Oh come on, SEPTA, stop teasing us! “201 S. Bailey Road, Coatesville, PA, 19320”? There’s a lot of ambiguity about which borough or township or whatever Thorndale Station is in, but it sure as heck isn’t Coatesville…even though the Paoli/Thorndale Line should absolutely be extended there. But nope, we’re stuck with Thorndale, about three miles down the road and basically in the middle of nowhere. Maybe the station will be good, at least.
Thorndale has signs everywhere saying that trains could depart on either side. Now, I don’t know if this is true or not, but if it was, I would have two observations right off the bat: 1) it’s a huge pain to get between platforms because this station is the width of, like, ten tracks, and 2) it would stink to leave from the northern platform, because it’s way worse than the southern one. Why’s that, then?
Unlike the other side, the north (we’ll say “outbound”) platform is almost entirely low-level! There’s a mini-high platform way down, making for a super long trip for anyone who can’t use stairs. The eastern side has a shelter, at least, and beneath it is a decent amount of seating. You’ve also got wastebaskets, Key Card readers, train information, a help phone, and an LED train departure screen that just says “No Info Available.” (since we’re at a terminal station, I guess)
I like the way they’ve set up the exits from this platform: a winding ramp is there for those who need it, but there are also two staircases that provide more direct trips down. The pedestrian amenities on Lincoln Highway when you get to the bottom are pretty poor, with the only sidewalk leading toward the intersection with Bailey Road. That’s also the only place where you can cross the highway. But why would you want to do that…?
Despite Coatesville being in SEPTA’s service area, they can’t even be bothered to run a bus out there, so Krapf’s comes in to fill the gap. Their Route “A” runs from Coatesville to West Chester serving three Regional Rail stations along the way. Thorndale is the closest one to Coatesville, making it the best place to transfer if you’re heading out there. That means it would make a lot of sense if the closest westbound bus shelter wasn’t really inconvenient to access, requiring jaywalking to get to in the most efficient manner. Well…I guess no one thought to tell Krapf’s that. There is a stop with just a sign in a slightly more convenient place, and the eastbound shelter is super easy to get to (although I would guess that that’s the lesser-used direction).
Getting between the platforms is a bit of an ordeal, requiring one to use a grimy sidewalk elevated above the road underneath the railroad bridge. Mystery liquid drips down the walls, and watch out for the big metal plate that was totally blocking the sidewalk when I was here (although it’s probably gone now). I love the old Amtrak logos on the bridge, though – did Amtrak ever even stop here?
The other side of the station is where all of the parking is. A small lot right next to the platform only has disabled parking, with a total of ten spaces; it also pretty much functions as a drop-off area. Some bike racks at one end of the lot accommodate about six bikes, but annoyingly, no one thought to build a sidewalk from there to the stairs (yes, it’s a short distance along a quiet parking lot, but still). Meanwhile, across the street is the 447-space proper parking lot, which costs a dollar a day or $25 a month for a permit (free on weekends). Payment is in the form of coin-only honor boxes, but I would guess that the Key-based payment machines they’ve set up here are up and running by now.
Like with the outbound side, the inbound side features a crazy ramp. This one starts at the underpass beneath the tracks and snakes its way up to the platform via the accessible parking lot. There are also stair alternatives from both the underpass and the lot.
So again, there’s an apparent ambiguity about which side of the station trains will stop on. I don’t know if that’s true or not – I mean, when I was here, everybody knew to convene on the inbound side – but this southern platform is way better. Fully high level? Check. Lots of shelter? Check. Plenty of seating and amenities? Checkeroo. The one problem is, again, the real-time signs just saying “No info available,” but it’s a terminal station, so they probably can’t generate real-time predictions from here. Scheduled times would be nice, though. At any rate, this platform is leagues ahead of the one on the other side of the tracks.
Ridership: It’s pretty respectable for a Regional Rail station, especially one that really doesn’t get that much service: Thorndale gets 535 boardings per weekday and 558 alightings. If you divide the 558 figure by the 21 trains that serve the station every weekday, you get about 27 people coming here on each train. Even on the Saturday morning I was here, there were maybe 15 people who boarded the train.
Pros: It’s kind of amazing how neatly this station organizes its good bits and bad bits – all of the good parts are to the south. The inbound platform is fantastic (fully high level, amenities, the works), and the lots offer plenty of parking for both cars and bikes.
Cons: Meanwhile, the north side of the station has the mostly low-level outbound platform and the pretty weak pedestrian and bus infrastructure. For some more general notes, the ambiguity about which side the train is going to board on is frustrating given the length of time it takes to cross the tracks, although I would guess that most if not all trains board on the inbound side. Also, this station just doesn’t get great service – hourly on weekdays is okay, as is the roughly half-hourly rush hour schedule, but every 2+ hours on Saturdays? No Sunday service? Awful!
Nearby and Noteworthy: Welcome to, as the signs say, the “Thorndale Business District.” Here you’ll find a Wawa. An Applebee’s. A Kohl’s. Well, at least there’s a diner for breakfast and a pizza joint for dinner.
Final Verdict: 5/10
With the assumption that most to all trains board on the inbound side, I feel comfortable giving this a 5. It still has a lot of problems, from the low-level outbound platform to the limited service, but it feels wrong to give a suburban station with parking and a high-level platform a lower score. I mean, its purpose is to get suburbanites into the city, and it basically accomplishes that. Thorndale’s biggest flaw, though? Not being Coatesville. Let’s extend that line!
Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
This may be off topic, but is it possible you could do an article about Amtrak CEO Anderson and his deeds?
Not really my jurisdiction, and I think there’s already a lot of good documentation on the matter online. I thought the Wall Street Journal video did a good job showing both sides of the issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-jP4vh3z_A
Most inbound trains use the inbound platform there are however a few inbound trains that use the outbound platform during the AM rush hour and vice versa during the PM rush hour as you’ll see a couple outbound trains ending there runs at the inbound platform. If you think Thorndale is in the middle of nowhere just wait until you see Exton & Whitford
Good to know. Is there any way for people to know, or do they just have to find out the hard way and run across?
Not really…. Amtrak dispatches the trains on that line, and on occasion they will tell a crew to run up another mile to either CORK or several more to outside Parkesburg, so the old addage “any track in any direction at any time” definitely applies here
Not sure if you were aware of this, but SEPTA used to run to Coatesville, and beyond that to Parkesburg. The service was infrequent, with just three weekday departures (and none on weekends). Two were peak-hour express trains, with one all-stop local that ran mid-days.
As a Temple student in the mid-90’s, I commuted into Philly on Monday mornings and back out on Friday afternoons. I would usually grab one of the inbound express trains from Parkesburg, which provided a one-seat ride all the way to Temple for about $6.
Both Parkesburg and Coatesville residents can commute into Philly on Amtrak, which offers much faster, more comfortable and more frequent service than SEPTA ever did. The chief difference, of course, is that Amtrak is more expensive.
Hence why I rep for SEPTA re-expansion to at least Coatesville in the review.