Riley Walz

The Secret Elevator at Penn Station

September 12, 2020

I took an Amtrak train home yesterday. It was a great trip. The Adirondack route follows the Hudson River and I luckily got a seat on the scenic side of the train.

The night before I left, I Googled how early I should get to Penn Station. A whole hour? No way, that's way too long. I already had my ticket on my phone and didn't need to check any bags.

Common sense would make you think you could walk right up to the platform your train is going to be at. But at stations in NY, DC, Boston and Philadelphia, you have to wait until your train is called, get in line, present your ticket and then be shown to your platform. Amtrak says it's a security measure, but they don't have security screening machines and this rule is only at certain stations.

This article about Amtrak's insane boarding procedures at big stations like Penn Station, is 6 years old but still accurate. It asks the question: "Is Amtrak unaware of the differences between planes and trains?"

Some other blogs talk about a mysterious elevator in Penn Station that lets your bypass all of the line nonsense and go directly to the platform. The latest reference to it was from a few years ago, so I wasn't sure if I could still take advantage of it.

I got to the station 20 minutes before my train was supposed to leave. I looked at the monitor and quickly figured out what platform my train was at. I almost instantly recognized the elevator, right next to a mini Dunkin. There was a massive line for boarding right in front of the elevator. I wasn't sure what to expect when I pressed the elevator button.

Almost a minute later, the elevator finally opened. I went down a floor, and came to an empty hallway with even more elevators. The hallway was obviously set up for passengers because it had signs, but it was almost uncomfortably quiet compared to the chaos upstairs. I saw a sign for my platform, got in another elevator, went down another floor and ended up on the platform. There was a line of people walking to the train, so I joined them, got on and was in shock that the elevator trick actually worked.

Real life pro tip! In the future, I'll try to time it to get there 10 minutes early.