Fox Chase residents awaiting rails-to-trails project

A new trail on a former SEPTA regional line would link to Lorimer Park in Montgomery County

The former Newtown Branch of SEPTA’s Fox Chase regional rail line starts at Rhawn Street and Elberon Avenue. PHOTO: GOOGLE MAPS

Leaders of the Fox Chase Homeowners Association briefed residents on the progress of two neighborhood improvement projects during the civic group’s monthly meeting on July 12.

FCHA board member Chuck Tucker has spent more than two years advocating for the city’s conversion of a former commuter railroad into a park trail. Last week, he reported the community may finally get to see a detailed plan next fall.

The abandoned tracks begin just north of Fox Chase station at Rhawn Street and Elberon Avenue and continue northward to connect with Montgomery County’s Lorimer Park. The tracks extend for less than a half-mile within Philadelphia, but they are part of a 15-mile, multi-county rail line known as the Newtown Branch.

Constructed in the 1870s, the tracks most recently served SEPTA’s R8 line from Fox Chase to Newtown, Bucks County. SEPTA launched the Newtown service in 1981, but discontinued it two years later. Conrail reportedly ran trains sporadically on the tracks as late as 1988, but the tracks have remained idle since then.

In recent years, rails-to-trails advocates have pushed to convert the entire 15-mile passage into a recreational path, but have faced opposition from homeowners and lawmakers in municipalities along the route, particularly in Northampton Township, Bucks County.

Almost nine miles of the proposed trail would pass through Bucks, with about half of that in Northampton. Elsewhere in Bucks, officials in Newtown Borough, as well as Newtown, Middletown and Upper Southampton townships, have all approved the trail project. But Northampton supervisors voted, 3–2, in December to block the project at the urging of several hundred township residents whose homes abut the old railroad bed.

In the meantime, Philadelphia’s City Planning Commission used grant funding in late 2014 to underwrite a feasibility study on the city’s portion of the old railroad. Now, the city has funding in place to carry out the rails-to-trails conversion, Tucker said.

Tucker has tried to get information on the project schedule but has learned only that it’s in a design phase.

“Hopefully in September we’ll have someone here (at the Fox Chase Homeowners meeting) with some sort of display to show us,” he said.

In an unrelated public project, Homeowners Vice President Matt Braden reported that improvements have been delayed at the children’s playground in Burholme Park due to the delayed delivery of materials for resurfacing the play area. Braden cited a conversation with City Councilman Brian O’Neill for the update.

Prior to the delay, the playground was scheduled for reopening by the end of July, but that timeline has been extended, Braden said.

Also during last week’s meeting, Fox Chase Town Watch President Steve Phillips invited the public to join the annual National Night Out festivities at Fox Chase Elementary School on Tuesday, Aug. 1.

The free event generally attracts more than 1,000 visitors for demonstrations by Philadelphia police and firefighters, as well as dozens of information tables. Merchants will pass out snacks and refreshments. The event is meant to enhance the partnership between police and residents of the community. ••

William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com. Follow the Times on Twitter @NETimesOfficial.