Philadelphia City Council Trolley Hearing

September 30, 1997

It was at this hearing that SEPTA announced plans to bring back Route 15 trolley service

Photos by Mike Szilagyi. Click on thumbnails to view higher-res images.

PCC 2785 on Germantown Ave. Philadelphia city council held a special hearing concerning the status of SEPTA's three suspended trolley lines on September 30, 1997. To get trolley supporters to the hearing, the Chestnut Hill Community Association chartered 1947 PCC 2785, which departed the loop at Germantown Avenue and Bethlehem Pike at 7:45 am for the long run down Route 23 to 12th and Market in center city. A police escort provided the ultimate "transit first" service for the trolley, until a parked delivery truck on Germantown Avenue at Venango Street blocked the rails. Diesel buses have served this heavily travelled route since trolley service was withdrawn in 1992.

Trolley 2785 was one of the eighty-five PCCs placed in service on the Route 23 in May 1947.

PCC 2785 and stalled escort After a five minute delay, the truck driver was found and the southbound trip continued. Illegally parked vehicles constantly blocking streetcar tracks is one reason given by SEPTA for suspending trolley service on the Routes 15, 23 and 56. One car parked on the tracks, or even near the tracks at a corner, can bunch several trolleys together and foul up the schedule. As a result, riders endure lengthy waits at trolley stops, only to find that the first streetcar that finally comes is overloaded with passengers. SEPTA is actually having trouble running the substitute diesel bus service on the Route 23. Is it too much to ask that traffic laws and parking regulations be enforced so that trolley service can resume?

Phila city council hearing room 400 Council Transportation Committee Chair Happy Fernandez sponsored the three-hour hearing, during which several panels consisting of city residents unhappy with the diesel bus substitution were heard. In 1992, SEPTA assured skeptics that new trolleys would be obtained to return trolleys to these routes, and 1997 was given as the date the new light rail vehicles would arrive. SEPTA has ordered new buses instead. In response to city pressure, it was at this hearing that SEPTA announced its plan to restore trolleys to Route 15 on Girard Avenue. General manager Jack Leary would not say what was planned for the Routes 23 and 56, only stating that he "would not go out there and take down the wires (him)self."

city council hearing City Council members present at the hearing generally endorsed the return of streetcars to the three routes, but made it clear that they have no direct control over the SEPTA board, most of whom represent surrounding suburban counties and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Chestnut Hill resident Janet Potter organized the representatives of community and business groups who testified on behalf of the suspended trolleys. Ms. Potter's statement made the point that SEPTA must keep its promise to restore trolleys to these routes. SEPTA insists that the fact that some of the board members (and the general manager himself) were not on the board when that promise was made, excuses them from honoring their word.

Vukan Vuchic testifying Noted University of Pennsylvania transit planner Vukan Vuchic testified to the merits of retaining streetcar service on the three suspended trolley lines. In a 1988 study, he had urged the retention of the Route 6, which ran on wide Ogontz Avenue from the Olney station of the Broad Street Subway, through West Oak Lane to the city line at Cheltenham Avenue. Unlike the Routes 53 and 60 trolleys, which were officially replaced by diesel buses years after being converted to "temporary bus," the Route 6 was a streetcar line until its last day. The City of Philadelphia had federal funding in hand to make the Route 6 trolley a "transit first" light rail line. SEPTA, however, had already decided to rid itself of the streetcar system. Thus, the last twenty years have seen the trolley Routes dismantled one at a time, until finally these last three surface lines were "suspended" in 1992. Though plans to resume trolley service on Route 15 are indeed moving forward, the future of suspended Routes 23 and 56 remains in limbo.

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