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Rail Park officially breaks ground on 1st phase

Center City District still needs $800K

A view of construction workers standing behind an abandoned rail line.
City and state officials celebrated the groundbreaking of the 1st phase of the Rail Park.
Photos by Melissa Romero

Officials wasted no time putting shovel to ground at the future Rail Park after receiving a long-awaited state grant in late September. Hundreds of people gathered yesterday at 13th and Noble streets for the official groundbreaking for the 1st phase of the park.

“Is this just too exciting?” Representative Mike O’Brien asked the crowd gathered at the park’s entrance. “The most exciting thing about this project is that it’s happened the way it should—it’s come from the people.”

O’Brien, Mayor Jim Kenney, and Governor Tom Wolf joined the Center City District and Friends of the Rail Park in breaking ground on the $10.3 million project that’s been in the works since 2010. Since the feasibility study began that year, Friends of the Rail Park and the CCD have been trying to drum up funds and support for the project, which will ultimately transform 3 miles of the abandoned Reading Rail line into a public park.

From left to right: Mayor Jim Kenney; Governor Tom Wolf; Friends of the Rail Park president Sarah McEneaney; Center City District president Paul Levy; Councilman Mark Squilla; and Representative Michael H. O’Brien.

But many began to doubt that the park would ever happen, even though the Bryan Hanes Studio renderings for the first phase were approved two years ago. Adding to the delay, the state budget impasse of 2015 held up the last $3.5 million the CCD needed to break ground.

“It takes 9 months to make a baby but sometimes 9 years to make a project,” Mayor Kenney joked.

Even with the groundbreaking, CCD president Paul Levy confessed yesterday that they still need to raise $800,000 to help pay AP Construction, which last week won the construction bid issued last July. Instead of relying on another state grant, the CCD has launched an online fundraising campaign at fundtherailpark.org.

Levy says things will be fairly quiet along the Rail Park for the next few weeks as AP Construction conducts its own analysis of the site, which SEPTA is currently leasing to the CCD. Official construction should begin by December and finish up in 14 to 15 months.

Construction workers immediately began work on the trail after the groundbreaking.

If all goes to plan, the first phase of the park, a quarter-mile stretch, should open in early 2018.

Once all is said and done, CCD will hand over the park to the city.

“Philadelphia does open space really well already,” Governor Wolf said. “This is just going add luster to the open space that Philadelphia does so well.”