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Transportation Data
First Permanent Railroad In The U. S. And Its Connection To The University Of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia Metropolitan Area Travel Trends, Projections, and Commentary
Urban Travel Trends in the U.S.
National (BTS) data base

Edward K. Morlok, UPS Foundation Professor of Transportation Emeritus and Professor of Systems Engineering Emeritus, University of Pennsylvania Swarthmore, PA, January 11, 2005

The photograph below is described as “Site of First Railroad in United States, Swarthmore, Pa.”. When I first saw the photograph, this claim struck me as clearly incorrect, but the fact that the line is close to my residence piqued my interest. A moderate amount of research on the line revealed some interesting connections with the University of Pennsylvania (PENN), whetting my appetite for more information. This research led to the conclusion that this line was indeed an evolution of one of the first railroads in the U.S.—a line built by Thomas Leiper [1]and others, and commonly referred to as the Leiper railway. Some refer to the Leiper railway as the first permanent railroad in the U.S. This claim will be discussed below, along with the connection to PENN.

Early History
The Leiper railway was built in 1809-10 and continued in operation for almost two decades. Later another railroad was constructed using a portion of the same route, the line ultimately becoming part of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. It is this line that is captured in the photograph.

The Leiper railway was constructed to connect the quarry and stone mill just south of Swarthmore, PA (in what is now the Township of Nether Providence), to Ridley Creek, in Chester, PA. The owner of the quarry and mill, Thomas Leiper, originally sought permission from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to construct a canal between these two points. But that permission was denied because of objections from another mill- owner who asserted the canal would interfere with his use of the creek’s water for power. So instead, Leiper had a railroad constructed, with wooden tracks. Trains were single cars, with flanged iron wheels, pulled by horses. The construction was under the direction of John Thomson, who was a land surveyor, and Reading Howell, a mapmaker who assumed the role of project engineer. This line was 0.75 mi. (1.2 km.) in length (Minshall, 1978, p. 2).

Construction commenced in 1809 and the line was in use in 1810. In 1809 Thomson prepared a survey map entitled “Draft Exhibiting...the Railroad as Contemplated by Thomas Leiper Esq. From His Stone Saw-Mill and Quarries on Crum Creek to His Landing on Ridley Creek.” I have found no record of the exact date of opening of the line. But construction must have been underway in late 1809, as there was an advertisement for laborers that also referred to its ongoing construction in the Philadelphia newspaper Aurora on Oct. 29, 1809 (Anon. a, undated, pp. 2-3). One early account states that it was completed and in use early in 1810 (Robins, 1886, p. 5).

The year 1810 was well before construction of the other usual contender for the first railroad in the U.S. That is the line in Massachusetts that was opened on October 7, 1826, to haul granite for the Bunker Hill Monument from the quarries at Quincy to the wharf on the Neponset River.

In fact, neither of these lines may have been the first. Some accounts state that the first railroad in the U. S. was the gravity railroad built in 1764 at the Niagara Portage in Lewiston, NY (Railroads and Maps (website), undated). It was built by Capt. John Montressor, a British engineer and mapmaker, for military use. Two references have been found to one other railroad that pre-dates the Leiper line. In his 1886 account of the Leiper line, Robins (1886, p. 5-6, referencing American Historical Record, vol. i, p. 405) describes a one-quarter mile railroad built in 1807 to carry gravel from Beacon Hill down to a street below that was being filled and graded. Once the work was completed, the railroad was removed. Another source refers to an earlier railroad on the same site. It was used to carry bricks and other clay products down the hill to the streets below. This line presumably was removed before the gravel-hauling line was constructed. The original source for this earlier line is the “Quiz on Railroads and Railroading” published by the Association of American Railroads in 1948 (as referenced by Schieck, 1949, p. 2).

Clearly none of these three earlier lines was permanent, but rather each was built and operated for a specific task that extended over a limited time period. Thus the evidence indicates that the Leiper railway was in fact the first permanent railroad in the U.S. Such a claim to historical significance seems to have first appeared in Robins’ 1886 account of the Leiper railroads (Robins, 1886, p. 6). It appears again in the Editor’s Note to a letter describing the historical significance of this line written by Paul Schieck and published in Railroad Magazine in 1938 (Schieck, 1938, p. 121).

The Connection to the University of Pennsylvania
What is the connection of the Leiper railway with the University of Pennsylvania? There are four. One involves George Gray Leiper, one of the sons of Thomas Leiper and his wife Elizabeth Coultas Gray Leiper. George G. Leiper was born at Avondale, the family estate in Nether Providence, on Feb. 3, 1786. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1803. His involvement in the building of the railway is indicated by an advertisement over his name, and that of his father, in the Philadelphia newspaper Aurora, dated Sept. 27, 1809. It announced that “I wish to contract for digging part of a railway ...for the making and laying of track for the same.... I wish to progress in this work immediately....” (Anon. b, undated).

The second connection to PENN is that John Thomson, who directed construction of the line, was the father of John Edgar Thomson, the well-known civil engineer and longtime President of the Pennsylvania Railroad during its period of expansion to the west. J. Edgar Thomson was a major benefactor of PENN, as is stated under his portrait in the Towne Building (second floor, in the hall near the library). Interestingly, in 1873 he donated the original map of the Leiper railroad (made by his father in 1809) to the Delaware County Institute of Science in order to substantiate the claim that it was the first map of a railroad in the U.S. (Ward, 1980, p. 11).

The third is that a PENN Professor of Mathematics, Robert Patterson, was one of three persons designated to assess an experimental railway Thomas Leiper had constructed in a yard in Philadephia. Its purpose was to demonstrate that horses could pull a much more heavily loaded wagon on tracks than they could over a road. Their account of this successful demonstration appeared in the Aurora for Sept. 27, 1809; and a copy appears in Robins (1886, p.6). Following the successful demonstration, Leiper commenced with construction of the railway at his quarry. The demonstration was in a yard that was adjacent to the establishment where Leiper’s wooden rail was made, and incidentally also adjacent to the Bull’s Head Tavern (now the Standard Tap, at 2nd and Poplar Streets).

The fourth connection to PENN also involves George C. Leiper, but occurs many years later, and relates directly to the photograph.

The “First Railroad” Photograph
Turning to the photograph, it is not of a railway with wooden rails. Thus it is certainly not of the original Leiper railway. However, it is intimately connected to the Leiper line.

The first Leiper railway lasted less than two decades. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania finally gave permission to construct a canal in 1827, and in 1828 George C. Leiper replaced the railway with a Canal [2]. He was associated with his father's many business enterprises, which he carried on after his father's death (which occurred in 1825).

Over the years the relative merits of railways and canals changed in favor of railways, and in 1852 George C. Leiper built a railway as a replacement for the canal. This second Leiper railway was longer, extending along the Crum Creek to a landing almost all the way to the Delaware River, for a total length of 2.6 mi. (4.2 km.). This landing enabled large vessels to be loaded directly from the railroad cars. Part of the line near the quarry was laid over the same route as the original railway. This line was operated by horses. Like the first Leiper line, this second Leiper railroad was constructed without direct connections to any other railroad. But at a point very close to its southern (boat landing) end, it was intersected by the Pennsylvania Railroad’s (PRR’s) New York-Washington line. It is unknown whether this was originally a level crossing or constructed so that one line crossed the other on a bridge. The earliest map found that includes the second Leiper railroad, dated 1875, shows the two lines crossing but with no indication of the type of crossing (Hopkins, 1875). At some point, however, the lines were separated with the PRR main line being on a bridge over the Leiper line.

In 1886 the Baltimore and Philadelphia Railroad, a subsidiary of the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad (now part of the CSX System), completed its new line between Baltimore and Philadelphia. It crossed over the Leiper line and the adjacent Crum Creek on a bridge, near the Leiper line’s southern end. In 1887 the B&O purchased the Leiper line, and it became the B&O’s Crum Creek Branch. The Leiper line was joined to the new main line by two new track connections—one to the southern segment of the branch (leading to the boat landing), and one to the northern segment (leading to the quarry). Steam locomotives replaced the horses as motive power. Since there is no mention in the various histories of the Leiper railroads (including a lengthy one by Larry Sagle (1943), then an official of the B&O Railroad) of changing the track gauge after the purchase, it is likely that the second Leiper line was built to the soon-to-be standard U.S. track gauge of 4 ft. 8 ½ in. This is important, for a uniform gauge is necessary to allow operation of trains from one line to the other. Through operation of trains occurred once the B&O acquired the line. (For an interesting twist on gauges in Pennsylvania, see endnote [3].)

Thus the second Leiper railway became a common carrier—open to carrying freight of any customer, and also available for passenger service. Cars laden with Leiper quarry stone could be hauled to anyplace in North America (served by a railroad) in the same car. The exceptions were the few areas that still had narrow gauge railroads, in which case through freight would be transferred to narrow gauge cars at a junction point—often by primitive manual means. All important lines were converted to standard gauge by the late 1800s.

The photograph is of this B&O branch line, along the Crum Creek. Notes with a copy of the photograph at the Leiper House (now a museum) state that the photograph is circa 1905, and that it was most likely taken in the vicinity of Black Rock Park, just south of Swarthmore.

The B&O Era: Heavy Industry and Passenger Service
The B&O’s involvement with the Leiper railway brought about many changes including an extension to the south and the introduction of passenger service.

First, it is interesting to note that the B&O had originally tried to avoid the expense of building its own line through the Chester area, proposing instead to operate its trains on the tracks of the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore RR (Warfel, 2001, p. 97). The PW&B had two lines from Chester to Philadelphia at this time, one its original route along the Delaware River, and the second a more direct route commonly known as the Darby Improvement, which was opened for traffic early in 1873 (Ashmead, 1886, Chap. XX, p. 199). In 1881 the PW&B was taken over by the Pennsylvania Central Railroad. According to Warfel (2001, p. 97), “The Pennsylvania R. R. however did not want the competition in Philadelphia, so they … blocked the deal.” Later the Pennsylvania sold the original line along the Delaware River to the Reading Railroad, but with the agreement that the line would be used to transport only freight (Warfel, 2001, p.66). This became the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad’s Chester Branch. An 1893 map shows that the Leiper line had been extended across Crum Creek into the Borough of Eddystone to connect with the Reading’s Chester Branch (Anon. 1893). This extension appears to have been about one mile (1.6 km) in length. This connection probably was an important one. The B&O and Reading were closely allied in competition with other railroads (and other forms of transportation) well into the 20th Century.

Much traffic, including passenger trains, passed over the southern section of the branch, as this line connected to tracks in the sprawling Baldwin Locomotive Works (Baldwin) and thus provided service directly to the Baldwin facilities. Baldwin, which started in Philadelphia in 1832 and became one of the largest locomotive builders, purchased land for an auxiliary plant in Eddystone (along the Crum Creek) in 1906 and this facility (covering some 591 acres and consisting of many buildings) became its sole location in 1928 (Dolzall and Dolzall, 1984, p. 4). The passenger trains that were operated between Philadelphia and Baldwin were primarily a commuter service for Baldwin employees (Schieck, 1949, p. 5). These trains were operated during and after World War I. This line also served some shippers besides Baldwin, with both team tracks (using railroad parlance) for transferring freight to and from trucks (or earlier, wagons pulled by “teams”) that were available to any customer, and at least one private siding for a barrel- making factory.

The northern section was of course operated as a common carrier also, but historical records do not refer to any traffic other than that of the quarries being hauled on it. Service was provided by freight trains, though one observer states that “an open platform wood day coach could often be seen tied on behind the local freight engine in lieu of a caboose....” (Schieck, 1949, p. 5).

The section of the B&O’s Crum Creek branch to the Leiper quarry (the northern section) was abandoned in 1942 (Anon. a, undated, p. 3, referencing the Chester Times, June 22, 1942, p. 1), and the tracks removed in 1943 to provide steel for the war effort (Schieck, 1946, p.25). By this time trucks had replaced the railroad for transporting the quarry’s products. Interestingly, the original sale of the line provided that, even if the line were not used, the B&O had to be ready to provide service. Thus when the line was abandoned, special permission had to be obtained from the owners of the Leiper quarry.

The portion of the branch south of the B&O’s main line remained in service for many more years, although changes were made in the track layout in Eddystone. Specifically, the original connection to the Reading Chester Branch appears to have been truncated, with Baldwin buildings occupying part of the original route near the Reading line, and a new connection made to its Chester Branch closer to Crum Creek. The resulting track layout provided a connection from the B&O main line to (1) the tracks in the Baldwin Locomotive Works, and—now via Baldwin tracks (according to the Sagle’s map (1943, p. 31)--to (2) the Reading Company’s freight line through Chester, and (3) the Pennsylvania Railroad New York-Washington line (now Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor main line) [4].

By the 1940s the Baldwin Locomotive Works was facing stiff competition from new locomotive builders such as General Electric and General Motors and encountered declining sales and financial difficulty. The Westinghouse Corp. bought Baldwin in 1948 and tried to resuscitate it, but even this industrial giant could not turn the tide. Baldwin finally succumbed in 1956, after a sale and merger in which it became Baldwin-Lima- Hamilton [5]. The southern portion of the Leiper line was probably abandoned and torn up sometime after the closure of the Baldwin plant. It is no longer is existence, the industries it served having vanished.

Returning to the photograph, it is definitely not a photograph of the first railroad in the U.S. But it is a later incarnation of one of the first railroads in the U.S. Thus, recognizing that the original line was abandoned but later a second line was built with a small portion over the original route, this line can claim to be:
1. the first permanent railroad in the U.S. and
2. the first railroad in the U.S. to evolve into a common carrier.

Some Unanswered Questions
Various accounts differ on some important aspects of the line, and are silent on some other aspects.

One on which there is disagreement is whether the sleepers were of wood or stone. Many drawings depicting the horse-drawn carts and tracks show stone sleepers, but of course these are relatively recent artists’ renderings based on their conception of its appearance. The preponderance of evidence suggests wood, though this is not conclusive. According to Robin’s 1886 account of the line after replacement by the canal: “nothing remaining excepting the deep ruts made by the cross-ties.” (Robins, 1886, p. 5). If the ties were of stone, they presumably would still have been there, unless all were removed deliberately, of course. Minshall’s detailed drawing of a portion of the line (Area at and near survey point #16, in Minshall, 1978) shows crossties almost 8 feet long. Such a length would have been unusual for stone sleepers.

A second feature on which accounts differ is whether the rails were originally wood or stone. Scheick, who conducted considerable original research on the Leiper railways in the 1930s and 1940s, and who has written extensively on the subject, describes, in a 1938 letter published in Railroad Magazine, the line thusly: “Long narrow strips of stone were laid end to end, forming the road.... However, this method did not prove satisfactory, so the stone became crossties with wood rails topped with strap-iron.....” (Schieck, 1938, p. 121). However, the advertisement by the Leiper’s seeking bids on construction clearly states wooden rails. Therefore the assertion of stone rails must be rejected.

A third question is whether the original Leiper line crossed the PRR’s main line at a level crossing or not. None of the early maps, dated 1875 (Hopkins, 1875), 1893 (Anon. c, 1893), and 1898 (U.S. Geological Survey, 1898), distinguish between level crossings and those utilizing a bridge. However, the difference in ground elevation near the intersection of the lines shown in the US Geological Survey map suggests that the PRR line may have originally crossed over the Leiper line on a bridge. The first map found showing the bridge appears in an undated book that probably was published in 1924 (Baldwin Locomotive Works, 1924, p. 178, as reproduced in Westing, 1966, p. 104). Sagle’s map published in 1943 also shows the PRR crossing over the Leiper line (Sagle, 1943, p. 31).

A fourth question is whether or not the photograph was really taken in Swarthmore, as stated in the caption. The current borough boundaries do not include the location of the trackage of either of the two Leiper railways. None of the maps referenced earlier show Swarthmore as encompassing the second line, either, although the railroad’s northern end was very close to the borough boundary. The photograph probably refers to Swarthmore because it was close to the line, and Swarthmore may have been the largest developed community in the vicinity of the line at the time the photograph was taken.

However, the main question is whether or not the Leiper railway should be considered in any sense “the first railroad” in the U.S. The evidence available suggests that it was indeed the first permanent railroad and the first to evolve into a common carrier. Thus it deserves recognition along with other railroad “firsts.”

Additional Information
For additional information, the opportunity to see many of the early documents on the railroad, drawings of the cars and line, and other information related to the Leiper family and early colonial history, I suggest visiting the Leiper House. It is located in Wallingford, PA, on Avondale Rd. between PA 320 and Rose Valley Rd. It has a very helpful staff, and is open to the public (currently on weekends all months except Jan., Feb., and March). The phone number is 610 566 6365.

Acknowledgement: Angela Hewett, Curator of the Leiper House, was extremely helpful in providing information and documents on the Leiper Railway. Her enthusiasm for the project was most appreciated.

Sources: Anon. a (undated) Leiper’s Railroads. Leiper House Collection.

Anon. b (undated) Thomas Leiper’s Rail Experiment in Northern Liberties in 1809. Leiper House Collection.

Anon. c (1893) Plan of RIDLEY TOWNSHIP. Scale 900 feet = 1 inch. http.//www.ridelytownshiphistory.com/pdfs/pdf 1893ridelytownship.pdf. Accessed Dec. 27, 2004.

Baldwin Locomotive Works (1924) History of the Baldwin Locomotive Works 1831-1923, Philadelphia (as reproduced in its entirely in Westing, 1966). The publication date is estimated, based on use of the present tense in reference to “the...plant of 1924” on p. 197.

Dolzall Gary W. and Stephen F. Dolzall (1984) Baldwin Diesel Locomotives. (Milwaukee: Kalmbach).

Hopkins Henry W. (1875), RIDLEY [Map], Scale 3 ½ Inches per Mile. E. Busch, Engraver, 320 Walnut St., Philadelphia.

http://www.ridleytownshiphistory.com/images/pix_large_map.jpg . Accessed Dec. 27, 2004.

Minshall Melvin I. (1978) THE LOST RAILWAY: THOMAS LEIPER’S PRIVATE RAILWAY 1809-1828, Nether Providence, Delaware Co., Pa. Leiper House Collection.

Railroads and Maps (website) (undated): http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/rrhtml/rrintro.html, accessed 28 June 2002.

Robins Robert P. (1886) A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE FIRST PERMANENT TRAMWAY IN AMERICA. Proceedings Of the Engineers Club of Philadelphia, Vol. V, No. 5, reprint.

Sagle Larry W. (1943) Thomas Leiper’s Railroad: Part of the second railroad laid in the United States is now a portion of B&O Crum Creek Branch, Trains (Feb. 1943), pp.30-34.

Schieck Paul J. (1938) Letter and Editor’s Note. The Reader’s Viewpoint, Railroad Magazine, Sept., pp. 120-1,

Schieck Paul J. (1946) MEMORIES OF THE LIEPER RAILWAY, Bulletin of the National Railway Historical Society, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Third Quarter), pp. 24-5.

Schieck Paul J. (1949) MEMORIES OF THE OLD LEIPER RAILWAY, Paper presented to the Delaware County Historical Society, April 27, 1949, mimeo.

U.S. Geological Survey (1898) Chester, PA Quadrangle Map, Jan. 1898, reprinted 1930, USGS 15 Minute Series, from Maptech, Historical Maps, Website: http://historical.maptech.com, accessed Feb. 25, 2004.

Ward James A. (1980) J. Edgar Thomson: Master of the Pennsylvania (Westport: Greenwood Press).

Warfel Louis J. (2001), My Book of Old Chester: A Collection Of Historical Facts And Stories About Old Chester, Pa. And Biographical Sketches Of Some Of The People Who Lived In Or Near The Old City, Part 2, p. 64,


Westing Fred (1966) The Locomotives That Baldwin Built (New York: Bonanza)

[1] Leiper is pronounced LEEPER.

[2] An interesting account of the canal is THE LEIPER CANAL, which appears at: http://ridleytownshiphistory.com/leiper_canal.htm. (Accessed Dec. 27, 2004.) It contains many photographs.

[3] It is interesting to note that many electric streetcar and interurban lines in southeastern Pennsylvania were deliberately built to a wider gauge than the “steam” railroads so as to make them unattractive for purchase by those railroads. This was thought to preserve competition between these forms of transport, to public benefit. Now it is an impediment to integrated “through” service and to have both freight and passenger revenues help support the line. Many other areas have benefited from operating streetcars or interurban cars on main line railroads, a recent example being the New Jersey Transit’s new light rail line connecting Trenton and Camden, NJ, on tracks of a formerly freight-only Conrail line. This idea is not new; the Pacific Electric (PE) system in California having had much jointly-operated trackage with the Southern Pacific Railroad; and the revenues from freight helped keep the PE running. Such mixing of streetcar and interurban cars with standard railroad freight trains was fairly common in the U.S., and is now being done in Europe. However, more stringent U.S. safety regulations make such joint use of track age more difficult to accomplish now than in the past.

[4] Maps of the connections appear in Sagle’s article (1943, p.31) and, with more detail on the Baldwin trackage, in a history of the Baldwin Locomotive Works (Baldwin Locomotive Works, 1924, p. 178, as reproduced in Westing, 1966, p.104). Westing’s book also includes an aerial photograph of the Eddystone works “as it appeared from 1928 to the 1950s” (Westing, 1966, p. 141). An 1898 USGS map (U.S. Geological Survey, 1898) available on the internet shows the area before construction of the Baldwin facility. In my copy of Sagle’s article, the connection between the Baldwin trackage and the Reading Chester Branch is unclear on the map, but the text states that such a connection exists (Sagle, 1943, p. 34).

[5] The last locomotives for a common carrier railroad to be completed (in 1956) at the Eddystone works were two diesel hydraulic locomotives that went at each of the experimental train Daniel Webster for the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad’s New York-Boston service (Dolzall and Dolzall, 1984, p. 25). This train was one of many experimental lightweight high-speed trains built in that period, to try to save intercity rail passenger service. This train was of the Talgo variety, which had a low center of gravity and was designed to take curves faster than a conventional train. This train was unsuccessful—its small, low cars riding too roughly on the track of that era and its unconventional locomotives being difficult to maintain. Ironically, the Talgo design is now used quite successfully on Amtrak trains in the northwest, current track providing the needed smooth ride. And Amtrak’s massive investments in the Northeast Corridor Line now achieve the railroad’s speed goal of the 1950s—a 3 to 3 ½ hour scheduled time between New York and Boston. (The last common carrier locomotive to leave the works was a switcher destined for the Erie Mining Railroad. It had been kept on hand to help in the testing of the Daniel Webster’s locomotives.)

http://www.seas.upenn.edu/~morlok/morlokpage/transp_data.html#First%20Railroad First RR and PENN Webversion 11Jan05


Philadelphia Metropolitan Area Travel Trends, Projections, and Commentary


Sources: The numerical values are shown in Table P-1, where sources, methods used, assumptions, and caveats are given. Note that actual travel is an estimate, based on many assumptions, and thus these values are certainly not exact.

Interpretation: Actual person-miles (pers-mi) are shown by the solid lines. The marks on these lines (other than dots) indicate years for which data was obtained. The dashed lines connecting dots show projections.  For example, in 1982 a forecast of transit travel in the year 2000 was made.  The dashed line starts on the actual transit travel line in 1982 (at about 2,000 pers-mi), and connects to the forecast, which was for transit travel to grow to 3,373 pers-mi in 2000.  The difference between the forecast and actual travel is apparent, transit travel being 1,677 pers-mi in 1997.

Trends and Commentary

Some Significant Trends

  1. Overall travel in the Philadelphia region has grown steadily, and by a very large amount, since 1960. Actual 1997 travel was about four times that in 1960 (about 42,025 million pers-mi in 1997 vs. 9,417 million in 1960).
  2. Travel is projected to continue to grow, although the rate of growth is expected to decline slightly.
  3. Forecasts have consistently been in error in the past. Specifically, auto travel has continually grown more rapidly than any of the forecasts, and transit travel has been overestimated in these forecasts.
  4. Transit travel has remained about constant over the period covered. It has declined from about 18% of all travel in 1960 to about 4% of all travel in 1997. The forecast is for an even smaller market share in the future.
  5. Road congestion has obviously gotten much worse over this period, and that trend seems destined to continue as expansion of road capacity does not keep pace with travel increases. This increases the costs of travel (in time, fuel and other dollar costs, and pollution, among others), and also the cost of movement of goods.


  1. While traffic on the road system is self limiting, of course (as an equilibrium system), it seems to be so at a very high level of congestion, with considerable dislocation and hardship in the process.
  2. If highway capacity is not expanded, or auto travel growth somehow curtailed, congestion will worsen. Adaptation to avoid negative consequences by businesses and families will continue. Shifts in location and activity patterns are the obvious forms this takes. This includes businesses moving further out or otherwise changing activities to avoid slow and costly freight transport, and possibly moving out of the region entirely. Similar changes in residential location and activity patterns can be expected.
  3. Efforts to reduce travel needs are to be encouraged, including reduction in sprawl, encouragement of tele-commuting, limitations on extensions of transit and highways to more distant areas, movement toward full-cost recovery on both highways (e.g., tolls on major roads, possibly parking) and transit (including environmental costs), concentration of activities to enable less reliance on the auto and more on walking (or transit, bicycles, etc.), and transit innovations and improvements that will substantially reduce or eliminate the need to drive.
  4. Given the complex interactions in the overall travel-land use system, however, finding the right actions is difficult, even ignoring the political realities. The negative effects of new high-speed road construction including inducement of greater dispersion of activities and more travel-- are well known, and need not be repeated here. But some transit improvements can have the same effect. Consider the following. A new regional rail extension to distant suburbs is likely to divert some motorists to transit. It should make their commute much easier. And it makes Center City more attractive as a place for work, or shopping, for persons living in those suburbs. But it also will make those distant suburbs more accessible, and hence more appealing for residential and other development. Families in such areas are likely to travel over longer distances, and by auto, for most needs, compared to closer in peers, thus increasing overall travel. So the overall effect can include many negative impacts, as well as positive ones. Is the region better off? Clearly there are major gains but also major costs. Almost all actions "improving" transport can actually have negative consequences. And thus we must be vary careful in what is done...a short term gain may lead to a bleaker future.
  5. The lack of growth of transit travel indeed the data show a slight decline is amazing. This is very surprising given the four-fold growth in travel overall, and the massive investments in transit over the four decades covered, including the Center City Tunnel, a virtually entirely new fleet of subway cars, buses, and regional rail trains, the new Airport High Speed Line, and rebuilding of the Frankford Elevated Line, among others. Furthermore, transit investments are now about one-third of all transport investments in the regional Transportation Improvement Program on the New Jersey side of the river, and one-half on the Pennsylvania side.
  6. One obvious implication of this is that we must be much smarter about transit investments in the future if they are to capture a larger share of trips. In particular, investments that produce both improvements or expansion in service and reductions in operating deficits (per unit of output, of course) are particularly attractive. Do such options exist? If history is any indication, the answer is Yes. Consider the rebuilding of the Chicago commuter railroad service in the 1970s, or, in our backyard, the Lindenwold Line.


Table P-1. Travel Trends in the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area, 1960 to Present, and Forecasts (Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission region)

Person-Miles  (Millions)
% Transit

Predicted Person-Miles (Millions)
Year Predicted
(Year Prediction Made)
% Via Transit

Note: These data were calculated as described below. Note the many assumptions that were necessary. Thus the numerical values are subject to error, but the general trends are robust.

Sources, assumptions and calculations:
1960: AADTs from DVRPC (1969) 1985 Regional Transportation Plan, DVRPC Plan Report No. 5, p.62, Table A13 and A14.  AADT auto trips obtained from AADT for all trips less transit trips.  Used average air line trip length of 4.4 miles for transit and 3.4 miles for auto, data for Philadelphia in 1960 survey by Penn-Jersey Transportation Study, obtained from Charles River Assoc. (1988) Characteristics of Urban Transportation Demand, Final Report DOT-T-88-18, for UMTA.  20% circuity added to yield actual trip length from airline length. . Used 300 days per year for transit and 340 for auto to convert average daily totals to yearly totals, as done in other regional documents.

1985p (projection): DVRPC (1969), Table A3. Same calculations as for 1960, except used 1977 Phila. area average occupancy and trip lengths, obtained from Charles River Assoc. (1988)report.

1977 and 2000p (prediction): Person-miles directly from DVRPC (1982) Year 2000 Transportation Plan for the Delaware Valley Region, p. 131.

1980, 1990, 1997 and 2020p (prediction): Daily vehicle miles of travel (AADT) and transit boardings from DVRPC (1998), Simulated Vehicle Miles of Travel in the Delaware Valley Region, dated 11/10/98, and supplemental information on transit boardings. For 1980 used average auto occupancy of 1.45 persons/auto, based on 1.53 in 1977 and general travel downward. Phila. Region 1977 average auto occupancy and transit trip length from Charles River Assoc. (1988) Characteristics of Urban Transportation Demand, DOT-T-88-18 Final Report for UMTA: Table D-7 for average auto occupancy of 1.53 persons/auto, and average air line trip length for transit of 4.9 miles. Vehicle trips reduced by 15.9% to reflect truck travel, also from Charles River Assoc. (1988) report, p. D-6, Table D-5.  For 1990, same calculations as for 1980, except average auto occupancy reduced to 1.38 persons/car based on data from DVRPC.  Transit average trip length of 4.9 miles is probably an overestimate for this year. For 1997, used same calculations as for 1990, except average transit trip length reduced to 4.0 miles, as in SEPTA’s 1995 FTA data.  For 2020 projection, used same calculations as for 1997, except transit average trip length increased 15% to 4.6 miles to reflect increased share of regional rail trips.

DVRPC is the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.

Urban Travel Trends in the U.S.

Source: See Table U-1.

Table U-1. Urban Travel Trends in the U.S. 1960 to Present
Year Person-Miles (Millions) Population
per Capita
Auto Transit Total
1960 318,299 46,440 364,739 181.7 2,007.4
1970 570,252 39,050 609,302 205.1 2,970.8
1980 855,265 39,854 897,099 227.3 3,947.5
1990 1,275,484 41,143 1,318,617 249.4 5,286.3
1995 1,489,407 39,808 1,531,210 262.8 5,827.4
1997 1,560,452 43,306 1,605,755 267.6 5,999.8

Sources: Auto, Population: USDOT, Bureau of Transportation Statistics (2000).National Transportation Statistics (1999) (NTS). http://www.bts.gov/ntda/nts/NTS99/ (on 3/17/00). Transit: 1980 and later: USDOT, Bureau of Transportation Statistics (2000). National Transportation Statistics 1999 (NTS). http://www.bts.gov/ntda/nts/NTS99/ (on 3/17/00); 1960 and 1970, Morlok, Introduction to Transportation Engineering and Planning ,p.66.

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Last updated: February 12, 2004