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Keystone Corridor (blue), as designated by the Federal Railroad Administration

The Keystone Corridor is a Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) "designated high speed corridor" with a 349-mile (562 km) railroad line between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with a top speed of 110 miles per hour (177 km/h). As of November 1, 2006, the track from Lancaster to Parkesburg was upgraded to 110 mile per hour operation, with the section between Paoli and Philadelphia going through a similar upgrade (mainly to allow for 75 to 90 mph operation) as part of a USD $145 million project.

Amtrak currently runs two intercity rail services along the Keystone Corridor: the Harrisburg to New York City Keystone Service and the Pittsburgh to New York City Pennsylvanian. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) operates daily R5 commuter rail service between Philadelphia and Thorndale, serving the communities along the eastern part of line known as the "Main Line."

The Broadway Limited, a train that operated between Chicago and New York, used the Keystone Corridor between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and the Northeast Corridor between Philadelphia and New York. Originally a Pennsylvania Railroad train, this route was discontinued by Amtrak in 1995 but later restarted by the passenger rail company and renamed the Three Rivers. The Three Rivers was discontinued in 2005, eliminating direct, passenger rail service between Philadelphia and Chicago (Amtrak still operates Chicago to Washington, D.C. service, but it uses the rail line west of Pittsburgh, with commuters wishing to travel to New York being required to switch to a Pennsylvanian train in Pittsburgh).

The tracks from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg are owned and maintained by Norfolk Southern (which acquired them from Conrail), and is the location of the famous Horseshoe Curve west of Altoona. The tracks between Harrisburg and Philadelphia are owned and maintained by Amtrak, and is the only part of the Keystone Corridor that is electrified. The tracks join the Northeast Corridor at Zoo Interlocking near the Philadelphia Zoo and 30th Street Station.


Brief history

Until 1968 the line was part of the Pennsylvania Railroad's (PRR) main line. The part east of Dillerville, just west of Lancaster, was originally the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, part of the state-owned Main Line of Public Works. From Lancaster west to Harrisburg, the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad provided the rest of the line. Except for minor realignments, the Keystone Corridor runs along the same path.

In 1915, the PRR electrified the line from Philadelphia's former Broad Street Station to Paoli, then the west end of commuter service. Electrification west of Paoli to Harrisburg came in the 1930s, after the PRR successfully completed electrification on the present-day Northeast Corridor (New York-Washington, D.C. section). The total cost of electrification was over USD $200 million, which was financed by government-supported loans from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the Public Works Administration.[1]

A major rehabilitation was made in the 1950s, but passenger services again became unprofitable as they had become in the 1930s until World War II. The PRR could not afford to invest into money-losing projects as the company had shareholder obligations to meet, and this included a stable dividend. The result was dilapidated stations, slow, disjointed track conditions, and antiquated rolling stock which frequently broke down.[2]

In 1968, the PRR merged with the New York Central to become Penn Central, which declared bankruptcy in 1970. In 1976, Amtrak took ownership of the line between Philadelphia and Harrisburg while Conrail (the merger of Penn Central, the Reading Company, and several other Class I railroads) took ownership of the remaining part of the line and the many branches, both electrified and non-electrified, along it that the Penn Central had owned. Amtrak took over the express Harrisburg-New York intercity rail service in 1971, while Conrail, under SEPTA auspices, continued Harrisburg-Philadelphia commuter services until 1983, when SEPTA took over all commuter services and truncated operations to Parkesburg (later truncated in 1992 to Downingtown, but later extended to Thorndale).

Penn Central made an agreement with the federal government to provide a high-speed service called the Metroliner, which upgraded the Northeast Corridor tracks between New York and Washington by 1969, but neglected other areas such as the Keystone Corridor, a lack of maintenance that continued after Amtrak's takeover in 1976. The Keystone Corridor eventually served as a "depository" for the problem-prone Metroliner electric multiple unit cars. It also used the electric locomotive-hauled trains for Harrisburg-New York service. Before the introduction of Acela electric high-speed service over the Northeast Corridor, and after facing a shortage of electric locomotives (both E60 and AEM-7 models), Amtrak used GE Genesis diesel locomotives between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, with an engine change to an electric (usually AEM-7) locomotive at 30th Street Station. Because of this, higher ticket prices, and competition from SEPTA, ridership declined.

The line between Philadelphia and Lancaster was four tracks until the 1960s, when the PRR removed two of the tracks. The line is now two tracks from Paoli to Harrisburg, save for a three-track section between the Glen and Park interlockings, and a four-track section between the Downs and Thorn interlockings.

As of 2004, most of the track was limited to a maximum speed of 70 miles per hour (113 km/h), except for a few 90 mile per hour (145 km/h)) sections between Downingtown and Lancaster. There are also curves which require slower speeds (especially in the section between Merion and Overbrook), and speed restrictions within interlocking limits.

High-speed corridor

Map of Keystone Corridor showing alternate freight routes.

In 1999, the Keystone Corridor was formally recognized as a "designated high speed corridor" by the FRA, as part of the TEA-21 transportation bill. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will fund half of the project's costs, and Amtrak will fund the other half.

The goals of this project include:

  • 90-minute travel time between Harrisburg and Philadelphia on express trains
  • 105-minute travel time on normal trains
  • Raising track speed to 110 miles per hour (177 km/h) where possible
  • Increasing the number of daily round trips from 11 to 14
  • Replacing diesel trains with electric on Keystone service

A summary appears in an FRA report.[3]

Construction on the USD $145,000,000 project began on March 7, 2005 and was completed in Fall, 2006. Amtrak's press releases have summarized the improvements as:

  • Installation of 80 track miles (128 km) of new concrete ties
  • Installation of more than 40 new track switches
  • A new signal system between Lancaster and Harrisburg
  • Upgrade of 16 existing bridges and culverts
  • Upgrade of overhead electrical wires (catenary)
  • Upgrade of electrical substations to support use of electric locomotives.

The installation of concrete ties also included replacement of the old jointed rail with new continuous welded rail (136 RE), track surfacing, and alignment. Track surfacing is adjusting the vertical profile of the two rails, leveling the rails on straight track and introducing superelevation (banking) in curves. The 80 miles (128 km) are broken down as:

  • 25 miles (40 km) on track 4 from Park (Parkesburg) to Cork (Lancaster) interlockings
  • 25 miles (40 km) on track 1 from Cork (Lancaster) to Park (Parkesburg) interlockings
  • 15 miles (24 km) on track 3 from Paoli to Overbrook
  • 15 miles (24 km) on track 2 from Overbrook to Paoli

Amtrak replaced the signal and communcations system and rebuilt the overhead catenary wire and upgraded electrical substations to provide the power needed to operate several electric trains simultaneously on this line. Since October, 2006, Amtrak, having sufficient Acela high-speed trainsets, started using electric push-pull trainsets for the first time since the mid-1990s. Using AEM7 locomotives and former Metroliner m.u. coaches modified into a push-pull cab-coach (with the locomotive "pulling" westbound trains and "pushing" eastbound), the electrified service is currently used on the Harrisburg-New York Keystone service, while the Genesis diesel locomotives are still used for the Pittsburgh-New York Pennsylvanian service. Like the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak trains use, between Paoli and Overbrook, the high-speed inner rails for normal operations.

Three at-grade crossings with roads remain as of 2009, and all three will be eliminated in a separate project. In July 1999, PennDOT budgeted USD $9 million for this project to eliminate all three crossings; however, these funds were later used for other projects. One of the crossings is in Elizabethtown and another in Mount Joy. The third, between Mount Joy and Lancaster, has been blocked off using fencing and jersey barriers. Additional funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will be used to complete the elimination of all three at-grade crossings in 2010.[4]

Construction progress

The four-track section between Overbrook and Paoli is numbered sequentially from the southernmost track (number 1 track) to the northernmost track (number 4 track).

Between March 7 and June 27, 2005, Amtrak worked on the number 4 track between Lancaster and Parkesburg, and from June 27 to September 2, 2005, they worked on number 1 track. A work gang with a track laying system (TLS) installed concrete crossties, new continuous welded rail, and new ballast, allowing for 110 miles per hour (177 km/h). The track layout at Lancaster station was simplified so that trains no longer have to take a diverging route to access the station platforms. Because tracks 2 and 3 have been removed, tracks 1 and 4 are the only tracks in this section.[5]

Between October 3, 2005 and mid-December, Amtrak worked on the number 2 track from Paoli to a point between Narberth and Merion stations. On March 20, 2006, Amtrak started working on the number 3 track, starting within Paoli interlocking and working east towards Overbrook. As of April 6, 2006, a track laying system (TLS) has completed work to approximately milepost 16.7. 110-mph service started on October 30, 2006 following completion of a $145 million upgrade of the 104-mile line. Push-pull express trains will cut journey time from the current two hours to 90 minutes. Local service will improve to 105 minutes. Three weekday and two weekend roundtrips will be added as well.[6]

Commuter rail

SEPTA Regional Rail operates commuter rail service on the Keystone Corridor between 30th Street Station and Thorndale as the R5 Paoli-Thorndale service. The R5, through efforts from PA Congressman Jim Gerlach (R-PA 6) and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, may be extended back to Parkesburg and even further to Atglen in the future. The current R6 Cynwyd service (and the proposed Schuylkill Valley Metro service to Reading) also uses the line between 30th Street Station and the Valley interlocking, which may be reconfigured to eliminate a deteriorating truss bridge. A project to bring commuter rail service between Harrisburg and Lancaster called CorridorOne is in the early stages of planning.[7]

SEPTA's capital budget for fiscal year 2006 describes on page 54 "R5 Paoli Line Improvements – Amtrak," a USD $80,594,000 project coordinated with the Amtrak project. SEPTA's focus will be to improve tracks 1 and 4 between Zoo and Paoli interlockings. Tracks 1 and 4 are primarily used by SEPTA. SEPTA's portion includes:

  • Installation of 85,000 concrete crossties, track surfacing, and alignment
  • Replacement of jointed rail with continuous welded rail
  • Upgraded signal and communication systems
  • Replacement of Bryn Mawr interlocking tracks
  • Reconfiguration and replacement of Paoli interlocking tracks
  • Improvements to pedestrian underpasses and ROW retaining walls

Freight operations

Norfolk Southern operates overnight freight service between the western junction of the Trenton Cut-Off (a former Penn Central electrified "through-freight" line) and just west of Parkesburg via trackage rights, mainly supplying the Mittal steel plate manufacturing plant in Coatesville. Norfolk Southern also operates a major freight classification yard at Harrisburg's West Shore (Enola). Two other electrified through-freight lines, the Atglen and Susquehanna Branch (a.k.a. the Low-Grade Line) and the Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch, were abandoned by Conrail before its purchase by Norfolk Southern, with NS still maintaining the Low-Grade Line due to the catenary poles servicing the Keystone Corridor between Lancaster and Middletown, while the former has been looked at by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission as a possible "Cross-County Metro" project connecting Thorndale with Trenton, New Jersey. Although there is electrified service on portions of the line all freight traffic is served using diesel locomotives.

Stations and interlockings

See Keystone Service for more information


  • (M) – Block and Interlocking Station (Manned)
  • (T) – Temporary Block Station
  • (X) – Interlocking
  • (D) – DCS Block Limit
  • R- – Remote Control From
  • (Line Name) – Interchange with
Milepost Station City Amtrak SEPTA Notes
0.0 Suburban Station Philadelphia All
1.0 30th Street Station Keystone Pennsylvanian All Amtrak to Washington, DC, New York City, and Boston, Massachusetts, all SEPTA Regional Rail, SEPTA Market-Frankford Line, New Jersey Transit Atlantic City Line
1.9 ZOO (M)(X)(D) (SEPTA Main Line, Amtrak NEC)
3.5 STILES (X)(D) R-ZOO Tracks 2 and 4 only
4.0 VALLEY (X)(D) R-OVERBROOK (SEPTA Cynwyd line) Tracks 1 and 2 only
4.1 PAXON (X)(D) R-ZOO Track 4 only
5.1 WOODBINE (X)(D) R-ZOO Track 4 only
5.4 Overbrook R5 (M)(X)(D)
6.0 Merion Lower Merion R5
6.8 Narberth Narberth R5
7.4 Wynnewood Wynnewood R5
8.5 Ardmore Ardmore Keystone R5
9.1 Haverford Haverford R5
10.1 Bryn Mawr Bryn Mawr R5 (X)(D) R-PAOLI
10.9 Rosemont Rosemont R5
12.0 Villanova Radnor R5
13.0 Radnor R5
13.7 St. Davids R5
14.5 Wayne R5
15.4 Strafford Tredyffrin R5
16.4 Devon Easttown R5
17.5 Berwyn R5
18.6 Daylesford Tredyffrin R5
19.9 Paoli Paoli Keystone Pennsylvanian R5 (M)(X)(D)
21.6 Malvern Malvern R5
25.5 GLEN (X)(D) R-THORN (NS Dale Secondary) Tracks 1 and 2 only
27.5 Exton Exton Keystone Pennsylvanian R5
28.3 Whitford R5
32.4 Downingtown Keystone Pennsylvanian R5
35.0 THORN (M)(X)(D)
35.5 Thorndale R5
36.6 CALN (X)(D) R-THORN Track 1 and 2 only.
38.4 Coatesville Keystone
43.9 PARK (M)(X)(D) Open as Needed
44.2 Parkesburg Keystone
Leaman Place Paradise planned future station which will connect with the historic Strasburg Rail Road
57.0 LEAMAN (T)(D)
67.? HOLLAND (X)(D) R-CORK Track 4 only (NS New Holland Industrial)
68.0 Lancaster Keystone Pennsylvanian
68.1 CORK (M)(X)(D) (NS Columbia Secondary)
70.0 LITITZ (X)(D) R-CORK Track 2 only (NS Lititz Secondary)
80.1 Mount Joy Keystone
86.8 Elizabethtown Keystone Pennsylvanian
94.5 ROY (X)(D) R-STATE (NS Royalton Branch)
94.7 Middletown Keystone
Harrisburg International Airport A station to serve the airport is to be located west of the existing Middletown station
104.4 STATE (M)(X)(D)
104.6 Harrisburg Keystone Pennsylvanian End of electrification.
164.6 Lewistown Pennsylvanian
195.6 Huntingdon Pennsylvanian
225.6 Tyrone Pennsylvanian
240.6 Altoona Pennsylvanian
282.0 Johnstown Pennsylvanian
309.0 Latrobe Pennsylvanian
319.0 Greensburg Pennsylvanian
349.0 Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian Connection to Capitol Limited

All stations are owned by Amtrak. Data source [1].

Earlier studies

There have been earlier studies by the USDOT and FRA of the Keystone Corridor, and these studies contain proposals or speculations which might not be in the currently funded projects. Some of these ideas are below.

Amtrak service to Suburban Station, which is in Center City Philadelphia, ended in 1988. An early study says that PennDOT used Suburban Station as the Philadelphia endpoint for the 90-minute service to Harrisburg. Restoring service to Suburban Station may increase ridership but would require using the upper level of 30th Street Station and either scheduling trains to turn at Suburban Station or to continue through the Center City Commuter Tunnel (with Amtrak trains turning around at Wayne Junction).

Bypassing 30th Street Station by using the New York-Pittsburgh Subway would allow trains to skip a time-consuming stop and reverse of directions at 30th St Station and allow fast service between New York and Harrisburg. Historically, the PRR fast trains going to NY from the west would bypass 30th St Station, and passengers for Philadelphia would change trains at North Philadelphia. One study suggested two daily electric-train round-trips between New York and Harrisburg with stops in North Philadelphia and Ardmore, a routing last used by Keystone trains in 1994.

Track reconfiguration between Zoo and Overbrook interlockings can increase track speeds which are usually 30 miles per hour (48 km/h) due to the need to take diverging routes through switches. Reducing the number of diverging moves and the use of 45 miles per hour (72 km) switches can increase speeds. Also, the reconfiguration can allow for the removal of the overhead bridge that the R6 Cynwyd trains use. Some other interlockings may be removed or reconfigured. With the reconfiguration near Zoo, the Overbrook interlocking can be removed and replaced with 4 through tracks. Bryn Mawr interlocking may have storage tracks added west of the station to allow R5 Bryn Mawr locals to turn without occupying an express track. Paoli interlocking may be removed if the four-track configuration were to continue west of the station. Paoli station may be reconfigured with high-level island platforms serving all four tracks, as part of a new Paoli transportation center. Frazer interlocking may be reconfigured for turning SEPTA trains and as the point where four tracks become two.

Electrification may be converted to use commercial 60 Hz AC power instead of the special 25 Hz single-phase AC currently in use although this is doubtful due to the costs involved, lack of real benefits and dedicated 25 Hz hydro-electric capacity at the Safe Harbor Dam (which also generates electricity for the Northeast Corridor itself; the power going from the dam to the NEC (at Perryville, Maryland), via a 50-mile long pylon network). Between Paoli and 30th Street Station, most of the overhead electric wire and other electrification system components dates back to the original 1915 electrification, although the 1915 substations have been retired. West of Paoli the electrification dates from the late 1930s and west of Downingtown the system is still controlled by the original 1939 power dispatching office in Harrisburg utilizing electromechanical systems.

See also


  1. ^ Salsbury, Stephen. (1982). No Way to Run a Railroad. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-054483-2. 
  2. ^ Daughen, Joseph R. & Peter Binzen (1971). The Wreck of the Penn Central. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 1-893122-08-5. 
  3. ^ "FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION: PASSENGER RAIL". Retrieved November 23, =2005. 
  4. ^ [ Governor Rendell: Federal Recovery Funds Create Jobs, Improve Pennsylvania’s Major Rail Corridor] Pennsylvania Recovery Act Press Release, January 28, 2010. Accessed February 5, 2010.
  5. ^ "Keystone Corridor improvements yield higher speeds". Destination:Freedom. Retrieved September 13, 2006. 
  6. ^ Couloumbis, Angela; Larry King (September 12 2006). "Amtrak will speed trips to Harrisburg" (). The Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  7. ^ "Corridor One -- Home Page". Retrieved November 23, 2005. 
  • Messer, David W. (1999). Triumph II. Philadelphia to Harrisburg 1828-1998. Barnard, Roberts & Company. ISBN 0-934118-24-8. 

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