The former Reading Viaduct, in the Callowhill neighborhood of Philadelphia, is starting to be renovated into an elevated park, known as the Rail Park. The Reading Viaduct was built in the 1890s and ran through the neighborhood to the Reading Terminal building on Market Street. It was used by many industries and attracted that industry to the Callowhill neighborhood. The Reading Viaduct was abandoned in the 1980s, as was most of the industrial buildings in Callowhill. But as many of these buildings have been renovated into apartments and office space, the Reading Viaduct looked attractive for redevelopment. The effort to create the Rail Park has been underway for roughly fifteen years and is being spearheaded by Friends of the Rail Park and the Center City District. It was designed by Studio Bryan Hanes and Urban Engineers. The first phase was recently completed and had an official opening a few weeks ago on a sunny weekday.
The Rail Park’s first phase is a quarter mile long. It is on a stretch of the former Reading Viaduct that extends from Broad Street and curves around, above ground, to about 12th and Callowhill Streets. A stairway leads to that end of the Rail Park on Callowhill Street. The steel overpasses over various streets have been strengthened and in some spots, replaced with new steel. The Broad Street entrance starts at street level and gradually rises, while the streets gradually lower towards 13th Street. At the entrance is a large rusted plaque detailing Philadelphia’s industrial and railroad history. The Rail Park has gravel and wooden surfaces, in between planting beds and planters. There are wooden benches and several industrial-style swings, made of steel girders and thick wooden seats. The ground has small plaques with poetry and memes in different languages and there is a large piece of artwork depicting birds on a series of wires over the section passing over 13th Street. The first phase provides unique views of much of Center City and North Philadelphia, and even the Ben Franklin Bridge.
The first phase of the Rail Park is an important milestone for the Callowhill neighborhood. Future phases would expand the park onto the rest of the abandoned viaduct, which is about two and a half miles extending towards Vine Street to the south and Spring Garden Street to the north. Another phase could extend the Rail Park onto a below grade section west of Broad Street, possibly including a bus lane down the middle, all the way to Brewerytown and Fairmount Park. It is believed that the Rail Park will lead to much new development in Callowhill and surrounding neighborhoods.