PHILADELPHIA — A long-abandoned rail line is open for business again in Philadelphia, transformed into an elevated park and the city's answer to New York's High Line.
The quarter-mile-long Rail Park will open to visitors Thursday, the first phase of a park that supporters hope will eventually span 3 miles through the center of Philadelphia via former Reading Railroad tunnels, rail cuts and elevated platforms. The end result would be about twice the length and width of the High Line.
The first phase is a walkable oasis that rises above the gritty, post-industrial neighborhood called Callowhill. It features art installations, spaces for lounging, durable porch swings and amazing views of the city.
"The whole purpose was proof of concept. Could we actually renovate this rail line?" said Paul Levy, of the Center City District, a business improvement organization managing the first phase. "What I fully hope happens is that people will get to the end of the park and say 'Is this all?' The idea is to get people enthusiastic about what's next."
A timeframe for the next phase hasn't been established.
The Reading Railroad viaduct was built in the 1890s to carry passengers and freight to Center City. The last train traveled the rails in 1984 and the viaduct was left to deteriorate. In 2003, a grassroots neighborhood coalition began efforts for the creation of a park on the viaduct. Between 2014 and 2016, $10.3 million in funds were raised for construction, which got underway on Halloween 2016.
Julie Featherman has lived in the Callowhill neighborhood since 2002, drawn by the affordable townhouses, the proximity to downtown and the neighborhood feel that she compares to New York City's Meatpacking District in the 1980s. The hair salon owner said she's heard rumblings for nearly a decade about turning the overgrown ruins of the rail line into a park, and she thinks it's great it has finally come to fruition.
"It makes me feel excited for my neighborhood," she said. "It is industrial and gritty but it is the real thing, and I think people will like exploring it."
New York City's High Line — a 22-block elevated park — has helped transform neighborhoods on Manhattan's West Side. Luxury condos, galleries, restaurants and boutiques have all but pushed out the industrial grime around the old freight route.
Proponents think the same could happen in Philadelphia, which is fine with Featherman.
"I'm a little worried about parking, but that's about it," she said.