Baltimore – Penn Station, MD (BAL)
Facing south towards Mt. Vernon’s cultural treasures and the famous Inner Harbor, Baltimore Penn Station is the picture of “Charm City” elegance.
1500 North Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 1,030,161
- Facility Ownership: Amtrak
- Parking Lot Ownership: City of Baltimore
- Platform Ownership: Amtrak
- Track Ownership: Amtrak
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
Baltimore’s Penn Station is located on a rise in the land between the busy Amtrak Northeast Corridor and the Jones Falls Expressway. North Charles Street, which runs along the station’s beautifully landscaped front plaza, leads downhill to distinctive areas such as the gracious Mount Vernon neighborhood, populated with celebrated cultural institutions including the Walters Art Museum and the Peabody Conservatory of Music; the central business district marked by skyscrapers; and the popular Inner Harbor, home to the National Aquarium, historic sailing ships, and a bevy of shops and restaurants with magnificent views of the waterfront including the famous red neon “Domino Sugars” sign.
Baltimore Penn Station is a vital intermodal center with MARC commuter rail connections to Washington, D.C., and Perryville, Md., and easy access to the city’s light rail and bus systems. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Amtrak and the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) undertook significant improvement projects throughout the station. $1.1 million was used to install a new fire protection system, and $4 million was spent to improve the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, as well as to refurbish the building’s century-old windows. Through the Amtrak-MTA Joint Benefits Program, a $1 million project to renovate and modernize the station’s restrooms and ensure they are fully accessible was completed in October, 2013.
In summer 2013, the plaza fronting the station was redesigned and transformed into an inviting, vibrant public space for travelers and local residents to relax and socialize. Colorful tables, chairs, umbrellas and seasonal plantings have been arranged around the soaring sculpture. Overseen by Station North Arts & Entertainment, Inc., the plaza work was funded by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation. Partners include the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Neighborhood Development, Amtrak and the Parking Authority of Baltimore City. The Station North Arts & Entertainment District was created in 2002 to promote and support artists and cultural organizations in the neighborhood north of the station, and in the process, foster an economically diverse community where residents and visitors can live, work and play. In collaboration with New York-based design firm Interboro Partners, the District will also develop arts-based programming and design interventions for the plaza.
Amtrak also kicked off a two-year master planning process in fall 2013 that will incorporate three components: State of Good Repair Study, Operations and Facilities Plan and Commercial Development Plan. The Commercial Development Plan will be performed by Harbor Point Holdings to evaluate the development opportunities for the vacant upper floors of the station, the adjacent 1.5-acre Lanvale site and other underutilized assets. The ultimate goal of the planning process is to set forth a vision for a first-class, transit-oriented development with optimized rail infrastructure that will provide for overall capacity growth on the Northeast Corridor.
Completed in 1911, and dressed in the triumphant garb of Beaux-Arts classicism favored during the American Renaissance, the $1 million Pennsylvania Station emphasized Baltimore’s importance as a dominant rail hub and major East Coast metropolis. Throughout the 19th century, Baltimore used its location on the western edge of the Chesapeake Bay to establish links with emerging Midwestern markets whose goods were transported by road and rail to the city’s extensive docks. From there, they were shipped up and down the East Coast and around the world, and in the process, Baltimore fashioned itself into a major international port and Maryland’s largest city, holding sway over the state’s political, economic and cultural life.
Considered the “cradle of American railroading,” Baltimore has a rich physical rail heritage that includes rights-of-way, tunnels, and numerous stations in diverse architectural styles. Railroad infrastructure that is no longer in use has often been repurposed to serve new needs. For example, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s (B&O) Camden warehouse was incorporated into Camden Yards, the home of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. Near Penn Station, the B&O’s elegant Mount Royal station was restored and internally reconfigured to house studio space for the prestigious Maryland Institute College of Art.
By the end of the 19th century, the B&O and the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) dominated rail transportation within the city. At the time, the PRR was not only regarded as one of the nation’s finest railroads, but was also respected worldwide as an efficient and well-run corporation that set standards in the transportation industry. To enhance its reputation and fulfill local clamoring for a modern facility, the PRR financed the construction of a new Union Station to replace an older French Renaissance style brick structure that had been built during the Victorian era.
From among eight competing plans, railroad officials chose the design of Kenneth MacKenzie Murchison, a well known New York architect who had trained at the famed École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Over his career, Murchison became well regarded for his rail station designs, which also included the PRR station at Johnstown; structures for the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad in Scranton and Hoboken; and Havana Union Station in Havana, Cuba.
Canted at a 45 degree angle to North Charles Street, the view of the main façade opens up as one approaches from the south. Following key Beaux Arts principles, the steel framed, granite faced façade is not only symmetrical to create balance and visual harmony, but it is also broken up into three distinct parts that indicate the interior division of space by function. Murchison emphasized the center block by recessing the flanking wings and slightly lowering their roof lines.
At the base of the center block are five rounded-arch openings, and the three central ones are used as entryways with sets of triple doors. Passengers are sheltered from inclement weather by a canopy that runs across the façade. Edged by a skirt of variegated green glass, the canopy’s intricate cast iron work is best seen in the supporting brackets. The second and third stories of the center block are united by a giant order of paired Roman Doric columns spanning both floors, while the wings feature simplified pilasters. The columns and pilasters support an entablature with a deep and prominent cornice line that casts shadows onto the walls.
A parapet on the center block hides the fourth floor while creating a canvas for rich sculptural ornament, particularly around the large central clock face. Embellished with gilded Roman numerals, it is encircled by egg and dart molding born by a pair of human figures set amid swirling bands of cloth. The male holds a hammer while the female grasps a wheel, both items representative of the functioning of the railroad. The entire composition is surmounted by an eagle whose outspread wings, with their fine, detailed feathers, show the stone carver’s art.
Passing through the doors off of the plaza, travelers enter a full height waiting room brightened by diffused light that is filtered through the yellow, green, and clear glass of the skylight’s three shallow, 25 foot diameter domes. The walls of the waiting room are faced with white marble, and pilasters divide the surface into a regular rhythm of bays, each of which is marked by an inset marble panel with soft pink tones. The passageway between the main doors and the concourse, beyond the waiting room, is framed by fluted Greek Doric columns that carry an entablature with triglyphs and circular emblems. Above, a walkway around the second floor creates an elongated octagonal opening framed by an elaborate cast iron railing. Some of the original benches remain, brightened at night by the glow of brass light fixtures. Originally, the northern wing held lunch and dining rooms while the southern wing was devoted to the ticket office and baggage room. The upper floors across the building were occupied by PRR offices.
The concourse retains its glazed faience wall tile in a color scheme of cream with bold green accents around the door openings. Panels with pairs of playful cherubs cradling a fish indicate the original locations of water fountains. Tile in the concourse was an ideal solution, as it could be easily cleaned and was durable, able to withstand the constant rush and touch of passengers. To the sides of the room, doors accessed staircases leading to the platforms.
Although the people of Baltimore were happy to receive a new station, complaints were heard that it was too small and did not adequately represent Baltimore’s importance; undoubtedly, these feelings were influenced by the fact that the recently opened PRR facility in New York City was built to a scale of magnificence previously unknown in the country. The PRR soon considered expanding the waiting room by extending the concourse north and building an annex facing onto St. Paul Street, but this plan was never executed.
With the electrification of the PRR through Baltimore in the mid-1930s, a space on the second floor of Penn Station was outfitted as the power director’s room. The power director monitored electricity distribution to the catenary – the wire that supplies an electric current to the locomotives. A large floor-to-ceiling board outlined catenary sections, with details showing high-voltage lines, supply lines, substations, transformers, switches, circuit breakers and other system features.
During World War II, many large urban stations were outfitted with separate spaces for members of the armed forces. Baltimore was no different, with a USO lounge contained in an addition built on the station’s east side. In the late 1950s, the PRR reconfigured the ticket desk, and a large room with more than a dozen telephone booths was created next to the main entrance.
Under the Northeast Corridor Improvement Project, Baltimore Penn Station was renovated in 1983-84. In particular, the work focused on the station’s historic details, such as the skylight. Covered with blackout paint during World War II, the glass was revealed and refurbished. Repairs were also made to the terrazzo and mosaic flooring, glazed wall tile, and the marble detailing. Interior spaces were reorganized to provide better passenger movement, and important mechanical systems were upgraded. A decade later, the current plaza and below ground parking garage were constructed in front of the station. At the center of the plaza is a 51-foot tall aluminum sculpture by artist Jonathan Borofsky. Named “Male/Female,” the piece depicts two intersecting human forms with a glowing “heart.”
In the century after the first English settlers had arrived in Maryland in 1634, the colony had developed an agricultural economy based on tobacco and grains such as wheat. To appease farmers in the area around the Patapsco River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, the colonial government created the Port of Baltimore in 1706 to facilitate shipping on the northern branch of the waterway. The port took its name from Maryland’s founding family, the Calverts, whose male leaders had been designated the Barons Baltimore within the peerage of Ireland. Baltimore soon developed as an important milling center, for geography was in its favor. The settlement straddled the area where the Piedmont Plateau transitioned to the Atlantic coastal plain, with an attendant fall line that produced tumbling streams and rivers.
By 1726, the land around Jones Falls—where Gay Street now passes under Interstate 83—boasted a gristmill and houses. Three years later, Baltimore Town was laid out on 60 acres to the southwest of the falls, occupying roughly the same area as the current downtown. At mid-century, accounts recall that only about 200 persons lived within the settlement. Things were soon to change as Baltimore expanded beyond the shipment of tobacco and began to export locally milled grain to the Caribbean where it was traded for sugar, rum, and slaves. Fells Point, with its deep water, developed as the primary port area with wharves, warehouses, and a shipyard, and in 1773 it was incorporated into Baltimore Town.
During the Revolutionary War, the lucrative trade with the British West Indies halted. Some Baltimore merchants turned to privateering, which had the effect of damaging British shipping while also enriching its practitioners. Post-war, the town continued to grow so that in 1796 it was declared a city. Privateering was again taken up during the War of 1812 with Great Britain. None too pleased with these moves, British forces set their sights on the city after burning Washington, D.C. in August 1814.
Poorly equipped Fort McHenry, located at the entrance to the main harbor, was heavily bombarded by the British on September 13th, but the American forces held out and staved off an invasion. Watching from aboard the British flagship, where he had gone to negotiate the release of an American prisoner, lawyer Francis Scott Key was so overcome by the victory that he soon wrote a poem describing the events of that night. His words, set to music, became a popular patriotic song and the “Star-Spangled Banner” was declared the national anthem in 1931. Fort McHenry is now open to the public, and visitors may explore the fort and barracks as well as view displays of uniforms and weapons.
By 1825, Baltimore supported nearly 60 mills, many of which were producing refined flour for the export market—particularly Central and South America. The city developed as a principal port for trade with that region, and high value products such as coffee and guano arrived at the city docks. Ship building prospered, and the city became well-known for a swift moving vessel referred to as a “Baltimore Clipper.” Due to geography, Baltimore held an interesting position as a meeting point between northern and southern business interests, and its inland position also gave it an advantage in establishing trade links with the Midwest.
Just as the city was prospering, developments to the north threatened to shut out Baltimore merchants from western markets. New York’s Erie Canal opened in 1825, and Pennsylvania soon began work on its own connection between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. To counter these efforts, the state of Maryland supported the construction of a canal to run along the Potomac River, but Baltimore’s leaders also met to discuss the possibility of a railroad. In February 1827, Maryland chartered the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the country’s first major common carrier, and the first railroad to cross the barrier presented by the Appalachian Mountains.
The 1828 groundbreaking was attended by Charles Carroll, then the last living signer of the Declaration of Independence. Over the next few decades, the B&O expanded to connect the port of Baltimore with the cities of the Northeast and the far Midwest. The B&O’s first 13 mile stretch of rail between Baltimore and Ellicott Mills in Howard County was completed in 1830 and the Ellicott Mills station, opened that same year, is considered the oldest surviving passenger railroad depot in America. The Baltimore City terminus, Mount Clare station, still stands on the grounds of the B&O Railroad Museum. Occupying part of the B&O’s former Mount Clare yard and shops, the museum includes extensive exhibits of railroadiana and a prized collection of rolling stock. Throughout much of the year, train rides are offered on 1.5 miles of the historic mainline.
The B&O’s domination over Maryland railroading was increasingly challenged by the PRR. In 1861, the PRR gained control of the Northern Central Railway (NCRY) that linked Baltimore to Harrisburg, an important stop on the PRR’s Philadelphia-Pittsburgh mainline. Five years later, it took over the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad, breaking the B&O’s sole control over the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. market. In another brilliant coup, the PRR pulled the rug out from under its rival, purchasing the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad in 1881 after the B&O had quietly tried to buy it. This independent line between Philadelphia and Baltimore had been used by the B&O and the PRR, but under PRR control, the B&O was forced to find another route to the northeast. By acquiring these separate routes, the PRR was able to establish service through Baltimore—and, on a larger scale, the Northeast Corridor—that ended the need to transfer between different lines and stations.
During this period of intense rivalry, two signature pieces of Baltimore’s railroad infrastructure were completed in 1873. With the waterfront built up, the acquisition of level ground for a rail right-of-way would have been difficult and expensive, so the railroads decided to tunnel portions of their routes. By constructing the Union Tunnel east of Pennsylvania Station and the Baltimore & Potomac tunnels to the west, the PRR was able to connect the B&P and the NCRY, thus finishing the route through the heart of the city. Both tunnels remain vital pieces of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.
At the crossroads of north and south, Baltimore experienced some turmoil during the Civil War, and the state of Maryland was placed under federal control. Post-conflict, Baltimore recovered and its shipping industries once again flourished. The city also became an industrial center, with a focus on canning; numerous companies drew on the seafood supplies of the Chesapeake Bay. The docks also welcomed thousands of newly arrived immigrants, and the B&O and the PRR established facilities to process and transport people to their final destinations.
After a period of decline following World War II, when the patterns of American industry began to shift, Baltimore was faced with the need to reinvigorate its economy. The city was still a major port with large, deep water facilities further down the Patapsco River, but the Inner Harbor had become run down. With a vision for the future, the city began a revitalization of the harbor in the 1970s to include new museums and cultural institutions, mixed use developments with shops, restaurants, offices, and residential units, and ample public space along the water. The successful efforts were emulated in port cities around the world, and development continues around the harbor’s edge and in adjacent neighborhoods. Once reviled, the Inner Harbor is again the heart of the city.
Amtrak provides ticketing and baggage services at this station, which is served by approximately 85 daily trains, as well as the tri-weekly Cardinal(Westbound: Sunday, Wednesday, Friday; Eastbound: Wednesday, Friday, Sunday).
- 550 Short Term Parking Spaces
- 550 Long Term Parking Spaces
- Accessible Payphones
- Accessible Platform
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible Ticket Office
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Accessible Water Fountain
- Baggage Storage
- Bike Boxes
- Checked Baggage
- Dedicated Parking
- Elevator Accessible
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- Help With Luggage
- High Platform
- Parking Attendant
- Pay Phones
- Quik Trak Kiosk
- Shipping Boxes
- Ticket Office
- Wheelchair Lift