Broad Street Subway Substation, Waverly St.

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Built to Last: J.G. Brill’s “Bullets”

The below is the business end of one of the city’s most recognizable industrial products. Like the Stetson hat, the Atwater Kent radio, a Disston saw, or a Cramp’s ship, the trolleys and interurban cars produced by the J.G. Brill Company at 31st and Chestnut and later 62nd and Woodland were some of the most sophisticated and durable pieces of industrial machinery ever to roll off a Philadelphia assembly line. The below car in SEPTA livery, a Brill “Bullet,” #206 was designed in 1931 and is a specimen of industrial design that plied the rails between 69th St. Terminal and Norristown until 1990.

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“The Weight of Tradition”: A history of SEPTA’s formation

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Everyone is down on SEPTA but no one has ever considered the difficulty of melding various independent private transit systems into a cohesive whole.  From a “long view” of SEPTA one can truly say they are “Serious About Change.”

This is precisely what I argue in this paper: a history of SEPTA’s bureaucratic formation from roughly 1958 to 1983.   I urge transit buffs, Philadelphia historians, ex-PRR, RDG, and SEPTA officials to comment.

SEPTA: “A Total Transit Complex”?

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When SEPTA’s chairman William McConnon assumed control of the patchwork system in 1972, he announced an ambitious plan to knit the system together and adapt the spoke-and-hub arrangement of the commuter, subway, and el lines into what he termed “a total transit complex.”  He tried to fashion a system that would allow greater cross city movement and at “transit nodes” to provide a variety of movement options for users.  He looked to the well-developed systems of London and Paris for guidance.  In Philadelphia, McConnon’s plan called for the activation of previously unused rights-of-way, like this Reading Railroad cut just north of Callowhill St.  I’ve never fully understood why this plan was never fully implemented, and I’m not sure if many Philadelphians are aware of what SEPTA could have become.  My thought is that labor disputes and the additional stresses of assuming more and more operating responsibilities caused SEPTA to table McConnon’s “total transit complex” plan.  Click here for a larger version of the above map and some other documents.