Center City Commuter Connection
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Train emerging from the Center City Commuter Connection at Market East Station
|Location||Philadelphia, United States|
|System||SEPTA Regional Rail|
|Start||Suburban Station, Walnut-Locust Station|
|End||Portal near 8th and Spring Garden Streets|
|No. of stations||1|
|Work begun||June 22, 1978|
|Opened||November 12, 1984|
|Length||1.8 mi (2.9 km)|
|No. of tracks||4|
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)|
|Operating speed||80 mph (130 km/h)|
The Center City Commuter Connection, commonly referred to as "the commuter tunnel", is a passenger railroad tunnel in Center City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, built to connect the stub ends of the two separate regional commuter rail systems, originally operated by two rival railroad companies: the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Reading Railroad. All of the SEPTA Regional Rail lines except for the Cynwyd Line pass completely through the four-track tunnel, which contains two underground stations, Suburban Station and Market East Station, and the above-ground upper-level concourse for the east-west commuter lines serving 30th Street Station.
Planning and development
Suburban Station, located at 16th Street and JFK Boulevard, was the underground terminus of the commuter rail lines of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR). The Reading Company (RDG) ran trains on an elevated approach above city streets into the Reading Terminal, located at 12th and Market Streets (one block west of where Jefferson Station was built). The connection, the first of its kind in the United States, was built to allow trains to run through Philadelphia's downtown central business district, by uniting the commuter lines of the two rail systems.
R. Damon Childs (1929(?)-1998, University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture 1953, Graduate School of Architecture 1957), was a 28-year-old junior land planner with the Philadelphia City Planning Commission when he proposed the Connection to permit through-routing of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Reading Railroad suburban lines. There already was a 0.8-mile (1.3 km) subway from 16th Street to 20th Street, a portion of the trackage connecting Suburban Station with 30th Street Station to the west. The tunnel project extended four of Suburban Station's eight tracks 1.7 miles (2.7 km) eastward. The proposed tunnel addition would pass just north of City Hall and then pass over the Broad Street Subway. The tracks would run under Filbert Street, would then curve to the north after 11th Street, pass under the Ridge Avenue Subway spur line, and run northward under 9th Street, ascending to join the Reading embankment near Spring Garden Street. Underground replacement for Reading Terminal—originally to be called 11th Street Station—was part of the renewal of Market East Station. At first the idea seemed preposterous because it required excavation under Philadelphia City Hall, one of the most massive buildings in the world, but it was nevertheless incorporated by Edmund N. Bacon into the city's 1960 Comprehensive Plan.
Groundbreaking for the tunnel project was on June 22, 1978. It took six years to complete at a cost of $330 million (equivalent to $1197.3 million in 2016). Federal funds paid for 80 percent of the project, state funds accounted for 16.66 percent, and city funds covered the remaining 3.33 percent. On April 28, 1984, a free shuttle service began operating between Suburban Station and Market East Station. Trains on the former PRR lines began providing service through the connection to and from Market East on September 3, 1984. The last train from Reading Terminal departed on November 6, 1984. After allowing for final track connections to be made, trains from the former Reading Railroad began using the tunnel on November 10, 1984. The Center City Commuter Connection, the four-track (two tracks in both directions) standard-gauge rail link between Suburban Station and the new Market East Station, formally opened for business on November 12, 1984. The old approach to Reading Terminal was then abandoned. It is still mostly present, and is now known as the Reading Viaduct.
The opening of the tunnel spelled the permanent end of SEPTA's diesel routes. Though all diesel service had ended by the time the tunnel opened (service to Bethlehem ended June 30, 1981; Newark service ended July 30, 1981; Reading service ended in the fall of 1981, and the non-electrified portion of the Newtown Branch shut down in January 1983), the design of the then-future tunnel omitted the inclusion of ventilation fans to disperse diesel exhaust fumes. The Delaware Valley Association of Railroad Passengers (DVARP) advocated for the inclusion of fans that would allow diesel trains to return at a point in the future. SEPTA refused this option throughout the entire planning and construction process.
DVARP later characterized the termination of the diesels as "SEPTA's worst railroad mistake." The end of diesel service resulted in over 150 route miles lost, much of it through regions whose populations exploded throughout the 1980s and 1990s such as the Allentown-Bethlehem area in Lehigh and Northampton Counties, which is actually outside of SEPTA's operating territory, but trains ran there until June 30, 1981 operated by Conrail under contract with SEPTA. Trains ran to Allentown from June, 1978 to September, 1979. There are plans to restore service to Shelly, north of Quakertown, possibly by a private operator. Tracks were removed and right of way cleared between Springfield St. overpass in Bucks County south of Coopersburg to Hellertown for a trail, but SEPTA reserves the right to rebuild track in the future.