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Horrible Train Stations: NY Penn Still on Top

Last week we posed the question: “What Train Station is More Horrible Than Penn Station?”

Penn Station has been described as confusing, menacing, and inhumane. It’s been called a rat warren, a stygian chamber, and an underground strip mall. The nation’s busiest rail terminal is crowded, it lacks amenities, there are not enough platforms, not enough bathrooms…the list goes on. That’s not even getting into the horrific pedestrian environment surrounding the station.

In our view Penn Station is the Absolute Worst Train Station Ever. Yep, that’s right.

The question is: What station is worse than Penn Station? Or if you’d like to admit that Penn Station is #1, what would be #2?

Here are the top nominations:

johnstown amtrak station lobby

Johnstown Amtrak Station, Johnstown, PA

The horrible thing about this station is that this historic and beautifully-proportioned 1916 waiting room is closed to the public (see picture at right). There might be a telling correlation in this rust belt city’s declining economy and the decrease in railroad passengers over the second half of the 20th Century. There may also be some hope that a reviving economy in Johnstown and other small towns may mean a revival in intercity rail and sustainable transportation.

chicago union station lobby

Union Station, Chicago, IL

I have learned to navigate New York’s Penn Station in its original form and now since the 1950’s, so while it’s presently ugly and often crowded, I think Chicago’s Union Station, at least for long-distance Amtrak patrons, is worse. Coach and sleeping car passengers are corralled into separate holding pens with insufficient seating at peak times. Many are making connections here with waits of several hours. Since demolition of part of the station years ago, the soaring main waiting room is now too far away from the track gates to be of much use (NPS note: nearly every picture of the train hall shows it empty). Most trains are accessed from terminal platforms, necessitating long walks along narrow platforms for those accommodated towards the front of the trains. Coupled with that, Union Station is poorly run by the station personnel, while Penn Station is rather well operated given what the staff has to work with.

Both are excellent nominations, but Penn Station is still #1. We tend to agree with this reader, who nominated Penn Station because it “guarantees an unpleasant arrival and miserable departure by rail from the best city in the world.” Among her reasons:

Penn has neither signs nor a direction to an information booth for people who do not speak English.

Signs directing people to the street are confusing. There are no signs informing a person as to what level of the station one is on.

Bathroom facilities are inadequate.

The information system about arriving trains is archaic. Access to a train, when one learns its track, borders on the dangerous: passengers surge towards the one narrow stairway to the platform. The only way to attempt to board an Amtrak train in comfort is to tip a Redcap in order to be escorted to the train before it is announced. I do not mind paying someone for service, but this is unfair to the public.