The DRPA and PATCO are currently building a new station for the high speed train line at the Franklin Square Park in Philadelphia, which sits just past the base of the Ben Franklin Bridge.
I stopped in this morning at the Franklin Square Park to check out the progress from the ground level, and to walk around the beautiful Center City park which features a beautiful almost 200 yr-old fountain, merry-go-round, miniature golf course and more!
For those who are unaware what “PATCO Speedline” is… it is a train line which connects Southern New Jersey with Center City Philadelphia, via a train line which runs over the Ben Franklin Bridge.
PATCO operates the rail line trains and is owned by the Delaware River Port Authority, who also operate the Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman Bridges.
The location of the Franklin Square Park and upcoming train station puts it in the heart of Philadelphia’s Historic District, in walking distance to Independence Hall, The National Constitution Center, the Liberty Bell and other historic destinations.
Old City and Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhoods are also close by, offering a variety of restaurants, bars, retail and interesting things to do and see.
PATCO- Franklin Square Station
It was just a few years ago that we heard media announcements of PATCO’s plans to develop a new Franklin Square Station.
While many are accustomed to big ideas being touted but never coming to fruition, I can assure you the $30 million PATCO Franklin Square station project is a real thing, with real progress, and it’s really scheduled to open in Spring of 2024!
There is some interesting history with this station and the park itself!
Most 42Freeway readers are too young to know that there previously was an operating station underneath the Franklin Square Park. In multiple attempts over 90 or so years, it’s only ever been open a few years at a time, and it was last used almost 45 years ago!
But some may have noticed while riding PATCO, after crossing over the Ben Franklin Bridge into Philadelphia the train will slow down a bit and you’ll catch glimpses of what appears to be an old abandoned train station, viewable only by a small glint of lighting within the space.
A Ghost Station!
Well that is the underground concourse of the Franklin Square Station which was last used in the 1970s to support visitors coming to Philadelphia for the city’s bicentennial festivities.
It really is a train station frozen in time!
But even with the 1976 reopening, it closed just three years later due to low ridership at the station.
You may find it surprising that the Franklin Square Station never really had a “good run” over the last 90 years. Efforts to open the station in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and as mentioned during the bicentennial era of 1976… did not see the station flourish, and with each opening it closed a few short years later.
So why try again now? What is different in 2024?
Well forty-five years later things have changed in Philadelphia with previously abandoned neighborhoods now thriving, including the Franklin Square Park and city blocks surrounding it.
Philadelphia has seen significant residential development taking place, as well as new bars and restaurants opening in the area, and numerous fun and historic places to visit.
The success of the Franklin Square park which sits over top of the train station is evidence of the new found success for the area.
And the folks at the Delaware River Port Authority and PATCO noticed the rebirth also, and decided that now was the time to invest in reopening the Franklin Square Station.
The existing underground station concourse will remain, with it’s classic white and green tile work. It’s such an iconic and historical style that they are putting in the extra effort to restore and maintain the tile and decor, while adding in all of today’s more modern conveniences.
Above ground, a “headhouse” station building used in the 70s is now gone, so a new one is being constructed which will include an elevator down to the underground concourse level, new stairways, and a modern and mostly glass enclosed building.
The location for the new headhouse for the station is at the corner of 7th and Race. Directly across from the former Philadelphia Police Headquarters.
The project appears to be mostly on time with its original expected opening dates, but for simplicity let’s just say we should see it opening in the Spring of 2024!
The opening is only about 6 months or so away and I don’t think most folks in South Jersey know this is happening!
I’ll add that the PATCO team is doing an awesome job communicating updates on the construction project, at a dedicated Franklin Square Station website.
The website captures artist renderings, project scope, and regular updates on the construction progress which offers current images and somewhat detailed achievements.
Franklin Square Philadelphia Rebirth
Franklin Square is one of the five original open space parks which were planned by William Penn when he first laid out the design for Philadelphia back in 1682!
The park is located in Center City Philadelphia basically at the base of the Ben Franklin bridge, just past the lightning bolt statue which sit atop Monument Plaza.
Today the park is a beautiful place for families and friends to gather for a relaxing afternoon to enjoy a picnic lunch, ride the merry-go-round, or take in a round at the miniature golf course. There is even a burger and snack restaurant there!
But just like the challenges faced by the Franklin Square Train station over the decades, the park itself faced numerous challenges prior to 2006… going back 80 years!
A series of events starting with the development of the Ben Franklin Bridge in the 1920s, and then the Great Depression in the 1930s… began a many decades long pattern of neglect and abandonment of the park.
Even into the 1980s when the Vine Street Expressway was developed, it further added to the abandonment of the park which had become a site for the homeless and illegal activities.
Even the fountain which had been built in the 1838 was turned off and forgotten!
Things turned around starting in 2003 when Historic Philadelphia Inc (who successfully managed the Betsy Ross House) spent three years refurbishing the park in a $5.5 million project funded primarily by a grant from the State of Pennsylvania.
The group restored the fountain, cleaned up the park and over the years added more features to make it a true destination place in the city for all to enjoy.
Franklin Square Park has become a centerpiece for the revitalizations which have happened in the neighborhoods around the park.
Which also fits into the timeline of why PATCO has decided that now is the time to bring back the station.. and this time, hopefully for good!
I’ll be back for more updates over the next six months, and I’ll definitely be at the Grand Opening for the station!
And who knows maybe the folks at DRPA/PATCO will see this article and invited me in for a special tour of the underground station sooner, so that I can share with readers.
It would also be very cool to see inside the support column spaces which support the Ben Franklin Bridge, and were originally uses as train stations.. but I don’t want to push it! 🙂
Links and Location
Franklin Square Train Station Rebuild
7th and Race Streets – Franklin Square Park