” says Sarah McEneaney, of Friends of the Rail Park, who says her group provided input to DVRPC planners last year. “But the entire [City Branch] is part of our vision.”