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Posted on November 19, 2013 at 2:50 PM by Michael Stokes
Imagine travelling to 50 Montgomery County Railroad stations on eight different trains (one was actually the Norristown High Speed Line) all in one day. I’ll admit the trip wasn’t easy, but with some clever scheduling, an Independence Pass, two train tickets, and almost 20 miles of running in between some of the stations on different train lines, it all worked out. On Friday November 15, I took a vacation day for this traveling adventure forsaking the leaf raking and other to-do list items around our farm that could be done anytime. In short, it was a great experience; but please remember in your appraisal of my sanity, I am a planner and a runner.
The adventure began on a frosty Elm Street Station platform at 7:00 a.m. The Norristown Regional Rail Line which follows the Schuylkill River to Manayunk contains some of my favorite early morning river vistas. After running across the Green Street Bridge and dodging traffic at the Belmont Avenue Schuylkill Expressway interchange, I followed the Lower Merion’s fantastic Cynwyd Heritage Trail straight into the Cynwyd Station. The Cynwyd Regional Rail Line provides infrequent service and always seems to be imperiled by proposed budget cuts, but it still runs. As I found out, it is basically one train car that stops at three stations and is filled with regular commuters who all know each other. At the grand 30th Street Station, one of Philadelphia’s treasures, I jumped aboard the Lansdale Regional Rail Line which travels the longest route through the county. At the 16th station stop in the county, Link Belt, I disembarked after shaking hands with my new conductor friend. Link Belt is as isolated as a station can get with only an industry (formerly Link Belt) nearby. The route from the Link Belt Station to the Hatboro Station was a tortuous 12-mile run along County Line Road. Fortunately, someone had the good sense to locate a pub restaurant near the Hatboro Station which I greatly needed and appreciated.
At the Hatboro Station I was the youngest person waiting for the train. It seemed that seniors and young riders take over the rails lines during the mid-day. The Warminster Line from Hatboro to Jenkintown is unremarkable though pleasant. I enjoyed my 30-minute wait at the stately Jenkintown Station since it is one my favorite stations in the county along with the Lansdale and Haverford Stations. After climbing aboard the West Trenton Line, I reconnected with my new conductor friend who I had met on the Lansdale Line. Throughout the day I came to realize that one of the key strengths of the SEPTA system is the great employees who keep in running.
After hopping off at the Philmont Staion, a surprisingly elegant station, I once again employed my now tired legs to hoof it down Philmont Avenue. At Bethayres, I ran along the new 2-mile section of the Pennypack Trail down to Rockledge where I bobbed and weaved through the borough into Fox Chase. The Fox Chase Regional Rail Line was the surprise of the day. The ride was smooth passing several new train stations including a LEED Silver Fox Chase Station and many very scenic views along the Tookany/ Tacony Creek. While riding into Philadelphia sitting in the very front car with a great view down the tracks, I came to realize the huge capital funding challenge that SEPTA faces in maintaining the regional rail system.
At the colorful Market East Station, I switched trains once again and started my return to Norristown on the Malvern Local. This is a familiar route to me having ridden it throughout my life dating back to the Pennsylvania Railroad cars with the windows that you could open and the ceiling fans. Now with the new SEPTA rail cars and the upgraded AMTRAK rail bed, this is an incredibly smooth ride, though all of the stations are more or less the same. I had one last run from the Rosemont Station. With muscles screaming, I limped up the hill to the Garrett Hill Norristown High Speed Line Station, flipped on the stop light switch and waited for the last ride of the day. Also a familiar route, the quirky Norristown High Speed Line or as I will always know it, the P & W, has lots of charm, though we all miss the Liberty and Bullet cars as well as the infrequently used bar car. The last mile of the route is the best crossing the great newly repaired bridge over the Schuylkill River and into the Norristown Transportation Center. As the journey ended at 5:00 p.m., I spent a few moments on the platform taking in a sublime view of the transportation center in full motion (see photo below). In short the system works. That night in a near state of rigor mortis and drifting off from my big day, I imaged that I was retelling the story of my adventure to my old boss, mentor and friend, Arthur Loeben, who was the director of the Montgomery County Planning Commission for 38 years. Art being the consummate traveler and advocate of mass transit would have been intrigued and amused by my day long SEPTA trip. Somehow I could even imagine him smiling at the absurdity of it all while drinking in the first-hand experience- in the end he would have said in his deep rich voice “that’s a great adventure.”
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