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From: "James Dent" james DOT dent AT itochu DOT com
Date: Mon, 9 Apr 2001 09:30:42 -0400
Subject: North Philadelphia, PA
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From the Philadelphia Weekly...

Station Stop
Some see the closing of the ticket office at the North Philadelphia Amtrak
station as an ominous sign for the neighborhood's future.


The North Philadelphia Amtrak station, at Broad and Glenwood, has served as
the perfect backdrop for politicians promising urban renewal at press
conferences over the past several decades.

The late '80s in particular brought promising possibilities that the depot
would be restored as the anchor of a much-needed shopping center at the edge
of what has now become the northern corridor of the Avenue of the Arts.

In 1988, then-Congressman Bill Gray hopped aboard the positive-publicity
express by announcing that Amtrak and a private developer were putting up
$14 million for the plan. But the development didn't materialize

Six years later, U.S. Rep. Tom Foglietta returned to announce an $18 million
improvement project he called "a good example ... of the work I do in

The improvements were ultimately made. Today the station stands as a beacon
of new development next to a multimillion-dollar Pathmark and a strip of
businesses so clean they look out of place.

But last week, an announcement posted inside the historic station left North
Philadelphia residents, politicians, developers and Amtrak commuters fearful
that the turn-of-the-century structure could again become a trash-strewn
graffiti canvas that few commuters will utilize.

The announcement stated that the station's ticket office had been closed,
forcing commuters to buy their tickets on the train after waiting outside on
a platform for their ride. The lone North Philadelphia employee was
reassigned to 30th Street Station.

Amtrak claims it's no big deal since riders can get tickets after climbing
aboard. The changes, Amtrak maintains, will not affect the number of trains
that stop at the station.

"We had very little business going through that office," says Amtrak
spokeswoman Cecilia Cummings. "This is cost-efficient."

Cummings blames a company-wide streamlining process for the move, adding
that just 2,824 people boarded or disembarked from a train in North
Philadelphia last year compared with 3,879 in 1998. At 30th Street Station,
the number approaches four million.

"Even though we can no longer really call it a station, the customers there
are very important," says Cummings. "But in looking at every area of our
operations, it just wasn't paying off there. When your costs exceed your
revenues, it's just not smart to stay open."

But City Councilman Darrell Clarke thinks the closing plays a role in the
bigger picture of development in his district, which sits across Broad
Street from the station. Though it's not in his district, the depot is
important to the whole area's viability.

"The station is a catalyst for the neighborhood's redevelopment," he says.
The revamped station and new supermarket "proved the point that we could
turn things around here. We had a lot of naysayers but the numbers
associated with it prove reinvesting was a good decision. It brought the
area back to life."

Wednesday of last week, closing day for the North Philadelphia station, a
metal shutter covered its entrance. A few cars sat in the parking lot as
several commuters waited on the newly renovated platform for the 7:39 a.m.
northbound train.

For many who use the North Philadelphia station, the location is a matter of
convenience. Taking the train from there doesn't just eliminate parking fees
and the need to face a hectic 30th Street Station each morning, it reduces
commuting time.

Michael Matteo of Wynnewood rides these rails each morning to a Internet
company's office in Manhattan. He says recent years have brought fewer
departure times and that there's now only one commuter train heading to and
from North Philadelphia daily.

"This is just a sign of things to come," says Matteo, noting that he cuts
about an hour off his round-trip commute by using the North Philadelphia
station. "There are beautiful platforms, but no security." (While the
station had no security staff besides a ticket-taker before, there's now no
Amtrak presence at all.)

"There are huge parking lots," says Matteo, "No one's watching the cars and
people are going to start breaking into them. The station will get wrecked
again and the people of North Philly will suffer because of it. This place
would boom with commuters and boost the economy up there if they just
invested a little more money in it."

The demise of North Philadelphia station could be perceived as another
failure in an Avenue of the Arts plan that's taking much longer than
expected to achieve. Karen Lewis, executive director of the Avenue of the
Arts Agency, does say an $8.5 million streetscape program for North Broad
will kick off later this year.

The closing of the landmark station won't change the number of projects
under way, she adds, but fewer people might be drawn to the area.

"We'd hoped Amtrak would continue in that direction," Councilman Clarke says
of the improvements already made at the station. "We were hoping to run with
the ball on this one, to keep the numbers and the investments up. But it
looks like Amtrak just wants to go in another direction."


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