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Keystone Service to NYC


Amtrak Keystone Service from Paoli, Pennsylvania (PAO) to New York Penn Station (NYP) to see the holiday displays.

December 12, 2015

All text and photos by Rick Chase,

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On Sunday, December 12, I took the Amtrak Keystone Service, along with my friend Steve, from Paoli, Pennsylvania (PAO), a western suburb of Philadelphia to New York Penn Station (NYP) to see the holiday displays. The Keystone Service operates from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (HAR) to New York, with stops in Paoli, 30th St, and Trenton, New Jersey. Paoli is also served by SEPTA (SouthEastern Regional Transportation Authority but the track and centenary belong to Amtrak. Eastbound train #664 arrived in Paoli on time. Pulled by engine # 634, one of the new Siemens ACS-64 electric locomotives, also known as the Amtrak Cities Sprinter, it had a consist of 5 passenger cars.


Paoli Station


Siemens ACS-64 Engine # 634



Arriving at 30th St. on time, we changed our seats to the other way as the train departs the same way it came in to take the NEC (NorthEast Corridor) tracks to New York. The locomotive now became a pusher with the engineer operating the train from the cab control car. A quick stop in Trenton offered a photo op through our window of a SEPTA push-pull train. We arrived in New York Penn Station on time at 12:49. Penn Station was the world’s first electrified station, serving the Pennsylvania Railroad.  Due to declining passenger traffic and rising real estate prices, the original Beaux-Arts style building was demolished in 1963 and replaced with the current station underground with Madison Square Garden built in its place. Penn Station also serves New Jersey Transit (NJT) and the Long island Railroad (LIRR).

Trenton Station with a SEPTA Push-Pull in the background.


Platform at N Y Penn Station.


N Y Penn Station all decked out



After a short walk to Herald Square, we proceeded to the subway platform of the MTA’s M Line below the Manhattan Mall, to catch the Nostalgia / Holiday Train. Each Sunday between Thanksgiving and New Years, the MTA runs a vintage train of R-1’s, R-4’s, R-7’s and R-9’s, built in the 1930’s, complete with ceiling fans and in some cases, rattan seats. Five round trips run from 2nd Ave to Queens Plaza and back all for $2.50. Folks come in 30’s garb, musicians, swing dancers and rail fans all take part. Due to the warm weather, the train was extremely crowded this year.

The MTA Nostalgia Train




After one round trip, we stepped off at 42nd St/Bryant Park and walked over to Grand Central Terminal at 42nd St and Park Ave. Not to be confused with Grand Central Station, which is the subway station below Grand Central Terminal; it is so called because all of the trains, Metro North, “terminate” at GCT.  GCT was built by Cornelius Vanderbilt for the New York Central Railroad, which was a direct competitor of the Pennsylvania Railroad. After plans for re-construction would have destroyed the fašade and the main waiting hall, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis led an effort to keep the building as it stood and is now designated as a city landmark.  The large clock in the center of the main room has an estimated worth of between $10 and $20 million. The upper level now has an Apple Store as well as many other shops including the Transit Museum Annex which has a nice model train display during the holidays. The lower level boasts a decent food court. Over 750,000 people pass thru GCT daily, 150,000 of which are tourists simply to shop and visit the building.

Grand Central Terminal



Model Train display at the Transit Museum Annex


Metro North M-7a EMU trains at Grand Central Terminal


After leaving GCT, we walked west on 42nd St, several blocks west to Bryant Park which has a nice winter village consisting of over 125 shops, a skating rink (which is free) and a two story glass-enclosed restaurant called Celsius, which offers a  nice variety of meals at surprisingly affordable prices (for New York City). Our server Erin was just as pleasant as could be. I had the Cheeseburger and French Fries while Steve ordered the Chicken Pot Pie and a veggie burger, all the while watching the skaters, with the Christmas tree and the Empire State Building in the background.
View of the skating rink from Celsius.


Erin, our server, was just as nice as could be.


My friend Steve and myself. We took this so our wives could tell we were staying out of trouble.


Winter Village at Bryant Park.


Following dinner, we took a short walk to Saks 5th Ave. at 49th St to view their holiday light show on the front of their building, which is very impressive. The show begins at 6:00 and runs continuously every 10 minutes or so. We then walked back to Penn Station on 6th Ave stopping to admire the Macy’s window displays.

Decorations along Fifth Ave.


Macy's Window Display


A tip on Penn Station, the west entrance on 8th Ave, is located on the far side of the station. To avoid an extra block of crowds, enter at the north-eastern LIRR entrance, go down the escalator, walk through the LIRR area, go up the escalator and you’ll be close to the Amtrak waiting room. It sounds longer but much easier to navigate without the crowds. We waited for our train #671, a four car consist pushed by another ACS-64 # 600 departing on time at 7:53 PM. We had a 40 minute layover with a crew change at 30th St. allowing me to go up to the main waiting area for a soda and the walk along the platform for some photography. 

30th St. Station, Philadelphia


Engine #600 sitting at 30th St. Station, Philadelphia


Switching seats once again as we change direction heading west to Paoli and Harrisburg, we were now being pulled by #600. We arrived in Paoli 30 minutes later on time.

For anyone on a tight budget, an alternative is to take SEPTA (SouthEastern Regional Transportation Authority)  to Trenton and connect with NJT to New York. It’s cheaper but takes longer and the connecting time in Newark can bet really tight.


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