Merion is the true first stop on the Main Line. Overbrook? That’s not really the Main Line. It’s within the borders of Philadelphia, there are rowhouses within its walkshed, and it even has a few tall-ish buildings around it. Now compare that to Merion, which aside from one fancy apartment building (“Merion Manor”? C’mon.) is completely surrounded by big fancy houses. Now that’s the Main Line.
Merion’s inbound building was built in 1914, and it’s both beautiful and functional. It has long awnings on either side that give shelter to bike racks (accommodating about eight bikes if the space is used well), wastebaskets, newspaper boxes, and parking vending machines. I absolutely love the two little nooks it has that offer seating and train information, protecting riders from rain, sun, and wind since they’re tucked into the side of the building.
The building has more seating, bathrooms, a water fountain, and a ticket office inside, but of course it’s only open during the morning rush. There’s not a lot to write home about with the rest of Merion’s inbound platform – it’s pretty short, and there’s not much beyond the shelter of the building. The whole thing is low-level, so it’s not accessible, and it has those little steps that are meant to help people get onto the train more easily. A little path leads out to Idris Road.
A tunnel links the two platforms together, and it tends to be a dumping ground for leaves and rainwater. The outbound side is where most of the parking is, but there’s not a lot to begin with: 60 regular spaces ($1 a day), and 27 permit spaces on the inbound side for $25 a month, which is actually more expensive than just taking a regular space every day. I guess the extra cost comes with the convenience of getting a guaranteed spot. They’ve made sure to cram as many spaces into the tiny lot as possible, including a few isolated single ones in the middle.
Merion’s outbound platform is really nice, despite the fact that outbound traffic from here is probably very small. There’s a building on this side, too, but it’s occupied by the Merion post office. Still, it has long awnings that shelter benches, wastebaskets, and train information. One end of the platform has a little shed with blocked-out doors and windows, but there are two bike racks next to it.
Ridership: Third-lowest on the Paoli/Thorndale Line, and pretty dead on a Saturday. On the average weekday, the station gets 286 riders, with the residential surroundings ensuring that this one is very commuter-oriented.
Pros: The buildings are both gorgeous, and they serve functional purposes too, even when they’re closed (or occupied by a post office). It’s hard to beat the inbound side’s nooks with the benches in them, but the outbound building offers a ton of shelter, too. While the parking does fill up, it’s impressive that they managed to fit 87 spaces here to begin with!
Cons: Obviously the lack of wheelchair accessibility, but this is such a meaningless station that it’s not as big of a deal as with others. I’m sorry, but when SEPTA’s “alternate directions” here tell you to take a bus to Overbrook and walk, it’s kind of a sign that the station may be a little too close to its neighbor! Overbrook and Narberth, the neighboring stops, both get way higher ridership – Overbrook is in a denser area, and Narberth serves a town center. But little Merion is just in the middle of a residential neighborhood, a two-minute train ride from either of its neighbors. It serves a specialty crowd, to say the least.
Nearby and Noteworthy: The Merion Botanical Park is a beautiful park right next to the station, and while it’s small, it’s a lovely place to sit down and reflect on whether Merion’s train station should exist or not. The true purpose for the Merion visit, though, and the reason my friend Jeff took me here, was to have lunch at Hymie’s in downtown Merion, a little under a mile away. While it’s easier and cheaper (although not necessarily faster, depending on Schuylkill Expressway conditions) to get there with the 44 bus, Hymie’s is an amazing Jewish deli with giant portions, and you should totally go there if you haven’t already.
Final Verdict: 5/10
I like this station a lot, but it’s hard to give something a high score when your main complaint is that it probably shouldn’t exist. I also recognize that there is absolutely no chance that this station will ever be eliminated, so as long as we’re stuck with it slowing down Paoli/Thorndale trains, we might as well acknowledge that it has a ton of character. Still, this feels like one of the only stops on the Main Line that doesn’t “have” anything around it – no downtown, no nearby college (Saint Joe’s is closer to Overbrook), no big park-and-ride…it really is just for the neighborhood. And I’m just not sure if it’s worth stopping almost every train on SEPTA’s busiest Regional Rail line for a station that “really is just for the neighborhood.”
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