Sunday, September 15, 2013

Center City's Trollies: Staying or Going?

Public Relations Supervisor for the Philadelphia Streets Department, Keisha McCarty-Skelton reported to Philadelphia Weekly that the 11th and 12th Street trolley tracks would be paved over or removed as part of the department's improvements to Center City's streets.

The lines haven't been actively used since the 1990s. While many nostalgic Philadelphians, myself included, would love to see street cars carrying passengers throughout Center City, the rails pose a headache to cyclists and motorists alike. The trains themselves pose an even bigger headache.

As buses can dive cleanly in one of two lanes, pull off to the side at stops, trolley cars tend to bumble down narrow streets like slowly rolling boulders. A stalled bus can be pulled to the side or towed away. An inoperable trolley car on 11th or 12th could gridlock an entire neighborhood.

Well, it looks like we're stuck with them whether we like it or not. McCarty-Skelton retracted her statement to Philadelphia Weekly having received incorrect information from an engineer. The Streets Department will be paving around the tracks. She pointed out that because the tracks are SEPTA's property, the Streets Department has no authority over them.

It's not clear if the Streets Department has attempted to work with SEPTA to remove the tracks other than quoting the cost of $400,000 per block, including both repaving and removal of the tracks.

SEPTA's trolley service on 11th and 12th is only technically suspended and not permanently closed. With SEPTA's sizeable investment from state and federal agencies, it's likely the cost of removing the tracks would be in a lengthy battle with authorities outranking the city's Streets Department.

In the meantime, those longing for the clang of the trolley echoing throughout Center City can remain hopeful that the possibility of downtown lines isn't completely dead.

No one on behalf of SEPTA has spoken out on the condition of its Center City trolley tracks and cables, or if it's even possibly to operate one on either the 11th or 12th Street lines.

Headaches and all, it would be impressive to see an occasional trolley operating on weekends and holidays, particularly on 11th and 12th Streets where it would be highly visible to tourists at Reading Terminal Market, perhaps adding another layer of (for lack of a better word) whimsy to Market East.

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