How to Board at Penn Station

A blog about business and economics.
July 11 2013 1:52 PM

The Best Way to Board Amtrak at Penn Station in New York

upstairs

Yesterday I wrote about the bizarre boarding process that Amtrak uses at Union Station in Washington, which naturally prompted many people to comment to me about the situation at Penn Station in New York, which is also weird. But something a lot of people don't know is that at Penn Station there's actually a loophole that lets you avoid some of the terribleness of Amtrak. What people normally do is stand around in the holding pen depicted above, waiting for their train's track number to be announced.

Then when it's announced, everyone rushes over to the appropriate escalator where there's a pointless ticket-checking guy, a bottleneck, and a queue:

queing
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Since generating unnecessary queueing is a passion of Amtrak's (see their Union Station process or the fact that you can't reschedule your ticket at a QuickTrak machine) most people just blindly accept this state of affairs. But what you actually want to do is go down the staircase that's just sitting there in the middle of the holding pen, where you'll find some very old CRT screens displaying track information:

downstairs screen

This puts you on an intermediate level between the tracks and platforms and the mainstream waiting area. And if you wait here for your track to be announced, you'll find that you can proceed directly to a platform entrance with no crowds and no line:

no line

Now the fact that this option is available pretty clearly demonstrates that Amtrak has no actual belief that it's important to have someone check tickets before people proceed to the platform. After all, why would it be important? Conductors aboard the trains check the tickets and fine you if you don't have the right one. In D.C. they seem to be blindly imitating airport practice for no reason, while in New York they've just invented a whole new way of doing things for no reason. But if you follow these pointers you can skip the line with ease.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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