Skip to main content
Notice: The Library is open for research by appointment only, please visit our research services page for more information.

John F. Tucker collection on transit history

Creation: 1895-2002, bulk 1920-1990 Creation: Majority of material found within 1920 - 1990
Accession: 2046
View selected items online in the Hagley Digital Archives.
View selected items online in the Hagley Digital Archives.


The John F. Tucker Transit History Collection consists of official documents produced or used by Mr. Tucker during his career as a public transit official, records of the pre-SEPTA Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company (1907-1939) and the Philadelphia Transportation Company (1940-1968) that he preserved from loss or destruction, and materials collected out of his interest in the history of transit systems, particularly electric traction lines. The collection traces the evolution of the Philadelphia transit system, its extent, routes and services, and of North American rail rapid transit generally.


  • Creation: 1895-2002, bulk 1920-1990
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1920 - 1990


30.1 Linear Feet

Historical Note

John Foster Tucker

John Foster Tucker was born in Philadelphia on March 22, 1950. After graduating from Drexel University with a degree in commerce and engineering, he joined the then newly-formed Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), with which he spent the bulk of his professional career. He was employed successively as Transportation Analyst (1967-1972), Agency Liaison (1972-1975), Agency Coordinator (1975-1978), and Manager-Route & Service Planning (1978-1979).

In November 1979, he became Chief Operations Planning Officer, and as such played a major role in the two important rail transit projects of the time, the line direct to Philadelphia International Airport and the building of the Center City Commuter Connection that linked the former Pennsylvania Railroad and Reading lines with a new underground station at Market East to replace the historic Reading Terminal. As those projects neared completion, Tucker was promoted to Chief Officer of the Regional Rail Division in June 1984 and became Chief Transportation Officer of the City Division (November 1987-March 1988), Director of Strategic Planning (April 1988-September 1989), and finally, Chief Corporate Relations Officer. Tucker left SEPTA in the early 1990s to head the Miami Valley Regional Transit Authority in Dayton, Ohio. He subsequently returned to Philadelphia as Vice President of Transportation Resource Associates, a consulting group formed with former colleagues. He became Vice President, Operations Planning for the New York City Transit Authority on June 23, 1997. Tucker died in Philadelphia on February 24, 2008.

City Transit System

In the early 1830s, at the very beginning of the railway age, the city government and two private companies laid rails on Market, Broad, Washington and Willow Streets. The main function of these early horse railroads was to distribute passengers and freight from the main line railroads entering the city on its perimeter and serve the docks and local industries. However, they also allowed private contractors to operate "pleasure cars," which primarily served to bring city dwellers to the parks and beer gardens at Grays Ferry and Fairmount on weekends, and these succumbed to temperance and Sabbatarian pressures in the 1850s. For most travelers, the only ways of getting around the city were by foot, private carriage, or omnibuses, large carriages operating on fixed routes and schedules.

In the 1850s, horse-drawn street cars began appearing in most large American cities. Philadelphia was not the first, but it soon came to have the greatest horse car mileage, because the narrow streets required one-way operation. Beginning with the Frankford & Southwark of 1858, most horse car lines formed east-west or north-south loops on adjacent streets. The horse cars were Spartan at best, with hard benches, coal-oil lamps and straw-covered floors. The horses were often worked to death, and the men worked eighteen-hour days, seven days a week. African American residents could only ride on the outside platform until the passage of civil rights legislation after the Civil War. However, the horse cars were a major contributor to population dispersal that made Philadelphia a "City of Homes" rather than of tenements. By the 1860s, a third of the city's workers traveled by horse car. By 1876, there were nineteen companies operating 289 miles of track and carrying 117 million passengers annually.

Because horse cars lines were private companies operating on the public streets, they occupied a contested domain. Franchises had to be obtained, typically from ward politicians who demanded shares in the company or patronage jobs for loyal voters. The companies were required to pave the streets around and between the rails and keep them clear of snow. A $50 tax per car discouraged the companies from enlarging their fleets. The main quid pro quo was a regulated low fare, usually five to seven cents.

By the late 1870s, the city's physical expansion was straining the ability of the horse car lines to deliver an acceptable service. The lack of coordination among the many companies, the limits of animal power, and the increasing congestion of the streets all hindered further improvement. The answer lay in some form of mechanization, but that would require enormous capital investment.

This transformation was accomplished by a trio of entrepreneurs, William Kemble, Peter Arrell Brown Widener and William Lukens Elkins, of whom Widener was the most optimistic and daring. Each had strong ties to the Republican city and state political machines, and each has already accumulated ready capital, Kemble in street railroads and banking, Widener in a chain of meat markets, and Elkins in oil. Widener and Elkins were also partners in real estate development in the north and northwestern parts of the city and later in the suburb of Elkins Park.

Since the law did not permit horse car companies to buy one another, they had to be combined in a pyramid of long-term leases with generous annual dividends guaranteed to the old companies at the base of the pyramid. The trio's activities spurred others to create rival combines, which had to be bought out, adding more layers to the pyramid and more claims on profits. This system promised large returns to the stockholders of the so-called "underlier" companies and would only work if mechanization could increase efficiency, and population growth in the service area produced a steady increase in the number of riders. Unfortunately, Widener probably underestimated the cost of mechanization and overestimated the growth potential of the service area.

To replace the horses, the trio opted for cable cars, which had been tried in San Francisco and Chicago. They formed the Philadelphia Traction Company in 1833, which was limited to providing power to the existing lines. The installation of the first ten miles of cable took five years and cost $4 million, accompanied by many unsuccessful experiments and technical failures. After Kemble died in 1891, Widener decided to abandon cable for electrification. The first electric line, on Bainbridge and Catharine Streets opened in 1892, and the horse cars made their final runs in 1897. The electrification cost over $10 million, and the company was obligated to pave the streets from curb to curb in return for the privilege of stringing trolley wire. Again, competitors arose, and another step had to be added to the pyramid by the creation of the Union Traction Company in 1895. Within three years, Widener and Elkins had control of all the lines in the city. To boost off-peak ridership, the company built a 100-acre amusement park at Willow Grove in the northern suburbs in 1895.

Electrification had not solved the problem of street congestion, which could be met only by the construction of elevated or subway lines. During a temporary break with Widener in 1901, political boss Matt Quay awarded a series of franchises covering every desirable subway or elevated route to a rival group headed by John Mack, a paving contractor. After a compromise with Mack, the final step of the pyramid was put in place with the creation of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company on May 1, 1902. The Market Street subway and elevated opened between 15th and 69th Streets in March 1907. A separate subway to permit easy access for surface trolley cars from West Philadelphia opened from 24th Street to 15th Street on December 15, 1905, and to a loop under Centre Square (City Hall) in August 1908.

The cumulative cost of electrification and building the Market Street line nearly bankrupted the PRT. It was forced to defer service and equipment improvements, like car heaters. Its management was viewed as monopolistic and secretive and savaged by the press. The men were overworked and underpaid and prone to violent strikes. Finally in 1907, a compromise was brokered by the owners of the big department stores east of 15th Street, who desperately wanted the subway at their front doors. The city eliminated its car tax and paving and street-cleaning requirements in return for representation on the PRT board. The Market Street line was completed to the ferries at South Street and Delaware Avenue in 1908.

Finally, after two long and violent strikes in 1909 and 1910, the banking house of Drexel, Morgan & Company agreed to refinance PRT at the price of buying out Widener and installing a new management. The White Knight was Thomas Eugene Mitten (1864-1929), a native of Great Britain who had made his reputation on the Buffalo and Chicago streetcar systems. Mitten took over in 1911. He purchased over a thousand new cars of his own modern design (the so-called Nearside Car) and brought labor peace through his "Co-operative Plan" established in August 1911.

Under the plan, 22 percent of the gross passenger earnings were marked for wages, pensions, and benefits. Part of this fund was used to finance the Co-operative Welfare Association, which organized welfare work. This was followed on November 1, 1912, by the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Co-operative Beneficial Association, which began as a sick-and-death benefits organization and was expanded to encompass co-op buying of food and consumer goods and (in 1918) life insurance. The Co-operative Welfare Association Savings Fund was established in October 1919. Because of these programs, employees rejected the Amalgamated Association in favor of a company union in November 1911 and successfully resisted World War I-era organizing drives.

Mitten inaugurated profit-sharing in 1922 by paying a wage dividend. A share of net profits after stockholders' dividends was apportioned to employees up to 10 percent of wages. These payments were made into the cooperative fund and invested in PRT stock. The wage dividend was treated as an operating charge rather than a bonus, but a ruling of the Superior Court in October 1924 invalidated this interpretation. In anticipation of this ruling, Mitten formed Mitten Management, Inc. in 1923, to which he transferred his 1911 management contract with PRT. Mitten then upped the management fee from 2 percent of gross earnings to 4 percent and paid the difference to the employees in lieu of the wage dividend.

In 1912, the reform Mayor Rudolph Blankenberg established a Department of City Transit, which produced a master plan for a comprehensive system of subway and elevated lines to be built by the city and leased to PRT for operation. They included a subway on Broad Street with a Center City distribution loop, a branch in Locust Street to Woodland Avenue and continuing by elevated to Darby, another branch up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway connecting with an elevated to Roxborough, and an elevated from the foot of Market Street to Frankford. The Frankford Elevated, opened on November 5, 1922, was the first to be completed. The Broad Street Subway between Olney and City Hall followed on September 2, 1928, an extension to South Street on April 20, 1930, and the Ridge Avenue Spur to 8th and Market on December 21, 1932. A small portion of the Locust Street Subway was begun but not completed until the 1950s, and the rest of the system remained unbuilt.

As the city expanded from its traditional core into the formerly empty spaces of the Northeast, and suburban development spread along newly-paved roads, Mitten responded accordingly, aiming at a complete and fully-integrated transit system. The Philadelphia Rural Transit Company was formed on June 25, 1923, to operate buses in the city and reach into the farther suburbs. The first rubber-tired trackless trolleys ran on Oregon Avenue on October 14, 1923. Interurban bus service between New York and Philadelphia was begun by the Peoples Rapid Transit Company in 1924 and later extended to Washington, D.C. and Atlantic City. The Montgomery Bus Company and the Philadelphia Suburban Transit Company extended bus service into the western suburbs previously the exclusive preserve of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Mitten also planned bus service into the New Jersey suburbs via the new (1926) Delaware River Bridge through the medium of the Pennjersey Rapid Transit Company.

Under Mitten's administration, PTR ridership rose form 443.2 million in 1910 to 974.9 million in 1926, the peak year for both the company and Mitten. Mitten's system had required the company to grow its way out of trouble, and when growth slowed and then stopped, it became increasingly difficult to juggle the competing demands of employees, riders, and the city. On April 23, 1926, Mitten purchased the Yellow Cab Company of Philadelphia for $3 million as a new source of profits.

Mitten had gambled on the 1926 Sesquicentennial world's fair in South Philadelphia to showcase the system and generate business. In connection with the fair, Mitten established the "PRT Air Service" with three Fokker Tri-motors running between Philadelphia, Washington, and Norfolk during the summer and fall. It was the first regularly scheduled air service in the East, but like the fair, it was not a success, and the losses fell indirectly on PRT.

Mitten had broken with Drexel & Company over the latter's fiscal conservatism in 1919, so to raise capital for his expansion program he resorted to selling shares in small lots to employees and riders. Advertising for stocks was posted in the cars and in handbills, and individuals could buy shares from conductors and ticket vendors. Mitten also ventured into the banking business. A labor bank called the Producers & Consumers Bank had been established in 1922, but after three years of mismanagement, it had failed owing debts of $1 million. Through the services of Albert M. Greenfield, who was appointed receiver, the new Mitten Men and Management Bank & Trust Company was formed on March 16, 1926, and the Producers & Consumers depositors were promised sixty cents on the dollar. On January 1, 1927, it absorbed the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Title & Trust Company, another labor bank.

Like many entrepreneurs of the late 1920s, Mitten was able to control his empire with a small real outlay by a series of pyramiding companies and by using the holdings of the employee stock fund. To perfect this control, the Philadelphia Investment Company was formed on December 1, 1925, and renamed the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company Securities Company on April 13, 1926, and the Mitten Bank Securities Corporation on June 28, 1927. In October 1828, the 221,000 shares of PRT and 19, 500 shares of the Mitten Men and Management Bank & Trust were exchanged for $14 million in the stock of the Mitten Bank Security Corporation. The Mitten Bank Security Corporation controlled 52 percent of PRT, with ownership divided at 47 percent PRT employees, 8 percent Mitten Management, and 45 percent by the general public. The Mitten Building was opened at Broad and Locust on June 1, 1927, to serve as the headquarters of all the Mitten enterprises.

As ridership began to contract after 1926, and the system became more unstable, Mitten began to sell assets to raise money. A 75 percent interest in the Peoples Rapid Transit Company and the western bus lines was sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad late in 1928, although it remained under Mitten Management. The Pennjersey Rapid Transit Company was sold to Public Service Co-ordinated Transport of New Jersey in 1929. Negotiations for the sale of PRT to the city commenced in 1927.

In September 1929, the City of Philadelphia began a suit against Mitten and the PRT, charging Mitten Management with excessive fees and diversion of funds and demanding an independent audit. On the morning of October 1, 1929, Mitten was found drowned in a lake at his Pocono summer home. Ruling on the city's allegations, the court ordered the appointment of trustees for PRT on April 11, 1931. On the same date, the contract with Mitten Management, Inc. was cancelled at an annual savings of $3 million, as was the lease of the Mitten Building from the Mitten Bank Securities Corp. The independent audit was performed and disclosed a number of irregularities, and accounting practices were revised. Most of Mitten's estate was attached for the benefit of PRT. The company filed for bankruptcy on October 1, 1934.

After Mitten's death, the remaining interest in the Peoples Rapid Transit Company was sold to the PRR's Pennsylvania Greyhound Lines in 1930, and the Yellow Cab Company was sold on February 15, 1936. The Mitten Bank Securities Corporation was renamed the Transit Investment Corporation on February 9, 1938, and liquidated on July 7, 1948. The Mitten Men and Management Bank & Trust was renamed the Mitten Bank & Trust in 1934 and the Mid-City Bank & Trust Company on February 4, 1941. Some of the lightly-travelled street car lines were replaced with buses starting with the Doylestown line in 1931. Ridership dropped steadily during the Depression to 637.4 million in 1938. In the same year the company purchased its first twenty streamlined PCC (Presidents' Conference Committee) cars.

Despite the Depression, the City struggled to continue its rapid transit plans. Work was begun on the Locust Street Subway and on extending the subway-surface tunnels to 33rd Street in West Philadelphia. The PRT became the operator of the rapid transit line built on the new Delaware River (Ben Franklin) Bridge by the Delaware River Joint Commission, which opened between 8th and Market and Broadway, Camden, on June 7, 1936. With the resulting decline of business on the Delaware River ferries, the elevated spur of the Market Street Line on Delaware Avenue was abandoned on May 8, 1939. The Broad Street Subway was extended from South Street to Snyder Avenue in South Philadelphia on September 18, 1938.

The company was reorganized as the Philadelphia Transportation Company on January 1, 1940. The dominant figures were Edward Hopkinson, Jr., and Albert M. Greenfield, a realtor and civic leader. All of the stock was placed in a ten-year voting trust. Ridership reached an all-time high of 1.1 billion in 1943 but declined continuously after the war, falling to 790.4 million in 1951 and 655 million in 1954. Wages, material costs, and fares increased in an inflationary spiral. Employees deserted the old Mitten-era company union. The operating employees were organized by the Transport Workers Union (CIO) in 1944 and the office employees by the Teamsters in 1945. However, the company continued to expand and re-equip its bus and car routes. The subway from 8th and Market to 16th and Locust that had been begun in the 1930s was finally opened on February 15, 1953, and used by the Camden bridge trains. On October 31, 1955, the subway portion of the Market Street Line replaced the old elevated between the Schuylkill River and 44th Street, and the subway-surface tunnels were extended to 40th and Woodlawn Avenue to reduce street congestion in the University City area of West Philadelphia. On September 9, 1956, Broad Street service was extended from Olney to Fern Rock.

In March 1955 majority control of PTC was acquired by National City Lines, Inc., a transit holding company organized by General Motors and the oil and rubber companies for the purpose of buying street car systems and replacing them with fleets of GM buses. National City Lines purchased 1,00 new buses between 1955 and 1957, retired 600 old trolleys, discontinued twenty-four car lines, and removed over 200 miles of street railway. However, more streetcar routes survived than in other systems reorganized by National City Lines, primarily because of the subway-surface lines and a non-NCL faction on the board of directors. A modern bus maintenance facility and office was built at 3rd and Wyoming Streets in 1957. Express bus service to City Line Avenue in Bala-Cynwyd via the new Schuylkill Expressway was begun in 1959, and similar services to Ardmore and King of Prussia followed in 1962. The new management also reduced the workforce and began to uproot the old PRT/PTC corporate culture. Non-transit assets were sold, including Willow Grove Park in 1955. (It closed twenty years later and was replaced by a shopping mall.) The Market-Frankford Line was equipped with new cars in 1961. However, despite these improvements ridership continued to fall, to 316.5 million in 1962 and 277.4 million in 1967.

National City Lines control destroyed some of the old PRT heritage, but not the tradition of paralyzing transit strikes, which resumed under the TWU. This led to a new round of pressure for public ownership under the reform administrations of the 1950s and 1960s. The nineteen-day strike of January 14-February 2, 1963 was the last straw. In 1963, the state finally authorized counties to combine to establish transit authorities and acquire private transportation companies, and on February 17, 1964, Delaware County joined the SEPACT partners to form the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). The new authority decided on an outright purchase of PTC, on the assumption that public employees were forbidden to strike. A dispute over the value of PTC's assets delayed the purchase of PTC, which occurred on September 30, 1968. However, public-employee strikes were legalized in 1970, so the hoped-for immunity was not achieved. PTC was liquidated in November 1973.

On January 29, 1970, SEPTA purchased the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company from the Taylor family at what amounted to a forced sale. Popularly known as the Red Arrow Lines, PSTC was essentially a small but successful family business that had been formed on April 13, 1936 by the merger of several trolley companies that fanned from the western end of the Market Street subway/elevated at 69th Street into the Delaware and Chester County suburbs. The principal lines ran to West Chester (1899-1954), Ardmore (1902-1966), Media 1913-date), and Sharon Hill (1917-date). On January 1, 1954, PSTC acquired the Philadelphia & Western Railroad, builder and operator of high-speed interurban lines to Stratford (1907-1956) and Norristown (1912-date). Beginning in the 1930s the company developed a system of bus routes in the western suburbs that supplemented and eventually replaced parts of its rail network.

SEPTA made a number of improvements in the system in the 1970s and 1980s. The Bridge Line to Camden and Locust Street Subway were closed on December 28, 1968 and reopened on January 4, 1969 as part of the new Port Authority Transit Corporation (PATCO) line to Lindenwold, N.J. The Broad Street Subway was extended to Pattison Avenue on April 8, 1973 to serve the new Veterans' Stadium and Spectrum sports arena, and the line was equipped with new cars in 1982. New light rail transit vehicles (LRTs) were purchased for the subway-surface and Media/Sharon Hill lines in 1980 and the bus fleet was replaced with next-generation models. In 1999, a third generation of cars was placed on the Market-Frankford Line.

Commuter Rail System

Rail service in the suburban counties had been developed by a number of private companies beginning in the 1830s, although rail commuting to city jobs was uncommon before the mid-1850s. By 1900 all of the lines on both sides of the Delaware River had been consolidated into two large systems, the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Reading Company.

The Reading lines centered on Reading Terminal at 13th and Market Streets (built 1893). In order of construction they included the Chestnut Hill East Line to Germantown (1832) and Chestnut Hill (1854) and the Norristown Line (1835), built by the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown Railroad; the Lansdale/Doylestown Line (1855-56) and the West Trenton Line (1876), built by the North Pennsylvania Railroad; the Willow Grove/Hatboro Line, built by the North East Pennsylvania Railroad in 1872-74; and the Fox Chase/Newtown Line, built by the Philadelphia, Newtown & New York Railroad in 1872-78. All but the last were electrified on July 26, 1931.

The PRR lines originally centered on Broad Street Station built opposite City Hall in 1881 and enlarged in 1893-96. The oldest component was the Paoli Line, built in 1832-33 by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as part of the Main Line of Public Works and acquired by the PRR in 1857. The others were the Trenton Line, built the Philadelphia & Trenton Railroad in 1834; the Wilmington Line, built by the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad in 1838; the Media/West Chester Line, built by the Philadelphia & West Chester Railroad in 1854-58; and the Chestnut Hill West and Manayunk-Norristown Line built by the PRR through subsidiaries in 1884. The PRR lines were electrified as follows: Paoli, September 12, 1915; Chestnut Hill, March 30, 1918; Wilmington, September 30, 1928; Media/West Chester, December 2, 1928; Trenton, June 29, 1930; and Norristown, July 20, 1930. The PRR opened the underground Suburban Station at 17th and Filbert Streets on September 28, 1930 and the new Thirtieth Street Station on December 15, 1933 and removed most of the electric commuter trains from Broad Street Station. The PRR purchased six lightweight "Pioneer III" electric cars in 1958 but most passengers rode the fleet of MP-54 "red cars" built in the teens and twenties.

Both railroads suffered severe erosion of their overall traffic bases after 1957, increasing the significance of the losses on commuter operations. In 1958, the city of Philadelphia contracted with each railroad to subsidize service within the city limits in return for increased levels of service, a flat 30-cent fare within the city, and 10-cent transfers to PTC lines. "Operation Northwest" (Chestnut Hill East and West) began on October 26, 1958, "Operation Northeast" (Fox Chase) on September 9, 1959, and "Operation Torresdale: (Trenton Line) on October 30, 1960. The program acquired a permanent administrative structure with the formation of the Passenger Service Improvement Company of Philadelphia (PSIC) in July 1960. The city also purchased a total of 55 lightweight electric multiple-unit ("Silverliner II") cars, 38 for the PRR and 17 for the Reading, which were delivered in 1963, and twelve second-hand rail diesel cars (RDCs) for the Reading's non-electric lines. PSIC sponsored the electrification of the Newtown Line from Wayne Junction to Fox Chase, which opened on September 29, 1966.

To extend subsidized service into the suburbs, Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester and Montgomery Counties formed the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Compact (SEPACT) in September 1961. SEPACT was eligible for federal mass transit funds and conducted three pilot projects that focused on increasing services, lowering fares, providing coordination and transfers between rails and buses, and improving parking at suburban stations. SEPACT I consisted of "Operation North Penn-Hatboro" (Lansdale and Hatboro Lines) and "Operation Levittown" (Trenton Line), which began on October 28, 1962 and ran for three years. However, SEPACT I produced little net gain in ridership, commuters merely moved from unimproved, higher-fare lines to the improved, lower-fare ones. SEPACT II consisted of a fifteen-year commuter rail plan, which called for a number of improvements, including a tunnel connecting the PRR and Reading Lines in Center City that did not open until 1984. SEPACT III consisted of "Operation Reading", an eighteen-month crash program (May 1965-October 1966) prompted by the Reading's announcement in 1964 that it would cancel all passenger service. "Operation Reading," which included services to Pottstown, Reading and Quakertown beyond the limits of the regular suburban zone, combined subsidies with local publicity campaigns to increase ridership.

SEPTA became the managing agent for SEPACT on November 1, 1965. This brought Delaware County, which had not joined SEPACT, into the fold. Schedule improvements were extended to the Paoli, Media/West Chester, and Wilmington Lines on February 20, 1966. Twenty new "Silverliner III" cars for the PRR lines were received in 1967. An order for 144 "Silverliner IV" cars was placed in 1971 and delivered in 1973-74. Electrification was extended from Hatboro to Warminster in rapidly-developing Bucks County on July 29, 1974.

The PRR and Reading continued to be responsible for the operation of all services under the SEPTA subsidies. The PRR was merged into the Penn Central Transportation Company in 1968, which in turn declared bankruptcy two years later. The Reading Company declared bankruptcy in 1971. With the formation of Amtrak in 1971, SEPTA became responsible for the remaining Reading long-distance trains, which Amtrak declined to accept. These included runs to Pottsville and Bethlehem, Pa., and two commuter trains between Philadelphia and Newark, N.J.

Most Penn Central and Reading lines used by SEPTA's subsidized trains were conveyed to Conrail on April 1, 1976, and Conrail became the service operator. The tracks of the Paoli, Trenton, and Wilmington Lines were conveyed to Amtrak as part of the Northeast Corridor and Harrisburg Lines, with Conrail/SEPTA leasing running rights. Most of the other lines, which had little freight service, were sold to SEPTA by Conrail and the estates of the bankrupt railroads in 1976 and 1979. The former Reading long-distance services beyond the electrified zone were discontinued in the summer of 1981.

Under federal legislation designed to release Conrail from commuter service losses, operation of all suburban lines was transferred to SEPTA effective January 1, 1983. Unlike the transfers in other metropolitan areas, that in Philadelphia was accompanied by severe disruptions. SEPTA replaced former railroad operating rules and wage scales with those typical of rapid transit operators, and as a result, few qualified railroad crews changed employers. This led to severe service reductions and cancellations for about two weeks, until sufficient new employees could be trained or induced to transfer from the railroads. This was followed by a long strike over rules and wages that lasted from March 15 to June 30. Service on the Wilmington Line was cut back to Marcus Hook on January 11, as the State of Delaware declined to grant a subsidy. Service between Fox Chase and Newtown was discontinued on January 18 because of failure of the rail diesel cars. All remaining SEPTA services were covered by electric traction.

In 1984 SEPTA finally completed the Center City Commuter Connection tunnel linking the former PRR and Reading Lines. The tunnel began at Suburban Station, passed under Reading Terminal to a new station called Market East, then turned north and connected with the former Reading main line at 9th and Brown Streets. Limited shuttle service between Suburban Station and Market East began on July 2. Reading Terminal was closed on November 6 and the tunnel opened for full service on November 10. Six days later, the Columbia Avenue Bridge on the Reading main line was found to be unsafe and Reading service into Market East was suspended until December 15 so the bridge could be replaced.

During the 1980s SEPTA was forced to make substantial repairs to badly-deteriorated bridges, catenary, and signal systems. Rail service on the Paoli Line was extended to Downingtown during the Schuylkill Expressway reconstruction on March 3, 1985, and to Parkesburg on April 1, 1990, tapping a growing area of Chester County. Rail service was extended to Philadelphia International Airport on April 28, 1985 and a subsidy from the Delaware Dept. of Transportation permitted restoration of service to Wilmington on January 16, 1989. Two other lightly-used lines were abandoned because of poor track conditions, Elwyn to West Chester on September 19, 1986, and Cynwyd-Ivy Ridge on October 16, 1986. The purchase of seven five-car push-pull trainsets and electric locomotives in 1988 permitted the retirement of the last heavyweight MUs (the Reading "Blue Cars" of 1931). Service on the ex-PRR Paoli line was cut back from Parkesburg to Downingtown on November 10, 1996, for lack of ridership, but restored as far west as a new park-and-ride station at Thorndale on November 22, 1999. Service on the Wilmington line was extended to Newark, Del., on September 2, 1997. SEPTA has planned various rail improvements, including restoration of service to Reading, and a suburb-to-suburb line utilizing the old PRR Trenton Cut Off, but it has suffered from a perennial lack of funds, frequent budget wrangles between the city on the one hand and the suburbs and state on the other, job losses in Center City, and suburban densities too low to support public transit.

Scope and Content

The John F.Tucker Transit History Collection consists of official documents produced or used by Mr. Tucker during his career as a public transit official, records of the pre-SEPTA Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company (1907-1939) and the Philadelphia Transportation Company (1940-1968) that he preserved from loss or destruction, and materials collected out of his interest in the history of transit systems, particularly electric traction lines. The collection traces the evolution of the Philadelphia transit system, its extent, routes and services, and of North American rail rapid transit generally. Annual reports, periodicals and books from Tucker's collection have been transferred to the Published Collections Department.

The bulk of the collection is naturally devoted to the SEPTA service area in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties in Pennsylvania. The collection contains a number of important studies and publications from the administration of Thomas E. Mitten (1912-1929). There are also route guides, maps, commuter rail timetables (1975-1997), bus schedules (1982-1991), newsletters (1971-1988), plant and equipment inventories, and a nearly complete route history arranged by routes (1978). "Service Changes" (1923-1964) is a series of passenger handouts covering route and service changes. There are also reports relative to the purchase of PTC by SEPTA in 1968 and the takeover of commuter rail service in 1982-1983, and a press kit for the 1984 closing of Reading Terminal and the opening of the Center City Commuter Tunnel. Other items of note include the minute book of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Air Service, Inc., some labor accounts and contractor's field notebooks from the construction of the Market Street Subway-Elevated, and ledger no. 2 from Willow Grove Park (1897-1904). Material on the development of air rights over the 30th Street rail yards includes a copy of the master plan by Dan Peter Kopple & Associates and Geddes Brecher Qualls Cunningham and a preliminary architectural design by Charles W. Moore.

Existence and Location of Copies

View selected items online in the Hagley Digital Archives.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Contact the Digital Collections department to view the 2001 American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Rail Transit Conference proceedings.

Related Material

Harold E. Cox Transportation Collection (Collection 3158), Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Edward R. Stickel Collection (Accession 2056), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library

Pennsylvania Railroad Company Records (Accession 1807/1810), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library

Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company Records (Accession 1370), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library

Reading Company Records (Accession 1520), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library

Ron DeGraw Transit Collection (Accession 2397), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Records (Accession 2123), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library

Regrettably, most of the archives of the Philadelphia Transportation Company and its predecessors were lost during the National City Lines period and the subsequent transfer to SEPTA. Some passed into the hands of other employees and private collectors. Many were taken by streetcar historian Harold Cox, only to be lost when Hurricane Agnes flooded his home near Wilkes-Barre. Cox later gave some of the surviving records to the Atwater Kent Museum. Early PRT glass pate negatives are at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Language of Materials


Additional Description


A portion of the collection (9 linear feet) was given to Hagley directly by John F. Tucker at the time he left SEPTA for Dayton in the early 1990s. The remainder was donated by his sister and executor and was removed from his home after his death in 2008. Tucker made other donations and loans of parts of his collection during his lifetime. Extensive duplicate materials and items of lesser interest, including bus maps for many middle-sized cities, were distributed to Tucker's friends and colleagues in the railroad and transit enthusiast community.

Separated Materials

John F. Tucker collection of Philadelphia transit photographs (Accession 1994.224), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Processing Notes

Pieces from Tucker's extensive collection of books on railroad, transit, local history and other subjects have been merged into the general Imprints collection, as have annual reports and serial publications of PRT, PTC and SEPTA.

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

John F. Tucker collection on transit history
Christopher T. Baer
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
Script of description:

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA