Double-ended Red Arrow 13 at the end of the line in West Chester (Gay and High Streets) circa 1954.
The same location today.
The Red Arrow Lines in Philadelphia’s western suburbs are a real example of perseverance. Privately owned and operated until 1970, and now by SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority), Red Arrow (or, as it was known for some time, the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company) can trace its origins back to 1848.
Only two lines (Media and Sharon Hill) remain of its vaunted interurban network. The smaller Ardmore trolley was replaced by bus at the end of 1966, with its private right-of-way portion converted into a dedicated busway.
Today, we celebrate the Red Arrow with some classic pictures, mainly featuring its longest line, between 69th Street Terminal in Upper Darby and West Chester. This is a distance of some 19 miles end to end along West Chester Pike.
The West Chester line was to some degree a victim of its own success. It helped stimulate growth in the region to such an extent that West Chester Pike was widened in 1954, displacing the trolley. It was replaced by buses.
The Red Arrow story is made all the more remarkable when you consider that much of this line was single-track, and still does not provide a one-seat ride into downtown Philadelphia. Riders must change trains at 69th Street Terminal and ride the Market-Frankford subway into town.
Lack of a one-seat ride into Chicago’s Loop is widely credited with killing off the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin interurban, which ended passenger service in 1957. But Red Arrow has never had a one-seat ride and its service continues to this day.
Much credit for its survival must go to Merritt H. Taylor, Jr. (1922-2010), who guided it into the modern era, and finally had little choice but to sell out to SEPTA. Red Arrow was one of the very last holdouts against public ownership and set a very high standard for the industry.
From what I have heard, Merritt Taylor was something of a “closet railfan,” who learned to operate the cars as a youth and sometimes took them out for late-night “joy rides” to West Chester.
In 1954, Philadelphia Suburban Transportation purchased the Philadelphia and Western, which operated the Norristown High-Speed Line. This 13 1/2 mile long, grade-separated third-rail route also continues today under SEPTA.
Until 1956, the Norristown line included a branch to Strafford, which gave name to the famous Strafford cars that ran alongside the more well-known Bullets. Today, SEPTA is working on plans to extend the High-speed Line to King of Prussia.
For the longest time, Red Arrow favored J. G. Brill railcars, which were built in nearby Philadelphia, including Master Units and Brilliners in the 1930s and 40s. But with that firm’s exit from the market in the early 1940s, there was one order of double-ended cars circa 1949, made by St. Louis Car Company.
Although those cars had styling very much like PCC streetcars, they had conventional interurban running gear and are thus not technically considered “true” PCCs. Service on the Media and Sharon Hill lines is handled by 29 modern Kawasaki cars, built in 1981.
We hope that you will enjoy this trip down memory lane in the Keystone State. Meanwhile, back here in Chicago, one can only wonder what fate might have awaited the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin if it had been run by Merritt Taylor, Jr. in the 1950s. For all we know, it might still be with us in some form.
As for West Chester, SEPTA ran commuter rail service there until 1986, when it was cut back due to deteriorating track conditions. There are hopes for restoring service by the year 2040. Meanwhile, the bus service that replaced the West Chester trolley remains popular and convenient.
You can read my 2013 report on the Media trolley centennial fantrip here. (Videos are here.)
PS- You can read an interesting report on the Ardmore line and its busway successor here.
Red Arrow 78 and 80 in 1959. These were Brill-built “Master Units.” Garrett Patterson adds, “It might be pointed out with the second image, that both 78 & 80 operate to this day, #78 at PTM in Washington, PA, and #80 at Steamtown.”
Red Arrow 17. Michael T. Greene writes, “The first picture of Red Arrow 17 was taken in Media, probably at the end of the line, sometime starting in 1956, based on the 1956 Plymouth parked (or passing) by the trolley.” Kenneth Achtert: “The shot of #17 is at the end of the line in Media (Orange St.) as evidenced by the two poles raised as the operator is in the process of changing ends.”
350 W. State Street in Media, the end of the Media light rail line.
Near 69th Street Terminal. This is where the Ardore and West Chester lines (left) converged with Media and Sharon Hill (right). Over the years, the tracks to the left have been cut back to just a few short blocks where cars can be stored.
Brilliner 6 in Ardmore service near 69th Street Terminal circa 1954.
Near 69th Street Terminal.
A Brilliner near 69th Street Terminal.
A West Chester car at 63rd and Market in 1905. (Robert Foley, Jr. Collection)
Car 12 at a passing siding along West Chester Pike circa 1954.
Near 69th Street Terminal circa 1954.
Car 12 at a passing siding along West Chester Pike circa 1954.
Brilliner 3 at the end of the line in West Chester, circa 1954. This car is an Express. There were many photos taken here over the years, by the W. T. Grant dime store. The line was single track going into town.
An outbound car in “side of the road” operation along West Chester Pike, circa 1954. Matt Nawn: “The scene of #22 outbound along West Chester Pike appears to be near Broomall. The homes along this part of West Chester Pike look much the same today. Zooming in on the photo, a former Acme store near the intersection of West Chester Pike and PA Route 320 can be seen in the background. “
The same location today. That certainly appears to be the same house at right. We are looking west on West Chester Pike in Broomall, just east of PA Route 320.
Near 69th Street Terminal.
A Sharon Hill train at 69th Street Terminal, circa 1954. Garrett Patterson: “Sharon Hill Train of Center Doors was most likely a School Tripper servicing Archbishop Pendergast (girls) and Msgr. Bonner (boys) at Lansdowne Ave.” On the other hand, Matt Nawn says, “The two-car train of center door cars is probably a few years too early to be a school tripper to Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast High Schools (combined into one school in recent years). These schools did not open until the late 1950s.”
Double-end car 14, a product of St. Louis Car Company, signed for Sharon Hill in the 69th Street Terminal circa 1954. Garrett Patterson: “Where #14 is shown loading at 69th St., the track was paved to street rail condition days before the cessation of West Chester car service for the startup of the W Bus which took its place.”
Caption: 2 car “MU” Train, which operated along with an extra single car behind it on the last rail trip (by MPRA Club) to West Chester, PA., Sunday, June 6, 1954.
Car 12 in August 1952. Garrett Patterson: “Llanerch Car house.” Kenneth Achtert: “That shot of #12 in August 1952 would be at the Llanerch car barn. The street at the top of the hill behind the cars is West Chester Pike, and the car barn structure is to the right out of the frame.” (Arthur B. Johnson Photo)
This postcard, showing the end of the line in West Chester, was mailed in 1907. The view is the opposite of the one shown at the top of this page. Caption: “You might take the early trolley to Atlantic. Think the photo is something worth having, thanks.”
The same view today. That’s the Greentree building at left, built around 1930.
Red Arrow 41 on the West Chester line in 1945.
Cars 14, 20 and 68 at a photo stop along the West Chester line on the June 6, 1954 NRHS fantrip.
Brill “Master Unit” 78, built in 1932, at the West Chester end of the line on August 24, 1941. This car is now preserved at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, PA.
Car 19 along West Chester Pike. What was once a “side of the road” operation is now part of the road. This long view gives you some idea of the distances involved on this 19-mile line.
Car 17 at a passing siding along West Chester Pike on April 25, 1954.
Car 66 (plus one) at Edgemont Siding on the West Chester line.
Cars 14 and 15 running in multiple unit operation at the West Chester end of the line on June 6, 1954.
Cars 69 and 71 at the West Chester end of the line on June 6, 1954.
Cars 69 and 71 at the West Chester end of the line on June 6, 1954.
Cars 14 and 15 at the West Chester end of the line on June 6, 1954.
Young railfan with a box camera, 62 years ago.
This picture shows Red Arrow Brilliner 8 and an older car at the end of the Ardmore branch on May 15, 1949. It looks like the older car is in fantrip service, while the Brilliner is the regular service car ahead of it. The Ardmore branch was replaced by buses in 1966.
Here, Red Arrow Brill Master Unit 86 is the regular service car at the end of the line in West Chester, with the older fantrip car behind it. Again, the date is May 15, 1949.
Red Arrow 66 and 7t6 at St. Albans Siding in Newtown Square on June 6, 1954.
Here, we see Red Arrow car 66 heading up a two-car train on May 6, 1962. This is the Clifton-Aldan stop on the Sharon Hill line.
The same location today.
Red Arrow car 21 on the private right-of-way section of the Ardmore line. Since Ardmore was converted to bus at the end of 1966, this area has been paved over to create a dedicated busway.
The photo caption reads, “Two car streamline train arriving at Norristown, looking up from R. R. tracks.” The date is May 12, 1935, meaning these “Bullet” cars were just a few years old.
Although the late Merritt Taylor, Jr. may have been, in some fashion, a “closet railfan,” he was also responsible for the ill-fated Railbus experiment on the Red Arrow Lines in 1967-68. This was an attempt to replace rail with buses that could also run on railroad tracks. Fortunately, the effort proved to be a failure. Taylor had found that he couldn’t simply convert all his rail lines to bus service, without losing much of the rights-of-way in turn due to the terms under which rail service had started many years earlier. It turns out that the requirements of a railcar and a bus are too much different to be combined into a single vehicle. Within a couple years of this experiment, Taylor sold Red Arrow to SEPTA, and the Norristown, Media and Sharon Hill lines remain rail to this day.
Red Arrow “Master Unit” 79 is inbound in 1949 on either the Media or Sharon Hill line, in spite of the sign saying Ardmore (thanks to Kenneth Achtert for that correction). He adds, “It was (still is) standard practice for Red Arrow operators, when changing ends at the outer end of their route, to set the sign on what would be the rear of the car for the inbound trip to read their next outbound destination. Thus, when the car arrived at 69th St. Terminal and went around the loop to the boarding platform the rear destination sign was already set. This was actually the more important sign, as most passengers approached the cars from the rear coming from the main terminal (and from the Market-Frankford Elevated line).” (Mark D. Meyer Photo)
Red Arrow “Master Unit” 82 is at the 69th Street Terminal on August 8, 1948. (Walter Broschart Photo)
On September 12, 1959, Philadelphia Suburban Transportation 3, a 1941 “Brilliner,” is on Lippincott Avenue north of County Line Road, on the short Ardmore line which was bussed in 1966.
Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company (aka “Red Arrow”) cars 5 and 14 pose at 69th Street Terminal on June 22, 1963. The car at left is a Brilliner, from the last batch of trolleys built by Brill in 1941. The car at right was built by the St. Louis Car Company in 949. Although it looks much like a PCC, it was not considered such as it had standard interurban trucks and motors. Both types of cars were double-ended.
A SEPTA commuter train, ex-PRR, at West Chester in May 1979. SEPTA rail service to this station ended in 1986, but the West Chester Railroad began running a not-for-profit tourist operation of train service on weekends between West Chester and Glen Mills in 1997. (Photo by Paul Kutta)
PS- Here is a video with many additional pictures of the Red Arrow Railbus:
A Red Arrow PCC!
Kenneth Gear writes:
I really enjoyed the latest Trolley Dodger installment about the Red Arrow Lines.
Although the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company never owned a “true” PCC, one SEPTA PCC car, number 2799, was painted in their red & cream paint scheme! This car is single ended, unlike Red Arrow cars, but it was built by the St. Louis Car Company only a year earlier than the red arrow cars.
On May 7, 1995 I rode a Wilmington (DE) Chapter NRHS fan trip using Red Arrow painted car# 2799. Here are a few pictures.
For the last ten years or so, 2799 has been in the collection of the Baltimore Streetcar Museum.
All photos by Kenneth Gear:
PCC 2799 at Woodland Avenue & 60th Street, Kingsessing, PA.
2799 on Girard Avenue at St. Bernard, West Philadelphia, note cobble stones in road.
2799 on Lancaster Avenue & 41st Street, Barins, PA.
2799 on Girard Avenue at Corinthian, North Philadelphia.
2799 at the Market Frankford Line Girard station, Philadelphia.
The Red Arrow logo as applied to SEPTA PCC car # 2799.
PS- Here is a video tour of the Ardmore busway:
Also, video of West Chester trolleys:
The Chicago, Aurora & Elgin
Chicago, Aurora & Elgin 309 heads up a four-car train of woods circa 1940. This “coffee and cream” paint job is not often seen in color pictures. This one, however, has the appearance of being hand-colored, most likely not digital, either. The original was faded, which would not happen with digital. This is more like an old colorized postcard.
The CA&E Spring Road station in Elmhurst in the mid-1950s.
My guess is this 1950 CA&E scene shows the end of the line in Elgin, If so, the commuter rail coaches on the other side of the river belong to the Milwaukee Road.
A CA&E for-car train of steels, headed up by 460. Some think this may be 25th Avenue in Bellwood.
CA&E wood car 26. (Paul H, Stringham Photo) Don’s Rail Photos: “26 was built by Niles Car in 1902. It was modernized in June 1943 and retired in 1959.”
CA&E wood car 314 at an unknown location. Don’s Rail Photos says, “314 was built by Kuhlman Car Co in 1909, #404. It was modernized at an unknown date.” (Paul H. Stringham Photo)
This Chicago “mystery photo” showing two young girls is dated 1943. But where was it taken? The “L” structure in the background has some ornamentation, and we see a gate car as well as a 4000. Since the 4000s were all put onto the State Street subway when it opened in October 1943, this picture probably dates to a late snowfall in spring. So far, our best guess is this may be Independence Boulevard on the Garfield Park “L”.
From Andre Kristopans, following up on some earlier correspondence we had regarding CTA transfer regulations:
A few items –
Half-fare for high school students started 5/10/1943. Before that half fare was strictly for 7 to 11 years old, and I guess grammar school kids, though this I have never seen actually spelled out anywhere. Until 7/23/1961 there were two kinds of student permits, those that allowed reduced rate travel 24/7 and cost $1 per year, and those that allowed travel only to and from school on school days that were issued by the schools free. I remember those – they would be accepted anywhere from about 6 to 8 am, and only within one block of the school after letout.
Transfer regulations remained remarkably constant for all the years that map transfers were in use. Basically good at points of intersection, divergence, convergence, and extension with travel only in the same general direction. Walking transfers were basically within two city blocks, such as between the 92-Foster/NW Highway bus and 151-Sheridan bus at Berwyn.
Transfers were free until 7/23/61, then charged 5 cents. This also caused two minor changes in procedures. ID checks showing that you paid the express fare were now needed on Evanston Express trains south of Loyola, and ID checks of a different sort were issued by ticket agents when they were opening and closing stations. Before, you just got a regular transfer.
The problem with CMC was that CMC fares were HIGHER than CTA’s. CSL went from 7 to 8 cents 4/20/42, while CMC and CRT were already 10. CRT went to 12 cents 5/24/46. CTA went to 10 cents 10/1/47 on surface, CMC was 20 by 10/1/52, while CTA had only hit 20 on 6/1/52. Unfortunately I do not have any better info on changes in this time period. I have a CTA listing somewhere that detailed some of this, maybe I will find it one day… When I was doing much of this research in the 1980’s, I basically just went thru the service bulletins that sometimes had fare stuff, but often not, and I never did dig thru the fares bulletins.
This much I can tell you, though: As of 10/1/47 transfers surface to surface were free, transferring to the L paid 2 cents to agent at station, as L fare was 12 cents. I do not know for sure what CMC was at the time, but coming from CMC to surface was free, to L was 2 cents to the ticket agent, so CMC fare must have been 10c as of 10/1/47. Only thing I can surmise is that CMC must have raised fares more or less as CTA did, to 13 in 1948, 15 in 1949, 17 in 1951 and 20 in 1952.
If you want to see how the transfers worked, look under irm-cta.org – documentation – service pamphlets – 02/60 transfer regulations. In some ways a very complex system, but in other ways very straight-forward and very hard to cheat.
As a note of interest – on 10/1/43 when the subway opened, the schedule for the North-South, which included Ravenswood-Loop, Wilson-Loop, Wilson-Kenwood, and Stock Yards wood car routes, called for 416 steel and 284 wood cars, 840 trainmen, 230 ticket agents, 20 switchmen, 54 towermen, 38 porters, and carried 64% (325,000) of the L system’s passengers.
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