Cynwyd Line

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     Cynwyd Line
Type Commuter rail line
System SEPTA
Status Operating
Termini Suburban Station
Stations 9 (4 closed)
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 a 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 from Ivy Ridge to its current terminus at Cynwyd.


The current Cynwyd Line is the remnant 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.[1]

Passenger service[edit]

Electrification of the line between Philadelphia and Haws Avenue in Norristown (just north of the current Norristown Transportation Center) was completed on June 20, 1930.[1] Plans for electrification beyond Norristown to Phoenixville were not carried out due to the onset of the Great Depression.[1] 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.[2] 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.[1]

A SEPTA R6 Ivy Ridge-bound train transverses the Pencoyd Viaduct (a.k.a. the 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, as 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.[1] Weather-related expansion and contraction of the bridge, coupled with the shedding of pieces of concrete due to spalling had taken their toll on the bridge. Fearing demolition, a rehabilitation campaign commenced in 1996[3] 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.[1] Indeed, many attempts were made in 1996 to terminate Cynwyd service altogether due to its lower ridership (the 1986 cutback closed three of the line's mere six stations).[1] A small but strong (and politically connected) rider protest resulted in SEPTA not only retaining service, but adding additional trains to Cynwyd by 1997.[1] 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[4] and Ivy Ridge Rail Trail.[5] The Manayunk Bridge is slated to also be converted into a rail trail connecting the two aforementioned rail trails.[6]

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).[1] After the formation of Conrail in April 1976, the line was considered redundant and largely abandoned in favor of the parallel RDG route.[1] Abandonment of the PRR line is regretted, as the nearby RDG route is more crooked, has more grade crossings, and is frequently flooded due to its nearness to the Schuylkill River.[2] The abandoned PRR route, conversely, had far less curves and hill, little to no grade crossings, and was constructed on a higher embankment, essentially protecting it from potential flooding.[2]

The abandoned line north of Ivy Ridge was subsequently converted into the popular Schuylkill River Trail (formerly known as the Philadelphia–Valley Forge Trail[7]).


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)[2] 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 Market East 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.[8]

On October 29, 2010, the Cynwyd Line was utilized to inaugurate the new Silverliner V cars into revenue service.[9]


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.[10] 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."[11]

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."[12] This position was echoed by Rina Cutler, Philadelphia Deputy Mayor of Transportation.[10]

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."[13] PA-TEC added that SEPTA "has washed their hands of (their unused railroad lines) by refusing to associate their name with (them) in public.[12] Without any analysis, SEPTA has rejected a taxpayer funded federal study that provides specific recommendations that best preserve dormant railways."[10][12] 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."[10]

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.[14]

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.[15][16]

Station list[edit]

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

Zone Milepost Station Boardings City/Township County Notes
1 4.0 52nd Street 0 Philadelphia Philadelphia station closed 1980
4.9 Wynnefield Avenue 90
2 5.7 Bala 78 Lower Merion Montgomery
6.1 Cynwyd 128 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 2010 638 162,759[17]
FY 2009 660 167,216[18]
FY 2008 606 154,500[19]
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 c d e f g h i j Williams, Gerry (1999). Trains, Trolleys & Transit: A Guide to Philadelphia Area Rail Transit. Railpace Newsmagazine. pp. 84–85. 
  2. ^ a b c d 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. 
  3. ^ Rafail Veksler and Abhay P. Thorat, "The Arch Bridge Mystery," Civil Engineering 69, No. 9 (Sep. 1999): 48-51.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Ivy Ridge Green
  6. ^ Moselle, Aaron (January 8, 2011). "City secures $1.3 million for Manayunk Bridge trail". Retrieved 2011-09-08. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Geringer, Dan (October 30, 2010). "Mass appeal for SEPTA's new Silverliner V train". Philadelphia Daily News. Retrieved November 1, 2010. 
  10. ^ a b c d PA-TEC discussion SEPTA's rail trails
  11. ^ Preserving Freight and Passenger Rail Corridors and Service, p.4-5
  12. ^ a b c SEPTA Trail Signage letter
  13. ^ SEPTA Legislation
  14. ^ "List of new SEPTA schedules". [not in citation given]
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ 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. 
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^

External links[edit]