Walnut Hill (SEPTA station)
|SEPTA regional rail|
The Walnut Hill station site, now the entrance to the Pennypack Trail Extension.
|Location||200 Moredon Road
Abington Township, Pennsylvania.
|Platforms||1 side platform|
|Closed||January 14, 1983|
In addition, a labor dispute began within the SEPTA organization when the transit operator inherited 1,700 displaced employees from Conrail. SEPTA insisted on utilizing transit operators from the Broad Street Subway to operate Fox Chase/Newtown diesel trains, while Conrail requested that railroad motormen run the service. When a federal court ruled that SEPTA had to use Conrail employees in order to offer job assurance, SEPTA canceled Fox Chase-Newtown trains. Service in the diesel-only territory north of Fox Chase was cancelled at that time, and Walnut Hill Station still appears in publicly posted tariffs.
Although rail service was initially replaced with a Fox Chase-Newtown shuttle bus, patronage remained light, and the Fox Chase-Newtown shuttle bus service ended in 1999.
Walnut Hill station was a popular stop for passengers visiting the adjacent Lorimer Park. Since the late 1970s, Abington Township Ward 2 had advocated the reuse of the railway as a trail. In July 2008, this idea came to fruition at the insistence of township commissioner Robert Wachter, acting on behalf of constiuent Richard Stern; the section of track that passes through the Walnut Hill Station site was dismantled in conjunction with Montgomery County Parks to make way for an extension to the existing Pennypack Trail. SEPTA received $1 for the lease, railbanking the line for future mass transit related uses. The trail is not officially a rail trail, however, nor is it designated as such.
Controversy surrounded the creation of the trail. Traffic congestion in the region grew exponentially throughout the 1980s and 1990s and resumed passenger service was seen as a tool to battle the trend. Public transit advocates voiced their opposition to the removal of the tracks, which effectively severed the outer end of the Fox Chase/Newtown line from the national railroad network.
The idea of converting this section of the railroad into an interim trail was not new: the area was historically a political hotbed. Population near this portion of the line in Montgomery County has always been sparse, and there were few stations (Walnut Hill, Huntingdon Valley, Bryn Athyn, Woodmont) that served passengers when trains operated. Despite small originating ridership, the county was assessed much of the route's operating cost. As such, opposition within official county circles to subsidize operation existed as far back as the mid-1970s. Proposals were floated around at that time to install a track connection where the line crosses the West Trenton route near Bethayres (known as AYRES interlocking), and to abandon the stretch of track between Fox Chase and the West Trenton line. The existence of the trail essentially carried out this plan, minus the benefit of the West Trenton connection. This is unfortunate, as even in its dormant state, the Newtown Branch is the shorter and more favorable route to the West Trenton line junction, as rush hour rail traffic through the Jenkintown/Wyncote bottleneck remains heavy.
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia also agreed that while the interim trail serves its purpose, the railroad should take priority if both cannot coexist:
"We believe that there is sufficient right-of-way available to support both future rail service and maintain trail usage. If there is insufficient right-of-way within the corridor to do both, then a relocation or rerouting of the trail to preserve the non-motorized route is necessary."
Conversely, wealthy constituents—seemingly unconcerned to the surrounding traffic congestion—stated the train will never return to the region; when interviewed by The Philadelphia Inquirer in October 2009, Richard F. Stern of Stern and Eisenberg, LLP in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania voiced his opposition to the resumption of train service:
"...I would adamantly oppose it. To disrupt this gorgeous trail would be very upsetting to me and the residents of my community. I have applauded the commissioners for getting this (trail) done so quickly and so well...I want any issue of reopening a railroad to go away. It will never be supported by Abington Township or the County."
Stern is president of the Tall Trees Homeowners Association at the Tall Trees housing development in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania. Like many townhomes that abut the railway line, the Tall Trees housing development was built 1985, two years after service ceased on the rail line.
Transit expert John Pawson, author of Delaware Valley Rails: The Railroads and Rail Transit Lines of the Philadelphia Area, questioned why SEPTA is involved with rail trails instead of public transit. Pawson, who was head of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission Regional Citizens Committee until February 2011, stated that the creation of the Pennypack Trail on the Fox Chase/Newtown line is a "relatively cheap and quick process" but that "cheapness is its only advantage." Pawson added that "the trail as built essentially runs from nowhere to nowhere. A relatively high-grade piece of infrastructure has been diverted (temporarirly, one would hope) to a relatively low-grade purpose. It's like taking over an expressway to use for someone's driveway."
Pawson concluded by saying "there is no need to pull up any more track. This real creek-side Pennypack Trail through Montgomery County and the restoration of the rail line in that county and beyond could be considered as a single valid political issue. Various groups including rail and trail proponents and others should work together for a joint project."
- "Newtown Branch History". Southampton, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Transit Expansion Coalition. 2010. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
- Tulsky, Fredric N. (January 29, 1982). "Conrail Staff Must Run Trains: court ruling bars SEPTA takeover". Philadelphia Inquirer.SEPTA must use Conrail workers rather than its own personnel to run trains over the region's 13 commuter lines, a special federal court has ruled in a decision that offers some job assurance for 1,700 Conrail employees next year. The special court, in an opinion issued Wednesday, ruled that SEPTA had acted legally in October when it replaced Conrail workers with its former subway operators on the line.
- "Tariff No. 154 - Supplement No. 37" (PDF). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. March 6, 2009. pp. 4–7. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
- Pawson, John R. (1979). Delaware Valley Rails: The Railroads and Rail Transit Lines of the Philadelphia Area. Willow Grove, Pennsylvania: John R. Pawson. pp. 54–59. ISBN 0-9602080-0-3.
- Michael Baker Corporation (June 12, 2006). "Newtown Bus Rapid Transit And Pedestrian Trail Concept Study" (PDF). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Michael Baker Corporation. Retrieved June 15, 2013.
- Newtown Branch to Become part of Pennypack Trail
- 1991 SEPTA Newtown Branch Study
- Bicycle Coalition's Position on SEPTA Fox Chase/Newtown line
- Nussbaum, Paul (October 6, 2009). "A bid to restore rail service to Newtown". Philadelphia Inquirer. Philly.com
- Newtown Line.pa-tec.org – PA-TEC study on resuming SEPTA commuter service between Fox Chase and Newtown