SEPTA “Red Car” Media Trolley Fantrip

Car 101 running on State Street by the historic Media Theater. (Photo by David Sadowski)

Car 101 running on State Street by the historic Media Theater. (Photo by David Sadowski)

To help celebrate 100 years of trolley service to Media, Pennsylvania, the Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys sponsored a fantrip on May 5, 2013 using a pair of Kawasaki LRVs. (Once the “new kids on the block,” these are basically updated PCC-type cars, and have 33 years of service with no end in sight.) SEPTA helped give the fantrip a boost by putting a retro overwrap on car 101, in Philadelphia and West Chester red.

That was a brilliant idea. I don’t know whether it has been done before in this type of situation, but in the future, such overwraps could be used for other fantrips and anniversaries, as they can make a car look like anything. Various historic paint schemes and even logos can be recreated, yet it’s not permanent.

Car 101 was undoubtedly chosen since Media is Septa Route 101. The number “38” on the side of the overwrap was a bit puzzling at first, until we learned that cars 38 and 39 were the first ones purchased a century ago for the new Media line (from Jewett).

This, and the East Penn Traction Meet, seemed like a perfect excuse for a quick trip to Philly. We arrived early at 69th Street Terminal and joined the throngs aboard the two sold-out cars, which mainly ran as a unit, but not all the time.

This was my first trip on the Media and Sharon Hill trolleys. When I first visited Philadelphia in the mid-1980s, the Kawasaki cars were new, and I decided to ride the old stuff instead- the Bullets and Strafford cars on Norristown, the Penn’s Landing Trolley, and the northside streetcar lines (routes 6, 15, 23, 53, 56, and 60). The LRVs, I figured, could wait, but little did I suppose the wait would stretch to 30 years.

Fortunately, SEPTA did not make the same mistakes Boston and San Francisco did with the Boeing LRVs, and these are very good cars, and perfectly suited for Media and Sharon Hill. Top speed is governed to 50 mph, and our train reached 52 going downhill. Acceleration is not quite as fast as a PCC. This is in part due to the increased weight, but also taking into consideration that 4 mph per second acceleration can be hard on the passengers.

Sunday’s weather was nearly perfect. By the time our train left 69th Street Terminal at 11 am, there was hardly a cloud in the sky. We had a beautiful sunny day with a high temp of about 65. The fantrip gods smiled on us this time.

We were supposed to go out on both the Media and Sharon Hill lines, but much of the latter was out of service for the weekend due to track work. But as the trip was really meant to celebrate the Media centennial, this hardly mattered in the grand scheme of things.

Car 101 looks stunning dolled up in red, and I understand it does run in regular service this way, although it is difficult to predict when you might see it. Otherwise, the remainder of the cars on these lines are in the same basic color scheme they have used since 1980- white with red and blue accents.

The red provides some welcome variety, and it also has symbolic meaning, as it connects the Kawasaki cars with the much beloved and storied “Red Arrow.” That was a brand name used for both the Philadelphia Suburban trolley lines, which once included West Chester and Ardmore along with Media and Sharon Hill, plus the P&W Norristown High-Speed Line.

Red Arrow was one of the finest trolley operators in the country, and somehow managed to hold out against public takeover until 1970, when they came under the control of SEPTA. New cars were brought in about 10 years later, allowing the retirement of the Brilliners, the Brill “Master Units” and the postwar double-end St. Louis cars. (Don’t call them PCCs, despite their looks, as they used interurban underparts, otherwise someone will be bound to correct you on it.)

The Media and Sharon Hill lines qualify as “light rail,” in the preferred parlance of today, but are still officially called trolleys by SEPTA, reflecting their century-long heritage. Some consider them interurbans, along with the South Shore Line.

They have a little bit of everything- a bit of street running, private right of way, a few interesting bridges, plus some single track mixed in.

Photo stops on such a popular trip can be a disconcerting experience, and not for the faint of heart. With so many fans searching for that perfect shot with “three quarter light,” it can become a free-for-all, with people running, jumping, walking, and climbing all over things and generally getting in each other’s way.

The original edict on our fantrip was to “get your shot and go back into the car,” but that did not work out and so a photo line of sorts formed at each picture stop. In these situations, it definitely helps to have a zoom lens. If you have a 50mm fixed focal length lens, you have to stand in a particular spot in order to get your shot- which very well could be in front or behind where someone else is already standing.

Some people walked in front of us and we, in turn, must confess we inadvertently did the same to someone else, for which we apologize. In general, however, most people got the shots they wanted, and went home satisfied. A fantrip “photo line” is a form of organized chaos.

The town of Media is quite charming and continues to embrace the trolley that helped build it over the last century. Other places would do well to learn by their example.

At trip’s end, after our cars had been uncoupled, car 101 was brought out onto the storage track along a short stretch of West Chester Pike- where West Chester trolleys ran until 1954, and the last remnant of that important and historic line. We will revisit the West Chester and Ardmore lines in future blog posts, but that was certainly a fitting end to a perfect day.

Today, my face might be as red as car 101, from an excess of sun, but I will quickly forget about that, while I will always remember the fun we had today, riding the Media trolley. Kudos to both SEPTA and Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys for pulling off such a spectacular trip.

-David Sadowski

Our fantrip train at 69th Street terminal in Upper Darby, PA. (Photo by David Sadowski)

Our fantrip train at 69th Street terminal in Upper Darby, PA. (Photo by David Sadowski)

SEPTA's 69th Street Terminal serves the Market-Frankford rapid transit line and the Norristown High-Speed Line, as well as various buses and the Media and Sharon Hill trolleys. (Photo by David Sadowski)

SEPTA’s 69th Street Terminal serves the Market-Frankford rapid transit line and the Norristown High-Speed Line, as well as various buses and the Media and Sharon Hill trolleys. (Photo by David Sadowski)

Sometimes it's hard to get a clear shot with such a large crowd of avid fans as this. (Photo by David Sadowski)

Sometimes it’s hard to get a clear shot with such a large crowd of avid fans as this. (Photo by David Sadowski)

Fantrip train at Drexel Hill Junction. (Photo by David Sadowski)

Fantrip train at Drexel Hill Junction. (Photo by David Sadowski)

115 and 101 meet at Landsdowne Avenue. (Photo by David Sadowski)

115 and 101 meet at Landsdowne Avenue. (Photo by David Sadowski)

The fantrip train along private right-of-way. (Photo by David Sadowski)

The fantrip train along private right-of-way. (Photo by David Sadowski)

SEPTA LRV 101 on a bridge along the Media trolley line. (Photo by David Sadowski)

SEPTA LRV 101 on a bridge along the Media trolley line. (Photo by David Sadowski)

Car 101 at the end of the line in Media (State and Orange Streets). (Photo by Diana Koester)

Car 101 at the end of the line in Media (State and Orange Streets). (Photo by Diana Koester)

A meet at Woodland Avenue. (Photo by David Sadowski)

A meet at Woodland Avenue. (Photo by David Sadowski)

The fantrip train at Baltimore Avenue on the Sharon Hill line. (Photo by David Sadowski)

The fantrip train at Baltimore Avenue on the Sharon Hill line. (Photo by David Sadowski)

Here come the fans at a photo stop along the Sharon Hill line, ready to form a "photo line." (Photo by David Sadowski)

Here come the fans at a photo stop along the Sharon Hill line, ready to form a “photo line.” (Photo by David Sadowski)

A bucolic scene along the Sharon Hill line. (Photo by David Sadowski)

A bucolic scene along the Sharon Hill line. (Photo by David Sadowski)

SEPTA LRV 101 on the storage track made up of the last remnant of the old West Chester trolley line along West Chester Pike. (Photo by David Sadowski)

SEPTA LRV 101 on the storage track made up of the last remnant of the old West Chester trolley line along West Chester Pike. (Photo by David Sadowski)

The literal "end of the line" for the Media fantrip. Car 101 poses near the bumper post at the outer end of a storage track made up of the last remnant of the old West Chester trolley line along West Chester Pike. (Photo by David Sadowski)

The literal “end of the line” for the Media fantrip. Car 101 poses near the bumper post at the outer end of a storage track made up of the last remnant of the old West Chester trolley line along West Chester Pike. (Photo by David Sadowski)



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