Atop phase one of the Rail Park construction site between Broad and Noble streets and 11th and Callowhill.

Atop phase one of the Rail Park construction site between Broad and Noble streets and 11th and Callowhill.

Contributed by Robert Hakalski

Surprise! Phase One of the Rail Park, Philly’s High Line, will open soon

All that warm winter weather led to faster construction.

Atop phase one of the Rail Park construction site between Broad and Noble streets and 11th and Callowhill.

Atop phase one of the Rail Park construction site between Broad and Noble streets and 11th and Callowhill.

Contributed by Robert Hakalski
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Thanks to our warm winter months, Philly’s own version of the High Line is almost ready.

The first part of the Rail Park will be complete in January 2018, said Sarah McEneaney, president of Friends of the Rail Park. Originally, this phase was slated to be completed in late 2018; the date was then moved up to spring 2018. Now it’s looking like we’ll be able to walk around on the refurbished tracks of the old Reading Viaduct in a few months.

“Because of the mild winter we are on schedule and maybe a little ahead,” McEneaney said. “They work late some days when the weather is perfect.”

This early portion of the Rail Park will wind about a quarter of a mile from Noble and Broad streets to Callowhill Street between 11th and 12th. The cost is $10.3 million, and nearly all of the money has been raised through local, state and private funds.

Expect this part of the Rail Park to be about relaxation, entertainment and community gathering as much as it is about walking. There will be benches, trees, flowers, art from the Percent for Art program and industrial swings modeled somewhat after the makeshift swings built on the Viaduct and used by visitors over the years. Friends of the Rail Park plans to host health and wellness events and let children from nearby schools use the park for green space during school days.

Rendering of a portion of Phase 1 of the Rail Park.

Rendering of a portion of Phase 1 of the Rail Park.

Rendering via Studio Bryan Hanes

To get the Rail Park ready, construction crews have largely been focused on a few projects so far. They’ve been removing lead paint from an old bridge and priming and repainting it, adding stone walls and soon will plant some of the biggest trees. The Rail Park also announced it would refurbish an abandoned 1920s rail car to be a welcoming center at Broad and Noble. It might not be ready by January.

Workers are suited up for lead paint removal from the steel bridge at 1100 Hamilton.

Workers are suited up for lead paint removal from a steel bridge that's part of the Viaduct.

Contributed by Robert Hakalski

These drone Instagrams from Rocco Avallone show the progress on the Rail Park from four months ago to last week:

They started working on the @therailpark. Philly's version of the highline but better because it's not in New York.

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Some progress on the @therailpark construction since my last flyover

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Though the High Line is the famous comparison for the Rail Park, McEneaney said a better comparison is the Promenade Plantée in Paris and that the Rail Park would be wider.

“There are things that we are going to do very differently, Philadelphia being a much different city than New York,” McEneaney said. “We’re not spending near the amount of money the High Line did per square foot. We are very conscious of wanting it to be a public park where everybody’s welcome. I don’t think ours is going to get as crowded.”

New steel plates added to the side of the viaduct.

Steel plates on the side of a Rail Park bridge.

Contributed by Robert Hakalski

If and when the entire Rail Park project is complete, it will measure about three miles and will run from 31st and Girard, down over the Community College of Philadelphia, toward phase one of the section by Callowhill and 11th and finally up to about 8th and Fairmount. Broad and Noble, where the railcar will be used, is near the middle.

Rail Park
Friends of the Rail Park screenshot

The earliest part of the Rail Park may be nearing completion, but the full project will take years and tens of millions more dollars. McEneaney’s been working on the Rail Park officially since 2003 and thinking about it since 1979 when she was still riding on the train when the viaduct was actually in use. She’s encouraged the future plans will come to fruition, too.

“We can’t say which phase will come next,” McEneaney said, “but we do believe that having one phase done and people seeing it and enjoying it will do a lot to move the rest of the project forward.”