July 2014 Union Strike

A tentative deal between the MTA and LIRR Unions to avert a July Strike has been reached. See this post for more information.

Friday, January 17

NY Penn, Track by Track: Tracks 9-14 (The Long Platforms)

As we continue moving up towards the middle of New York Penn Station's platforms, we arrive at the long platforms.  Tracks 9-14 can be found bordering platforms E, F, and G at Penn Station and they are the most central and the longest station tracks in Penn Station.

These three station platforms like in the "center" of the station.  While they may not be the middle of the station from a mathematical or geographical standpoint, from a track layout point of view, these three platforms, particularly platform F (11 and 12 track) lie smack in the middle of it all.

A train traveling from line 1 or 2 of the East River Tunnel to the two North River Tunnel tubes will have an almost perfectly straight shot through the station on track 11 or 12.  For through trains that are continuing to destinations on the other side of either tunnel, these three pairs of tracks offer the most clean pass through the station.  The diagram below makes this particular characteristic fairly clear (draw your attention to the neon green colored tracks):

While these three platforms are the most central of the lot, they are also the longest platforms found in Penn Station.

Coming in at over 1,400 feet long, these platforms can hold trains that can be as long as 17 cars.  While there are not any trains out there today which crack 17 cars (a doubleheaded NJTransit train with 12 MLV's is probably the closest thing we get these days).  At their significant length, these platforms come in among the longest high-level platforms in North America.  

Considering the central location of these platforms coupled with their considerable length gives some interesting insights into Penn Station's past.  When Penn Station was first constructed by the Pennsylvania Railroad, trains of such a length were commonplace and the PRR used these three central platforms to host their most prestigious trains.  Trains passing through the station would be able to do so with little lateral movement over bumpy switches and a train platforming on the middle platforms would be able to get in and out fairly quickly.

There is even a bit of history as to why the Pennsylvania Railroad picked the somewhat obscure 1,475 foot platform length.  It is suspected that the PRR designed these three platforms to roughly match the specifications of those at Manhattan Transfer.  Over at Penn Station, the platforms were roughly the same length and just a little bit wider than those at Manhattan Transfer.

Today, Amtrak continues this tradition, to some extent.  While the days of 17 car trains are gone (and while there might be demand for consists of such length at times, equipment constraints on Amtrak's end make trains that long impractical), Amtrak still seems to understand the value of the long platforms.  Glancing over at NJTransit's DepartureVision page for Penn Station shows that, at the time of my writing this post yesterday afternoon, there is an Acela Express train boarding on 12 track and a Northeast Regional on track 9, so it appears Amtrak has adopted a similar tendency to have its through trains scheduled on these tracks.

To cut this post short, as the time for me to run out and catch my train home is fast approaching, the long platforms have their own unique characteristics (as do all the other six bunchings).  And for the next time that you are sitting in Penn Station aboard a train on one of the long platforms, you now have an interesting couple bits of trivia to strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you!

Jump to other posts about New York Penn Station's Tracks:
Tracks 1-4, Tracks 5-8, Tracks 9-14 Tracks 15-16, Tracks 17-19, Tracks 20-21


  1. The straightness of the path along tracks 11 and 12 is the reason why the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus train use those tracks when passing through Penn Station.

  2. Is Double Docking (two trains sharing a platform) in use at Penn Station?

    1. It can happen on somewhat rare occasions on the long platforms, but it would typically only be for two arriving trains. In the morning if things don't go according to plan they can squeeze two trains onto the longer platforms and have them unload.

      It will be very, very rare to have two trains loading on the same track. Due to the complexity of the layout of the station concourses and staircases it would be quite difficult to manage loads for two trains on the platforms without substantially confusing people. I'm not saying it's never happened, but it is very, very infrequent.

  3. How can a 1100 foot platform hold engine and 17 cars with passenger reailcars 85 feet long, as would require a length of 1445 plus length of engine? And what are lengths of the Empire tracks, as I guess that would be the platform length, not length between switches if the end of the last car was past the end of the platform, but before the switch, if Amtrak would even allow that.

    1. The length of the platforms are actually over 1,400 feet in length (the length of platform J being 1,475 feet in length--that was a typo I made when I was taking the information from my notes.

      The lengths of the Empire Tracks are 10 cars for 5 and 6 track and 13 cars for 7 and 8 tracks--those are measured from platform end to platform end and may not reflect the distance between a switch and the end of the platform for 9 track.

  4. You think I would be correct in saying that the last or one of the last regularly 17 car Amtrak trains were the Silver Meteor and/or Silver Star from back in the early 90's or earlier when they used to split/join the Tampa and Miami sections in Jacksonville and/or Auburndale? There's a couple of youtube videos of the way they used to join the two sections on the Neve wye outside of Tampa in Auburndale. Those trains were easily 17 cars. Now of course the Silver Meteor skips Tampa and the Star does a reverse move into Tampa off the wye. Both trains are much shorter and many Florida stops were discontinued when CSX abandoned a line. I just remember going back on forth on both as a kid.

    1. At different points in Amtrak's history they had trains of various lengths. I recall at one point that the Lake Shore Limited was a considerable length at some point. Today, a handful of trains will brush the 14-unit length. The LIRR's Cannonball will run with 12 cars and 2 DM's in the summer and you might occasionally stumble upon a NJT train with 12 cars and 2 locomotives.

      Then there are the occasional exceptions. For example, sometime this week there was supposed to be an 18-car Northeast Regional train for some special event (the extra cars added on to test the new ACS-64's performance). But due to the weather, that train was canceled at the last minute.


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