Abstract: External and Internal Networks on the Pennsylvania Railroad: The Philadelphia Improvements

Albert Churella


For much of its history, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) worked with the city of Philadelphia to develop the optimal location for a passenger terminal. In the process, the PRR struggled to balance its operating requirements against the convenience of its passengers, yet also conformed to growing civic demands for urban planning. This paper traces a series of railway terminal schemes; some sponsored by the Railroad, others by the City, beginning in 1888. The primary focus is on the Philadelphia Improvements agreement that the two parties negotiated in 1925. This agreement, in which the PRR acquiesced almost completely to the City's demands, led to the creation of a new long-distance passenger facility (30th Street Station) and a new commuter rail terminal (Suburban Station), along with numerous additional structures. More significantly, the Philadelphia Improvements involved the PRR in two types of networks. The first was a broad-based urban network that severely constrained the Railroad's options in Philadelphia, elevating the "City Beautiful" vision of urban planning above the Railroad's operating requirements. The second was a network internal to the PRR, one that allowed executives to transcend departmental fiefdoms and to establish interpersonal connections that would prove extraordinarily valuable in the operation of the Railroad as a whole.

BEH On-Line Paper