Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

PTC Substation #2, 1908
123-125 East Chelten Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19144

Harold E. Spaulding, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

 In the 1870s, horse cars traveled along Germantown Avenue; in the 1890s, electrification began in Philadelphia. In 1908, Philadelphia Transit Company built Substation #2 to convert alternating current into 650 volts of direct current to feed the Route 23 trolley line.
 
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) currently owns Substation Number 2. Now known as Substation Number 12, the building consists of two parts: the main hall, which contains the electrical equipment, and the adjacent switchgear room. The building is brick and has a large three bay Roman-type window prominently positioned in the center of the main hall's facade. The windows of the switchgear room are elegantly detailed with cut stone quoins and flat arch lintels.
 
This beautiful little system has been operating reliably for over 80 years. It has a classic open-front switchboard of ebony asbestos, with gleaming copper knife switches and Weston meters with cast iron cases. Facing the switchboard are three rotary synchronous convertors, alleged to be among the last station sets in Philadelphia. (In the future, they will no doubt be replaced by static devices and operate unmanned.) Their outputs run to the tracks via an underground cable, which feeds the trolley wire about every 300 feet and is easily visible. The trackage for the trolley is a bit unusual in that it is "Philadelphia Broad Gauge," 5 to 6 inches wider than standard rail gauge.
1 The builders of the system used this gauge to ensure that freight traffic would never be moved on the system.
 
The Route 23 trolley line, powered by Substation Number 2, is Philadelphia's longest and most diverse. It services very different neighborhoods, running from South Philadelphia, through Center City and Germantown, up to the top of Chestnut Hill.

1  Standard gauge is 4'-8-1/2" between rail centers; Philadelphia Broad Gauge, more correctly known as Pennsylvania Broad Gauge is 5'-2-1/4" between rail centers.


Update May 2007 (by Linny Schenk & Michael Parrington):
The brick building has fallen into disrepair.