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The Essential Main Line Railroad History

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1850

The Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad shifts 
its route, essentially to the one SEPTA’s R5 follows today.
The first outbound stop is the White Hall depot
(now the Bryn Mawr Hospital Thrift Shop). 

1857

Built by the state, the Main Line of Public Works
from Philadelphia to Harrisburg is acquired by the
Pennsylvania Railroad, prompting well-considered growth.
Saloons, slaughterhouses, glue factories and other messy installations are prohibited.
Instead, city tycoons build summer homes in newly named Bryn Mawr,
where a 250-room railroad-owned hotel caters
to other urban folk seeking a pastoral getaway.
Through the years of permutation that followed,
the “Main Line” name stuck.

1915

Service from Philadelphia to Paoli goes electric, becoming the first commuter
line to transmit its juice via overhead wires. As the Pennsy morphs
into Penn Central and then federally funded Conrail in
the ’60s and ’70s, the cars change from a the burnt-red hue
to green to the Silverliners of today. 

1971

In the wake of declining ridership and bankrupt
railroads all over the nation, the federal government
establishes Amtrak (National Railroad Passenger Corporation).
SEPTA’s R5 Paoli/Thorndale Line now runs on its Keystone Corridor.

1983

SEPTA succeeds Conrail as commuter king. Soon,
the Paoli Local extends its reach to Malvern and, eventually,
Parkesburg, which requires an empty train trip to turn around
in Lancaster. These days, the westernmost stop has retreated
to Thorndale, and Conrail is strictly a freight operator.

mid-1990s

The Paoli train yard disbands. Trains terminating
in Paoli now reverse direction in Frazer. 

2005

An $80-million upgrade of the R5 Line between Overbrook and Paoli is approved.
Jointly funded by SEPTA, Amtrak and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation,
the project targets infrastructure characterized as “severely deteriorated.”
Concrete replaces wood in some 90,000 new crossties. Rail jointed in
39-foot lengths has yielded to the continuous welded version,
resulting in a ride that’s smoother, quieter and safer, along with a
track that’s easier to maintain. Gone are “slow orders,”
requiring trains to run at less-than-posted speeds. The project also
includes improvements to signal systems, interlockings and electric traction. 

2018
(fingers crossed)

The $40-million (and counting) Paoli Intermodal Transportation Center calls
for a new station house, expanded parking, bus facilities, and more.
Other projects, either completed or in the works,
include the Ardmore Transit Center, improvements to
Wayne station, an Exton parking expansion,
and upgrades in Malvern.