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The Reading Company's Bethlehem Branch
Prototype History
The origins of the Bethlehem Branch lie with the North Pennsylvania Railroad Company. The North Penn was originally incorporated as the Philadelphia, Easton and Water Gap Railroad Company on 09 July 1852. The railroad changed its name on 18 April 1853. The North Penn constructed the main Bethlehem Branch as well as the Doylestown Branch, the Stoney Creek Branch and the segment of the New York Branch from Jenkintown to Yardley. The branch to New Hope was originally constructed by the North Penn's subsidiary line the North East Pennsylvania Railroad Company. The North East Penn built the line as far as Hartsville and the Philadelphia & Reading finished the line to New Hope sometime in 1891. The North Penn was leased to the Philadelphia & Reading for 999 years on 14 May 1879. The North Penn was one of a handful of railroads in the Reading family to make it to the Conrail era, even though it had no railroad to operate.
The Philadelphia End of the Bethlehem Branch

Map of the Reading Company in Philadelphia

In the map above, dated 01 March 1974, the Bethlehem Branch can be followed along the southern end of it's route. The Bethelem Branch is the line which starts at Oreland (connection with the Plymouth Branch) at the top of the map, continues south through Glenside (connection with the New Hope Branch) and Jenkintown (connection with the New York Branch) and then diverges from the Ninth Street Branch at Tabor Junction. Bethlehem Branch continues south, passing under the New York Short Line in Olney and connecting with the Olney Branch at Erie (site of the old Erie Avenue Yard). The line passed over the Richmond Branch at Fairhill Junction and finally dwindled to single track as it approached the old North Penn terminal at Third and Berks Streets. The line did ramble south a bit further to a connection with the Willow and Noble Street Branch, but the connection is not shown on the map.

The Northern End of the Bethlehem Branch

In the map below, the rest of the Bethlehem Branch may be seen. This time, Jenkintown and Oreland are on the bottom of the map. The line leaving Third and Berks in the city was an uphill battle. Once the line exited the city limits and passed through suburbia and entered the rolling farm lands north of Jenkintown that the apparent lack of following a river valley course became apparent. The line north of Jenkintown has been likened to a roller coaster, with grades as steep as 1.2 per cent. The single track segment around Perkasie was the only remaining tunnel on the line. Another tunnel existed at Gwynedd Valley, but it was made in to a deep cut when that portion of the line was electrified in the 1930's. The Perkasie tunnel was originally constructed with double track, but as equipment grew the track was first made a gauntlet and finally single tracked through the opening.

The Northern End of the Bethlehem Branch