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Amtrak Pennsylvanian Train On World Famous Horseshoe Curve In Altoona in Fall Appalachian Mountains In The Great Wide Travel Blog

Pennsylvanian Amtrak Train

Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian train gets its name from its route all the way through Pennsylvania from Pittsburgh over to New York City, so we’ll tell you the sights you’ll see, what the train is like, and whether or not we recommend it.


Pennsylvanian Amtrak Train Route

The Pennsylvanian route runs from Pittsburgh to New York City (and vice-versa), with stops in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Altoona, and more. The route covers less than 400 miles, but takes right around 9.5 hours, so expect a leisurely pace through the countryside. It runs once daily going both directions and only travels during the day, so you don’t have to worry about sleeping on the train.

Amtrak Pennsylvanian Train Route Map From Pittsburgh To New York City

Sights on the Amtrak Pennsylvanian Train Between Pittsburgh and New York City

Taking the Pennsylvanian from Pittsburgh to New York City, you’ll get to see a lot of pretty scenery, given the time of year you’re riding. The first major site is the Allegheny Mountains, which, given how wooded they are, look more like giant hills than mountains. It was a stark contrast from riding the California Zephyr through the Rocky Mountains a week prior, but regardless, they’re absolutely gorgeous.

In the middle of the Allegheny Mountains, between Johnstown and Altoona, is the World Famous Horseshoe Curve. In 1851, it was decided, to get a railroad from New England to the newer territories in the West, they would carve out a curve through the mountains, but most people considered this a fool’s errand. Even though it took over 3 years of grueling work performed mostly by Irish immigrants, they managed to complete the project. It opened for business in 1854 and was widely considered to be a victorious engineering feat. The Horseshoe Curve was even marked as a target by Nazi spies during World War II, with the hopes of crippling our resupply lines, but it wasn’t destroyed and instead was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966. Now, it surrounds a small but beautiful lake and has a Visitors Center where you can watch 50+ trains go by each day. The Amtrak conductor on the Pennsylvanian will likely give you plenty of heads up before reaching the Curve so you can get your camera ready, as ours did.

Once you’re on the other side of the Allegheny Mountains, you’ll enter Pennsylvania Dutch Country. It has the largest concentration of Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites, two groups that have resisted modernization. The landscapes are relatively untouched and are just lovely.

After passing through Philadelphia (which you won’t see too much of, with the way their train station is situated), you’ll cross the Delaware River into New Jersey. It’s a majestic river with enormous historical significance, including the famous Washington Crossing the Delaware painting by Emanuel Leutze (pictured below). From there, it’s essentially a straight shot and a hard right under the Hudson River into New York City, but unfortunately, you should not expect to see the New York City skyline, as the angle of the route heading north completely impedes any significant viewing before you go underground. This was a big bummer for Phoebe, since it was her first time going to the city, but you do get dropped off in the Moynihan Train Hall of Penn Station, so it’s easy to get wherever you need to go in the city from there.

George Washington Crossing the Delaware River Painting By Emanuel Leutze on In The Great Wide Travel Blog

What is the Amtrak Pennsylvanian Train Like?

Types of Seats

The Pennsylvanian is what we have come to call a ‘commuter-style’ train like the Northeast Regional, not a ‘leisure’ train like the California Zephyr or the Coast Starlight. It only has one level, not two. And since there’s no overnight service, there are no sleeper cars, so only coach and business class seats are available. The business class costs around 50% more than coach if you’re buying individual tickets instead of using a USA Rail Pass like we did, and it appears to be without any significant upgrades to the seats or service. We haven’t personally tried business class though, so if you have, we’d love to hear your opinion in the comments at the bottom of this article.

Amtrak Pennsylvanian Coach Seats

The Coach seats on the Pennsylvanian are slightly smaller than the coach seats on the ‘leisure’ trains, but they’re still larger than any coach seats on an airplane (and honestly, bigger than most business class seats on any plane too). There’s still just two seats on each side of the aisle, and the seats look and feel newer and more well-maintained than the ‘leisure’ trains.

The seats are made from some sort of leather material, as opposed to the fabric seats on the ‘leisure’ trains, which can be good or bad, depending on your preference. There is definitely less legroom than on the ‘leisure’ trains, but it’s still roomy and more comfortable than on an airplane. Each seat has a leg rest and a footrest that you can raise to recline and get even more comfortable, and there are still tray tables, but neither of ours sat level, which made it impossible to put a drink or laptop down and actually work, so we mostly sat in the cafe car.

Keep in mind that this train only runs during the day, so apart from an afternoon nap, you don’t have to worry about sleeping on this train, which is why the seats are smaller than on the leisure-style trains like the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, and Empire Builder.

Amtrak Pennsylvanian Train Coach Seats Review By In The Great Wide Travel Blog

Cafe Car and Restrooms

Like the ‘leisure’ trains, there is a cafe car on the Pennsylvanian, but it is not below an observation car, since this train is a single deck and there is no observation car on this route. The cafe car is still located between the coach cars and business class though and it consists of four-top booths with tables for working on a laptop or eating a meal while in transit. There are outlets under each table too; just keep in mind that the cafe car is primarily for dining, so please be courteous to fellow passengers who are coming in to eat and let them have the table if you are just there working.

The food selection is more limited than on the ‘leisure’ trains that we’d previously traveled on, but that makes sense because the ride is much shorter. You can find a sample menu under the ‘Menus’ tab in the middle of this page on Amtrak’s website. The good news: alcohol is still available for purchase too!

The restrooms on the Pennsylvanian are much larger than on the ‘leisure’ trains, which is surprising, but seems to stem from the fact that the trains are used so much more in this region than other places in the country. However, there are also less bathrooms available than on the ‘leisure’ trains, so you may end up having to move to another end of the train to find an open bathroom, and they are not available during fresh air breaks while the power to the train is shut off.

Amtrak Baggage Policy on the Pennsylvanian Train

You can still check baggage on the Pennsylvanian, despite it being a commuter-style train, as it has a dedicated luggage car. Amtrak allows a generous two free checked bags per person, plus two carry-on bags and two personal items, but some of the smaller stations do not offer this service, so you should check with your specific departure and arrival stations. Both Pittsburgh Union Station and New York City’s Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station allow checked bags, so we were able to use it, but there is an overhead shelf for carry-on bags if you need.

Pro Tip: Take as little luggage with you onto the train as possible so you have less stuff to keep an eye on when you want to move around or go to the cafe car.

By popular demand, we are writing another blog article with packing tips for Amtrak train travel. Sign-up for our newsletter at the bottom of this article to get notified when it comes out!


Amtrak offers free wi-fi on the Pennsylvanian, but it’s a cell-service-based internet, so if you’re getting spotty cell service, that means the wi-fi won’t be much help. We noticed service was extremely spotty throughout the majority of the route, so I don’t recommend relying on getting a ton of internet-based work done on this train.


For whatever reason, even though Amtrak allows a limited number of small dogs and cats on other routes, pets are not allowed on the Pennsylvanian.

Spooky Forest Appalachian Mountains Autumn On Pennsylvanian Train From Pittsburgh To New York City In The Great Wide Amtrak Travel Blog

Our Experience on the Pennsylvanian Amtrak Train

We left Pittsburgh fairly early on a very overcast morning in early October. It must’ve rained the previous evening as the train windows were streaked and filthy, making it a challenge to get any good photos while traveling. When the sun did peek through the clouds, it made for some incredible vistas, with pinks and reds bouncing off the wooded Allegheny Mountains.

We weren’t required to check-in before boarding the train at Pittsburgh Union Station, other than to check our bag, and we were not assigned seats. Even though we were packed into the station with what seemed like a ton of other people ready to get on the same train - to the point we were worried we wouldn’t be able to get seats together if we weren’t among the first to get on - the train felt pretty empty once we were all onboard.

Pro Tip: For the best views, when traveling east from Pittsburgh, make sure to sit on the right side of the train, while facing forward, which will become the south side of the train. It allows the best views of Horseshoe Curve and the Allegheny Mountains.

If you choose to sit in business class, I believe you get to choose your specific seat, so keep that in mind when booking. Since we were using the USA Rail Passes, we sat in coach (and you cannot pay the difference to upgrade), but we didn’t have any problems with the seats, which you can read more about in the above section of this article if you haven’t already.

After they scanned our tickets at our seats onboard, we easily grabbed a table in the cafe car where we could enjoy a coffee and get some work done while still admiring the passing views out the windows. However, twice while we were stationed in the cafe car, they closed it down on very short notice to allow the attendant time to take a break. Of course the attendant deserves a break, but more communication as to when that will happen would be appreciated, because we had all our stuff spread out on the table, working, and the attendant seemed annoyed when we couldn’t gather it all in 30 seconds to vacate the area.

Pennsylvanian Amtrak Train From Pittsburgh To New York City Review River Sunrise In The Great Wide Train Travel Blog

There are only 2 fresh air breaks on this 9.5-hour ride, as most of the stops are quick pick-ups and drop-offs. I wanted to get some fresh air at the Philadelphia stop (Phoebe and I would trade off on getting fresh air breaks so someone was always with our stuff), and when I mentioned this to the attendant he actually laughed. When I asked why, he just said, “You’ll see.” It turns out that the Philadelphia train platforms are enclosed and underground and all you’ll be able to smell is diesel exhaust. So much for the “fresh air break!” I could stand it for about ten seconds and then retreated back into the train, annoyed.

Leaving the train platform for actual fresh air is not recommended at ALL because you need to be able to hear the ‘all aboard’ call or they WILL leave you behind. We saw it almost happen while heading back to Los Angeles on the Coast Starlight from Seattle. The other fresh air break in Harrisburg is more open, so make sure you don’t miss that opportunity to get off the train for some actual fresh air.

Also, during the fresh air breaks, electricity to the train is shut off without warning, so if you have a device plugged in that is relying on the power from the plug, it will suddenly turn off, so make sure you SAVE YOUR WORK so you don’t lose anything! The restrooms are also unavailable during this time because the flushing system doesn’t work without power, which they really should warn people about before you get to the stations where you could be sitting for half an hour.

After Philadelphia, because of how the station is set up, we ended up doing the rest of the route in ‘reverse’, with our seats facing the back of the train. This could be bad for some people with motion sickness, as it can be very disorienting, but in that case, we recommend heading to the cafe car. Unfortunately, after crossing the Delaware River and getting into Trenton, New Jersey, the cafe car is closed for the remaining hour-long journey into New York City.

Phoebe was really disappointed to not be able to see the New York City skyline as we were approaching the city. The route heading north out of Newark takes a sharp turn east to go under the Hudson River, so you don’t know you’re in New York until you get off the train and walk out of the station. In the end though, the train is at Penn Station, so it’s a good central location to go anywhere you need to be in the city afterwards.

Delaware River Crossing On Amtrak Train Pennsylvanian Review In The Great Wide Travel Blog

How to Make a Reservation for the Pennsylvanian Amtrak Train

You can make a reservation on the Amtrak Pennsylvanian train through Amtrak’s website or the Amtrak app. We’ve heard from multiple people that they had problems with the website (although we did not) and that their app is far superior. We used the app a lot during our trip and recommend you do the same, but we booked our USA Rail Passes and all of the individual legs of our trip using their website. Reminder: we have another blog article coming with all the details about the USA Rail Passes, so sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of this article to be notified when it comes out!

From what we can tell, coach seats start at $66 one-way and business class is $108 one-way, but if you wait until the last minute to book, prices go up. Food and drinks will cost extra, but since this is a day train, we advise to pack a lunch and then eat dinner when you arrive at your destination, because we arrived in New York City around 6pm. If you don’t want to bring your own, expect to pay around $7 for a sandwich, $2 for a soda, and $7 for an alcoholic beverage. You are not allowed to bring your own alcohol on board the Pennsylvanian, but you are allowed to bring your own food and non-alcoholic beverages. This is yet another blog article we have in the works about what food and drinks you should take on Amtrak trains.

Pennsylvanian Amtrak Train Review Pittsburgh To New York City Foggy Sunrise In The Great Wide Train Travel Blog

Our Verdict

This route, when done during the height of autumn, is absolutely beautiful. It does seem like it takes a much longer time than it should to get to New York City from Pittsburgh, given their proximity, but if you’re looking for a nice leisurely ride, the Pennsylvanian is the way to go.

Now that we’ve done this route once, I think we will most likely look into flying next time, because Phoebe has found some pretty cheap plane tickets, but we certainly enjoyed this trip and would recommend it during autumn or when it snows for some beautiful scenery in the Pennsylvania countryside.

World Famous Horseshoe Curve Altoona Pennsylvanian Amtrak Train Review Autumn In Appalachian Mountains In The Great Wide Travel Blog

Quick Reference Guide



Pittsburgh to New York City (or vice versa), via Altoona, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia

How to Get There

Pittsburgh Union Station and New York’s Penn Station are major public transportation hubs in each city, or you can board at any of the 16 other stops along the way

Time Commitment

9.5 hours in the daytime (no overnight options)


One-way: $66 for coach, $108 for business class

Reservation Info or through the Amtrak app

Our Verdict

If you hit the route at the right time of the year, it’s lovely! But it does take much longer than flying and can cost about the same if you book the right plane tickets, so it’s up to you if you want to deal with the airports to get where you’re going faster or if you’d prefer to take the scenic route and enjoy some leisure time while traveling.

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Adam Neubauer Writer For In The Great Wide Couple Travel Blog


In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog Phoebe and Adam at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, Scotland

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