Should I worry about finding my train in Penn Station?

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

L

lust4life

Guest
This is my first rail travel on Amtrak into NYC from PA. After reading a bit online feeling a bit nervous for departure at Penn Station. Is it as difficult as everyone claims for finding your departing train? Thanks for any encouragement or insight!
 

PRR 60

Conductor
Staff member
Administator
Moderator
Joined
Feb 18, 2003
Messages
8,345
This is my first rail travel on Amtrak into NYC from PA. After reading a bit online feeling a bit nervous for departure at Penn Station. Is it as difficult as everyone claims for finding your departing train? Thanks for any encouragement or insight!
No. it's not difficult to find the train. You simply wait in the main concourse or in the adjacent waiting area. About 10 to 15 minutes before your train is to depart, an announcement will be made as to which stairway to use and the stairway information will be added to the departure boards. The stairways are all numbered and lettered (E for east, W for west) and are easy to find. You then head for the stairway and your train. The bigger issue is the crowding at the stairway since the stairways and escalators at Penn Station are very narrow. Once the train is announced it is a bit of a cattle call, particularly at peak times.

If you have luggage (or even if you don't), you could use a Red Cap. The Red Cap will lead you to your train, often before the general announcement is made. The Red Caps work for tips, so it will cost you a couple of dollars, but it can make the Penn Station experience a bit less stressful.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

rrdude

Conductor
AU Supporter
Joined
Aug 10, 2009
Messages
3,691
This is my first rail travel on Amtrak into NYC from PA. After reading a bit online feeling a bit nervous for departure at Penn Station. Is it as difficult as everyone claims for finding your departing train? Thanks for any encouragement or insight!
Hmmmmmm, "yes". Penn can be a bit overwhelming, but if you just slow down, and look up at the big Solari Board (Arrivals and Departures board) it will post your gate number. Then just find the gate. Really not too bad. If you are really nervous, seek out an Amtrak Red Cap, (or any other uniformed Amtrak employee) and ask for assistance.

Contrary to the stereotype, most "New Yorkers", when asked for directions, are very, very, helpful.....
 

Ocala Mike

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Sep 27, 2011
Messages
344
1. WATCH THE BOARD!

2. FOLLOW THE MOB, OR, BETTER STILL, GET DOWN TO THE PLATFORM FROM THE

MEZZANINE LEVEL AFTER YOU'RE SURE OF YOUR TRACK NUMBER.

3. GOOD LUCK!

Ocala Mike
 

daveyb99

OBS Chief
Joined
Mar 10, 2005
Messages
910
This is my first rail travel on Amtrak into NYC from PA. After reading a bit online feeling a bit nervous for departure at Penn Station. Is it as difficult as everyone claims for finding your departing train? Thanks for any encouragement or insight!
Yes, very hard. The trains hide frequently, and those that are visible are not going your way. (Funny how that happens) :)
 

AlanB

Conductor
Honored Member
Joined
Aug 22, 2002
Messages
28,406
Lust4life,

I would not worry too much. Just stay on the upper level, watch the big boards or even wait in the waiting area and listen for announcements. It's not that bad, Amtrak even has an employee at the top of the escalator to check your tickets to make sure that you are boarding the right train.

As a newbie to Penn Station however, I would not suggest try to go down to the lower level to board there. That will only confuse you more and could indeed cause you to miss your train.
 

City of Miami

Conductor
Joined
Jan 29, 2004
Messages
1,102
Contrary to the stereotype, most "New Yorkers", when asked for directions, are very, very, helpful.....
In my experience this is true and they often give a definite answer whether they know the correct answer or not. Sort of like in India where the answer is always "Yes" regardless of what is the answer.
 

PRR 60

Conductor
Staff member
Administator
Moderator
Joined
Feb 18, 2003
Messages
8,345

Devil's Advocate

Conductor
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
11,442
It's odd to see so many folks claiming that Penn Station is a piece of cake. I can think of several ways you could get lost or delayed and miss your train. I myself found Penn to be one of the worst rail stations I've ever had the misfortune of using. It's ugly, smelly, and just generally confusing. There is nothing obvious about where you're supposed to be or how you're supposed to get there. Even here on AU the arrivals/departures board has been variously described as being on both the "upper" or "lower" level depending on who's trying to refer to it. In my memory it was actually on the "middle" of three levels. As I understand it the arrival/departures board level is the only level that you are actually supposed to be waiting on for Amtrak trains. Unfortunately, your track information will be intentionally kept from you until just a few minutes before departure when a mob of people waiting with you will see the same last minute track notice and suddenly flood the main path toward your track. But hey, at least the mob will inadvertently give up the path to the track. This stampede can be additionally hindered by extraneous ticket checkers suddenly springing into action and slowing everything down at the exact moment you need them to get the heck out of the way. When you finally make it to the bottom of the escalator you'll have just a few moments to run with the rest of the mob toward any open doors. It's a complete joke of a system that is arbitrarily confusing and needlessly stressful. I'm no newbie to train travel. I've quickly and easily made my way through numerous New York subway stations and successfully navigated numerous rail stations in non-English speaking countries and yet I still found Penn Station to be a complete joke of a mess. I honestly can't think of one nice thing to say about that dump.
 

PRR 60

Conductor
Staff member
Administator
Moderator
Joined
Feb 18, 2003
Messages
8,345
It's odd to see so many folks claiming that Penn Station is a piece of cake. I can think of several ways you could get lost or delayed and miss your train. I myself found Penn to be one of the worst rail stations I've ever had the misfortune of using. It's ugly, smelly, and just generally confusing. There is nothing obvious about where you're supposed to be or how you're supposed to get there. Even here on AU the arrivals/departures board has been variously described as being on both the "upper" or "lower" level depending on who's trying to refer to it. In my memory it was actually on the "middle" of three levels. As I understand it the arrival/departures board level is the only level that you are actually supposed to be waiting on for Amtrak trains. Unfortunately, your track information will be intentionally kept from you until just a few minutes before departure when a mob of people waiting with you will see the same last minute track notice and suddenly flood the main path toward your track. But hey, at least the mob will inadvertently give up the path to the track. This stampede can be additionally hindered by extraneous ticket checkers suddenly springing into action and slowing everything down at the exact moment you need them to get the heck out of the way. When you finally make it to the bottom of the escalator you'll have just a few moments to run with the rest of the mob toward any open doors. It's a complete joke of a system that is arbitrarily confusing and needlessly stressful. I'm no newbie to train travel. I've quickly and easily made my way through numerous New York subway stations and successfully navigated numerous rail stations in non-English speaking countries and yet I still found Penn Station to be a complete joke of a mess. I honestly can't think of one nice thing to say about that dump.
The main concourse level is where most passengers wait. The mezzanine level (sometimes called the LIRR level) is just below the concourse level, and some seasoned Penn users wait down there. Passengers can board from either level. Both levels have departure boards.
 

Texan Eagle

Conductor
Joined
Aug 25, 2011
Messages
1,705
It's odd to see so many folks claiming that Penn Station is a piece of cake. I can think of several ways you could get lost or delayed and miss your train. I myself found Penn to be one of the worst rail stations I've ever had the misfortune of using. It's ugly, smelly, and just generally confusing. There is nothing obvious about where you're supposed to be or how you're supposed to get there. Even here on AU the arrivals/departures board has been variously described as being on both the "upper" or "lower" level depending on who's trying to refer to it. In my memory it was actually on the "middle" of three levels. As I understand it the arrival/departures board level is the only level that you are actually supposed to be waiting on for Amtrak trains. Unfortunately, your track information will be intentionally kept from you until just a few minutes before departure when a mob of people waiting with you will see the same last minute track notice and suddenly flood the main path toward your track. But hey, at least the mob will inadvertently give up the path to the track. This stampede can be additionally hindered by extraneous ticket checkers suddenly springing into action and slowing everything down at the exact moment you need them to get the heck out of the way. When you finally make it to the bottom of the escalator you'll have just a few moments to run with the rest of the mob toward any open doors. It's a complete joke of a system that is arbitrarily confusing and needlessly stressful. I'm no newbie to train travel. I've quickly and easily made my way through numerous New York subway stations and successfully navigated numerous rail stations in non-English speaking countries and yet I still found Penn Station to be a complete joke of a mess. I honestly can't think of one nice thing to say about that dump.
True that. I have been traveling by trains ever since I was a little kid and have made my way through super chaotic train stations in India too, but yet I found NY Penn very confusing during my first visit. Yes, the train track numbers are posted on the Solaris board few minutes before departure, but there is no single central concourse where a first time traveler would intuitively head to look for information. The whole premises is a gigantic underground labyrinth spread over multiple levels, and while it may be very functional for daily commuters, it can scare out a newbie traveler.
 

gatelouse

OBS Chief
Joined
Jun 25, 2011
Messages
524
Having three separate rail authorities (Amtrak, LIRR, NJT) with three separate waiting areas, with the ability to board each of the above systems from more than one part of the station, does make things confusing. Once you find the Amtrak waiting area itself and are willing to go through the cattle-call boarding, it isn't too bad.

Confusion hits hardest when arriving for the first time and ending up on the mezzanine level rather than the Amtrak waiting area. If that happened to me as a first-time traveler and I had a tight connection, then I'd be a bit nervous too. It took me three, four arrivals before I finally "got" the station and escalator/stair layout from the platforms.
 

NY Penn

OBS Chief
Joined
Jun 21, 2011
Messages
515
Once you get to this place, you should be all right.



Remember: if you are lost, ask for directions. Despite the stereotypes, most New Yorkers will be glad to help.
 

jis

Conductor
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
25,693
For a first time traveler at Penn Station, the best course of action is to go to the Amtrak main concourse, which is on the upper level at the 8th avenue end and has a huge Solari Board hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the hall displaying only Amtrak and NJTransit trains (no LIRR trains), as shown in the photo above.

There are all sorts of other train display boards in other parts of the station ranging from TV monitors to other Solari Boards, but avoid all those. Go to the main Amtrak concourse.

Also note that the "upper level" is one level below street level. There is very little other than entrance gates for Penn Station at the street level. The rest of the structure at that level is Madison Square Garden and Office Building (the Penn Plaza Buildings).

The upper level has the Amtrak concourse at the 8th avenue (west) end and at the 7th avenue (east) end there is the NJT concourse south of the main corridor, and stairs leading down to the LIRR concourse, which is on the lower level, north of the main corridor.

All subway entry directly into the station is into the lower level. If you walk into the station directly from a subway station without coming to the surface, you will need to go one level up to find the Amtrak concourse.

The track level is one level below the lower level and many tracks can be reached both directly from the upper level and from the lower level. There are a few tracks that can be reached only from the lower level but typically Amtrak trains do not use those tracks.

One more important thing is that there is a very useful Amtrak Information Booth right in the middle of the station at the upper level in the so called Rotunda, which can be easily identified as the area with the highest ceiling in the station structure. It is halfway between the Amtrak and the NJT Concourse on the upper level.

Hope this summary helps you find your way to the Amtrak concourse that has been mentioned several times in other posts on this thread.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Train2104

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 5, 2011
Messages
887
For a first time traveler at Penn Station, the best course of action is to go to the Amtrak main concourse, which is on the upper level at the 8th avenue end and has a huge Solari Board hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the hall displaying only Amtrak and NJTransit trains (no LIRR trains), as shown in the photo above.

There are all sorts of other train display boards in other parts of the station ranging from TV monitors to other Solari Boards, but avoid all those. Go to the main Amtrak concourse.

Also note that the "upper level" is one level below street level. There is very little other than entrance gates for Penn Station at the street level. The rest of the structure at that level is Madison Square Garden and Office Building (the Penn Plaza Buildings).

The upper level has the Amtrak concourse at the 8th avenue (west) end and at the 7th avenue (east) end there is the NJT concourse south of the main corridor, and stairs leading down to the LIRR concourse, which is on the lower level, north of the main corridor.

All subway entry directly into the station is into the lower level. If you walk into the station directly from a subway station without coming to the surface, you will need to go one level up to find the Amtrak concourse.

The track level is one level below the lower level and many tracks can be reached both directly from the upper level and from the lower level. There are a few tracks that can be reached only from the lower level but typically Amtrak trains do not use those tracks.

One more important thing is that there is a very useful Amtrak Information Booth right in the middle of the station at the upper level in the so called Rotunda, which can be easily identified as the area with the highest ceiling in the station structure. It is halfway between the Amtrak and the NJT Concourse on the upper level.

Hope this summary helps you find your way to the Amtrak concourse that has been mentioned several times in other posts on this thread.
It didn't take me a long time to learn NYP's Amtrak and LIRR levels separately, but it's the locations of the stairs between the levels (and how the NJT concourse fits in to all of this) that always have me hunting.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

jis

Conductor
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
25,693
It didn't take me a long time to learn NYP's Amtrak and LIRR levels separately, but it's the locations of the stairs between the levels (and how the NJT concourse fits in to all of this) that always have me hunting.
Primarily there are 5/6 sets of stairs to get from the upper level to the lower level. They are as follows:

1. The main stairs to the north (left facing towards 8th ave) of the upper level main corridor at the 7th ave end. The stairs descend into the LIRR Concourse/Main Gate Area.

2. At the east end of the rotunda at the upper level. The stairs descend into the so called Hilton Passageway at the lower level. This is a narrow stairway that is not shown in the diagram below.

3. At the north west corner of the Amtrak Concourse at the upper level descending into the east - west Connecting Concourse at the lower level.

4. At the south west end of the Amtrak Concourse with the stairs descending into the Exit Concourse. This is not shown in the diagram below. It is mainly used by NJT passengers to access tracks 1 through 4 from the upper level.

5 and 6. Right under the Big Solari Board in the Amtrak Concourse going down to the Exit Concourse.

In addition to this, you can get to the lower level from the upper level through the NJT Concourse which is not shown in the diagram below. That will also get you down to the Hilton Passageway and across it into the LIRR Main Gate Area.

See the diagram of the lower level below to get an idea of the layout. In this diagram 34th St is North edge, 31st St is the south edge, 7th ave is east and 8th ave is west.

 
Last edited by a moderator:

jis

Conductor
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
25,693
True that. I have been traveling by trains ever since I was a little kid and have made my way through super chaotic train stations in India too, but yet I found NY Penn very confusing during my first visit. Yes, the train track numbers are posted on the Solaris board few minutes before departure, but there is no single central concourse where a first time traveler would intuitively head to look for information. The whole premises is a gigantic underground labyrinth spread over multiple levels, and while it may be very functional for daily commuters, it can scare out a newbie traveler.
Yep. It is a big confusing station - the busiest in the US. It is more confusing than basically single level concourse stations like say Bombay VT (oops Mumbai CST) or Howrah in India. But it is also way less confusing than larger and with many more levels Shinjuku or Tokyo Central in Japan.
 

Devil's Advocate

Conductor
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
11,442
And locals wonder why outsiders find this station to be so confusing. :wacko:

In any case, thanks for trying to explain what's going on Jis. I'm still having a bit of difficulty trying to visualize it all in my head. Hopefully some day Amtrak will stop ignoring this problem and put out a map that fully describes where everything lines up, level by level. Maybe it would be expensive, but so far Penn NYC is the only one I've ever thought actually needed a map. Maybe some day Amtrak will even give up their hiding of track numbers until the last minute and/or find a way to avoid disrupting everything by shoving ticket checkers in front of the mob right at crunch time. Maybe they could even install some (extra) $5 restrooms that are routinely checked and cleaned. Boy would that be nice!
 

jis

Conductor
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
25,693
What is interesting is that they actually have very nice diagrams of each level, airport style, in the NEC magazine that they distribute on Acelas and Regionals. It beats me why they don't see it fit to just place those same diagrams on their website under the Penn Station page. They could do similarly with the diagrams that they have for Boston South Station, Philadelphia 30th St. Station and Washington Union Station too. The usual case of left hand does not communicate with the right hand I suppose. I will remember to mention this again to any of the Amtrak big-wigs that I will inevitably run into as the new season for rail advocacy and industry group meetings start up.
 

jis

Conductor
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
25,693
OK, here is a more complete level by level diagram. In this diagram north is at the top, south at the bottom, east to the right and west to the left. Read my description with reference to these diagrams and you might get a little better understanding of the situation.

Penn Station Diagram in PDF

The circular thing in the middle of the Upper Level is the Rotunda, where the Amtrak/NJT Information Booth is located.
 

trainman74

Conductor
Joined
Apr 7, 2011
Messages
1,623
For a first time traveler at Penn Station, the best course of action is to go to the Amtrak main concourse, which is on the upper level at the 8th avenue end and has a huge Solari Board hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the hall displaying only Amtrak and NJTransit trains (no LIRR trains), as shown in the photo above.
Ah, very interesting -- had to look this up, since that isn't what I would consider a "Solari board" (generic term seems to be "split-flap display"), but it is apparently still a product of the Solari company.

Agreed that maps of NYP, BOS, PHL, and WAS should be added to Amtrak.com. CHI also seems like it should be there, along with, perhaps, LAX.
 

gatelouse

OBS Chief
Joined
Jun 25, 2011
Messages
524
See the diagram of the lower level below to get an idea of the layout. In this diagram 34th St is North edge, 31st St is the south edge, 7th ave is east and 8th ave is west.

Now there's a map that brings back the memories. First time I saw this at the station, my head exploded. It must be the grid like layout of the corridors that makes that lower level so hard to grasp.
 

AlanB

Conductor
Honored Member
Joined
Aug 22, 2002
Messages
28,406
Maybe some day Amtrak will even give up their hiding of track numbers until the last minute and/or find a way to avoid disrupting everything by shoving ticket checkers in front of the mob right at crunch time.
Never going to happen. They have good reasons for not putting up the numbers sooner. Things like: too many last minute track changes, and it happens a lot; platforms that are too small to hold 100 passengers waiting for an arriving train and still have room to receive 200 passengers from an arriving train; confusion with trains heading to the yard vs. the train that people are actually waiting for; can't leave the escalator running down for too long as it's needed to get arriving passengers off the platform; and probably a few others that I haven't thought of.
 
Top