Commenter Tsuyoshi asked, “Are there any [SEPTA Regional Rail tracks] shared with freight?
That’s a bit of an involved question, but the short answer is: “yes, quite a few”. As asked, the real answer is that all of the Regional Rail network could be used for any potential freight customer on-line, and virtually every line sees at least some freight, but as a practical matter, only some track segments see regular freight service. Fewer still see freight in the daylight hours, in mixed traffic with SEPTA passenger service. A handful, including the Center City Tunnel, and the Airport Line between 90th Street and the Terminals, are unlikely to ever see a freight train for reasons of geography and geometry.
This is as comprehensive a listing of where freight routes intersect with the Regional Rail network, as I can assemble:
- SEPTA runs on CSX tracks between West Trenton and Neshaminy; the TIGER-funded track separation between the two will be done by the end of next year. Farther down the same line, CSX and SEPTA between Newtown Jct. and Cheltenham Jct. were separated in 2004, during the Faye Moore era, and the way it was done (single-tracking both, removing flexibility without adding any capacity to compensate) is still grounds for salty language, ten years on.
- The short line Pennsylvania Northeastern Railroad serves industrial customers in Montgomery and Bucks Counties on the ex-Reading side of the system, and acts as a bridge line between other local short lines and CSX. Its main yard is just north of Lansdale Station, visible from the platforms.
- NS runs on the Manayunk/Norristown Line for a very short distance to access the Trenton Cutoff from its Philadelphia-Reading mainline; someone with a good arm could hit both ends of the shared segment with thrown baseballs from the platform at NTC.
- NS and CSX retain trackage rights over the Airport Line from CP 60TH STREET to CP 90TH STREET, and use their four-hour window to move unit trains of Bakken crude oil to the new terminal in Eddystone. When the Class Is recently asked SEPTA to run oil trains during the day, SEPTA told them to pound sand.
- Trains carrying stone for track ballast from the quarry in Glen Mills stopped running on the Media/Elwyn line in 2011. Those trains stopped running because of deteriorating track conditions west of Elwyn, which are due to be rehabilitated as part of the Wawa service restoration project. The West Chester Railroad would like that connection restored so that it might serve potential freight customers in Chester County.
- NS uses the Amtrak Northeast Corridor in Delaware to access its lines serving the Delmarva Peninsula.
- Conrail Shared Assets will run trains on the NEC between SHORE interlocking and Brewerytown in North Philadelphia, to interchange trains to and from South Jersey via the Delair Bridge.
- It is very rare for through-freight to use the NEC, as opposed to a parallel mainline owned by one of the Class Is, but it does still happen on rare occasions.
Given all of that, it’s critical to be aware, as we advocate for rapid transit-level frequencies on Regional Rail, that we cannot and should not try to impose other rapid transit standards; SEPTA’s railroad is a railroad, and has all of the functions of a railroad. Freight may be incredibly unsexy, and sharing tracks with freight is a frustration for passengers and dispatchers alike, but keeping freight on the rails is as critical for a sustainable transportation system as any passenger rail project.