Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Extend the Northern Delaware Greenway West, Part 2

Continued from Part 1 -- Our proposed western terminus at the intersection of North DuPont Road and Route 52 plugs into a small police station that shares the parking lot with a row of free DART bike storage lockers and a DART park-and-ride. Additionally, the old railway runs underneath Route 52, via a tunnel. This route would provide a way for cyclists and pedestrians to avoid the danger that is involved in crossing and riding along that road, and providing a safer and easier-to-ride way to and from the trail. At present, the NDG ends shortly after crossing the Brandywine River at Bancroft Mills Road, which has on-site parking. Bancroft Mills Road is a dead-end roadway. Its entrance branch is shared with another dead-end, Brandywine Falls Road. These short roadways could serve as extensions of the NDG. As both roads handle only local and slow-moving residential automobile traffic, very minimal work would be necessary, such as some signage to mark the continuation of the NDG. However, accessibility to the proposed extension from the NDG is right now cut off abruptly at the end of Brandywine Falls Road by a locked gate and vegetation. If the remainder of the abandoned railway that once served Bancroft Mills were opened up to foot traffic and bicyclists, it would extend the trail for almost three more miles.

The NDG is already one of the most beautiful and heavily used trails in Delaware. The trail would connect high school students at Wilmington Charter and Cab Calloway School of the Arts via neighborhood roads, giving them a safe way to commute to school without clogging up the already traffic-heavy North DuPont Road. The trail would also run along the property boundary of Alexis DuPont Middle School; there’s even an entrance with stairs from the school that enters the abandoned rail bed.

There is a Wilmington to Newark pathway being developed that would greatly benefit by shrinking the gap in trails between the intersection of Route 141/Route 52 and where Route 52 now plugs into the NDG. Our proposal would also provide the means for bicyclists and pedestrians to avoid climbing the very steep hill along Rockford Road.

At various points along the NDG are spurs that connect large businesses, research facilities, and office buildings, such as the DuPont Experimental Station, AstraZeneca, A.I. DuPont Children’s Hospital, among others. There are also several recreational areas and parks, such as the Can-Do Playground & soccer fields, Alapocas Run, Rockford Park, Rockwood Manor, The Blue Ball Barn Banquet Hall, Bellevue State Park, and many more. The NDG's Northeastern Terminus is along the bike-friendly Business Route 13, situated between Bellefonte and Claymont, and can be used to reach the SEPTA station. SEPTA trains accept folding bikes at all hours, and non-folding bikes at all hours headed into Delaware, and all bikes into Philly on non-peak hours.

Neighborhoods such as Alapocas Woods, Greenville, Fairfax, Weldin Ridge, and Pennyhill all have direct access to the NDG. It already serves as a commuter route for workers and locals near the trail, and extending it further into more neighborhoods and businesses, such as those at Chestnut Run, would provide even greater access to commuters. The Chestnut Run area has several major businesses inside, such as a DuPont facility. Commuters could also use DART’s bus services at the proposed terminus at North DuPont Road/Route 52, in conjunction with their commute, utilizing the free bike lockers.

Potential Risks: There were some potential problems with this proposal that we wanted to address ahead of time, should questions arise. Among the questions asked of us:

a) Will rail companies want to use this railway again?

Not likely. The risk of a railway ever wanting to re-open the abandoned line is nonexistent because Bancroft Mills has been converted into apartments and a State Park – there is no further use for the rail line here as a result.

b) What will the trail surface be like?

The trail’s surface is the perfect width and grade for cyclists and hikers, as railroads are generally flat and built to withstand erosion. Ideally, it will be paved with asphalt.

c) What about trail security?

For security reasons, Bancroft Mills locks the bridge between the Brandywine River and its development at sunset, and a similar measure could be taken with regard to guarding this trail to keep residential housing along the trail safe and secure. Brandywine Falls Road already ends at a locked gate, marking the differentiation of abandoned railway and active neighborhood roadway. Closing the trail from the Park-and-Ride section at sunset should be possible as well.

d) What about trail maintenance?

The existing embankment created by the railway is solid, with the earth already compacted. The bridges over small creeks are intact and in excellent condition.

e) What about the bridge over Rising Sun Lane?

Engineers would need to conduct a study as to its structural condition, but the bridge does seem solidly in place, and wouldn't need to support much weight in addition to itself, considering it was designed to support steam locomotives and freight trains.

 f) What about the tunnel under Route 52?

Re-creating the concrete walkway to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists would be necessary. The remnants of the old pathway still exist but are in very poor condition.

g) Who owns the land that the trail is on?

As far as we can tell, it is not owned by any private entity. It was formerly owned by the Reading Railroad and Penn Central, which went into bankruptcy and was then bought out by CONRAIL (government railroad). Markers have been found marking private property boundaries, but are well short of the railway’s right-of-way.

In Summary, our proposal would extend one of the most popular trails in Delaware along the scenic Brandywine River. It would connect the NDG to additional schools and neighborhoods, and bypass steep climbs and hazardous roads for those whose destination is along the proposed Newark-Wilmington Pathway. All of this could be done with minimal labor and a small budget, as most of right of way is in tact and already cleared of vegetation.

The trail extension we are proposing is ideal for commuter bicyclists, recreational bikers and hikers alike. We would like to see it completed to enhance the NDG and promote active transportation and recreation in Northern Delaware.

You can also visit Abandoned Rails for more photos and a history of the Kentmere Branch Railroad.
Joel Schwaber lives in North Wilmington. A caring advocate, he operates the Wilmington Bike Recycling co-op. Joel's only goal is to put more people on bikes, at little or no cost. Email Joel at schwabthedeck@gmail.com if you would like to volunteer to help, or donate a bicycle(s). Anne G. of Newark, advocate and co-author, is also pictured.


  1. Ok. What's the next step in getting this done?

  2. I think the next step should be to fight for this trail's creation, as well as finding out who owns the land that the railway runs on, acquiring it, getting a feasibility study performed, and then getting an estimator, finding a contractor, and then doing it.

  3. Apparently, it's connecting through the gated community that's the sticking point. The RR itself isn't so much the problem as is rampant NIMBYism. It would be helpful to establish the status of the RR property, however. If that gets done, the pressure to connect the two will increase.


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