In his book “The Pennsylvania Railroad 1940s-1950s,” author Don Ball describes the North Philadelphia station as “a hot spot on the railroad.” The station was of sufficient importance to merit several pages of coverage in the book. Ball cites the north-south trains on the main line, the east-west trains that bypass the 30th Street station, the trains from South Jersey and the Chestnut Hill line trains as “contributing to the action.” It’s no wonder the North Philadelphia station attracted railroad aficionados and photographers. A Pennsylvania Railroad employee timetable from 1965 shows 74 southbound passenger trains stopping at the station daily. Add the northbound trains and freight trains, the visitor had rarely a moment to become bored. Although much has changed in the ensuing decades, the North Philadelphia Station remains a hot spot today and is worthy of a visit.
North Philadelphia station was one of three important Pennsylvania Railroad stations in the City of Brotherly Love. The others were the 30th Street Station and Suburban Station. From the outset, the North Philadelphia station served long distance and commuter passenger trains. North Philadelphia station is located on North Broad Street, 2.9 miles north of City Hall. City Hall, at the intersection of Broad Street and Market Street, is considered to be the center of the city. North Philadelphia station is located three miles railroad east of Zoo interlocking and 4.5 rail miles railroad east of 30th Street Station.
Over the years, several different stations were built on the site. The 1901 completed Beaux-Arts station located to the south of the tracks remains the largest of these stations. After this building was closed, Amtrak built a small station on the north side of the main line tracks in 1991. Although both of these buildings stand today, neither is in railroad use, the Amtrak-erected building closing ten years after its completion. As a result, today’s North Philadelphia station on the Northeast Corridor consists solely of two elevated platforms, parts of which are covered by a roof. This configuration provides extensive unobstructed areas for photography.
Conrail Shared Assets provides freight action to be seen from the North Philadelphia station platform. On November 29, 2019, train 39G is led west by Norfolk Southern ES44AC 8092 at 12:02 p.m. Train 39G, which once ran from Pavonia Yard in Camden, N.J., to Allentown, Pa., now runs from Camden to Conway Yard west of Pittsburgh, Pa., reminiscent of Conrail train CAPI. The building to the right with the empty billboard still identifies itself as Joe Frazier’s Gym. Frazier once held the World Heavyweight Boxing title.
Railroads, equipment and operations have changed over the generations. The Pennsylvania Railroad is gone, as are Penn Central and Conrail. They have been replaced by Amtrak, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), NJ Transit, and Conrail Shared Assets. Frequent trains, a variety of railroads, an accessible, unobstructed area and the presence of photographic props– most notably color position light signals–still make the North Philadelphia station a very good place to observe and photograph trains.
Michael Burkhart’s 2002 Railpace article “Amtrak’s North Philadelphia Variety Show” highlighted Amtrak’s E60s, AEM7s and Acela trainsets. The HHP-8s had yet to be put into service. The HHP-8s have already been retired, as have the E60s and AEM7s. ACS-64s rule on Amtrak today. Who would have thought that Acela trainsets are already this old in 2020?
Plenty of trains still pass the North Philadelphia station on the Northeast Corridor. Amtrak schedules over 50 trains northbound and 50 southbound on weekdays. Of these, 32 are Acela trainsets. Unlike the days of the Pennsylvania Railroad when almost all trains stopped at the North Philadelphia station, today only five weekday Amtrak trains (all but one in Keystone Service) stop here. The others sail through the station. Weekends have lower, but still substantial, Amtrak train counts. None stop at the station…