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Guest Commentary: Any Subaru Park expansion should include mass transit upgrades

Recently, PSP co-managing editor Kyle Grantham wrote about the Philadelphia Union’s exploration of expanded seating options for Subaru Park, potentially adding room for several thousand additional fans. As Kyle noted, expanding Subaru Park, which opened in 2010 and is one of the smallest stadiums in the MLS, presents many architectural and engineering challenges.

There’s also the question of how all these additional people will get to and from the stadium on match days. The Union purchased much of the land between Seaport and 2nd Street from Norris to Highland Avenue, all of which will likely become parking lots with the transformation of the former Lot B parking into the new WSFS Sportsplex. But as any Union fan who has tried to leave the game after the final whistle knows, there’s no easy way to move thousands of cars in and out of parking lots with the current stadium capacity. No matter how wide the roads get or where the lots are, gridlock is inevitable.

With Subaru Park’s anticipated expansion, SEPTA and the Union have a unique opportunity to increase access to mass transit. By building a new station closer to the stadium, SEPTA could potentially boost ridership on its regional rail network and ease gridlock around the stadium.

Currently, the SEPTA stop nearest Subaru Park is the Highland Avenue station on the Wilmington-Newark regional rail line (not to be confused with Highland Station on Chestnut Hill West). Before the pandemic, Highland Avenue was one of five stations on the Wilmington-Newark line that averaged fewer than 100 riders daily, and has previously been identified as a candidate for station closure due to low ridership. 

Anyone who has been to the Highland Avenue station can see why ridership is so low. Unfortunately, the station is barely more than a glorified bus stop. The platform on the north side of the tracks is the length of just one train car — about 80 feet — and the platform on the south side isn’t much larger. Neither platform has shelters to protect riders from inclement weather, nor are the platforms elevated, making it necessary for riders to walk up or down stairs to access the train.

Because Highland Avenue has such low usage it sees few trains, but even if it did, it’s a long walk to Subaru Park. The station is roughly one mile from the stadium (about 5,400 feet) through residential neighborhoods. As a result, most people are not going to take regional rail to Union matches when this is their best option.

Although SEPTA has previously expressed interest in closing down low-performing stations, there’s a better option when it comes to Highland Avenue. Rather than remove the station entirely from the regional rail network, in turn leaving the community without access to commuter rail, SEPTA should consider relocating the station nine blocks east where it would be adjacent to Route 322 and the Commodore Barry Bridge. There’s enough space just east of the bridge to build a station with 600-foot raised platforms, with one end of the station at Flower Street just 2,000 feet walking distance from the stadium grounds. For anyone regularly parking in Lot C, this would be two-thirds the distance they usually walk, and would lead straight to the Sons of Ben Tailgate and new Union Yards.

This idea isn’t far-fetched or too far off of SEPTA’s radar. Multiple studies have looked into the feasibility of relocating the station to Engle Street, which would be closer than the current station but about 700 feet farther away than a station at Flower Street.

What’s the cost?

The 2011 Chester Riverfront & Community Rail Access Study estimated it would cost $27 million for “relocating the station to a more advantageous location,” and ultimately recommended building “either a new Highland Avenue Station at its existing location or a new station at a different location which provides for better rail access for the city.” That cost has undoubtedly increased, just like the cost of a stadium expansion since it was last explored around the same time, but the increased access a new station would bring should pay dividends on the investment. 

Timing the train schedules to align with Union matches could get a little tricky. SEPTA could operate additional trains to and from Wilmington on game days, perhaps running trains every 15 minutes before and after matches to accommodate more riders. Or, SEPTA could work with Amtrak to add additional tracks (known as sidings) for trains to park on the approach to the new station. Trains could then wait on the siding until the match ends and then roll up to the station when the platforms fill up with passengers ready to return home.

The big picture

Obviously, adding regional rail capacity to this area of Chester would help ease traffic gridlock on game days. Two trains ready to go after a match could carry more than 1,500 passengers south to Delaware and north to Philadelphia and its suburbs. Based on the national average of 1.5 riders per car, that means nearly 1,000 fewer cars that will need to park at the stadium.

While this could potentially decrease revenue from parking pass sales, a broader opportunity for revenue exists from developing the properties they’ve acquired into businesses rather than surface lots. The Larimer, a brewery open almost exclusively around Union games, on Engle St. is a popular spot for fans to wait out the gridlock after games. Imagine an entire village of pubs and shops where fans actively choose to visit before and after games, not just to wait out the gridlock. 

It’s safe to assume that most fans will drive to Subaru Park on match days simply because the stadium is not in Philadelphia, but there should be other options, especially with and expansion of the stadium. Public transit will get people out of their cars and walking around Flower Street, which will be an economic stimulus to the surrounding community. If Jay Sugarman’s vision for Subaru Park is for it to become the centerpiece of a sprawling sports and entertainment complex along the Chester riverfront, then that plan needs to involve passenger rail. A better train station closer to the stadium that can serve more riders in that area of Chester will likely increase regional rail revenue, making it a win for stadium goers, SEPTA, and the surrounding businesses.

Jordan Howell is an independent journalist based out of Wilmington, Delaware, covering transportation and politics for Delaware Call, an independent media group that engages in investigative journalism, political analysis, and Delaware-focused commentary. He is also the editor of the Delaware Express Trains social media account, which advocates for improving commuter rail between Delaware and Philadelphia.


  1. OneManWolfpack says:

    One can dream… a good article, nonetheless

  2. Eric Boyle says:

    Nice analysis. I thought at one time there was a shuttle from the station to the Soob. I think safety is also a concern for people taking SEPTA especially if they have to walk from the station. Another reason why few people use the station.

    I am also coming up from DE and got used to the long walk from the far end of Lot C! Now I wade through the mud in Lot J!

  3. John P. O'Donnell says:

    Moving an entire train line closer to the stadium for a guaranteed 17 games a year just doesn’t seem cost efficient. What would cost a lot less is to revitalise the marina next to the stadium and run water taxis to Philadelphia on game day. They could just add floating docks and use an asset that’s already there.

    • That’s been the argument for a lot of things around the stadium over the years but it’s not true any more. With the sportsplex there are and will be events there much more often. When the indoor portion is complete, there will be events year round. In fact considering the sportsplex location maybe the Engle street station proposed by SEPTA is the better option.

      • High level platforms are a dream. Fantasy. Not going to happen in Chester for 17 games a year. Even for 50 events (which is highly unlikely). Look at how many (very few) stations on the Paoli / Thorndale line have high level platforms, and that is Septa’s most heavily ridden line.
        There is no way it happens in Chester.

    • A Bus Shuttle from just across the river would also work.

  4. Great article. I would love to see the station moved and modernized with high-level platforms.


    The thing is can the city/county/state and the Union get it done? I have major doubts. We’re more than 15 years in and ownership is still struggling to put together a competitive team on the field and develop the surrounding area. I get the impression ownership is willing to deal with all the parking and traffic chaos because they depend on the parking revenue. I’d love to be proven wrong and would enjoy taking the train to more games.

  5. Pipe dream.
    Septa is not paying for sidings just to serve 17 Union matches a year. It wouldn’t do it for 34 events a year.
    1500 people taking Septa after each game is a ridiculous estimate.
    Cannot be based in fact. It may be a hope, a dream… but not real.
    The fact is that once the stadium was built where is was (as opposed to the “stadium complex” in South Philly), public transport was never a viable option, and it does not remain one.
    People demand options, and weekend service on the Wilmington line is sparse at best in the evenings. Septa is already looking to plug budget holes. And you expect them to add trains? Not going to happen.

  6. Good info, a conundrum, at best.

    Despite the woes of leaving games at Subaru, the woes of standing in line for everything will only get worse, because no matter how many new seats are added the challenge of one concourse will be unavoidable. It’s so crowded now with 18,000+, imagine with another 4,000 more people?

    A solution is to permanently move concessions ‘outside’ the stadium, and allow better flow for the movement of people within the stadium. The area south of the stadium (where kiddie games are) is set up perfectly to house concessions in a open area, closed off for gate control. This area could house far larger concession stands and allow more people to buy food and beverages more easily. Plus food trucks could then be admitted within the stadium, so to speak!

    • Eric Boyle says:


      Adding more Chickie&Pete’s stands only seemed to make the congestion worse lol!

      I read Union Yards was being expanded and that should help if there are more choices out there. The Mexican food truck last year was really good!

  7. Agree with what others posted about how unlikely public transit investment is. SEPTA was recently threatening to close the Chestnut Hill West line, so it’s hard to imagine they’ll be inspired to pony up $27 million (which sounds really pricey) for a new station platform on an underused line.

    The only thing I can think of that might change the math on this is if the new complex being build down there attracts a lot more regular visitors. Still, you’re probably going to be talking about a largely suburban audience for whom trains are a hard sell. They have to do something about the parking/traffic situation though. It’s ridiculous.

    • Eric Boyle says:

      Pete, you make a good point about the audience. Parents bringing in youth teams from the suburbs to play at the complex are not going to be using public transit. The same can be said for games. Ridership is likely limited to some fans in DELCO and Philly.

      They need to pave and line the lots. Amazingly there was some traffic direction leaving the rained out game. That would be a big help for a bigger crowd. Every time I talk with my ticket rep parking/traffic is the first thing I mention.

      • have been informed that paving of the lots isnt permitted due to enviromental concerns from previous land owners

      • Eric Boyle says:

        Good point. I would imagine that it is driven more by the state or EPA in the case of environmental issues. Several of the lots were already zoned for industrial use though.

  8. Scrap the whole thing. Sell the stadium to the State. Putting lipstick on a pig still makes it a pig. The biggest mistake that was ever made was allowing the Stadium to be built in Chester. Nobody from the suburbs especially families are going to come to the stadium for anything other than get to the game and then hope you get out of Chester as quickly and safely as possible. Better Public transportation might work for some young adults coming from Center city. However this not solution for fans coming from NJ , De or the outer PA suburbs. Chester is unsafe and worse than Camden. The solution is to build a new stadium on the other side of the river in NJ on the waterfront directly across from the existing stadium. Then you bring in restaurants, upscale condos etc. NJ should have made a sweetheart deal with the Union before Rendell swept in and killed it. What a missed opprtuniy NJ.

    • John P. O'Donnell says:

      This is less likely than SEPTA building a new station and moving the train line.

      • So rather than fixing things they built beautiful practice fields and continue to ignore their STH base

      • Eric Boyle says:

        TBF they are building a (youth) soccer facility which should be an income generator and with a major sponsor in WSFS Bank. So not just practice fields.

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