SEPTA Route 23

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SEPTA Trolley Route 23 Via Germantown Avenue
Tracks for the former Route 23 trolley line
on 11th Street.
StatusOut of service, restoration pending
Opened1877 (First) TBD (Second)
CharacterStreet running
Line length25.5 mi (41.0 km) single track; roughly half per direction
Track gauge5 ft 2 14 in (1,581 mm)[1][2]
Electrification600 V DC, overhead lines
SEPTA's former Route 23 trolley, now a bus route

SEPTA's Trolley Route 23, the Germantown Avenue-11th & 12th Streets Line, is a former streetcar line now operated by bus. It is operated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. The line runs between the Chestnut Hill and South Philadelphia neighborhoods via Germantown Avenue, 11th, and 12th Streets. Route 23 was Philadelphia's longest streetcar route,[3] and was one of three suspended by the SEPTA board in 1992. The two others, routes 15 and 56, were then also operated by buses, although light-rail service on route 15 was restored in 2005. To make the route more manageable, in 2015 the shorter and more densely travelled southern segment of the route (Broad and Oregon to 11th and Noble) was separated and renamed Route 45.

Route 23 via Germantown Ave & 11th & 12th Streets[edit]

Route 23 begins in South Philadelphia. The southern terminus is at the intersection of Broad Street and Oregon Avenue (on its bus routing) on the block that also consists of 10th Street and Packer Avenue. Previously the terminus was 10th and Bigler Streets (trolley‘s end of the line). Continue to bus routing ——-> From Oregon Avenue the line runs north on 11th Street and south on 12th Street. North of Tasker Street, the straight path of 11th Street is briefly interrupted at Passyunk Avenue (due to the former presence of Moyamensing Prison, demolished in the 1960s), which Northbound Route 23 moves to until it turns west onto Reed Street before getting back to 11th Street. After running through Center City, northbound Route 23 turns east to Huntingdon Street and then north again to Germantown Avenue, and southbound Route 23 moves from 10th Street west to Susquehanna Avenue and south again to 12th Street. Route 23 then continues northwest on Germantown Avenue through North Philadelphia, which includes a six-way intersection with Erie Avenue, which carries SEPTA Routes 53 and 56 and Broad Street all of which are over Erie Station on the Broad Street Subway Line. Routes 53 and 56 are two other former street car lines that were converted into bus routes. Another major connection along the route is the Wayne Junction commuter railroad station. As Route 23 transitions from North Philadelphia to Northwest Philadelphia, it runs through Germantown and Mount Airy into Chestnut Hill. The northern terminus is located at the intersection of Germantown Avenue and Bethlehem Pike Loop, which is located in between SEPTA's Chestnut Hill West and East regional railroad stations.

The lengthy Route 23 utilizes several short-turn loops or cross-street cutbacks to allow for operational flexibility. Those in the SEPTA era have included: Germantown & Mermaid, Germantown & Gorgas (a large universal loop serving Germantown Depot), Germantown & Venango (later moved to Germantown & Ontario; both were the cutback to get to Luzerne Depot), 10th & Susquehanna, 12th & Bainbridge, and 12th & Snyder.


Route 23 was established sometime prior to 1877 as the Germantown Avenue Line, and ran from Germantown Depot to 8th and Dauphin Streets. In 1890 the line was extended to the 4th and 8th Street trolleys and renamed the Pelham Line. It was combined with the "Mermaid and Chestnut Hill Line" in 1913, and renamed the "Germantown, 10th and 11th Streets Line." The northern terminus was extended to the Bethlehem Pike Loop in 1920, while the southern terminus was extended to 11th Street and Pattison Avenue in 1926, and to 10th Street and Bigler Avenue in 1957.[3] At the same time as the latter change, the Route 20 trolley on 12th and 13th Streets was abandoned by combining it with the 23, which thereafter operated on 11th and 12th Streets just as it does today.[4]

A Route 23 PCC Streetcar on Germantown Avenue at Venango Street in 1980.

PCC cars were introduced to the line in 1947 and 1948, replacing Nearside cars which had operated the route since the teens. The Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC) attempted to introduce a fleet of 100 PCCs to the line in 1942, but an insufficient power supply for climbing Chestnut Hill caused these cars to be sent to Luzerne Depot to serve other routes instead. After World War II and its materials shortages and restrictions ended, a substation was built at Germantown Avenue and Mermaid Lane, and PTC assigned 85 new PCCs to the line; the difference in number of cars was due to postwar ridership declines.[5]

On September 5, 1976, the Route 23 trolleys were moved from Germantown Depot to Luzerne Depot, making Luzerne the operating depot for the six remaining North Philadelphia streetcar routes: 6, 23, 50, 53, 56, and 60. A pamphlet was issued by SEPTA informing the Route 23 operators of this change. After the move, the route's PCC all-electric cars were replaced with prewar PCC "air cars", which incorporated the use of pressurized air to power certain aspects of the car (such as sanders for traction) in order to provide greater reliability on Germantown Avenue's hills. By this time, only two trolley lines operated from Luzerne: routes 23 and 56. Along these last two routes, diesels buses were often substituted for months at a time, whenever utility construction occurred along those routes. Gone were the days when contractors were instructed to work around the streetcars. It was simply easier to suspend trolley service.

In a 1974 pamphlet, SEPTA presented route 23 as the world's longest trolley car route known to them.[3] In 1992, the streetcar service along route 23 was suspended and replaced by bus service.

As of 2006, route 23 was SEPTA's most heavily traveled bus surface route, with a daily ridership averaging 20,113. All buses are ADA-compliant, and contain bicycle racks. "Night Owl" service is also available.[6] In 2010 plans were to restore streetcar service between 2011 and 2018.[7] However, in 2011 it was pushed back to 2015–2022 and the proposed 2012 budget pushed it back even further to 2016–2023.[8][9][10]

In 2015, SEPTA proposed plans for a feasibility study in the latter part of its twelve-year capital program. SEPTA proposed spending $2 million on the review some time between 2021 and 2027.[11]


  1. ^ "The history of trolley cars and routes in Philadelphia". SEPTA. June 1, 1974. p. 2. Retrieved 2014-06-11. An early city ordinance prescribed that all tracks were to have a gauge of 2' ​2 14"
  2. ^ Hilton, George W.; Due, John Fitzgerald (January 1, 2000). The Electric Interurban Railways in America. Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804740142. Retrieved 2014-06-10.
  3. ^ a b c "The history of trolley cars and routes in Philadelphia". SEPTA. June 1, 1974. pp. 12–13. Retrieved 2014-08-16.
  4. ^ PTC Streetcar Routes as of January 1953 (
  5. ^ Schneider, Fred W. III (1983). PCC: From Coast to Coast. Glendale, CA: Interurban Press. p. 142. ISBN 0-916374-57-2.
  6. ^ SEPTA Route 23 official map and schedule
  7. ^ SEPTA Capital Budget Program and Comprehensive Plan (Page 71)
  8. ^ 2010 SEPTA Capital Budget Program and Comprehensive Plan (Page 77)
  9. ^ 2011 SEPTA Capital Budget Program Archived 2012-03-07 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ 2010 SEPTA Capital Budget Program
  11. ^ Fiscal Year 2016 Capital Budget (page 42)

External links[edit]