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 Post subject: Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch
PostPosted: Sun Apr 04, 2021 3:59 pm 

Joined: Mon Mar 01, 2021 10:03 pm
Posts: 16
Location: Southeast PA
I was looking at some of the history behind the PRR's Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch (P&T).

For those of you who are not familiar with it, it is a low-grade freight only bypass for the PRR mainline between Fraizer (where the Trenton cut-off splits from the mainline) and the former yard in Thorndale. Conrail removed the catenary and ripped up the tracks in the late 80's (early 90's?).

Long story short, Chester county is interested in making it into a 'Rails-to-trails'.
https://www.chesco.org/DocumentCenter/View/43510/Chester-Valley-Trail-Extension-Study?bidId=
The highlight of this would be preserving the Whitford Flyover and Downington Trestle which are part of the line. Of interest in the proposal is that Norfolk Southern owns the ROW (inherited it from Conrail). This sparked a few questions in my mind:

1. What did NS benefit from holding onto the ROW for this long?

2. Did NS see themselves potentially using this ROW again to circumnavigate Amtrak in this area?

3. Is there any future for this ROW as a rail-line?

4. Given that this was formally electrified line: is there any interest (or should NS be interested) in bringing back electric freight service on the east coast? Yes, there would be a lot of details to work out, but with the new trend of "electric transportation = going green" (think about the buzz around Tesla's electric semi-trucks), does it make sense to bring back electric freight service - specifically on the former PRR low grade lines? Politics and financial aspects aside, it seems like now would be time to make the investments before it becomes a trail.


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 Post subject: Re: Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch
PostPosted: Sun Apr 04, 2021 4:37 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
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Location: Somewhere east of Prescott, AZ along the old Santa Fe "Prescott & Eastern"
PRR8063 wrote:
4. Given that this was formally electrified line: is there any interest (or should NS be interested) in bringing back electric freight service on the east coast? Yes, there would be a lot of details to work out, but with the new trend of "electric transportation = going green" (think about the buzz around Tesla's electric semi-trucks), does it make sense to bring back electric freight service - specifically on the former PRR low grade lines? Politics and financial aspects aside, it seems like now would be time to make the investments before it becomes a trail.


"Formerly".............

We are slowly learning that even seemingly "no-brainer" long-term trends in traffic patterns, the very factor that would have to be used to justify long-term investment in capital infrastructure like the PRR's stone arch bridges (which electrification would have to be), are far more subject to change than we have formerly imagined. There are many, many once-busy main lines that are down to local traffic only because of such long-term traffic changes. One interstate main of my intimate knowledge use to handle autos and auto parts, TOFC, mail, outbound coal, local traffic, etc. Now it's been effectively divided into two "branchlines" to intermediate yards serving short lines, with some bridge traffic, and the report of a coal train scheduled (about once a month) brings out the chasers.

If anyone had said forty of fifty years ago that coal trains would end up a most minor part of rail traffic, and the entire reason for many main lines' existence would be dissipating before our eyes, we might have called them crazy. Remember, fifty years ago Burlington Northern undertook to build a new main line into the Powder River Basin, a line that would bear some of the heaviest tonnage in the North American rail network, and C&NW would follow suit with their own line. Both are watching traffic decline. Great steel centers like Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Bessemer, Baltimore, Bethlehem, etc. are no more. Detroit is a shadow of the auto making colossus it was. And so on, and so on.

Similarly, it would only take on politically-driven "Buy American!" trade war to choke down the tsunami of import containers and export traffic that make the BNSF Transcon a "conveyor belt."

Electrifying a main line is a multi-decade infrastructure and budgetary process. Accuse the railroads and other big businesses of "thinking only in terms of the next stockholders' meeting" all you want, but I have trouble envisioning any American railroad that could economically justify electrification absent the giant "Mr. Moneybags" of the Federal government (with "other people's money") subsidizing or mandating electrification for "green" reasons, not "economic" ones. And that debate isn't for these pages.


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 Post subject: Re: Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch
PostPosted: Sun Apr 04, 2021 5:32 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 3:01 pm
Posts: 1589
Location: SouthEast Pennsylvania
There are recurring proposals to restore passenger service on the Reading Company's Main Line in the Schuylkill River valley between Norristown and Reading, now owned by Norfolk Southern. However, freight traffic has increased there, partly because former Philadelphia & Thorndale traffic has been rerouted to that line. Adding passenger trains might require not only restoring old tracks, but in addition, building new ones where there is now a river or mountainside. Norfolk Southern suggested that it might be cheaper to restore the Philadelphia & Thorndale and connecting lines, so through freight could be removed from route of the restored passenger trains, and more expensive new construction might not be needed. This could be a minor reason for Norfolk Southern to hold onto the unused property.


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 Post subject: Re: Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch
PostPosted: Sun Apr 04, 2021 6:48 pm 

Joined: Mon Mar 01, 2021 10:03 pm
Posts: 16
Location: Southeast PA
Alexander D. Mitchell IV wrote:
Electrifying a main line is a multi-decade infrastructure and budgetary process. Accuse the railroads and other big businesses of "thinking only in terms of the next stockholders' meeting" all you want, but I have trouble envisioning any American railroad that could economically justify electrification absent the giant "Mr. Moneybags" of the Federal government (with "other people's money") subsidizing or mandating electrification for "green" reasons, not "economic" ones. And that debate isn't for these pages.


Alexander, thanks for the insight about the instability of traffic patterns. One of the reasons the question here was to learn stuff like this, so I appreciate the reply! It's funny you mention government funding as when this part of the PRR system was originally electrified, it used money from FDRs Public Works programs. https://www.nytimes.com/1934/01/31/archives/prr-will-spend-77000000-at-once-atterbury-outlines-projects-under.html

JimBoylan wrote:
There are recurring proposals to restore passenger service on the Reading Company's Main Line in the Schuylkill River valley between Norristown and Reading, now owned by Norfolk Southern. However, freight traffic has increased there, partly because former Philadelphia & Thorndale traffic has been rerouted to that line. Adding passenger trains might require not only restoring old tracks, but in addition, building new ones where there is now a river or mountainside. Norfolk Southern suggested that it might be cheaper to restore the Philadelphia & Thorndale and connecting lines, so through freight could be removed from route of the restored passenger trains, and more expensive new construction might not be needed. This could be a minor reason for Norfolk Southern to hold onto the unused property.


Jim, I've been following the 'Rails to Pheonixville' group/movement over the years and never thought of this. Using the low-grade lines would make sense for freight going Harrisburg-Morrisville Yard (Enola low grade line -> P&T branch -> Trenton Cutoff) would cause little interference with Amtrak.

(Trying to avoid brining up politics here, but...) With Amtrak's new funding announced last week, they have already proposed a Philly-Reading route. It's too bad the PRR Reading line is now the Schuykill river trail or that could maybe have been an option to separate freight and passenger (yes, it would be a major infrastructure investment but it 'seems' like Amtrak will get some funding to help make some changes - again politics aside). I wonder how SEPTA feels about Amtrak wanting to do commuter trains to Reading within SEPTA territory. If only SEPTA would get over their refusal to use diesel engines...


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 Post subject: Re: Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch
PostPosted: Sun Apr 04, 2021 8:58 pm 

Joined: Fri Dec 22, 2017 6:47 pm
Posts: 669
Location: Philadelphia, PA
First, the P&T Branch did not connect with the Main Line Phila to Pgh at its east end. It went only to the Trenton Branch to go to Morrisville.

There's not currently much freight traffic going to Morrisville from the West. What there is mixes with Septa in Norristown going from the ex-Reading Main Line to the ex-PRR Trenton Branch.

Reading Company was able to run its frequent passenger trains between Reading and Norristown Junction (where the passenger trains crossed the river to use the Norristown Branch to Phila) along with its equally frequent freight trains. But that was then, when we had local dispatchers and manned interlockings. The RDG Main Line was partially four tracks and partially two tracks with single track through Phoenixville (Blank Rock)Tunnel.

Septa currently has minimal bus service along the ex-RDG Main Line and I can't find any intercity bus service. I can't see where they would get riders.

Phil Mulligan


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 Post subject: Re: Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch
PostPosted: Mon Apr 05, 2021 9:03 am 

Joined: Mon Mar 01, 2021 10:03 pm
Posts: 16
Location: Southeast PA
EJ Berry wrote:
First, the P&T Branch did not connect with the Main Line Phila to Pgh at its east end. It went only to the Trenton Branch to go to Morrisville.

Phil Mulligan


Phil, Wow, thank you! I never realized this until I just looked at some track charts which reflects what you said.

https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-HzDos75aPwE/ ... 0/glen.gif

I also see that the Phoenixville Branch appears to be coming off the Trenton Branch and not the main, is this accurate? I always thought it connected to the main (although this chart was last updated 1963 so it might have been moved from it's original connection by that time).

It looks like the direct connection from the main to Trenton Branch has always been there, but there was never a direct connection from the P&T to main here? Regardless, I'm surprised they never made that connection, unless it was there when first constructed and disappeared by the time this chart was last updated. I suppose if it was ever there, they would have wanted a flying junction (like they have on the west end connection at Thorndale) to get the freight onto tracks 2&3 without blocking passenger trains on tracks 1&4.

Another thing I noticed on the chart: when did they remove track 3 in this area on the main? It was there as of 1950 per PRR Triumph III. I don't own that book, but it's at my local library and will have to go back this weekend to check if it's stated in there. It might also be able to clear up the geometry of the connection between P&T Branch and Trenton Branch


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 Post subject: Re: Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch
PostPosted: Mon Apr 05, 2021 11:22 am 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 3:01 pm
Posts: 1589
Location: SouthEast Pennsylvania
About 115 years ago, public timetables showed through service between West Chester and Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, with no notes about a change of trains or platforms at Frazier.


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 Post subject: Re: Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch
PostPosted: Mon Apr 05, 2021 12:03 pm 

Joined: Fri May 09, 2008 8:06 am
Posts: 20
Location: Walla Walla, Washington
In general, the main costs to keep a ROW would be property taxes. Removal of the track would reduce the value of the parcels involved. An offset MIGHT be easements to other utilities such as pipelines, telecommunication companies (fiber optics) which would pay a fee. This might weigh heavily on any decision to sell the ROW. On the books it might be transferred to a "Land Division" of the railroad so as to lessen the P/L statement of the railroad operation. Just an armchair opinion from across the continent.


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 Post subject: Re: Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch
PostPosted: Mon Apr 05, 2021 1:24 pm 

Joined: Mon Mar 01, 2021 10:03 pm
Posts: 16
Location: Southeast PA
JimBoylan wrote:
About 115 years ago, public timetables showed through service between West Chester and Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, with no notes about a change of trains or platforms at Frazier.


Jim, I don't believe there were ever through trains from West Chester to Phoenixville but I could be wrong. The layout of the tracks in this area have the Frazer Branch coming off of Track 1 on the main with the switch facing SW (See the track diagram above). This station is well documented in PRR Triumph III, so I'll have to check that as well.


Last edited by PRR8063 on Mon Apr 05, 2021 1:34 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch
PostPosted: Mon Apr 05, 2021 1:26 pm 

Joined: Mon Mar 01, 2021 10:03 pm
Posts: 16
Location: Southeast PA
rusticmike6 wrote:
In general, the main costs to keep a ROW would be property taxes. Removal of the track would reduce the value of the parcels involved. An offset MIGHT be easements to other utilities such as pipelines, telecommunication companies (fiber optics) which would pay a fee. This might weigh heavily on any decision to sell the ROW. On the books it might be transferred to a "Land Division" of the railroad so as to lessen the P/L statement of the railroad operation. Just an armchair opinion from across the continent.


This makes sense, SEPTA still has ownership of the abandoned Octorara Branch (also in southeast PA) which has a number of UG fiber optic lines now in the former ROW


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 Post subject: Re: Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch
PostPosted: Mon Apr 05, 2021 5:35 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 3:01 pm
Posts: 1589
Location: SouthEast Pennsylvania
JimBoylan wrote:
About 115 years ago, public timetables showed through service between West Chester and Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, with no notes about a change of trains or platforms at Frazier.
PRR8063 wrote:
Jim, I don't believe there were ever through trains from West Chester to Phoenixville but I could be wrong. The layout of the tracks in this area have the Frazer Branch coming off of Track 1 on the main with the switch facing SW (See the track diagram above). This station is well documented in PRR Triumph III, so I'll have to check that as well.
This claims to be a 1907 timetable showing through mileage and the same train numbers on either side of Frazer.Image
from https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10224783551004040&set=gm.725567314819515


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 Post subject: Re: Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch
PostPosted: Mon Apr 05, 2021 10:41 pm 

Joined: Fri Dec 22, 2017 6:47 pm
Posts: 669
Location: Philadelphia, PA
The junction at "GLEN" (Glen Lock just West of Frazer) currently has the Amtrak Harrisburg Line splitting and a junction with the NS Dale Secondary (PRR Trenton Branch) beginning between the two Amtrak directions with a duck-under dating to PRR beneath the Westward Amtrak Main.

A 1963 diagram shows Main Line tracks 2 and 4 (track 3 had been removed West of "GLEN") with connecting tracks to a lead to the Trenton Branch Ewd Main and a crossover to the TB Wwd Main. There was no connection to ML Track 1. A new ML Track 3 to the East originated at "GLEN" and the TB connection ducked under ML tracks 3 and 4. There was no wye or Phila to P&T connection.

The Phoenixville Branch entered the TB Wwd Main with a facing point hand thrown turnout with an electric lock. The West Chester track connected to ML track 1 at Frazer with a trailing point hand thrown turnout. This does not preclude the two lines having once been through, crossing the Main Line (Phila and Columbia R R) at grade.

SEPTA's push-pull shop is at East end of Frazer.

Phil Mulligan


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 Post subject: Re: Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch
PostPosted: Tue Apr 06, 2021 8:30 am 

Joined: Mon Mar 01, 2021 10:03 pm
Posts: 16
Location: Southeast PA
JimBoylan wrote:
This claims to be a 1907 timetable showing through mileage and the same train numbers on either side of Frazer.

from https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10224783551004040&set=gm.725567314819515


Jim, thanks for this! Looks like Frazer was one of the few stations that wasn't a flag stop.

EJ Berry wrote:
The junction at "GLEN" (Glen Lock just West of Frazer) currently has the Amtrak Harrisburg Line splitting and a junction with the NS Dale Secondary (PRR Trenton Branch) beginning between the two Amtrak directions with a duck-under dating to PRR beneath the Westward Amtrak Main.

A 1963 diagram shows Main Line tracks 2 and 4 (track 3 had been removed West of "GLEN") with connecting tracks to a lead to the Trenton Branch Ewd Main and a crossover to the TB Wwd Main. There was no connection to ML Track 1. A new ML Track 3 to the East originated at "GLEN" and the TB connection ducked under ML tracks 3 and 4. There was no wye or Phila to P&T connection.

The Phoenixville Branch entered the TB Wwd Main with a facing point hand thrown turnout with an electric lock. The West Chester track connected to ML track 1 at Frazer with a trailing point hand thrown turnout. This does not preclude the two lines having once been through, crossing the Main Line (Phila and Columbia R R) at grade.

SEPTA's push-pull shop is at East end of Frazer.

Phil Mulligan


Phil, I think we're on the same page now; it must have been quite a busy spot back in the day. With all the diverging lines here, was there ever an interlocking tower here? If so, I wonder when it was closed (looks like it would have been pre-1950). I know SEPTA completely rearranged the tracks here again in the 80's(?) when they moved the layover yard/shops to Frazer from Paoli. Do you know when track 3 was removed west of GLEN? I know it was there as of 1940's per PRR Triumph III.


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 Post subject: Re: Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch
PostPosted: Tue Apr 06, 2021 10:26 pm 

Joined: Fri Dec 22, 2017 6:47 pm
Posts: 669
Location: Philadelphia, PA
In PC days, track 3 had been removed between Downingtown MP 32 and Paoli MP 20, but the 1963 diagram of "GLEN" shows it had been removed only between Downingtown and Glen Loch MP 25 at that time. I suspect track 3 was removed between Downingtown and Glen Loch in the 1950's, maybe when diesels and ex-GN FF2's had replaced steam L1s 2-8-2's in helper service out of Thorndale, and between Paoli and Glen Loch in the 1960's after E44's had replaced P5a's in freight service.

Phil Mulligan


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