Pittsburgh, PA (PGH)
Located in the Golden Triangle, the Pittsburgh station provides easy access to major attractions such as The Point, convention center and Strip market district.
1100 Liberty Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 145,910
- Facility Ownership: Amtrak
- Parking Lot Ownership: Amtrak
- Platform Ownership: Amtrak, Norfolk Southern Railway
- Track Ownership: Norfolk Southern Railway, Amtrak
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
The Amtrak station in Pittsburgh is located on the north end of the Golden Triangle, the city’s primary business and cultural district that sits between the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers where they join forces to give birth to the Ohio River. The station structure stands beside and behind the former Pennsylvania Railroad facility whose great rotunda is a downtown landmark and a visual terminus of Liberty Avenue. The facility is within walking distance of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and the Senator John Heinz History Center.
Until the late 1980s, Amtrak used part of the old Pennsylvania Station, but once the main building was renovated and converted into condominiums, the passenger areas were moved in 1989 to a newly constructed facility at the rear of the complex. The passenger areas of the station are on two levels that reflect the original configuration of Pennsylvania Station. The main waiting room is on the lower level off of Liberty Avenue and is located behind the former baggage room of the station; passengers may directly enter the waiting room from the parking lot. Travelers can also access the station from the upper level covered walkway that runs along the second floor of the building towards the tracks; passengers must then descend to the ground floor waiting room by escalator or stair.
No major city survives without an excellent transportation network, and moving people and goods between the East Coast and Midwest has been essential to Pittsburgh’s development from the earliest days. French explorer Rene Robert de La Salle was the first European to explore the Ohio River in the summer of 1669. Although he did not find the route to China which he sought, La Salle did increase European knowledge of the North American interior. Almost 50 years later, Michel Bezallion, a French fur trader, recorded his impressions of the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers and by 1717 other European traders settled in the area. Much of western Pennsylvania was sparsely populated, as many of the original American Indian peoples such as the Monongahela had suffered from European-introduced diseases. As the British colonies on the coast grew, American Indian peoples from further east—including the Delaware, Shawnee, and Susquehannock—moved into the territory.
As the fur trade continued in the Ohio Country, the French began to view the Ohio River as a possible link between their lands in Canada and those in Louisiana, as the waterway connected with the Mississippi River, allowing goods to be floated down to New Orleans. Claiming a vast territory drained by the Mississippi River, the French came into conflict with the British colonists who desired to push west across the mountains. By 1749 the French launched an expedition to the present site of Pittsburgh; young George Washington was sent by the governor of Virginia to warn the French to quit their provocations, but to little avail. The struggle over the borderlands would lead to the French and Indian War of 1754-1763.
After British forces under General John Forbes routed the remaining, weakened French troops from their position at the rivers’ confluence, the British constructed a new fort named after William Pitt the Elder, then the British Secretary of State, and called the area “Pittsborough” in his honor. The oldest structure in the contemporary city is the Fort Pitt Blockhouse built in 1764. The small settlement grew as a frontier outpost but was hampered by its lack of access to the principle population centers of the East Coast; it was not until after the Revolutionary War that the town of “Pittsburgh” was formally laid out in 1784. As the settlement expanded, it became a center for boat-building and the production of iron, brass, and glass, the last item not being easy to transport across the state let alone the Appalachian Mountains.
As Americans pushed over the mountains after the Revolutionary War, Pittsburgh became known as the “Gateway to the West.” Once they had reached the city overland, pioneers could float down the Ohio in relative comfort to continue their search for a homestead. Regularly scheduled stage trips between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh began in 1786, but the grueling journey took three weeks, as poor roads made night travel nearly impossible. Looking for a better link across the state, the legislature was dismayed by the opening of the National Road in Maryland and the Erie Canal in New York during the 1820s—transportation routes that threatened to siphon off trade from Pennsylvania.
The state quickly devised its own transportation scheme, the Main Line of Public Works, costing more than $10,000,000 that included a series of roads and canals built from 1826-1835; travel time was cut to only four days
The dramatic reduction in time devoted to transit and the resulting savings to both passengers and shippers sending their goods to more distant and lucrative markets left everyone looking for an even better travel mode, and the railroads held the most promise. Within two decades, passengers could ride the train across the state, eliminating the need to change travel modes. The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) opened the all-rail route between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in December 1854. The entire trip could be accomplished in an amazing 15 hours.
The Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroad (O&P) laid the first tracks into Pittsburgh and they were in operation by 1852, terminating on the north side of the Allegheny River in what was then a separate town called Allegheny City. The O&P was planned to connect Pittsburgh with Crestline, Ohio where trains could switch to the Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati Railroad to continue their journey west. Four years later, the railroad completed a bridge crossing the Allegheny River and trains were able to enter the heart of Pittsburgh. By 1858, the O&P served the first Union Station, allowing for through traffic from Philadelphia to Chicago; in time, the O&P became simply the Pennsylvania Railroad, one of the most powerful corporations in late19th and 20th century America.
First incorporated in 1837, the Pittsburgh and Connellsville Railroad would enter Pittsburgh in 1861 after the construction of the Sand Patch Tunnel through the crest of the Allegheny Mountains in the late 1850s. An additional connection to Cumberland, Maryland in 1871 made travel possible to points further east, thereby providing Pittsburgh with an alternate path to the principle East Coast cities. The line would come under the control of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O), a viable competitor to the PRR.
The last major regional railroad to enter Pittsburgh at the time was the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie (P&LE), formed to serve the growing steel industry. In fact, the line ran from the Jones and Laughlin steel mill—the only real rival of the Carnegie Steel Company—to Youngstown, Ohio, another major steel town. Opened in 1879, the P&LE was affectionately known as the “Little Giant” for although small, the line pulled enormous amounts of freight—coal, coke, iron ore, limestone, steel—and operated a passenger service. Early in its history, the P&LE would fall under the control of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York Central network.
While the PRR, B&O, and the P&LE certainly were not the only railroads working in the Pittsburgh area, they were the lines with the biggest passenger presence, and each constructed a series of stations meant to impress upon residents their power and importance. Currently, only two of those stations remain—the Pennsylvania Station downtown, and the P&LE on the Southside. Neither one retains passenger services, but the buildings have been restored. New uses have been installed in their former public spaces and office areas and they are once again full of activity.
Sometime in the late 1850s or 1860s—accounts are unclear—the PRR constructed a four story brick depot and hotel in the proximate location of the current Amtrak station; passenger areas were on the ground floor while the upper stories were turned over to hotel rooms. Exhibiting Italianate influences, it featured a long ground floor arcade across the front; at the roofline, two side pediments framed a central three-bay section of the building that was topped by a parapet with a majestic eagle, wings stretched to catch the wind. Arched windows with heavy hoods punctured the façade and a long covered walkway ran the length of the station to protect milling crowds.
Built for both beauty and function, the PRR depot only stood for a dozen years before angry railroaders burned it to the ground in 1877. In that year, railroad companies announced another reduction in pay—the first had occurred in 1873—and cut part of the workforce. For Pittsburgh, this was significant, as many of the lines had locomotive and car shop facilities in the city and thus the workforce was large and influential in the economy. Strikes and protests popped up across the country, and Pittsburgh’s railroad community walked out in July with the support of other laborers. State militia units engaged the protestors and fired, leaving at least twenty people dead—women and children included. Anger mounting, incensed crowds set fire to the rail yards behind the station in the Strip District. A week later, U.S. Army troops reestablished order, but a 15 block long, $4 million swath of destruction remained.
With the station a pile of rubble—images in Harper’s Weekly told the story to the nation—a temporary depot was hastily thrown up, and would remain in place until the late 1890s when the railroad decided to construct a new facility. The PRR chose the firm of Daniel Burnham, a preeminent urban planner and architect who had recently triumphed with his organization of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago that filled the heads of Americans with dreams of neoclassical beauty and order. Constructed from 1898-1903, the new Pennsylvania Station is a twelve story building clad in brown brick and terracotta; a central atrium allows light to penetrate into the main passenger areas. The crowning parapet features escutcheons and urns. The overall structure resembles an Italian palazzo with heavy ornamentation that some commentators refer to as “neo-Baroque.”
As an urban planner, Burnham arranged the structure on three levels. The basement held the baggage area and a loading dock accessible from both a side entrance and a depressed front access road. Above this space was the principle passenger area, approached from the city by a sweeping drive that led to a large rotunda or drop-off area that could accommodate carriages. The rotunda features a large coffered dome with a central skylight. It is supported by four large arches bolstered by four corner pavilions. The surface terracotta work exhibits elaborate bands of vegetation and cartouches while each pier holds a plaque with the name of one of the PRR’s four principle cities: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, and Chicago. Each panel is framed by decoration including female visages, and in the case of Pittsburgh, by palm fronds. Interestingly, Pittsburgh is spelled without the “h”—a reminder of the two decades when the post office officially dropped the letter from the city’s name. A clock—all important for rail travelers, crowns the front arch. Rows of light bulbs frame the arches and other areas of the rotunda, making it a popular spot for night-time photos.
Continuing from the rotunda, passengers entered the main waiting room, located at the bottom of the atrium. Three story arches frame the perimeter and the upper wall makes a dramatic curve to the central skylight which flooded the space with sunlight that showed off its green, brown, and gold color scheme and made the white marble floor glow. The arched openings in the walls once led to men’s and women’s lounges, a dining room, ticket office, and baggage office. Once trains had arrived, passenger went through the doors at the far end to access the concourse and train shed that stretched out behind the building.
Upstairs, the PRR housed offices. Pennsylvania Station was sometimes referred to as Union Station, as it united various PRR subsidiary lines in one structure. In the 1980s, the former passenger areas of Pennsylvania Station were restored and the office spaces converted to condominiums. While the public can no longer access the interiors, the rotunda can be admired up close. The building and the rotunda are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Those traveling on the P&LE had to head across the Monongahela River to South Side where the station was conveniently located just off of the Smithfield Bridge. Finished and opened to the public in 1901 at a cost of $750,000, the station is often described as “Edwardian,” with an emphasis on the richness of its interior décor and materials which include marble, brass, stained glass, and dark woods. At seven stories, it displays the classic tripartite division into base, shaft, and capital, indicated by changes in the window arrangements and the placement of belt courses. Architect William George Burns covered the structural steel frame in stone, terracotta, and brick in brown tones; terracotta decorative elements at the cornice include wreaths and festoons.
Passengers entered the main doors and descended a grand stair to a ceramic mosaic floor. The center of the waiting room is defined by a barrel vaulted skylight composed of square cut-outs filled with stained glass; their shapes give the appearance of a coffered ceiling. Two-story marble columns with Corinthian capitals support the vault and also help to visually define the center of the waiting room from the perimeter which housed the ticket office and other concessions. Above the doors leading to the platforms is a large fanlight that allows in ample light; Palladian windows around the perimeter of the room brighten the corners.
The station and train shed were just two structures within a larger complex of more than forty acres that included freight and express buildings and a rail yard along the river. Once passenger service ended, the station lost its primary function. In 1976 the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, a local historic preservation organization, purchased the site and reinvented it as a shopping and dining center. The buildings were restored and now house shops and restaurants that make it one of the city’s most visited attractions. Outdoor plazas and fountains encourage activity throughout the complex while the former station waiting room is now an upscale dining establishment. A hotel and dock were constructed, and elements from Pittsburgh’s steel making past were installed along the riverfront. For its contribution to the understanding of Pittsburgh’s transportation heritage, the property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
Nestled among the hills of western Pennsylvania along the waters of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers, Pittsburgh is a city defined by its topography. Diverse neighborhoods grew in the city’s valleys and on its hilltops and even some of the slopes. Sheer bluffs and gorges created a need for a network of 446 bridges and 712 sets of stairs that often take the place of sidewalks and streets. Early roads and railroads did not choose the shortest path, but rather the path of least resistance, often following the flatlands along the river banks. Although the topography created difficulties, it defines Pittsburgh as a memorable landscape: visitors recall the yellow bridges that grace downtown and the inclined railways that climb Mt. Washington and other select spots.
Pittsburgh also sits on top of one of the largest bituminous coal seams in the world that averages more than five feet thick. This natural resource fired the city’s industries and made it into an economic powerhouse that drew Americans and new immigrants. The topography also trapped the smoke and fumes of industry along the riverbanks and in the valleys, turning some days as dark as night and creating a mental image of a Pittsburgh far different from what a visitor sees today.
Andrew Carnegie made a career for himself with the PRR, but realized the potentials of the steel industry to change the way America built itself. Carnegie opened his first steel mill in the Pittsburgh area in the 1870s and within two decades dominated the steel business in North America. Within the American labor movement, the 1892 strike at Carnegie’s Homestead Mill is remembered for its violence. Carnegie and his partners crushed the steel worker’s union and consolidated control over workers. Other steel producers such as Jones and Laughlin ensured that the city’s waterways remained busy with barges carrying coal, coke, and finished steel on its way to distant locales. During World War II, Pittsburgh’s mills produced more than 95 million tons of steel that supported every aspect of the war effort.
With three major railroads—the B&O, PRR, and NYC—running through the city, there were many company locomotive and car shops as well as supporting businesses. George Westinghouse constructed a plant east of the city along the PRR to produce his patented air brake; by 1905 more than 2 million rail cars and 89,000 locomotives used Westinghouse brakes that allowed the railroads to safely attain higher speeds and maintain stricter levels of safety. Other factories produced steel cars, couplers, automatic signals, and other technologies and tools essential to modern railroading.
While most Americans associate the Heinz name with ketchup, Henry John Heinz, founder of the food empire, started his career with horseradish. As a young boy, Heinz loved to garden and used the recipes of his German immigrant mother to start a canning business. At a time when food standards were not regulated or enforced, Heinz proudly proclaimed that he used all natural products which he bottled in clear glass jars so that the consumer could see what was in his product. Heinz pushed for federal food regulations and opened his factory to the public in 1897. Although ketchup is still the company’s best selling product, today the business includes many other recognized food brands.
Their names and brands known to the world, the great 19th and 20th century industrialists also contributed much to the city where they got their start. Monuments in marble and gilt dot Pittsburgh. Andrew Carnegie’s Museum of Art and Museum of Natural History were joined in the late twentieth century by the Carnegie Science Center on the Allegheny River and the Andy Warhol Museum in North Side. The famous Carnegie library program started in Pittsburgh and accordingly it boasts one of the grandest municipal library buildings in the nation.
At the Heinz History Center at the base of the Strip District—famous for its ethnic food stores, coffee shops, and restaurants—visitors can explore the history and people of western Pennsylvania through general history exhibits, a sports museum, and library and archives that document life in the region. The sports museum emphasizes Pittsburgh’s strong home teams and proud traditions. The area is often called the “Cradle of Quarterbacks” due to the large number of football players from the region who have gone on to successful careers.
Students from across the nation and globe come to Pittsburgh to attend one of its numerous universities, many of which are clustered in the Oakland neighborhood which is marked from afar by the University of Pittsburgh’s “Cathedral of Learning,” a 42 story Gothic Revival skyscraper containing classrooms and offices. Founded in 1787, the university is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s best public universities with excellent programs in law, business, and health sciences. Neighboring Carnegie Mellon University is another educational beacon, featuring strong programs in computer science, engineering, information systems, and the arts.
After the late twentieth century decline of the American steel industry, the city has reinvented itself as a center of medical research and development, education, healthcare, tourism, and hospitality. Taking into account its rich history, numerous cultural institutions, diverse neighborhoods, and stunning natural setting, Pittsburgh is often considered one of the most livable cities in the United States.
Amtrak provides ticketing and baggage services at this station which is served by four daily trains.
The Pennsylvanian is financed primarily through funds made available by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
- 5 Short 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
- Long Term Parking Spaces
- Pay Phones
- Quik Trak Kiosk
- Shipping Boxes
- Ski Bags
- Ticket Office
- Wheelchair Lift