Explore the Rail Park Three Mile Vision: Phase One

Throughout the month of September expect to hear from us weekly, as we celebrate the launch of the Rail Park Time Capsule: a digital story map and archive that will visualize the stories, objects, spaces and places that sustain culture and hold historic value for the people that live, work, and play in the 10+ neighborhoods that the Rail Park touches.

We’re highlighting and revisiting the three mile vision for the Rail Park, exploring the historic and wild spaces along the site. Check our weekly newsletter and our social media each week to learn about the three mile vision for the Rail Park,  its distinct sections, and its potential to connect thousands of Philadelphians to the city and each other by greenway. 

This week, we’re exploring Phase One! Do you have a special memory or story associated with Phase One or the surrounding neighborhood?  Submit them to the Time Capsule by clicking here. As an added bonus, for every submission you make* to the Rail Park Time Capsule through September 10, you’ll be entered to win prizes local to the Phase One neighborhoods: 
– $50 Gift Card to Cafe Lift
– $50 Gift Card to El Purepecha
– $50 Gift Card to Bai Wei
– 2 Tickets to Underground Arts 
– Rail Park T-Shirt
– Rail Park Pin
– Special Feature in the Rail Park Time Capsule
*Max 5 entries

Keep scrolling to learn about the Rail Park vision, Friends of the Rail Park, and the history of Phase One. 

Map of Phase One - extending  Broad and Noble Street to between 11th and 12th and Callowhill Streets

Phase One of the Rail Park is part of a larger vision for three miles of linear park and pathway along the historic Reading Railroad. Friends of the Rail Park is advocating for the expansion of the Rail Park, to extend through 10+ vibrant Philadelphia neighborhoods from Northern Liberties to Brewerytown. The vision for the Rail Park began with Phase One: a ¼ mile stretch of park and pathway that opened in 2018 and serves the Chinatown, Callowhill, and Poplar neighborhoods. 

An artist assists two young girls to screen print a Rail Park design on paper A group of people does yoga in front of the Story Wall at the Rail Park
Screen printing at the Rail Park’s Third Birthday Party at Phase One Yoga at the Rail Park’s Third Birthday Party at Phase One The Reading Railroad was commissioned in 1833 to connect the coal-rich regions of Eastern Pennsylvania to metropolitan Philadelphia. Completed in 1839, the railroad supported the diverse network of industries that manufactured in the city, transporting newspapers, textiles, clothing, shoes, hats, metal tools, machine parts, locomotive trains and more on its route. Because of its booming economy and proximity to major railroads, Philadelphia became known as the ‘Workshop of the World’. 

1838 Topographic plan for the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad
1838 Topographic plan for the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad

1908 Article from Executive Committee of Founders Week. Title reads: "The Philadelphia of Today, the World's Greatest Workshop"
1908 article by the Executive Committee of Founders Week, on the 225th Anniversary of the City of Philadelphia In the mid-1900s, the City Beautiful Movement advocated for cities to enhance their aesthetic environment and improve urban landscape. Philadelphia sought to relocate large-scale manufacturers away from the city’s urban center. As many of the factories along the Reading Railroad left the city, the railroad went out of commission in 1984. The site fell into disuse and native and invasive plants took over the rails. Neighbors began adapting the space for new use, utilizing the green trails along the tracks and the underground Tunnel for travel, exploration, and recreation. Years of neglect have left most of the remaining route in a dilapidated and contaminated state, making it currently unsafe for public use. 

1963 image of the site of Phase One while an active train line 2015 image of the Phase One site while inactive Friends of the Rail Park was formed in the early 2000s by a group of neighbors who saw potential for a park along the former Reading Railroad. The original advocacy group began as volunteers – some of whom are still on our board of directors today! Friends of the Rail Park is a 501(c)3 organization that stewards and advocates for the Rail Park. Currently, we’re a small team of three employees, with support from board members, committees, community members and volunteers. We’re advocating for the Rail Park: a vision to transform a historic railway into three miles of linear park and pathway, enriching the health, culture, and ecology of the city, and creating inclusive opportunities for Philadelphians.

Map of the Three Mile Vision for the Rail Park, extending from Northern Liberties to Brewerytown. The map highlights four different sections: The Viaduct, Phase One, The Cut, and The Tunnel
Map of the Three Mile Vision for the Rail Park After years of advocacy, community conversations, and fundraising, Phase One of the Rail Park opened in June of 2018. Phase One, the first section of the Rail Park that is open to the public, was built on the original structure from the Reading Railroad and travels east from Broad Street, beginning above street level until it becomes entirely supported by the elevated viaduct structure. Phase One cost approximately $13 million, with funding from individual donors, foundation grants, city and state funding. The design, led by Studio Bryan Hanes and Urban Engineers, restores much of the existing steel and introduces materials of a similar industrial scale and style for the platforms, benches and guardrails. Friends of the Rail Park provides specialized maintenance services, programming, communications, advocacy, and fundraising for Phase One and future phases, while City of Philadelphia Department of Parks & Recreation provides base landscape services, and Center City District provides public safety services.

Aerial view of Phase One Ribbon cutting at Phase One
Aerial view of Phase One Ribbon cutting at Phase One opening day, 2018 Over 1,000 native plants live at Phase One. Many of the plants at the park today were previously found growing on the Viaduct and in the area that is now Phase One, such as Sumac, Spicebush, and Switchgrass. The plant life and elevated structure of the park absorb the noise of the streets below, creating a green oasis in the middle of the city. 

Butterfly weed, indicated by interpretive signage at Phase One Sumac trees line the elevated path at Phase One Among the greenery, there is art to explore. A Story Wall designed by Kate Otte and Cloud Geshan welcomes visitors as they enter from Broad Street. This 80-foot long “ghost map,” based on an 1895 city atlas, provides a dramatic visual reminder of what this industrial neighborhood, the Workshop of the World, once was. As one walks through the park, they can explore the Dawn Chorus installation, by Brett Wahl and Laynie Browne, which decorates an old telephone pole with metal bird sculptures, and includes poetry in several languages, engraved into bricks on the walking path. From the elevated portion of the park, visitors can look out onto the city streets to spot historic architecture and colorful murals, such as Shepard Fairey’s Stamp of Incarceration

Story wall at Phase One: a large steel 'ghost map' showing the neighborhood's industrial history Shepard Fairey's "Stamp of Incarceration" Mural, featuring James Anderson
Story Wall at the Noble Street entrance of Phase One Stamp of Incarceration Mural, seen from below Phase One You can explore the ecology, art, and history of Phase One from home with Sounds of the Rail Park! Tune in to our first podcast episode, that takes you on a guided tour through Phase One. 


Are you interested in learning more about Phase One?  On October 9, join Conrad Benner of Streets Dept, and CRAFTED, a collective of Black, Indigenous, and POC creatives, and Friends of the Rail Park Staff, for an exclusive tour of Phase One, exploring the unique history and culture of this section of the Rail Park and the surrounding neighborhoods. During this mini-tour and workshop, you’ll learn all about the past, present, and future of the park.


Do you have special memories associated with Phase One of the Rail Park, or ideas for the Rail Park’s future? Submit to the Rail Park Time Capsule! For every moment & memory* submitted through September 10, you’ll be entered to win a giveaway of prizes local to the Phase One neighborhood:
-$50 Gift Card to Cafe Lift
-$50 Gift Card to El Purepecha
-$50 Gift Card to Bai Wei
-2 Tickets to Underground Arts 
-Rail Park T-Shirt
-Rail Park Pin
-Special Feature in the Rail Park Time Capsule

*Max 5 entries


Support the Rail Park When you donate to The Rail Park, you’re supporting more than just a park. You’re supporting a space where community and culture can thrive. Your donation will help us turn a piece of Philadelphia’s history into a safe and fun place for everyone. 


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North Broad & Noble St.

© 2021 Friends of the Rail Park, All rights reserved.

THANK YOU: The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The William Penn Foundation, The Pennsylvania Department of Community Economic Development, The Philadelphia Cultural Fund, The 1830 Family Foundation, Comcast NBCUniversal, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, and the Board of Directors, members, and individual supporters of Friends of the Rail Park.