• Why does Amtrak still serve North Philadelphia & Cornwells Heights?

  • Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.
Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

Moderators: GirlOnTheTrain, mtuandrew, Tadman

  by NortheastTrainMan
 
Hey guys,

Amtrak has a number of "local" or lesser served stops on the NEC. Two of which, both in the Philly area have always stood out to me, North Philadelphia & Cornwells Heights. They're served on weekdays by a very small amount of Keystones & Regionals, but why? I've been on a few trains that stopped there and the stops are normally quick and I barely see anyone at them.

North Philadelphia has routinely been abysmal in the course of my life. I'm well aware that earlier in the 20th Century that it was a MAJOR hub, along with the neighboring Broad Street Line (also North Philadelphia) & Reading Railroad (North Broad) Stations. So much so that a number of trains heading west (Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and beyond) stopped there instead of 30th Street and took the subway at Zoo interlocking. But by the end of the 20th Century and thus far in the 21st Century it's been pretty much a shady ghost town. It's not in the nicest part of Philly at the moment either. Albeit I've read a few articles discussing potential new developments in the area, for the past 30 years or so it hasn't been a bustling area for intercity rail traffic, barely for commuter traffic. I think SEPTA actually wanted to shut the station down at one point but were pushed / forced to keep it open. PHN at least according to Wikipedia only had 2,006 Passengers in 2018 for Amtrak I believe.

As for Cornwells Heights, I can understand that to an extent given the larger parking lot, more passengers (3,673 in 2019 for Amtrak via Wikipedia). Even though I find it odd how CWH lacks high level platforms, but both Croydon & Levittown have them. Anyways, I see potential for Cornwells Heights, but right now it doesn't seem to have enough people to justify intercity rail traffic.

On another note, Princeton Junction & New Brunswick make sense in my opinion as "local" Amtrak stops. I normally see at the bare minimum moderate crowds there. But in the Philly area it borders on desolate most of the time.

From the outside looking in, these stations, ESPECIALLY PHN seem to be open for bureaucratic reasons only.
If anyone could shed some light on this, I'd appreciate it. I would imagine they serve a purpose for some people, but I can't really imagine someone traveling on intercity rail to go to North Philly or Cornwells Heights, or travel from there. But who knows? Also, if I misspoke on anything, let me know.
  by rcthompson04
 
I believe North Philadelphia has historically had some New York bound commuters connecting via the Chestnut Hill West line. Cornwells Heights is more interesting to me. Did a PRR train to New York stop in that area previously? It also strikes me as interesting the Newark Delaware and Downingtown PA are served by Amtrak trains. When Coatesville is upgraded I wonder if it makes sense to drop Downingtown especially if the station is moved further east closer to Exton.
  by njtmnrrbuff
 
N. Philly is trying but still has a long way to go around the Amtrak/Septa N. Philly Station. I don’t think it makes much sense to have more Amtrak’s stop there. It’s best remaining a stop for mainly Septa trains.

Cornwalls Heights could certainly use some more Amtrak’s stopping there. It certainly functions as a park n ride lot for those people who live in towns like Bensalem, Langhorne, and Croyden who might want to take Amtrak to places like DC.

Princeton Jct doesn’t really need to have too many more Amtrak trains stop there. Unlike Metropark, there aren’t many office parks on the grounds of where PJC is. They are all along Rt. 1. Plus there aren’t any major highways that intersect at PJC. Trenton is 12 miles down the road. Might I also add-it’s best not to have the Palmetto Train # 89 stop at New Brunswick and Princeton Jct. I’m not sure if many people even board or detrain from the Palmetto at those stations. I could see some other trains stopping at New Brunswick.
  by NortheastTrainMan
 
rcthompson04 wrote: Thu Jul 29, 2021 11:40 pm I believe North Philadelphia has historically had some New York bound commuters connecting via the Chestnut Hill West line. Cornwells Heights is more interesting to me. Did a PRR train to New York stop in that area previously? It also strikes me as interesting the Newark Delaware and Downingtown PA are served by Amtrak trains. When Coatesville is upgraded I wonder if it makes sense to drop Downingtown especially if the station is moved further east closer to Exton.
There was a time when a number of people transferred from the Chestnut Hill West line to the main NEC line for Trenton / New York. However if I’m not mistaken North Philly on the Chestnut Hill West branch is currently a flag stop, so I think that shows that it’s not as important as it used to be.

I’d imagine that PRR’s commuter trains served CWH, not sure about the intercity trains. By CWH has been upgraded a bit and has close proximity to I-95. Like there’s an interchange there. Perhaps it could be Philly’s Metropark, or at least that’s what PennDOT thought when they upgraded it.

I know Newark, DE is pretty lightly served. It looks routinely desolate. Not spooky like North Philly imo, but still quite desolate. I’ve seen videos of Downingtown but I haven’t rode a train on the Keystone Corridor yet.
  by electricron
 
Cornwells Heights appears to be halfway between Philadelphia and Trenton. Pennsylvania subsidizes the Keystone trains. The Keystones, and likewise for the remaining NEC Regional trains, are not long distance intercity trains with stations 40 to 50 miles apart, they are expected to have stations 15-20 miles apart.
The distance between Philadelphia and Trenton is around 33 miles, so one should expect a station about halfway in between. Presto, there it is, Cornwells Heights.

Now, someone will challenge those distance between stations assumptions I suggested earlier. Let's look at the math and what is.......
NY to DC is around 225 miles with 16 stations serviced by Amtrak along the route.
225 miles / 15 stations = 15 miles between stations on average.
(Note = 16 including both Penn Station and Union Station)
NY to Chicago is around 959 miles with 21 stations serviced by Amtrak along the route by the Lake Shore Limited.
959 miles / 20 stations = 48 miles between stations on average.
(Note = 16 including both Penn Station and Union Station)

Intercity trains come in many different flavors, do not expect just one. :wink:

One of the reasons why Amtrak NEC regional trains perform so well with ridership is that passengers riding the trains know that their first mile - last mile of their journey will be rather short. With just 15 miles between stations, the longest first/last leg of their journey is just 7 or 8 miles. A rather long walk, but a fairly short subway, bus, taxi, uber, bike, or their own automobile ride.

If you think Amtrak and other transit agencies have to jump over too much red tape establishing new train services, imagine the red tape they have to weed through to cancel train services, specifically for an existing station. Whether immediately adjacent stations to Cornwells Heights would be better or not economically now may give Amtrak a reason to plow through all that red tape.

But I think it is fairly obvious that geography is the main reason why it was selected for services initially and to avoid a huge mountain of red tape is why Amtrak continues to service it. Bottom line being, will the alternate station choice be worth all the trouble and expenses for changing?
  by Gilbert B Norman
 
R&DB wrote: Fri Jul 30, 2021 6:46 am Princeton Junction is to serve the town of Princeton and Princeton University. There are certain times it is quite busy.
Times columnist, and retired Princeton Professor of Economics Paul Krugman, often has made note in his columns how he rides Amtrak from PJC - and how a particular thought came to him while doing so.
  by ExCon90
 
In PRR days Cornwells Heights was served only by MP54 locals, and there weren't many of those outside of rush hours (there were a few locals that ran all the way from Philadelphia to New York, making all stops, but you couldn't really count them as corridor trains). What gave CWH its unaccustomed prominence was the need to completely rebuild I-95 a few lanes at a time for well over a year -- I forget just how long, or when it started -- but there was room to expand the parking lot and build on- and off-ramps (northbound and southbound respectively) directly into the lot, and PennDOT encouraged motorists from Bucks County to pull in at CWH and take the train from there. I believe it was fairly successful in doing that during construction but much of the ridership stayed with I-95 once it was complete. I think Amtrak decided to try CWH as an NEC stop to see whether some New York traffic could be generated, but I can't see Amtrak with its present policy desiring to haul empty seats from Washington to CWH to make room for passengers from there to New York -- best let them drive to Trenton and take NJT.
  by The EGE
 
For reference, FY19 annual ridership numbers of stations served only/primarily by the Northeast Regional (and Keystone Service). 37k corresponds to 100 average daily on/offs (ie, 50 daily boardings).

Kingston: 175k
Westerly: 46k
Mystic: 29k
New London: 164k
Old Saybrook: 70k
Bridgeport: 95k
New Rochelle: 96k
Newark Airport: 168k
New Brunswick: 4.4k
Princeton Junction: 32k
Cornwells Heights: 3.1k
North Philadelphia: 2.0k
Newark DE: 12k
Aberdeen: 35k

New Brunswick, Cornwells Heights, and North Philadelphia are definitely the outliers - they average less than 10 daily boardings. Newark DE averages about 18 daily, and then there's a big jump to Mystic and Aberdeen at ~50/day.

What truly surprises me is Kingston, with ~240 boardings per day. It's in a relatively rural area, with not much around but URI. There must be some strange ridership generator - perhaps there's a sizable contingent commuting from Providence for classes?
  by ExCon90
 
Also, stopping at CWH would require crossing from the inside to the outside tracks between HOLMES (Holmesburg Jct.) and GRUNDY (Bristol), which I know Amtrak would rather not do (just as for Ardmore on the Keystones).
  by RRspatch
 
ExCon90 wrote: Fri Jul 30, 2021 9:13 pm Also, stopping at CWH would require crossing from the inside to the outside tracks between HOLMES (Holmesburg Jct.) and GRUNDY (Bristol), which I know Amtrak would rather not do (just as for Ardmore on the Keystones).
Holmes is a complete interlocking with ladders in both directions. Grundy only has one ladder going westbound from No.4 to No.1 track. Amtrak removed the other ladder from No.4 to No.1 track many years ago. A westbound train stopping at Cornwell Heights currently has to go down No.4 track at Morris. Conflicts with SEPTA traffic especially at rush hour would cause delays. This is probably why few Amtrak trains make this stop.
  by Ken W2KB
 
The EGE wrote: Fri Jul 30, 2021 9:11 pm What truly surprises me is Kingston, with ~240 boardings per day. It's in a relatively rural area, with not much around but URI. There must be some strange ridership generator - perhaps there's a sizable contingent commuting from Providence for classes?
Kingston//Kingstown, RI also serves Jamestown, RI, and Aquidneck Island, on which Portsmouth, Middletown and Newport, RI are located, with bus transit. Additionally, there is ferry service in Kingstown to Martha's Vineyard, MA. These, as well as the University of Rhode Island traffic you mentioned, likely contributes to the higher ridership numbers. URI students also may travel home on weekends, or elsewhere for entertainment, i.e., Boston.
  by R36 Combine Coach
 
Princeton Jct., along with Newark (DE) and New Brunswick may be likely served due to major universities.

As for the local NEC stations in New Jersey, they are also remnants of Clockers (whose ridership consisted
largely of NJT monthly/weekly commuters). Clocker service was to be be taken over by NJT January 1, 2006
but ended in October 2005 and filled in with added NJT Trenton express service.

The new Cornwells Heights park-ride opened in 1997 with 1,600 spaces. Limited service at PHN and CWH
is aimed for direct service to NYP and points north. Recall in the 1980s there was a direct weekday Metroliner
MU round trip from Harrisburg to New York called the "Wall Street Special" aimed at the old money on the
PRR Main Line corridor and suburban Philadelphia business types.

Regionals serve Aberdeen in part to the MARC cross-honoring agreement (MARC commuter passes are
valid on some Regionals at Aberdeen).
  by njtmnrrbuff
 
If more Amtrak's were to stop at PJC, I would probably say have mainly Keystones do that. There are some Keystone trains that layover at PHL for close to 20 minutes and I think time like that can be reduced and traded in with a stop at PJC. It would also be good to have some more NER trains stop at PJC-yes, the university contributes to decent Amtrak ridership at PJC.

As for Cornwells Heights and N. Philly, yes, it helps to have those select Amtrak trains stopping there as there are probably an good number of people who have to head to NWK and NYC to business related events. They want to be able to get a very fast ride to and from NYC from a station close by without having to backtrack to 30th Street which adds a lot of time. Temple University is very close to North Philly Station and students who are doing internships in NYC a few times a week probably can benefit from Amtrak stopping at N. Philly.

As for Aberdeen, more people probably board MARC trains than board Amtrak trains. It is not surprising that it is part of the MARC/Amtrak cross honoring agreement. Eventually, MARC is supposed to increase service north of BAL and obviously be extended to Newark and maybe even Wilmington. It would be nice for some more Amtrak trains to stop in Aberdeen. If you live in and around Aberdeen and need to get to Philly and NYC, you have very few Amtrak options. You are far enough away from driving to Baltimore that you might as well just drive to Wilmington to head north. I knew somebody who lived in Churchville who did that a lot when she took Amtrak.