North Philadelphia, PA (PHN)
Located about three miles north of City Hall, the station is adjacent to the Fairhill neighborhood. Passengers use the platforms only, as the former PRR depot now serves as a commercial space.
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2021): 848
- Facility Ownership: North Station District, LLC
- Parking Lot Ownership: North Station District, LLC
- Platform Ownership: Amtrak
- Track Ownership: Amtrak
Located on Broad Street approximately three miles north of City Hall, the North Philadelphia station, which consists of two hi-level platforms with canopies, is adjacent to the Fairhill neighborhood. The immediate area is well served by various modes of transportation, although they are not integrated into one facility. Amtrak’s North Philadelphia station is also served by the Trenton Line of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA) commuter rail system; within easy walking distance is a platform stop for the Chestnut Hill West Line. The Broad Street Subway is accessible via entrances at the corner of Broad Street and Glenwood Avenue, and multiple bus lines also run through the area.
Two former station buildings stand on either side of the embankment that carries the Northeast Corridor through the area. The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) constructed the depot on the south side of the right-of-way from 1896 to 1901. Soon after the PRR merged with the arch-rival New York Central Railroad in 1968, the new company went bankrupt. The majority of the vital Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston was then transferred to Amtrak in 1976. Amtrak occupied the older station for a few years but later decided to erect a smaller facility on the north side of the tracks. It replaced a taxi stand at the entrance to the tunnel that goes underneath the trackbed and provides access to the north and southbound platforms.
Facing the tunnel entrance, the station has a stepped façade composed of glass block and glossy white tile, and its lightness strongly contrasts with the hulking mass of the rest of the building. The other walls contain no windows and are covered in tiles to create a pattern of black and green-gray horizontal stripes that wrap around the structure and emphasize its boxy volume. At the base, a row of pink squares adds an unexpected bright pop of color against the darker tones above. Passengers coming from the tunnel were protected from inclement weather by the building’s cantilevered roof, which extends just past the tunnel wall. This facility was closed in 2001.
Philadelphia was established by William Penn in 1682 on a peninsula between the Delaware and the Schuylkill Rivers. Until the mid-19th century, growth was focused on what is today known as Center City. Settlement expanded westward from the Delaware River waterfront, which had served as the commercial heart of Philadelphia since the early colonial period. To the north beyond the municipal boundaries were numerous farms as well as smaller villages such as Germantown where wealthy Philadelphians erected summer homes away from the hot and crowded city. Much of the area now referred to as North Philadelphia was part of the 900 acre Fair Hill estate owned by merchant Isaac Norris. William Penn also granted a tract in the region to George Fox, the founder of Quakerism. He in turn conveyed it to local Quakers so that they could start a burying ground, meeting house, and school. The first two were established in 1703 to accommodate worshippers who otherwise had to travel south into the city to attend services.
As the largest and most prosperous city in the British North American colonies, Philadelphia witnessed its fair share of fighting during the Revolutionary War. British forces occupied Philadelphia from September 1777 until May 1778 and emerged victorious from the nearby Battle of Germantown in early October 1777. During this period, British troops took over the meetinghouse for use as a hospital and interred their dead in the burial ground.
The key to 19th century development in North Philadelphia was the presence of railroads that connected it to Center City and the wharves along the Delaware River. In 1831 the Philadelphia, Germantown, and Norristown Railroad was chartered, and it began operations two years later. Within a few years it was joined by the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. The former provided opportunities to live in the country but commute into the city for employment, whereas the latter was built to connect the city with northeastern Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal country.
In 1836, the state completed the Main Line of Public Works, a system of railroads and canals that reduced travel time between the far ends of the state from a matter of weeks to four days. It was undertaken to compete with the Erie Canal in New York and the National Road in Maryland, both transportation links that gave their respective states an advantage in trade with the growing Midwest. Within a few years, the PRR began construction of an all-rail route across Pennsylvania. When completed in 1854, it cut the travel time between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to less than a day.
The Main Line was expensive to maintain, and its profit margin was hurt by the success of the PRR. When the state decided to sell the infrastructure in 1857, it was purchased by the PRR. With its link to Philadelphia secured, the PRR then turned its acquisitive gaze to New York City. One of the lines making up part of the Philadelphia-New York route was the Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad (P&T), whose southern terminus was in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. To link its lines in West Philadelphia with the P&T, the PRR helped finance the 6.75 mile long Connecting Railway across the northern part of the city, and it opened for service in 1867.
Four years later, the PRR secured its path to New York when it took out a 999 year lease on the United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company, a line that traversed central New Jersey and came with water and ferry rights over the Hudson River. The PRR would not gain direct access to Manhattan until it completed a pair of tunnels beneath the river in 1910 and opened the magnificent Pennsylvania Station in Midtown. The Connecting Railroad became a key component in the PRR’s Philadelphia-New York main line, which now forms the base of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.
Prior to the Civil War, Philadelphia had begun its transformation into an industrial behemoth that garnered it the nickname “Workshop of the World.” Coal powered factories produced a variety of products that were then shipped across the country by rail or to the far side of the world by ship. Economic opportunities in the city’s factories attracted thousands of immigrants, and those from the same country and region often settled together and formed communities where their traditions were preserved through social clubs and churches. Development pushed beyond the borders of Center City to the south, north and west.
The Fairhill area around the North Philadelphia station sprouted factories and worker housing starting in the 1870s and continuing into the first decade of the 20th century. Manufacturers chose sites along the neighborhood’s three rail lines, which came to define its boundaries: the Connecting Railroad on the north, the Reading on the west, and the Philadelphia, Germantown, and Norristown to the east. Many of these factories were built with their own spurs so that rail cars could enter their property for more efficient loading.
Textile mills, especially carpet manufacturers, congregated in Fairhill. They were much smaller and more versatile than their counterparts in New England and could quickly respond to changing fashions and market demand. Philadelphia became known nationwide for its carpets, which were usually woven in long strips that were then sewn together to cover a floor. Larger carpets similar to modern-day area rugs were also produced, but they were more expensive. In addition to textiles manufacturers, the neighborhood hosted brick, coal, and lumber yards, iron foundries, and boiler works. Well known companies included S.L. Allen, maker of Flexible Flyer sleds, and the National Biscuit Company, better known as Nabisco.
The old Fair Hill estate owned by the Norris family was divided up and sold to developers who constructed block after block of modest row houses, most of which were rented or purchased by workers in the neighborhood factories. Lehigh Avenue, the area’s principal east-west thoroughfare, boasted a Gothic-inspired high school with crenellated towers and gargoyles; a gleaming white Carnegie library resembling a Greek temple; numerous churches in various architectural styles; shops; and a trolley line.
In 1883 the Philadelphia, Germantown, and Chestnut Hill Railroad (PG&CH) was built off of the Connecting Railroad to link the budding suburban communities of the northwestern section of the city with downtown. More than a century later, the tracks are still in operation as SEPTA’s Chestnut Hill West commuter line, and its platform is just west of the Amtrak station. When the PG&CH went into operation in 1884, a station was built on the wedge of land where it converged with the PRR. On the western end of the property, the Reading right-of-way was sunken below the PRR tracks but further north there was an interchange between the two railroads. Known as Germantown Junction, the depot was a two-story brick structure designed in the Queen Anne style. Features included clipped gables, roof cresting, and elaborate corbelling in the chimney stack. Passengers standing on the separate platforms serving the Connecting Railroad and the PG&CH were sheltered from inclement weather by an extensive gabled canopy.
A decade after its construction, the Germantown Junction station was crowded. Even more business was expected with the completion of a new PRR bridge over the Delaware River in 1896. It would carry most of the trains headed for Atlantic City and the Jersey Shore, popular summer getaways for middle and upper class Philadelphians. North Philadelphia was also growing rapidly, as were new and wealthy suburbs beyond the city limits in Montgomery County. When placed into operation, North Philadelphia station served as the major stop in the city for PRR trains running between New York City and the cities and towns of western Pennsylvania.
The railroad chose to construct a new station on a site south of the main line that was occupied by a small freight yard and warehouse. Expansion of the old station had been ruled out due to lack of space; plus, the new parcel was better situated for passengers arriving along North Broad Street and Glenwood Avenue via the streetcar lines. Excavation for the foundations began in spring 1896, but the building would not be completed until 1901. Delays occurred because of changes in leadership within the PRR, as well as a financial panic in the latter half of the decade. Stability returned under the presidency of Alexander Cassatt, who instituted a major capital campaign when he took over in 1899.
When work resumed the next year, the original plans by architect Theophilus Parsons Chandler were retained, but the floor plan was enlarged. Chandler was one of the city’s best known designers and created fashionable city and country homes for his wealthy patrons. Finished in 1901, the brick station resembles a French style chateau replete with a steep hipped roof covered in fish scale slate shingles, dormers, and decorative elements executed in creamy white glazed terracotta. Based on 16th century models found in the Loire Valley, the building would have been more at home stylistically in New York City than Philadelphia, which tended to favor English precedents. Although unusual in appearance, the station projected a sense of grandeur that was appropriate for one of the nation’s largest and most powerful companies.
Chandler placed the principal entrance on the Glenwood Avenue façade where passengers entered a graceful loggia marked by round arches and paired columns with composite capitals. The loggia acted as a transition space between the street and the two-story center block of the building that contained the waiting room. Above the central archway, a plaque inscribed with the name of the railroad is set into the parapet, which is topped with fancy scrollwork and an acanthus leaf; a balustrade extends to either side. The central axis of the main entrance was further enforced by a dormer window. Later removed, it had an oversized, gabled terracotta surround crowned by a finial.
Pilasters divide the exterior walls of the center block into a series of bays that feature deep corbelling to support the entablature at the base of the roofline. To the east and west of the center block are one-story wings that housed service spaces such as restrooms and a kitchen and cafe. Classical details on the station include projecting, scrolled keystones and dentil and egg-and-dart molding.
Entering the main waiting room, travelers would have marveled at the delicacy of the curving hammer-beam framing of the roof, which gave the space an open and airy feeling. A large fountain with a scalloped top was set into the western wall and featured a writhing dolphin playfully spouting a stream of water into a lower basin. Echoing the loggia, the walls were segmented into bays through the use of arches and pilasters. Those arriving by street car got off at a small trolley station on Glenwood Avenue. Its exterior decoration was similar to that of the train station, and it was connected to the main building by a covered walkway.
The PRR’s predictions proved correct, and the Germantown Junction station became so busy that it was expanded between 1912 and 1915 at a cost of $1 million. By grading the site, the basement level was opened up and reconfigured to serve as the entry level. The rough brick walls of the basement were covered in a veneer of white terracotta panels, and a large metal marquee was installed. A staircase was put in to connect the basement, which held the ticketing desks and the baggage room, with the now second floor waiting room.
During the renovations, other additions were made to the facility, including hi-level island platforms; four new tracks, plus a bridge to carry them over N. Broad Street; a tunnel underneath the right-of-way connecting the basement with the north side of the tracks and containing staircases to the platforms; and decorative light standards whose bases were embellished with the PRR’s keystone emblem. Once all the work was complete, the stop name was changed from Germantown Junction to North Philadelphia.
In the following decades, the station served a growing population in the surrounding neighborhoods. N. Broad Street above Center City became the nucleus of the city’s nouveau riche community, which was shunned by the members of old Philadelphia society who had settled around Rittenhouse Square. Mansions in a variety of architectural styles were erected by immigrants and others who had succeeded in business, and new clubs and concert halls were built to fulfill their needs for cultural institutions that could compete with those of the old Philadelphians. In the 1920s, the intersection of N. Broad Street and Lehigh Avenue nurtured a collection of automobile-oriented businesses such as machine shops. A nine-storey assembly plant constructed by the Ford Motor Company in 1910 still stands at northwestern corner of the intersection.
North Philadelphia also became a hub of the city’s sporting life, hosting three major stadiums on the west side of N. Broad Street. The first was erected in 1887 but rebuilt in 1895 after a fire. Later known as Baker Bowl, it was home to the Philadelphia Phillies National League baseball team and also hosted Negro League games. The cantilevered design of the second version allowed for unobstructed sight-lines that set a precedent for future ballparks. In the 1930s, the nascent Eagles football club used the stadium. Shibe Park opened in 1909 on the north side of the main line and was home base for the Philadelphia Athletics team of the American League.
Post-World War II, Fairhill’s industries faded in the face of national and international competition, and the neighborhood fell on hard economic times. During the 1980s, the city and Amtrak attempted to revitalize the empty station, but nothing came of the efforts. In 1999, a $7 million project resulted in the renovation of the historic North Philadelphia station and its conversion into a retail space. To the east, a small strip mall was constructed, and it visually references the train station through details including balustrades and decorative arches. To the west, on the far side of the former Reading Railroad tracks, a supermarket was built. With its excellent transit connections via intercity and commuter rail and local bus and subway services, the area around the North Philadelphia station is poised for revival. The city has identified it as a key sub-area in its greater vision for a renewed North Broad Street.
Amtrak’s Keystone Service is financed in part through funds made available by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Station Building (with waiting room)
- ATM not available
- No elevator
- No payphones
- No Quik-Trak kiosks
- No Restrooms
- Unaccompanied child travel not allowed
- No vending machines
- No WiFi
- Arrive at least 30 minutes prior to departure
- Amtrak Express shipping not available
- No checked baggage service
- No checked baggage storage
- Bike boxes not available
- No baggage carts
- Ski bags not available
- No bag storage
- Shipping boxes not available
- No baggage assistance
- No payphones
- No accessible restrooms
- No accessible ticket office
- No accessible waiting room
- No accessible water fountain
- No high platform
- No wheelchair
- No wheelchair lift