Along the PATCO subway line is a dark station that will soon come back to life.
Many riders moving between Philadelphia and New Jersey have wondered about an empty platform that appears to be ready for passengers, but not a soul can be seen. But not for long, next year PATCO wants to reopen the Franklin Square station.
Standing in Franklin Square at 7th and Race – there is no indication that underneath this park is one of the largest subway stations in the PATCO system. General manager of PATCO, Bob Box, is showing me around.
Box: This was one of the entrances right here.
On the edge of the square is this concrete slab that looks like it’s only good for skateboarding. But it’s a hatch. And inside…
…is a stepladder leading to the original lobby.
Box: It was built in the mid-30’s, was opened til just after WWII. Closed, then reopened in 1953.
It was in ’53 that PATCO expanded deeper into Philadelphia, but hardly anybody used the station so they closed it almost immediately.
Box: Opened it again in 1976 for the Bicentennial but closed in 1979, again because of lack of ridership.
The station has a wide lobby seperating the east – and west-bound train platforms. And it has a 30-year hangover. Groovey bright-orange accents from the 70’s still plague the columns and partitions. Flourescent lighting is arranged in starburst patterns on the cieling.
Matheussen: The only thing missing is the shag rug, you know?
John Matheussen is here too. He is the CEO of the Delaware River Port Authority, which oversees PATCO. Regardless of the fact that the station has already been opened and closed 3 times, and there is another PATCO station just 5 blocks away, Matheson wants to reopen.
Matheussen: The unique thing about this station is it’s location. A lot of stations are in urban settings, this is urban but with a park, one of the original parks of Philadelphia.
But the location has always been the problem. Franklin Square is strangled by 676 to the north, a six-lane Race Street to the south, and the Ben Franklin Bridge to the east. For years the only people in Franklin Square were most likely doing something illegal. But recently the park cleaned up its act with family-friendly activities.
Greenberger: I have gone there myself to play miniature golf. It’s kinda fun.
Alan Greenberger, Director of the City Planning Commision, says the relationship between transit and development is a chicken-and-egg situation. On one hand if a section of the city proves to be popular, you build transit that will go there.
Greenberger: The flip side is does the availability of transit encourage the audience to be there that’s not there yet. This is an opportunity to help make something happen.
PATCO’s Bob Box says opening the Franklin Square station is a strategic move.
Box: We’re looking at expanding PATCO on the Philadelphia side of the river. In addition to opening because of the area – it may be a key station for expansion.
The city has been kicking around a handful of ideas about how to get public transit out to the waterfront. Andrew Stober of the city’s Office of Transportation, says inevitably there will be some sort of bus or trolley line running up and down Delaware Avenue.
Stober: We want that system to not be standing alone – we want it to connect to a regional system. Connecting at Franklin Square station is one of the options.
The Franklin Square station could be a crucial link for a waterfront development. But now Box and Matheussen are more concerned about modernizing the station. It needs an elevator to make it compliant with disability codes, and stainless steel elements to conform with the cosmetic norms of all PATCO stations.
Box: All compatible, but each station had it’s own accent color. We would carry some similar design here. [You telling me bright orange has a chance here, Bob?]
There was a time when bright orange seemed like a good idea. Maybe this time the whole idea of a Franklin Square station will work better.
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Click on the image below to take a video tour of the station