Beneath the holiday lights, beer garden, and merry-go-round in Philadelphia's Franklin Square are empty white and green-tiled corridors that end in stairways to nowhere.
Underground, PATCO trains speed by vacant platforms, but never stop. And a fare collection area, painted a gaudy orange that might have looked fashionable 40 years ago, slowly decays.
Since at least 2002 there have been murmurs of the defunct Franklin Square PATCO station reopening, but members of the Delaware River Port Authority board, which oversees PATCO, said Wednesday reviving the stop is one of the bistate authority's priority projects for the near future.
"That area's jumping. The ridership numbers are good," said John Dougherty, DRPA board member and politically influential leader of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98.
"There are so many people coming to Philly that would take the PATCO speed line back."
Dougherty brought up the possibility of reopening the station at the DRPA's monthly board meeting Wednesday, when the board approved the 2017 capital budget. Both the board chairman, Ryan Boyer, and vice chair, Jeff Nash, called the project a priority.
Of the $158.3 million budgeted for 2017, only $510,000 was set aside for the Franklin Square project, money that will start the design process for the extensive renovations that would be needed if the station reopens. The entire project will cost about $28 million, the DRPA has estimated. Opening the station would entail an additional $800,000 in annual expenses, said John Hanson, the DRPA's chief executive.
In the last two years the authority has unsuccessfully sought federal grant money to help defray the costs, but Hanson said Wednesday that the $754.8 million, five-year capital plan included enough money to bring the station back to working order.
"The lower the costs get, the easier the decision becomes," Hanson said, saying the DRPA would continue pursuing grant money, but adding, "We've got the ability to fully fund the capital program."
The station, which began serving transit riders in 1936, has never drawn enough people to be self-sustaining, and has never stayed open for more than a few years at a time, most recently from 1976 to 1979. Of all the projects in the latest capital budget, which include almost $11 million for bridge painting and $40 million for fleet maintenance, the station rehabilitation is the only one that would offer a significant change to PATCO's rail service in the region.
An application for a federal grant this year estimated 1,300 riders a day would use the station, which would become the fifth in Philadelphia to connect riders with destinations in southern New Jersey. The application cited four separate development projects, three on Race Street and one on Columbus Boulevard, within a five-minute walk of the station that could boost the number of people using the station.
The next step in the process will be the Operations and Maintenance Committee meeting Nov. 29, which would approve the beginning of the design process. The project would need the approval of the governors of both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but a vote to put the project into motion could be before the DRPA board within five months, officials said.