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Amtrak Chooses Center for Philly High-Speed Rail

Map of a proposed high-speed rail network in the Northeast Corridor. Credit: Regional Plan Association

Amtrak released more information about its $151 billion vision for high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor today, giving greater detail to the layout and structure of what the system will look like in Philadelphia, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The plan, which would completely rework the current configuration intercity rail in Philadelphia, relocates the city’s high-speed hub from historic 30th Street Station to Market East Station and calls for the construction of a 10-mile tunnel link to the Philadelphia International Airport.

The reason for the switch, Amtrak says, is that making Market East Philadelphia’s central station along the Northeast Corridor’s high-speed rail line would streamline the rail system in the city.

Currently, trains going through Philly encounter a number of track switches and large turns that would force high-speed rail trains to slow down when they enter and exit the city. The proposed layout would help straighten the rail alignment and, according to the Inquirer, help meet Amtrak’s goal of 37-minute trips from Philadelphia to New York City by 2040.

There has been some resistance to this plan, particularly from boosters of 30th Street Station. In the Market East proposal, 30th Street would become the city’s primary hub for slower local and regional trains, taking away a big part of the action.

While there are a number of advantages and drawbacks to the proposal, the potential positive economic impact of Amtrak’s plan are difficult to ignore: Market East is located along one of the most underperforming corridors in Center City, and a recent development plan for the station would be executed in collaboration with a greater redevelopment scheme for the strip from City Hall to Independence Mall.

Once one of the country’s premier shopping districts, this portion of Market Street — now lined by low-grade commercial properties on one side and the Gallery Mall-Market East complex on the other — has been, for the most part, left out by Center City’s overall resurgence. The Market East Strategic Plan, released back in 2009, would completely rework this section of Market Street that stretches eight blocks eastward from City Hall.

The focus of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission’s plan is improving the street-level commercial spaces along the street, particularly on its north side, and enlivening many other blocks throughout the area targeted for redevelopment.

However things go with the location of the city’s main transit hub, the makeup of Philadelphia’s rail network — and the atmosphere around this section of Market Street — are in store for significant changes.

Tags: infrastructurephiladelphiaeconomic developmenturban planninghigh-speed railamtrak