The Rail Park, built on blight, finally opens

The Rail Park, built on blight, finally opens

Hundreds crowded onto Philadelphia’s brand-new Rail Park built atop the century-old Reading Railroad viaduct as it opened to the public for the first time on Thursday.

“The public will be overjoyed once they have the opportunity to explore this unique park and experience its breathtaking view, marvelous giant swings and beautiful landscaping,” Philly Parks and Recreation Commissioner Katherine Ott Lovell said in a statement.

The new park was in construction since 2016 on former elevated railroad tracks that were known as a destination for artists and lowlifes in the Trestletown neighborhood.

Phase 1 of the Rail Park opened on June 14 – including the tracks from 13th and Noble Streets to Callowhill Street. The overall $10.8 million project will eventually stretch 3 miles.

The rebirth of the Rail Park first became a subject of serious study in 2010. The final design was settled upon in 2012.

The park’s opening was actually moved earlier in April, after the Center City District (CCD) said it had determined it would be safe to preserve the original historic structure of the elevated tracks built in the 1800s for commuter and freight trains. CCD said renovating the 130-year-old railroad bridge, instead of demolishing and rebuilding it, would save $50 million and allow them to open the Rail Park a month earlier than expected. The Rail Park will also be subject to annual inspections.

“It has been a top priority of my administration to bring recreation opportunities and green space to all neighborhoods,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “Every community deserves to have vibrant, public spaces where everyone is welcomed. This park will not only help anchor Callowhill and the surrounding area, it will also serve as a stimulus for commercial and residential development in the neighborhood.”

Built in 1890, the Reading Railroad Viaduct saw its last train in 1984. “The viaduct rapidly succumbed to weeds and disrepair,” CCD said.

SEPTA in 1995 acquired the section of the viaduct converted into The Rail Park Phase 1. The land will now be owned by the city and maintained and managed by the Department of Parks & Recreation, the Friends of the Rail Park, and the CCD.

Planners now have their eyes set on extending the Rail Park eastward along tracks to 9th and Fairmount that currently still belong to Reading International.

“The Rail Park’s Phase 1 is a proof-of-concept that will be used to advance the next phase of the project: the undeveloped area of the viaduct to the east of the Rail Park,” CCD said.

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