Abstract: SEPTA to the Metroliner: From a Culture of Mobility to a Culture of Speed

Albert Churella


Commuter rail lines have long been vital to the provision of mobility in the Northeastern United States. This was particularly true in Philadelphia, where the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Reading Company operated a 265-mile commuter network. In 1960 the City of Philadelphia established the Passenger Service Improvement Corporation (PSIC) to subsidize PRR and Reading commuter services. The following year, city officials created the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Compact (SEPACT), in an effort to bring suburban counties into the planning process associated with commuter rail. Federal assistance ultimately rescued Philadelphia's commuter-rail service, and likewise saved area residents and elected officials from internecine political battles over funding. The process of soliciting federal funds for local rail projects also immersed city officials in the rapidly changing arena of Washington politics. Among the chief beneficiaries were Philadelphia mayor Richardson Dilworth and city solicitor David Berger. Like many in the Johnson administration, they envisioned that the Pennsylvania Railroad might operate Metroliner service at a steady 150 miles per hour between the nation's political and commercial capitals. The same techniques that they employed in developing federal funding for local transit in the Philadelphia region they transferred to attempts to develop federal funding for regional high-speed rail.