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Top Secret Facility Tour + Series of Fortunate Events

Posted by on April 9th, 2012 with 8 Comments

Many years ago, I started hearing tales of a super secret command center where Philadelphia’s public transportation service – Septa – monitors all their bus, train, light rail, subway, el and trolley routes. I heard of giant live boards with various lights and blips and other fancy, complicated devices. As stories of this place persisted, I vowed someday to visit. Because at its heart, Philly is a very small town, I knew that someday I would.

Here’s how things happen in this city:

Last year I attended TEDxPhilly as part of the Resurrect Dead entourage. Director Jon Foy did a talk:

Jon Foy TEDxPhilly, 2011

One of the other speakers was Septa’s Mike Z. If you clicked through, that awesome headshot was taken by my friend Albert Yee. Mike Z’s talk was supported by Albert’s photos from inside the super-secret nerve center. It was my first glimpse behind the curtain. After the lectures, I caught up with Albert, met Mike and talked for a bit about various Septa related topics.

Many months passed.

Through the local programming community, my wife recently met Mike.  A few weeks ago, he set up a set a series of tours of the command center. On Friday, the 3 of us (no one else showed up) were granted access. We met in the abandoned Buttonwood subway station where bags were put over our heads and we were spun around a few times. At that point we were loaded onto a Not in Service bus and driven around for an hour. We disembarked into a windowless underground bunker, where our hoods were removed and we were led to the command center.

Or maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. It was still an undisclosed location and I’m sworn to secrecy. At the same time, when I asked if I could take some photos, I was told “absolutely.” So here’s a glimpse into the most high advanced multimodal public transit command center in the United States:

Wide View of Subway/El


Subway, El

Some Undisclosed Characters Discuss the Power Grid


Alternate Power View


Regional Rail Central


80's Sci Fi View


This is a Plant



  1. Ray Skwire says:

    That is awesome! How do I get in? ;p

  2. Steve says:

    @albert, very cool. @sean, thanks. and ray, I’m sworn to secrecy, but there’s enough information in here to give you some solid leads on who to ask.

  3. Steve says:

    *Addendum: The person who first told me about the command center was the boss of a guy I worked on a web app… the same guy who later left that company and went to work for TEDxPhilly. He then approached me about the movie and was the reason Jon spoke and I was in attendance. This town is small.

  4. Justin D. says:

    This is awesome! Who knew SEPTA had a secret futuristic looking base? It looks like the bridge of the USS Enterprise. On a related note I once got beat up and held at gun point by SEPTA cops for sneaking into that abandoned Buttonwood station. It’s a funny “classic Philly” tale that ends in bribery…. remind me to recap it for you next time I see you!

  5. Ross Presser says:

    Are you serious about the bags on the heads?

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