If you’ve lived in Philadelphia at least a few months, you’re likely familiar with the out-of-use rail tracks that carve a zombie network of metal through the city’s streets.
Maybe they’ve made it tougher for you to get potholes fixed, or have caused you to slip and fall when they freeze over. If you’re a cyclist, you’ve probably gotten your bike tires caught in the grooves.
In Philly right now, inactive tracks outnumber active ones about three to one. Each day, SEPTA trolleys run along 33 miles of rail lines, while the out-of-use network spans 106 miles, a vestige of a transit system that has shifted toward alternate forms. Seven trolley routes in Philly have either been suspended, discontinued or replaced by buses, per SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch: the 6, 23, 47, 50, 53, 56 and 60. There are six numbered routes still in use.
We mapped all of SEPTA’s active and out-of-use trolley tracks, according to the transit authority’s data.
The inactive tracks cover almost the entire city, running north-south from neighborhoods like Chestnut Hill and Holmesburg all the way to Oregon Avenue. And the routes still active mostly serve West Philly — reaching as far east as Port Richmond.
Inactive (out-of-use) SEPTA trolley tracks as of October 2018
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Active SEPTA trolley tracks as of October 2018
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Removing unused tracks for safety
Though the unused tracks have been implicated in multiple, serious bike accidents, removing them is not been a high priority.
Some sections of trolley tracks have been paved over, as have a handful of intersections where tracks caused extra difficulties. In 2016, when the city removed a block of tracks at 11th and Reed, which belonged to Route 23 about 20 years prior. That was thanks to advocacy from the Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition, who claimed one of their volunteers broke her jaw after the tracks snarled one of her tires.
But per city spokesperson Kelly Cofrancisco, there are no plans to deal with the remaining out-of-use trolley tracks.
Right now, there’s one single effort to rip up old tracks — and it’s not related to SEPTA.
Between Girard and Indiana avenues, American Street will soon be rid of its inactive rail line. Parts of the street already are, thanks to major construction happening right now on the North Philly corridor to make it more friendly to pedestrians, cyclists and small businesses.
The work, funded by a federal grant, includes ripping up two miles of tracks and replacing them with green stormwater infrastructure. The tracks in question were once owned by Conrail and used by the Reading Railroad, until Conrail sold them to the city in 1978.