Secret Philly

Behind the scenes at 30th Street Station: You’ve never seen these secret spots

That big retro board showing arrivals and departures is controlled by a computer running Windows 95.


Welcome to Secret Philly, an occasional series in which Billy Penn visits hidden or exclusive places in Philadelphia and writes about them.

Philly’s 30th Street Station: It’s been the hub for train transportation in the region since the 1930s. But all most people know about 30th Street is the main waiting area, the track level and the upper level where Regional Rail . Those areas take up one and a half floors. The building itself contains eight.

This Secret Philly provides a peek of the 30th Street Station you don’t usually get to see — the one reserved for employees or V.I.P.s. Chris Jagodzinski, Amtrak’s chief of operations, offered the tour and all of the insights and historical facts.

The Catwalks

Levels two through five feature office space for Amtrak employees. There’s one way to get through the different areas of the office space on each level and that’s by catwalk.

These narrow walkways are on the west side of the building. If you look closely enough from the waiting area — or outside where cabs and cars pickup and drop off — you can see people walking on them. The people on the catwalks can also look down and see you.

Catwalk inside
Mark Dent/Billy Penn

The Chapel (aka The Morgue)

Decades ago, the general public used to be able to visit the second floor. The reason for going up there was the chapel. This room, which is now a conference room, was a nondenominational chapel surrounded by wall panels with artworks done by a W.P.A. artist.

During World War II, a problem arose. Railroad travel was at its peak, and remains of soldiers were transported through America by train. Bodies had been kept in the baggage room, but an overflow area became necessary. Enter the chapel. It closed down to the public and became a makeshift morgue.

These days, some of SEPTA’s highest-ranking employees gather in the conference room for meetings. They usually call it “The Chapel.”

Chapel Morgue
Mark Dent/Billy Penn

The board room

Know how 30th Street Station has that cool board that makes the clicking sound when track numbers are selected or trains arrive or schedules change? It’s an antique, perhaps one of only a handful still in operation in America. Most other train stations have gone digital.

One person operates the board, known as a Solari board, from an office behind the customer service desk. The board has probably been in 30th Street Station since the 70s or 80s. The technology used to operate the board is almost equally dated.

Solari board
Mark Dent/Billy Penn

The different computers show a diagram of the tracks on the station and track trains’ progress that are coming to and leaving from the station. The computer on the far right, which runs on Windows 95, is what the board operator uses to enter the tracks and scheduling changes that you hear click in the waiting area.

Club Acela

Here’s one exclusive part of 30th Street Station where you can go. Single-day passes for Club Acela are being offered for $20. The lounge features several leather sofas and chairs, a conference room, television and workspaces. The internet and sodas are free, as well as a few snacks. The lounge is located on a higher level than the waiting room so it makes for good people watching of everyone in the waiting area.

Club Acela
Mark Dent/Billy Penn

Drawback: There was no minibar.

The Attic

The ceiling that you can see up above isn’t actually the highest point of 30th Street Station.

Ceiling 30th
Mark Dent/Billy Penn

Like a house, 30th Street Station has an attic. And like most houses, the attic is primarily full of random storage and dark.

Attic 30th Street
Mark Dent/Billy Penn

In one corner of the attic, there’s an empty shaft. You can look over the edge — best not to get too close — and see several stories down, all the way to the track level.

The Roof

Way above 30th Street Station you can see how large the building is and get one terrific view of Center City.

30th Street Rooftop
Mark Dent/Billy Penn
30th Street Rooftop view
Mark Dent/Billy Penn

Want some more? Explore other Secret Philly stories.

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