Why You Can’t Take the Train to the Philadelphia Zoo

PRR Zoo Tower
“The Zoo Tower in the 1950s”

When the Philadelphia Zoo opened in 1874 you could take a Pennsylvania Railroad train to the front gatehouse. But because of “railroad expansion,” the Zoological Garden stop closed in 1902. The Zoological Garden stop was at 34th and Girard Avenue.

After more than 100 years, though, zoo officials want to bring a SEPTA train stop to 34th Street and Mantua Avenue. They say that a new train station would ease traffic and increase attendance.

According to the Inquirer:

Currently, more than 80 percent of zoo visitors arrive by car or school bus. Most of the rest come on the SEPTA Route 38 bus or Route 15 trolley, or on the seasonal PHLASH shuttle managed by the Independence Visitor Center.

With attendance last year down by more than 85,000 visitors from 2009’s nearly 1,300,000, zoo officials see a revival of train service as a way to attract regional residents who don’t want to fight traffic or parking headaches. Fewer visitors’ cars parked on adjacent streets would also improve the zoo’s sometimes-testy relations with its neighbors.

Train service would also be a boon to residents in nearby Parkside, Mantua, Brewerytown and Powelton, who could walk to the station, [architect Robert P. Thomas, author of a rail feasibility study for the zoo] said.

SEPTA officials, though, are not so keen on a new $60 million zoo stop. In 2013, SEPTA Director of Strategic Planning Byron Comati called the section of track near the zoo, “One of the busiest exchange areas of train movements on the northeast corridor. So there’s a lot of competition for space. What you don’t want to do is put a station plunk in the middle, which could bring everything to a dead halt.”

Still, I hope SEPTA brings service back to the zoo. I’d love pack a picnic and take my kids in a restored GG1 locomotive from Center City along the same tracks above.