The Chestnut Hill East Line takes a pretty odd route through Northwest Philly – it’s generally straight, except for what is essentially a deviation where the track goes out of the way from the path you would expect it to take. Of course, it’s to serve Germantown, a super major, densely populated neighborhood! So…now we have to figure out why a station in such an urban area is one of the least-used on the system.
It’s interesting that such an urban station provides parking, and I wonder if the perpetual emptiness of its lots suggest that they may not be needed. I was here on a Saturday, but even the “availability” section of the Germantown station page suggests that 15 out of the station’s 25 spaces are available on any given weekday (at least, that’s what I’ve always assumed that means, but it’s so vague). Also, there are more than 25 spaces here. Like, I didn’t count them all, but even in the photo above, you can see that these spaces are clearly numbered “28” and “29”! I think SEPTA just forgot that there’s a secondary lot on the south side of the station. Of course, they also care so little about the lots here that parking is free.
But if you’re, like, a normal person who commutes to an urban neighborhood station without using a car, there are several options for you, too! As far as direct bus connections go, the 26, J, and K all share a stop (just signs, no benches or shelter) right near the station, but it’s also a short walk to the 23 and 65. Meanwhile, if you’re on a bike, SEPTA claims there’s room for eight of ’em. But, uhh, I only found two bike racks, and one of them had a newspaper box slapped in front of it. So, like, room for three bikes, or four if you have a really skinny one…
Oof, okay, not much to talk about once we’re up here, is there? Like every Chestnut Hill East station, this one isn’t wheelchair accessible, so you can only get up with stairs (while a decently un-dingy tunnel lets you cross beneath the platforms). Credit where credit is due, the cracking platform is entirely sheltered, but its coverage isn’t great. Also credit where credit is due, the inbound side gets one whole bench, so I guess that’s nice. And that’s about all the partial credit I’ll be giving to a station that otherwise deserves a failing grade…
Ridership: So why is this urban Regional Rail station the 18th-least used on the system, with just 102 boardings per day? Well, probably because “urban” and “Regional Rail” are, at least in Philadelphia, oxymorons. Imagine if the Chestnut Hill East Line ran more often than kind-of-hourly, and if it cost less than 6 bucks to go the less than 6 miles to Center City from here. Maybe then Germantown would actually, you know, get ridership.
Pros: Well, hey, I had my two “credit where credit is due” moments – the whole platform is sheltered, and the inbound side has one singular bench. Also, I guess it’s nice that there’s parking, and the tunnel is, uhhh, not that dingy. Okay, but for a genuine good thing: the station is in a good location. It’s really close to the commercial center of Germantown.
Cons: I could take two angles here. The first is that the station is abysmal: it has way too much parking for a stop in an urban area, and a lower-income one at that, while the platforms are incredibly barebones and inaccessible. Cracking paint and the newspaper box shoved in front of a bike rack are just further indications of the level of caringness put into this stop. But then I could also argue that all of these things are okay because the ridership is so low – but the ridership is so low because Regional Rail is such an unhelpful service for Germantown residents. A frequent rail link to Germantown would be amazing, but as it stands, the cheap and frequent bus is a far more convenient service, even if it is much slower.
Nearby and Noteworthy: There’s a huge variety of businesses at and around the nearby intersection of Germantown and Chelten Aves, from an espresso bar to a jazz club to – whoa! – a combined cafe and bookstore! Most of Germantown’s historical houses are a little further away, but they’re absolutely accessible from here.
Final Verdict: 3/10
Hahaha, yeah, this is a really bad station. It’s a positive feedback loop, though: the low ridership, a result of the structure and target ridership for Regional Rail, causes SEPTA to care about the station less. And the neglect (i.e. the station’s general awfulness) certainly can’t help to increase ridership or keep existing levels stable. My final say on the matter is that the Chestnut Hill East line is short enough and urban enough to be its own rapid transit line. Hmmm…
Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
The route was initially intended to reach Norristown but the terrain northwest of Germantown was too inhospitable so the destination was changed, hence why the train veers up through East Mt Airy to Chestnut Hill. Another line was constructed along the Schuylkill to reach Norristown, now the Manayunk/Norristown Line.
That’s FASCINATING! Thank you for the history, I never knew that!