Freight Car Friday – Freight Cars of Philadelphia

17 01 2014

This week’s World’s Greatest Hobby travels take us to the City of Brotherly Love. Over the city’s long and rich history, railroads have been as much a part of Philadelphia’s character as the Liberty Bell and cheese steaks. From the 1830s through today, Philadelphia has been as central to the history of railroads as the railroads have been to the city.

The Pennsylvania


Pennsylvania hoppers were a common site around the city serving local utilities and the large export pier.

It is not by accident, luck or coincidence that the long-time offices of the Pennsylvania Railroad (and later Penn Central and Conrail) were located right across the street from City Hall. The Pennsylvania’s political influence upon the city and Commonwealth were perhaps only overshadowed by its economic contributions.

From 1894 to 1952, the Pennsylvania’s corporate offices were held in the upper floors of the magnificent Broad Street Station. The monumental edifice survived fire in 1923 but couldn’t escape the wrecking ball 30 years later. With most of the through passenger trains calling on the newer 30th Street Station (a monument in its own right), Broad Street was raised – its tracks lowered below the valuable city real estate, and a new modern office high-rise erected in its place.


The Pennsy’s famous GG1s were a common site around Philadelphia on freight and passenger trains.

6 Penn Center remained the corporate home of the railroad and its successors until Conrail’s split in 1999. Just across the Delaware River, Conrail remains an important player in the region in the form of the South Jersey Shared Assets Area – a terminal operation serving both Norfolk Southern and CSX as it serves local industry and short lines.

While much of the Pennsy’s passenger infrastructure remains in use today by Amtrak and regional commuter carrier SEPTA (South Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority), the railroad’s historic freight routes continue to feel the daily rumble of freight trains of Norfolk Southern, short lines and others operating on trackage agreements into the busy port city.

The Reading

The Pennsylvania was far from the only major railroad to call Philadelphia home. With the inclusion of its coal operations, the Reading at one time claimed itself the largest corporation in the world – ahead of even the mighty PRR.


The Reading served the region with a web of freight and passenger lines.

Like the Pennsy, the Reading erected a passenger terminal to span the ages in the heart of downtown. In addition to the crack passenger runs like the Crusader and the Wall Street, Reading Terminal hosted dozens upon dozens of commuter trains every day. Today the tracks are gone, but Reading Terminal survives as a bustling downtown market where you can go and enjoy some of the city’s other fine hallmarks.

The Reading’s freight routes north and west out of downtown remain an important artery. Conrail diverted its traffic to the former Reading and Lehigh Valley mainlines in the 1980s and off of the Pennsylvania’s electrified routes. Those traffic patterns remain in place today.

The Baltimore and Ohio


The B&O maintained a presence in Philadelphia, but was always at a disadvantage.

Held at bay by the political might of the others, the B&O was always forced into a distant third-place standing in Philadelphia. It finally reached the city through its own subsidiary the Baltimore and Philadelphia in 1884. Connections with the Central of New Jersey would help the B&O compete for traffic further north and east. Construction and rate competition with the PRR helped put the B&O in bankruptcy and the route was forever in the shadow of the Pennsylvania’s neighboring line (and in many places, close enough to be literally in its shadow.)

Today however, with this historic route in the hands of CSX, competition for Philadelphia’s freight traffic remains viable. With Amtrak trains dominating the former PRR Northeast Corridor, the old B&O has been a more accommodating route for freight.



4 responses

17 01 2014

Another fantastic article, thank you Lionel!

17 01 2014
Ted Rosen

Great article, having lived near the infamous North Broad Street Station/Junction and traveled the rails up and down the NE corridor.
But, don’t forget the game of Monopoly anchors each side of the board with the famous big 4 Philly railroads: Pennsy, B&O, Reading, and the oft- neglected Short LIne.
I am pleased to note that after 50 years of Lionel and RR patronage and support, I was able to add a GG1 to my own RR.

17 01 2014
Roger Coinverse

Another fantastic article, just like “Bruette”, I too enjoy reading about the history of trains!


17 01 2014
Conductor Andrew

Reblogged this on theredcaboose1.

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