Philadelphia Belt Line Railroad

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The Philadelphia Belt Line Railroad Company
Reporting mark PBL
Locale Philadelphia waterfront
Dates of operation 1889–
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Length 2.66 miles[1]
Headquarters Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Philadelphia Belt Line Railroad (reporting mark PBL) owns a 2.66-mile (4.28 km) long[1] railroad line running along the Delaware River waterfront in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was created in 1889 to allow any Philadelphia railroad to access the waterfront. The railroad, which does not operate any trains itself, is currently maintained by Conrail Shared Assets Operations and used by CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway.


The Philadelphia Belt Line Railroad is a non-operating railroad and simply exists as a real estate holding company. The trackage of the railroad is used by CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway to access the Philadelphia waterfront. PBL’s tracks are leased to Conrail Shared Assets Operations, who provides maintenance to the line.[1] North of South Street, Conrail, which serves as a switching company for CSX and Norfolk Southern, has exclusive use of the line.[2]

Currently, there is little activity on the Belt Line north of the Columbus Blvd. ports on the Delaware River near Southwark; however, projects are being proposed and considered that will, if put through and take action on, significantly increase the line's rail traffic, especially freight traffic. The first and most probable project is a deal being worked with Kinder Morgan to transport 100-car tanker car trains full of liquified natural gas (LNG) from western Pennsylvania to tanker ships at Tioga Marine Terminal in northern Philadelphia, which would then take the LNG down the Delaware River to ports worldwide. The next most probable project, and possibly even more significant for the line's business, is the proposed Southport in what is now the abandoned northern portion of the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Slated to begin construction soon and be completed within a few years, it will import and export immense container traffic, right next to CSX's South Philly Yard, which is located on the Belt Line. The third and least probable project is a passenger service to a proposed casino in south Philadelphia. The tram/light rail/train would run down the middle of Delaware Ave./Columbus Blvd. along the Delaware River waterfront, including a part which has been paved over from Spring Garden St. to around Allegheny Ave., where CSX's, Norfolk Southern's and Conrail's Port Richmond Yard is. Despite it being paved over, the trackage on N. Delaware Ave.'s right-of-way still exists there.[3]


A 1907 interurban car on the former trolley line, in 1990.

The Philadelphia Belt Line Railroad was created in 1889 with the purpose of allowing any Philadelphia railroad to have access to the Port of Philadelphia.[4] The railroad was used as a way to fight the railroad empire of the Pennsylvania Railroad, trying to bring other railroads to gain access to the Philadelphia waterfront via a right-of-way that the Pennsylvania Railroad had miraculously not yet taken. From September 5, 1982 to December 17, 1995, a heritage trolley using historic cars ran along the tracks in the Penn's Landing area between the Ben Franklin Bridge and Pier 51. The trolley used newly installed overhead wires and poles and was operated by the Buckingham Valley Trolley Association.[5][6] After the trolley service ceased, the wires and poles were removed.[7] In 2009, the Philadelphia Belt Line Railroad sued the developer of the proposed SugarHouse Casino for building on property on which the city had, in 1890, granted the Philadelphia Belt Line Railroad a right-of-way on which it might build a line of railroad.[4] While the lawsuit was pending, the Philadelphia Belt Line petitioned the Surface Transportation Board for a declaratory order confirming that the Philadelphia Belt Line retained its right-of-way and would continue to do so unless the Board granted an application for abandonment of that rail line. The Board denied the petition, finding that the Philadelphia Belt Line had never constructed or operated a rail line on the property being used by SugarHouse and that it had presented no evidence that it had failed to support its argument "that a right-of-way granted by a municipality, but never exercised or developed or otherwise perfected under the Transportation Act of 1920 . . . must be authorized to be abandoned [by the Board under 49 U.S.C.] §10903 before it may be dissolved."[8]


  1. ^ a b c "Employer Status Determination – Philadelphia Belt Line Railroad Company – Board Coverage Decision 07-38". Railroad Retirement Board. October 17, 2007. Retrieved August 12, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Philadelphia Belt Line Railroad Company - PBL". Canadian Pacific Railway. Retrieved August 12, 2010. 
  3. ^ Colgan, Dennis J., Sr. Personal interview.
  4. ^ a b Gates, Kellie Patrick (July 14, 2009). "Belt Line sues SugarHouse". Philadelphia Archaeological Forum. Retrieved August 12, 2010. 
  5. ^ Price, J.H. (February 1983). "Museum News". Modern Tramway and Light Rail Transit, pp. 38–40. Ian Allan Publishing/Light Rail Transit Association (UK). ISSN 0144-1655.
  6. ^ May, Jack (February 1994). "Philly's Trolley Festival a Hit". Passenger Train Journal, pp. 30–35. Pentrex. ISSN 0160-6913.
  7. ^ "Museum News" section. Light Rail & Modern Tramway, June 1996, p. 235. Ian Allan Publishing/Light Rail Transit Association. ISSN 0964-9255.
  8. ^ Philadelphia Belt Line R.R.—Petition for Declaratory Order, slip opinion at 4, 6 (STB decision served Aug. 4, 2010).