The Reading Viaduct is the common name for a railroad right-of-way (now abandoned) viaduct in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, formerly owned by the Philadelphia and Reading Railway and later Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) after they took over railroad operations from Conrail. It opened in 1893, and was built by the Philadelphia and Reading Terminal Railroad as an approach to the new Reading Terminal.
The viaduct heads north from Reading Terminal and forks, with a spur heading northwest to the old mainline to Reading, Pennsylvania, and the main viaduct continuing north, merging with the current SEPTA line. Except for a gap caused by the construction of the Vine Street Expressway (I-676/US 30), and a few blocks at the north end, the viaduct still exists.
The Philadelphia and Reading Terminal Railroad was incorporated on April 13, 1888, leased by the Philadelphia and Reading Railway on May 1, 1891, and soon began construction. The viaduct and terminal opened on January 29, 1893.
This is in the process of becoming the site for a large-scale, world-class civic gardenpark (see viaductgreene.org).
In 1833, based on William Hasell Wilson's survey, the state-owned Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, the predecessor of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), decided to locate its terminus within the limits of the City of Philadelphia, at Broad and Callowhill Streets.
In 1834, at Belmont, the P&C built the Columbia Bridge and Belmont Plane and began operating the "Main Line of Public Works". The following year, the privately owned Philadelphia & Reading (P&R), making its way southeast along the west bank of the Schuylkill from Reading, also used the Columbia Bridge to approach Philadelphia.
East of the bridge, in Fairmount, the P&C and P&R used the city-owned City Railroad (City Branch), to the reach their city center depots. The line looped over toward North 31st Street at Girard Avenue, then along Pennsylvania Avenue. At Hamilton Street, the tracks veered east along Noble Street. Near Broad, the tracks turned south towards the terminals of the two lines: the P&C's at the southeast corner of Broad and Callowhill, the P&R's at Broad and Cherry. The City Railroad continued east along Willow Street as the Northern Liberties & Penn Township Railroad to the Delaware River, serving the growing port.
In 1850, the Belmont Plane, though considered an engineering feat in 1834 (2,805 ft or 855 m long on a 7% grade), proved problematic. The P&C, having rerouted away from the Belmont Plane, sold it and the Columbia Bridge and the City Branch to the P&R.
In 1857, the entire Main Line of Public Works was bought by the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR).
In 1859, in December, the P&R's new depot opened at Broad and Callowhill. For about three decades, the City Branch operated as a vital, albeit problematic, railroad serving a hugely industrialized freight corridor and busy passenger terminals.
By 1890, some of the Callowhill area industries along the City Branch with rail service included the Knickerbocker Ice Company, the Philadelphia Grain Elevator Co., Bement-Pond, Rush & Muhlenberg, Wm. Sellers, A. Whitney & Sons Car Wheel, and the Baldwin Locomotive Works, which took up 17 acres (6.9 ha) alone. The two busiest P&R freight terminals in Philadelphia are along the City Branch, one at Willow and Noble and the largest at Broad and Callowhill. The P&R also maintained a large coal yard at 11th and Callowhill.
On December 26, 1890, P&R president Archibald Angus McLeod persuaded the mayor of Philadelphia to approve the building of the Terminal Station and office building at 12th and Market Streets. For one million dollars, the P&R purchased the 1653 open-air market with assurances to relocate it. For the privilege, the P&R worked toward a plan to eliminate all grade crossings on the City Branch and along the Ninth Street Branch (the former Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown Railroad). Construction began in early 1891.
In 1893, the P&R opened the grandiose Reading Terminal in January. The Italianate headhouse was designed by New York architect Francis H. Kimball. Wilson Bros. & Company provided the design engineering for the 13-track trainshed, the largest single-span trainshed constructed until then. The space beneath the trainshed accommodated the public market. From the terminal, the tracks of the Ninth Street Branch to Green Street were elevated on a system of four-track steel viaducts with plate girder spans and on fill between concrete and stone retaining walls. North of Green Street, the tracks descended to street level at Fairmount Avenue. From that point, along the 4.3 miles (6.9 km) to Wayne Junction, there remained 28 grade crossings.
In 1894, plans were approved for the depression of the City Branch — "tracks and yards of the P&R between Broad & 30th Streets, including the north side of Noble street and Callowhill street and between Eleventh and Broad streets: the alteration of the lines and grades of the tracks of the Philadelphia & Reading Terminal Railroad Co. east of Broad street and between Noble and Carlton street."
By 1900, the track-depression project on the City Branch was completed; upstate passenger trains once again traversed the busy corridor, then up into the Reading Terminal.
In 1911, the vast elevation project on the Ninth Street Branch was completed. All passenger traffic was rerouted over the now grade-crossing-free Ninth Street Branch, and the City Branch settled into a freight-oriented role. The busy passenger lines of the Ninth Street Branch funneled countless trains and travelers to and from the vast trainshed with safety and dispatch. Traffic was so great that in 1929 construction began on electrification of the "branch" and much of the commuter-hauling network.
The extensive work of creating these grade separation projects was extensively covered in the Proceedings of the Engineers' Club of Philadelphia (volume 16, page 1) in "Pennsylvania Avenue Subway and Tunnel" based on a paper read by George Webster on October 15, 1898, and in the Journal of the Engineers Society of Pennsylvania (volume 8, page 303) in an article titled "Grade Separation — Two Distinct Methods" based on a paper delivered on November 16, 1916, by Samuel Wagner, Chief Engineer of the P&R.
In July 1981, the last intercity passenger services ended with the final runs to Pottsville, Bethlehem and Newark, New Jersey.
In 1992, the last customer, the Philadelphia Inquirer, moved its printing shop to Conshohocken. The need for incoming carloads of Canadian newsprint ended, and the rails of the City Branch were dismantled.
- Satellite image of the Reading Viaduct at the Vine Street Expressway – Google Maps
- Reading Viaduct Project
- Friends of the Railpark
- Photo Tour: JJ Tiziou, "Philadelphia's Secret Garden", January 8, 2012