Cynwyd Line

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     Cynwyd Line
Type Commuter rail line
System SEPTA
Status Operating
Termini Suburban Station
Stations 3
Services 1
Daily ridership 638
Operator(s) SEPTA Regional Rail
Rolling stock Electric Multiple Units
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Electrification Catenary
Route map

The Cynwyd Line is an active SEPTA Regional Rail line running from Center City Philadelphia to Cynwyd in Montgomery County.

Originally known as the Ivy Ridge Branch, service was truncated on October 25, 1986 at its current terminus at Cynwyd. Track between Cynwyd and Ivy Ridge was dismantled between 2008 and 2010 for conversion as an interim rail trail, preventing service restoration for the foreseeable future.[1]


The current Cynwyd Line is the remnant of the Pennsylvania Railroad's (PRR) two-track Schuylkill Branch, which had extended northward through the cities of Reading and Pottsville, ending at a connection with the Lehigh Valley Railroad southwest of Hazleton.[2]

Main article: Schuylkill Branch

Passenger service[edit]

Electrification between Philadelphia and Haws Avenue in Norristown (just north of the current Norristown Transportation Center) was completed on June 20, 1930.[2] Plans for electrification beyond Norristown to Phoenixville were not carried out due to the onset of the Great Depression.[2] Facing stiff competition from the parallel (and more heavily travelled) Reading Company (RDG) route (now SEPTA's Manayunk/Norristown Line), passenger service beyond Manayunk to Norristown/Haws Avenue was discontinued on October 29, 1960.[3] Service was re-extended 0.8 miles from Manayunk (retitled "Manayunk West" to differentiate from the nearby Manayunk Station on the RDG route) to Ivy Ridge on October 26, 1980. This was done in order to serve a new park-and-ride lot; high-level platforms (a rarity in the SEPTA Regional Rail system) were also constructed at Ivy Ridge in anticipation of the station becoming a major terminal.[2]

A SEPTA R6 Ivy Ridge-bound train transverses the Pencoyd Viaduct (a.k.a. Manayunk Bridge) on November 17, 1985. Service was permanently truncated to Cynwyd the following October. Though rehabilitation of the viaduct was completed in 1999, SEPTA did not reinstate service over the bridge

The extension was short-lived. Poor track conditions, washouts north of Cynwyd and the discovery of possible structural problems with the line's massive Pencoyd Viaduct (more commonly known as the Manayunk Bridge) caused service to be truncated 2.5 miles to Cynwyd on October 25, 1986, almost exactly six years since extending service to Ivy Ridge.[2]

1988 shutdown controversy[edit]

"SEPTA has several techniques for sandbagging unwanted projects — raise concerns over safety, estimate costs unrealistically high, or push for rail trail conversions to stave off repeated calls for service restoration."

- Gerry Williams, Railpace Newsmagazine columnist[4]

SEPTA suspended all service on the Cynwyd Line in April 1988 after an interlocking switch mechanism was vandalized on March 18, 1988. Flammable liquids were poured over relay, controls, and cables, effectively destroying the interlocking. SEPTA tried to operate trains around the damage for several weeks, which caused interferences with SEPTA Paoli/Downingtown and Amtrak Keystone trains. Elimination of service caught both riders and general observers by surprise. At the time, SEPTA offered no clear explanation for the abrupt decision to drop the line. Railpace Newsmagazine columnist Gerry Williams commented that even though the Cynwyd line was (and remains) SEPTA's most lightly patronized line, it had a "guardian angel" in former SEPTA Board chairman Lewis Gould, who was a regular commuter on the line. Williams also commented that the vandalism simply offered SEPTA an excuse for terminating service altogether. Repairs to the vandalized interlocking were estimated to cost at least $650,000; track work needed for the Cynwyd-Ivy Ridge section added an additional $1 million more to the cost.[5]

Doubting SEPTA's price tag for repairs, the Bala-Cynwyd Neighborhood Club arranged for LTK Engineering Services to conduct an independent evaluation of the line's condition on May 6, 1988. Three SEPTA staff representatives accompanied LTK engineers during the inspection. Not surprisingly, LTK's cost estimates were well below figures quoted by SEPTA. The inspection revealed that trackage near the vandalized interlocking had been substantially dismantled by SEPTA. LTK engineers found track conditions to be generally fair, with several poor spots observed. The worst track conditions were at 52nd Street and on the portion of the line between Cynwyd and the Pencoyd Viaduct, which had been closed since October 1986.[6]

The LTK engineers also found the signal system to be in generally poor condition. They noted that they found the signal hardware near the vandalized area dismantled and lying in disarray beside the track. Since under normal operating procedures a signal covered or turned away from traffic is to be disregarded, the engineers felt that "SEPTA's actions have an air of finality to them, and were unwarranted by the circumstances." A number of signal cases on the line were constructed of wood, and were badly in need of replacement; other steel signal cases could be rehabilitated and retained in service. Between Cynwyd and Ivy Ridge, trees and brush were found strewn on signal cable at several points, and numerous loose track bond wires were also noted. In addition, broken insulators were noted on the catenary wires, and many catenary support poles were found to be badly rusted.[6]

LTK engineers estimated that an initial restoration of service to Cynwyd could be accomplished within one month at a cost of $81,250, exclusive of the cost of a new interlocking for the vandalized section. The cost estimate included some track replacement, tie replacement, and spot surfacing. While this would have allowed a 25 mph speed, constant maintenance attention to the line would be needed. A more complete rehabilitation to Cynwyd, allowing 40 mph operation and requiring only routine maintenance until the late 1990s, could have been accomplished within two months at a cost of $256,250. For the higher cost, SEPTA could not only replace the vandalized interlocking but also all ties, as well as new ballasting, and the surfacing of the entire 2.5 miles between 52nd Street and Cynwyd, plus limited rail renewal, using relay rail and ditching. To restore service between Cynwyd and Ivy Ridge, LTK estimated a full rehabilitation of this portion of the line at $470,250. The wide gap between SEPTA and LTK's estimates raised serious questions about SEPTA's willingness to reestablish service in any capacity.[6]

The issue became a political one after LTK's findings were publicized. Two community meetings — one in Bala-Cynwyd followed by one in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia — were held to protest the hiatus of train service and the substitute bus service provided. SEPTA representatives attended both meetings and were greeted with largely hostile audiences. SEPTA staffers tried unsuccessfully to convince both crowds on the future (ten or more years away) conversion of the roadbed to light rail, which became a dead issue by the conclusion of the meetings. All attendees demanded Cynwyd/Ivy Ridge service restored immediately, though there were significant parts of both audiences who were more concerned about removing the substitute busses from their streets than about getting trains operating again. SEPTA representatives dismissed any suggestions for quick, low cost service restorations. Audience suggestions that a spring switch be considered instead of a full interlocking to replace the vandalized section was rejected as unsafe, despite its regular usage on SEPTA's Warminster and Doylestown single-track lines. SEPTA's position was that nothing less than a fully rebuilt interlocking mechanism (plus more expensive block signal protection to Cynwyd) would be considered. SEPTA also rejected the LTK Engineering Services study; Williams described this action as SEPTA taking a "'we are the experts' attitude implying that no one else understood what was needed." As part of the SEPTA staff presentation slide show, a photograph of the interlocking building engulfed in flames was shown, allegedly taken by a SEPTA staff photographer who "just happened" to wander upon the fire before the Philadelphia city fire department arrived to extinguish the blaze, at night, and in a remote location. Williams noted that this evoked serious laughter from audience members who could not believe SEPTA was taking such embarrassing steps to prevent train service from resuming.[7] Community representatives followed up on the two community meetings with an appearance at the June 1988 SEPTA Board meeting. One Board member and owner of the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad, Bucks County's James McHugh, suggested that a hand-thrown switch be installed in place of the expensive interlocking, in an effort to get things operating while a more complete solution is developed later. Once again, SEPTA staff rejected this idea citing safety concerns.[7]

Service was ultimately resumed on August 3, 1988, albeit on a reduced frequency. While news reports attributed SEPTA's sudden change of heart on its responsiveness to community sentiment, it was learned that an unnamed local state Congressman inserted in an Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA) funding bill language that would make SEPTA's receipt of future UMTA funds conditional on Cynwyd service being restored. Several independent sources described a meeting a high ranking SEPTA official had with several SEPTA subordinates during the first week of July. The official posed the question, "How long will it take to restore the R6 to Cynwyd?" Initially the response was, "Two years." The question was then posed, "How fast could it really be done?" Reportedly the response was then, "Uh, three weeks."[8] The restored service was operated as SEPTA Board member James McHugh suggested at the June SEPTA Board meeting using a hand-thrown switch. Despite the resumption of Cynwyd service, full service restoration to Ivy Ridge was in doubt. During earlier SEPTA public meetings, sentiment was expressed for extending service to Barmouth, which offered more parking than any of three stations in service (Wynnefield Avenue, Bala, Cynwyd).[8]

SEPTA once again attempted to terminate Cynwyd service in 1996 due to its lower ridership.[2] The same small but strong (and politically connected) rider protest resulted in SEPTA not only retaining service, but adding additional trains to Cynwyd by 1997.[2]

Bridge preservation[edit]

When service was originally suspended between Cynwyd and Ivy Ridge on October 25, 1986, poor track conditions and a washout just north of Cynwyd were the only reasons cited. It was learned in 1988 after service was resumed to Cynwyd that the Pencoyd Viaduct was in need of major work. The massive concrete structure was deemed structurally sound, but serious drainage problems developed with rain water seeping into the bridge rather than running off. To correct the problem, SEPTA indicated that it was necessary to strip away the rail bed, unclog drainage lines, and then rebuild the rail bed after installing a weatherproofing material.[8] By 1990, the viaduct began shedding of pieces of concrete due to spalling, leading SEPTA to threaten demolishing the bridge.[2] Fearing demolition, a rehabilitation campaign commenced in 1996[9] and completed in 1999. During the rehab, it was revealed that SEPTA had been overzealous in their closure of the bridge, as the internal steel reinforcement was not compromised as SEPTA had suggested. Further investigation by Urban Engineers determined that the bridge was safe and only needed surface work to stop the spalling. In 1999, construction finished on a project to stabilize and refurbish the viaduct.

SEPTA had little interest in restoring passenger train service to Ivy Ridge after rehabilitation was completed.[2] Though there have been repeated calls to restore the discontinued service between Cynwyd and Ivy Ridge, SEPTA permanently dropped plans for restoration in 2008 when all 2.5 miles of trackage north of Cynwyd was removed between 2008 and June 2010 for the Cynwyd Heritage Rail Trail[1] and Ivy Ridge Rail Trail.[10] The Manayunk Bridge is slated to also be converted into a rail trail connecting the two aforementioned rail trails.[11]

Amtrak "lost train" incident[edit]

Due to its lightly trafficked nature, the very beginning of the Cynwyd Line (a flyover at 52nd Street once used by all westward passenger trains) is used by SEPTA and Amtrak as a convenient turnback point in wye movements through Zoo interlocking on rare occasions when either individual rolling stock or entire trains need to be turned. This resulted in an unusual incident on November 14, 2013, when New York-bound Keystone Service train #644 was thus backing up out of 30th Street due to a cab signal failure in the cab control car, preventing it from leading the train. The train crew, apparently unfamiliar with this unusual procedure, continued in reverse past the intended stopping point on the flyover at the end of Amtrak territory (Valley interlocking) and on into SEPTA territory, passing signals which had been cleared for the next SEPTA train, and did not come to a stop until reaching Cynwyd. After a two-hour wait at Cynwyd, a relief crew with a SEPTA pilot took the train back to 30th Street where it was annulled, and the 130 passengers on the train were transferred to an Amtrak Northeast Regional train to complete their journey. The crew, who tested negative for drugs, were debriefed and found not to have violated any signal rules, and returned to service a week later after receiving additional training.[12][13]

Freight service[edit]

Freight service had continued north of Manayunk after the demise of passenger service in 1960, but the northern end of the line leading to Norristown, Reading and Pottsville was gradually cut back during the Penn Central era (1968–1976).[2] After the formation of Conrail in April 1976, the line was considered redundant and largely abandoned in favor of the parallel RDG route.[2] The abandoned line north of Ivy Ridge was subsequently converted into the Schuylkill River Trail (formerly known as the Philadelphia–Valley Forge Trail[14]).


The Cynwyd Line is the shortest and has the lowest ridership of all of the SEPTA Regional Rail lines. Since 2007, this route, similar to NJ Transit's Princeton Branch, is served by a single-car electric multiple unit train that departs from a terminal track in Suburban Station, stops at 30th Street Station, and continues along the Paoli/Thorndale Line as far as the 52nd Street Junction (a.k.a. Valley Interlocking)[3] where it branches off on a single track line to Wynnefield Avenue in Philadelphia. It continues on to Bala Station, on City Avenue (U.S. Route 1), and Cynwyd station, less than a mile northwest.

No Cynwyd trains run entirely through the Center City tunnel. One can transfer between this train and others at Suburban Station to go to or from Jefferson station and former Reading Railroad points (i.e., Lansdale/Doylestown, Warminster, Manayunk/Norristown, Chestnut Hill East, West Trenton, Fox Chase).

In the late 1990s and up to 2003, SEPTA funded a study called the Schuylkill Valley Metro which included plans to extend both sides of the R6 line to Pottstown, Reading and Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. The project suffered a setback when it was rejected by the FTA New Starts program, which cited doubts about the ridership projections and financing assumptions used by the study.[15]

On October 29, 2010, the Cynwyd Line was utilized to inaugurate the new Silverliner V cars into revenue service.[16]

Trail controversy[edit]

Installation of signage indicating railway corridor ownership by SEPTA (like this seen in Chisago County, Minnesota) was rejected by the transit agency, citing "not cost effective" as reasoning

In March 2011, the Pennsylvania Transit Expansion Coalition (PA-TEC), an influential rail proponent group, requested that SEPTA consider demarking their dormant railroad lines acting as rail trails with signage. PA-TEC was willing to work with the transit agency on this project, in hopes of maintain a high profile for the dormant rail corridors.[17] Their request was based on a federal study completed by the National Transportation Research Board in 2007, which stated that such signage gives "notice to adjacent landowners and the public generally that an interim period of low-impact or recreational use does not proscribe future development of active passenger or freight rail activity. Provisions may include large, conspicuous signage along the trail alignments and/or disclosure requirements for adjoining property sale transactions that make clear the potential future use of the [rail] corridors in question."[18]

SEPTA rejected PA-TEC's request, believing the benefits of such "signage was deemed non-existent, since SEPTA's rights to the out-of-service rights-of-way (ROW) are clearly protected as matters of real estate/railroad law, as well as the individual lease with the County. The same would apply to any other recreational trails presently being used by municipalities over SEPTA out-of-service railroad ROW's." SEPTA concluded that the expense of installing signs, "no matter how small, for the sole purpose of demarcating SEPTA's otherwise well established legal ownership rights in the ROW, cannot be financially justified."[19] This position was echoed by Rina Cutler, Philadelphia Deputy Mayor of Transportation.[17]

PA-TEC responded in the press by calling SEPTA's response "an act resembling Pontius Pilate", stating that SEPTA was "going against their enabling legislation per Pennsylvania State Law."[20] PA-TEC added that SEPTA "has washed their hands of (their unused railroad lines) by refusing to associate their name with (them) in public.[19] Without any analysis, SEPTA has rejected a taxpayer funded federal study that provides specific recommendations that best preserve dormant railways."[17][19] PA-TEC added that they were "concerned that SEPTA is creating an additional constituency resistant to putting rails on a (SEPTA) owned ROW, in this case the trail users," concluding that "the trail use will create an additional avenue of resistance even for those who would never be trail users. NIMBYs... will be avid trail users, not for the sake of the trail, but to prevent rail use."[17]

Name change[edit]

R6 Cynwyd.gif

On July 25, 2010 SEPTA renamed the service from the R6 Cynwyd to simply the Cynwyd Line as part of system-wide service change that drops the R-number naming and makes the Center City stations the terminus for all lines.[21]

Station list[edit]

All stations have low level platforms unless otherwise noted. Boldface indicates a major station.

Zone Milepost Station Boardings[22] City/Township County Notes
1 4.0 52nd Street 0 Philadelphia Philadelphia station closed 1980
4.9 Wynnefield Avenue 79
2 5.7 Bala 115 Lower Merion Montgomery
6.1 Cynwyd 112 terminus since October 25, 1986
Barmouth 0 station closed 1986, now the Cynwyd Heritage Trail
7.8 Manayunk West 0 Philadelphia Philadelphia upper level; station closed 1986
8.5 Ivy Ridge 0 upper level; station closed 1986; high-level platforms; now the Ivy Ridge Trail


Fiscal year Average weekday Annual passengers
FY 2013 661 168,459[23]
FY 2012 622 158,711[24]
FY 2011 601 153,201[25]
FY 2010 638 162,759[26]
FY 2009 660 167,216[27]
FY 2008 606 154,500[28]
FY 2005 506 129,090
FY 2005 506 129,090
FY 2004 465 118,575
FY 2003 480 112,200
FY 2001 n/a 125,000
FY 2000 n/a 114,000
FY 1999 n/a 117,000
FY 1997 n/a 87,116
FY 1996 n/a 78,674
FY 1995 248 78,800
FY 1994 274 n/a
Note: n/a = not available


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Williams, Gerry (1999). Trains, Trolleys & Transit: A Guide to Philadelphia Area Rail Transit. Railpace Newsmagazine. pp. 84–85. 
  3. ^ a b Pawson, John R. (1979). Delaware Valley Rails: The Railroads and Rail Transit Lines of the Philadelphia Area. Willow Grove, Pennsylvania: John R. Pawson. p. 52. ISBN 0-9602080-0-3. 
  4. ^ Williams, Gerry (August 2008). "SEPTA Scene". Railpace Newsmagazine (Picataway, New Jersey: Railpace Company, Inc.) 7 (8): 49. 
  5. ^ Williams, Gerry (June 1988). "SEPTA Scene". Railpace Newsmagazine (Picataway, New Jersey: Railpace Company, Inc.) 7 (6): 16. 
  6. ^ a b c Williams, Gerry (July 1988). "SEPTA Scene". Railpace Newsmagazine (Picataway, New Jersey: Railpace Company, Inc.) 7 (7): 28. 
  7. ^ a b Williams, Gerry (August 1988). "SEPTA Scene". Railpace Newsmagazine (Picataway, New Jersey: Railpace Company, Inc.) 7 (8): 36. 
  8. ^ a b c Williams, Gerry (September 1988). "SEPTA Scene". Railpace Newsmagazine (Piscataway, New Jersey: Railpace Company, Inc.) 7 (9): 26. 
  9. ^ Rafail Veksler and Abhay P. Thorat, "The Arch Bridge Mystery," Civil Engineering 69, No. 9 (Sep. 1999): 48-51.
  10. ^ Ivy Ridge Green
  11. ^ Moselle, Aaron (January 8, 2011). "City secures $1.3 million for Manayunk Bridge trail". Retrieved 2011-09-08. 
  12. ^ Bloomquist, Sarah (November 20, 2013). "Amtrak train to NYC ends up at SEPTA station in Bala Cynwyd". Action News. WPVI-TV Retrieved 27 November 2013. 
  13. ^ Almeida, John P. (November 14, 2013). "Amtrak Keystone 644 Philadelphia to New York via Bala Cynwyd". Railfan Pictures of the Day. The Philadelphia Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. Retrieved 27 November 2013. 
  14. ^ ADC Map (2001). Street Map Book, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania (16th edition ed.). Alexandria, VA, USA: ADC Map. pp. Map 35 (p. 39); Map 36 (p. 40). ISBN 0-87530-083-9. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ Geringer, Dan (October 30, 2010). "Mass appeal for SEPTA's new Silverliner V train". Philadelphia Daily News. Retrieved November 1, 2010. 
  17. ^ a b c d PA-TEC discussion SEPTA's rail trails
  18. ^ Preserving Freight and Passenger Rail Corridors and Service, p.4-5
  19. ^ a b c SEPTA Trail Signage letter
  20. ^ SEPTA Legislation
  21. ^ "List of new SEPTA schedules". [not in citation given]
  22. ^ "Fiscal Year 2015 Annual Service Plan". SEPTA. May 2014. 
  23. ^ SEPTA (May 2014). Fiscal Year 2015 Annual Service Plan. p. 60 PDF (539 KiB)
  24. ^ SEPTA (May 2013). Fiscal Year 2014 Annual Service Plan. p. 44 PDF
  25. ^ SEPTA (May 2012). Fiscal Year 2013 Annual Service Plan. p. 55 PDF (539 KiB)
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^

External links[edit]