Rail Park working to renovate former Reading Railroad

The Rail Park was recently funded by a $3.5 million grant.

Brad Baer, former adjunct professor of design and entrepreneurship, stands at the overgrown site of the old Reading Railroad in Callowhill which will be transformed into a walkable urban park. Baer is a board member of Friends of The Rail Park and head of the communications committee. PATRICK CLARK | ASST. PHOTO EDITOR

Hilda Bacon wants the construction of The Rail Park to inspire community development, not just “create a space.”

“It will allow people to travel from community to community in an easy, comfortable way just to be able to enjoy the space and enjoy other communities they might not be aware of,” said Bacon,  a 1995 masters of education alumna.

Bacon is a board member for the Friends of The Rail Park, a local nonprofit that is determined to transform the Reading Railroad into a green space called The Rail Park.

Winding through 10 neighborhoods and 50 blocks, The Rail Park will be divided into three distinct sections including the Viaduct, which is supported by bridges; the Cut, which is near street level and the Tunnel, which is entirely subterranean. Michael Garden, the co-vice president of the Friends of The Rail Park, said phase one — developing the Viaduct — should be finished within a year.

After years of fundraising, a recent $3.5 million grant from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program has provided the group with enough money to start construction on phase one of the park.

Bacon was inspired to help with the project after touring the site. Since getting involved, Bacon has raised money and awareness for the park by organizing fundraisers, including a benefit concert by her siblings, the Bacon Brothers — actor Kevin Bacon and musician Michael Bacon, this past February.

Garden said The Rail Park will be “a park for all people in every possible way.” He added that The Rail Park will touch a wide variety of communities in Philadelphia including Brewerytown, Fairmount Park and Northern Liberties.

“We envision that as the park traverses through each of those neighborhoods, the designs and the character of those sections are influenced by the specific communities, so it’s something that we’d prefer to celebrate rather than whitewash over,” Garden said.

He added that the expansive track, which spans three miles, will serve as a gathering place for Philadelphians and visitors from around the world. The park will not only feature pedestrian walkways and bike lanes, but also spaces for eateries, public art, education and cultural events.

“To me, it’s an opportunity to use something that’s been there forever and just find new spins on it and ways to really bring it back to life,” said Brad Baer, a board member for the Friends of The Rail Park.

Baer, a former professor of design and entrepreneurship, has led the organization’s communications committee for the past year.

“The groundbreaking of phase one is a really important thing because some people have supported us for years now and this is sort of a key moment because it means that this is happening,” Baer said. “I think it’ll be really good for people to see shovels in the ground and hopefully that will help raise money for the future phases even more quickly.”

He added that the entire project could take a decade to complete.

Garden said to ensure the community’s voice is heard, local residents are welcome to participate in panels where they can collectively decide the design of each section of the park.

“The Rail Park touches upon community, social engagement. It touches upon the environment, architecture, history, health and wellness, education, you name it,” Garden said. “It really speaks on a lot of different areas of interest.”

Carr Henry can be reached at christopher.carr.henry@temple.edu.

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