Todd's Railfan Guide to
Welcome to Philadelphia!


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I can't figure it out, I asked the guys on one of the Philly railfanning groups for help, and no-one spoke up.  I guess Philadelphia doesn't have any resident railfans :-)  So for now, I guess I'll have to go it alone, and if there are mistakes, hopefully, someone out there will email me and let me know.

Like Baltimore, there is definite lack of good railfan info for the area. And, if it does exist, where do you go to find it? There are a few places you can go on the internet, but there's no consistency, and many go as quickly as they come (just like mine could!).

To further complicate railfanning in Philadelphia, many places are referred to by their "CP" names, and without a real good map that concentrates on the tracks of Philly, it's very hard to decipher where these places are.  Even with the few railfan websites I have found for Philly, their descriptions are sometimes confusing, especially if you're trying to figure things out around ZOO!  So, what to do?  The Conrail MAP of the Philadelphia area is a good start, but the information needs to be overlaid on a decent road map so you know where things are.


The Philadelphia area offers the railfan a plethora of railroad signal types: Colorlights, Position Lights, Position Color Lights, and Color Position Lights.

Amtrak uses modified signals of the former Pennsylvania RR, position light signals (PL's), on the North East Corridor, which is shared by SEPTA on the southside of Philly, and NJT on the northside.

CPL signals proliferate on CSX's lines that once belonged to the B&O, up to the CP Gray area.  We have to be careful here tho, because CSX has started replacing them as they have in other areas, like Baltimore.  One place that is easy to see this is along I95 coming up from Wilmington where the tracks parallel the highway for a bit.  Also of note, is a set of pedestrian crossing gates using semaphore motors on the B&O in Darby, where a set of streetcar tracks also cross (the only place in the U.S., so I have heard)... fun place for photos!

Of course, the real winners around Philadelphia are the Position Light signals of the former Pennsylvania RR, because this is where it all started for them.  ZOO still has quite a few of them, and they can be still found on a lot of the SEPTA lines coming in and out of 30th Street Station on former PRR lines.  Pedestal and dwarf versions can easily be found too.

In addition, there are numerous places where you can get colorlight and "tri-light" signals in your shots.  Signal purists like to call them colorlight signals.  Tri-light signals are where the lenses are arranged in a triangular fashion.... one good spot for them is on the west side of the Norristown SEPTA station.

I know the Reading (and Lehigh Valley) used searchlight signals, and there are supposed be some on the ex RDG tracks between Philadelphia-Reading and Philadelphia-Allentown, but I'm not sure if there are any in the immediate area.  There may also be some where Penn Central re-signaled, for that's what they used in new projects.  Anyone want to help out here?

Resources - Don't leave home without them!.....

Here's a few things I recommend you take along and don't generally leave home without.....

-- Maps..... See the next section.

-- An Amtrak timetable, unless you're railfanning a line not serviced by them (I still bring em along anyway).

-- The American Shortline Railway Guide by Edward A. Lewis (Kalmbach).

-- If you carry along a scanner, there is a good website for railroad radio frequencies maintained by Jon Roma.  In these post 9/11 days, there is much pro and con discussion concerning the relative merits of being perceived as a terrorist threat if you have a scanner.  Add to that, that some states have laws preventing you from having portable scanners, such as Michigan and New Jersey.  If you are a ham, one option available to you is to buy a two-meter HT that also covers the Hi-VHF band.  I was lucky with two cops at the Plymouth Diamond in suburban Detroit.... they just threw my scanner into the trunk and let me off with a warning.

-- If you belong to AAA, they have pretty good guide books available with hotel info and other sights, altho the hotel information is limited to the ones they consider halfway worthwhile - rare is a listing for Motel 6.

-- Check Chamber of Commerce websites for hotel and motel info.

-- If you are going to be in Commuter Railroad or transit company territory, be sure to check their websites for information, photo policies, maps, and schedules.

-- Steam Productions has a series of regional map books.... While they are good railroad map books, as they contain a lot of railroad route and yard info, they don't have any road or highway info on the maps.  This makes them very difficult, if not impossible, to get around with them alone.  Careful coordination with a regular map is necessary.

Maps - Don't leave home without them either.....

-- If you do a lot of traveling, I definitely recommend joining the AAA.  They are an excellent source of "free" maps once you join (10 maps and you got your money back).  Almost every map I've obtained from them (so far) has had the railroads on ‘em, and some of them even have yard names (Portland OR and Indianapolis IN for instance).  With all the traveling I do, I find the $35 a year well worth the investment, if for nothing more than their maps.  A large number of the local offices usually have the more obscure local maps available at no cost -- some are AAA maps, some are locally printed maps.....  Even with the AAA, you still have to be careful, because they do distribute a few bummers as maps for the metro Boston, New York City and Philadelphia areas - they don't contain enough detail and they don't have any railroads on them. 

-- For the Philadelphia area, I recommend the series of county map books put out by ADC (Alexandria Drafting Co). They can be found everywhere: 7-11s, Giant food stores, drug stores, etc.  While I DO endorse their series of county map books, I DO NOT endorse their series of state map books - they lack railroad info.

-- Franklin puts out an excellent Metro Philadelphia street map book....  They're about $10-15 at most bookstores and some gas station/convenience stores in the area.

-- APB (Alfred B Patten) puts out a decent series of maps for the eastern PA area.

-- Geographica does the same for NJ and lower NY.

-- A newcomer I noticed at Sam's Club the other day......is a series of (topo) state map books by Coleman, they have railroads in ‘em.

-- I haven't been too impressed with the maps from DeLorme, so far.

-- Be careful with other maps.  One I purchased recently for a city in Iowa, had the Wabash and all of the other 60's era railroad names on it.  While this is nice for historical purposes, the other data on the map may not be current, either.   Some maps don't have railroads on them at all, so check em out before you buy em.

In Defense Of Myself.....

It's my website, it's that simple, so I won't bore you with the details, I'm sure ya'll have a hankerin for what I'm going to say.


The information I have included in my railfan guide is as accurate as it can be as of the time the page was done.  Otherwise, I guess I need to put this in here so someone can't sue me over the fact that a McDonalds is no longer there, or the Holiday Inn on one of my maps is now a Comfort Inn or Super 8.  I have made every effort to make sure that the information contained in this guide is correct.  If you find something is in error, please send me a note, but please make it a nice one, I'll throw the nasty ones away.  Please don't waste the bandwidth asking me why didn't I include something in the guide.  But if you have something to contribute, by all means, please send it in, don't keep it to yourself.

If you need to contact me about corrections and/or additions, please check my Contact Page

So OK, What about the other things to see around Philadelphia besides railroad stuff.....

Links for non-railroad attractions in the immediate Philadelphia area:

Independence Hall -

The Liberty Bell

The Benjamin Franklin Institute:

The Philadelphia Zoo:

The Philadelphia Museum of Art:

University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology - 3260 South St, Philadelphia, PA‎ - (215) 898-4000

Franklin Square:

The United States Mint - 151 North Independence Mall E, Philadelphia, PA‎ - (215) 408-0114

Penn's Landing - 121 N Columbus Blvd, Philadelphia, PA‎ - (215) 629-3200

Washington Square - 210 W Washington Square, Philadelphia, PA‎ - (215) 592-7787
No website available

The Mummers Museum - 1100 S 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA‎ - (215) 336-3050

For a boat load of sites, check out the A View On Cities website at: http://www.aviewoncities.com/philadelphia/philadelphiaattractions.htm

This site is a member of WebRing. To browse visit here.

NEW 12/19/2009
Last Modified 18-May-2012