In 1909, the city leaders celebrated with much fanfare the opening of the Spring Street Subway, a rail bridge that eliminated a dangerous Reading Railroad crossing – first for pedestrians and later for cars.
The Reading Railroad was well established in the area before city engineers considered building the subway.
So to construct it, crews had to dig under the railroad tracks and install steel and concrete to support the tracks and not disrupt the dozens of trains that moved through Reading daily.
At the turn of the 20th century, city leaders found it wise to spend $135,000 to build the overpass instead of having people risk injury hopping over and around trains at the rail yard. Back in the early 1900s, more than 1,200 people worked at the Reading yards and nearby shops, and Spring Street, a connector to the eastern and western ends of the city, was a place to cross the tracks.
As the railroad company grew, the number of people walking at the Spring Street crossing increased. “It is used more and more every day,” the yard watchman told a Reading Eagle reporter in 1904. “I have been fortunate in preventing accidents, but I want to tell you that there have been some narrow escapes.” For a time, Reading scoffed at spending money for a rail bridge. But caving to public pressure, the city moved ahead in 1907 to start construction.
Fast-forward a century.
The lines of the old Reading Railroad over Spring Street are much quieter, but cars can safely pass beneath rails, thanks to the subway. New lights have helped improve visibility in the long tunnel, but it’s a dark walk even during the day. And it would take millions of dollars to fix the flooding problems that plague the area, Jones said. Considering the dip in train traffic, the subway could eventually be replaced with a much smaller bridge, he said.
But regardless of its future, in the mind of Mayor Tom McMahon, the subway has reached iconic status.
“It’s become part of the local lore,” he said. “We have a lot of these unique places in Reading. You discover them one at a time.”
The structure is located on Spring street, between N 6th and Nicolis Street, just down from the old abandoned Reading Station Outlets.