bullet rendered elevationP & W High-Speed Line

Bullet on Viaduct Now known as SEPTA's Norristown High Speed Line, the Philadelphia and Western was built in 1906 from Upper Darby to Strafford. The branch to Norristown, which includes the mile-long truss bridge over the Schuylkill River, was completed in 1912. The entire line is grade separated, with a 600-volt third rail providing the power. The western portion of the original line, from Villanova to Strafford, was abandoned in 1956 and now serves as the Radnor Trail. That leaves the thirteen-mile long Upper Darby to Norristown segment active, with a new branch to the malls at King of Prussia currently under preliminary study.
Bullet 201 approaches the Norristown terminal on July 5, 1978. photo © Mike Szilagyi

Bullet train All-aluminum Bullet cars were the mainstay of this line from 1931 until 1990. These excellent high-speed trolleys were the first rail cars designed in a wind tunnel. Scale models were tested at the University of Michigan; imagine the early airplanes and dirigible airships that were also being designed at that time. Not only were these cars the latest in style, they made use of state of the art technology. They were capable of speed approaching 100 mph, and saw 80 mph regularly. That they lasted sixty years is a tribute to the soundness of the design, and the quality of their Brill construction. (The J.G. Brill company, with its sprawling plant in southwest Philadelphia, was the largest trolley manufacturer in the world.)
Three car Bullet train at Conshohocken Road on November 4, 1977. photo © Mike Szilagyi

inside bullet car Riding the Bullet cars was like stepping back in time to 1931. One thing that can't be related by these photographs is the deep buzz/hum emitted by the four powerful electric motors under the floor. And with much of the track in rough condition, riders felt every bit of the eighty miles an hour these cars were capable of. Matthew Mitchell of DVARP said, "On more than a few occasions in the early 80s after speedometers were installed in the Brills, Ted Mills would top 80 in them on one of his late night runs. Ted would even take his car back to the yard after rush hour so he could get one of the 'hot rods.'"
Interior of a Brill Bullet, December 16, 1978. photo © Mike Szilagyi

This computer re-creation shows the appearance of the Brill Bullets before the windshields were rebuilt and "grommetized". The 3D model was built based on detailed blueprints and photographs. Click here to see how this 3D computer model was built. brill bullet rendering

Strafford car Sharing the rails with the Bullets were the even more ancient "Strafford cars." These solid commuter cars were upgraded in the thirties to provide 70 mph service, but had none of the Bullet's sleek styling. They were built between the years of 1924 and 1927, only being retired about 1990. As seems to be the case so often with our old trolleys, they went on to useful lives elsewhere. The Union Electric utility in Iowa bought several of them for service across the Mississippi atop the Keokuk Dam. During the epic flooding of 1991, the Strafford cars carried crush loads as the dam became the only way to cross the river for many miles.
Brill car 167 at Conshohocken Road (Matsonford) in 1980. photo © Mike Szilagyi

Click here for an article about the history of the "Strafford Cars"

Click here for an up-to-date roster of what became of the "Strafford Cars"

Telephoto view Strafford 163 Strafford car 163 was spared the grommet look, retaining its wooden windshield frames. Here 163 leans into a curve south of Conshohocken Road (now Matsonford station) in autumn 1979. The P&W was designed by Stone & Webster to very high standards, allowing high speed operation with no grade crossings. "NIMBY" property owners in this area (Radnor Township) had tried to block construction of the rail line in 1912. Some things never change.
Brill car 163 near Conshohocken Road (Matsonford) on October 27, 1979. photo © Mike Szilagyi

N5 car delivery New transit cars for the P&W finally arrived in 1993. Built by ABB traction, they were delivered from Elmyra, New York by flat-bed truck. These are high-tech cars with high horsepower-to-weight ratios. Enough cars were ordered to equip the proposed high speed line extension to King of Prussia, and provision was made on these cars for overhead pantograph current collection in case the future extension is not third rail equipped.
N5 car 145 being delivered, approaching U.S. 422 at Betzwood, PA, August 18, 1993 photo © Mike Szilagyi

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