North Pennsylvania Railroad
Construction of the line started in 1852 under the name Philadelphia, Easton and Water Gap Railroad Co., and became operational three years later. The railroad formally opened on Monday, July 2, 1855, with an excursion from the Cohoquinoque station, at Front and Willow Streets, Philadelphia, to Wissahickon (present-day Ambler), an outlying area to the northeast.
In 1856, the company suffered its first accident in The Great Train Wreck of 1856. The following year, a branch was built from Lansdale to Doylestown and during the 1860s another extension was built to Sellersville, running parallel to Bethlehem Pike. This railroad was eventually completed to Bethlehem, and later became the Reading Company's Bethlehem Branch, a two-track main line, with one portion near Telford being three-tracked. A single-track tunnel is in Perkasie.
As of 2011, the line is owned by SEPTA, which only operates its electric commuter trains as far north as Lansdale, where the Lansdale/Doylestown Line continues on a branch line to Doylestown. Freight trains are operated on the portion from Lansdale to Quakertown by Pennsylvania Northeastern Railroad and East Penn Railroad.
A branch extends from Glenside to New Hope, although SEPTA only operates the Warminster Line line as far as Warminster. The 17 miles (27 km) portion from Warminster north to New Hope is owned and operated by the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad.
North of Quakertown, the double-track line is out of service. Until 2008, most of the rail infrastructure was intact except for a cut made near DeSales University to extend Preston Lane. In addition, the northernmost section between Bethlehem and Hellertown including Saucon Yard, which is owned by freight operator Norfolk Southern Railway, was removed.
None of the former stations remain north of Quakertown, and all of the block signals north of Lansdale have been destroyed by vandals, although many are still in place.
2008 rail trail
Rail trail discussions began in 2008 between Hellertown, Upper and Lower Saucon officials and SEPTA. Talks of converting the unused, double-track rail corridor into a bicycle and pedestrian pathway had floated around for a while, but pro-rail advocates protested that commuter service be reinstated (it had terminated on July 1, 1981). Proposals had been made to reinstate passenger service north of Lansdale since the 1990s, but SEPTA showed little interest in operating trains without electrification. To remedy this, local residents along the line suggested that PPL Electric run their proposed high-tension electric line along the right-of-way, which would allow SEPTA to electrify the line.
Rather than abandoning the line outright, SEPTA leased the line to the communities, as the transit agency was looking for a "caretaker" for the line. SEPTA has emphasized that they are aware service restoration will terminate the lease with the communities. SEPTA currently owns the right-of-way and has no plans to abandon or sell the land.
To this end, the trail will be a simple dirt path: a paved trail would increase the cost of the restoring the line should service be resurrected. Though the suggestion of maintaining one track and removing the other had been discussed—known as "rails with trails"—township officials balked at the idea, as it would still involve rail infrastructure maintenance and create a tripping hazard. Officials also cited the possibility of being struck by a train using the remaining track, though SEPTA had no plans of reinstating any sort of train activity.
Railway Stations, Mile Markers, Present Day Bethlehem Branch Service
.0..... Reading Terminal (Currently the Pennsylvania Convention Center)
0.8... Spring Garden Street
1.8... Columbus Ave
2.9... North Broad Street
5.1... Wayne Junction
7.3... Fern Rock
8.4... Oak Lane
9.2... Elkins Park
10.8... Jenkintown (Wyncote)
13.0... North Hills
15.9... Fort Washington
20.0... Gwynedd Valley
22.4... North Wales
26.1... Orvilla............(2012) Pennsylvania Northeastern Railroad
27.1... Hatfield...........(2012) Pennsylvania Northeastern Railroad
29.6... Souderton.......(2012) Pennsylvania Northeastern Railroad
33.6... Sellersville......(2012) East Penn Railroad
35.0... Perkasie..........(2012) East Penn Railroad
40.2... Quakertown.....(2012) East Penn Railroad
43.7... Shelly..............(2012) Out of Service Track
45.8... Coopersburg....(2012) No Trackage, Future site for *Saucon Rail Trail Phase II
47.6... Centre Valley...(2012) No Trackage, Future site for *Saucon Rail Trail Phase II
50.5... Bingen.............(2012) No Trackage, *Saucon Rail Trail
52.6... Hellertown.......(2012) No Trackage, *Saucon Rail Trail
56.6... Bethlehem.......(2012) No Trackage, *Bethlehem Greenway Rail Trail
Bethlehem Branch Rail Service Timeline (1970-PRESENT)
Reading Railroad: (December 5, 1833 - April 1, 1976)
SEPTA Passenger Service: (April 1, 1976 - July 29, 1981)
Conrail Freight Service: (April 1, 1976 - June 1, 1999)
Conrail Freight Service: (1997 - June 1, 1999) Lansdale to Telford
EPRY/ESPN Freight Service: (1997 to PRESENT) Telford to Quakertown
CSX B738 Freight Service: (June 1, 1999 - August 12, 2011) Lansdale to Telford
PNRR Freight Service: (August 13, 2011 - PRESENT) Lansdale to Telford
Norfolk Southern: (June 1, 1999 - PRESENT) Bethlehem to Hellertown
Out Of Service Track (June 12, 1986 - PRESENT) Quakertown to Hellertown (OOS Track Includes Southbound Main between Lansdale and Quakertown)
Norfolk Southern Bethlehem Greenway Track Removal (March 11, 2004 - PRESENT) Bethlehem to Hellertown
Saucon Rail Trail Track Removal (October 6, 2008 - PRESENT) Hellertown to Coopersburg
Saucon Rail Trail: (May 13, 2011 - PRESENT) Active from Hellertown to North of DeSales University
- Before and After: Bethlehem Branch History in Pictures
- East Penn Railway/East Penn Railroad Pictures 2001-2006
- CSX operations and pictures 2005-2008
- East Penn Railway/East Penn Railroad Pictures 2005-2011
- Bethlehem Branch Discussion Forum
- Saucon Rail Trail page
- The Morning Call; May 8, 2008.