Center City: One of the World's Largest Passenger Terminal: Broad Street Station

In 1881, the Pennsylvania Railroad completed a station located on 16th street and JFK Blvd called Broad Street Station. It was an end terminal and the last stop into the city for trains from the West Philadelphia Station. Standing tall next to City Hall in Center City, it was one of the United States’ first steel structure buildings. Slightly over a decade later in 1892-1893, renowned architect, Frank Furness, redrew plans for how the station should look. His renovations landed Broad Street Station as one of the largest passenger terminals in World. A single large train shed was added nearing 300 feet long and over 100 feet high. It was one of the largest standing roofs in the world and covered 16 tracks.

Debuting in November of 1893, between 15th and 16th streets along Market Street, the train shed towered over the pedestrians on the walkways. Inside the shed, the tracks were squeezed closer together than usual. The “throat” of the station, where the locomotives awaited their assigned trains for departing rail cars, had been overcrowded and congested on a daily basis. Since it was an end terminal, it required 30 minutes for trains to back in to get out. By lengthening the train shed during construction, Broad Street Station created more flexible moments through “the throat,” which was necessary for keeping the lines running smoothly.

On June 11, 1923, however, a fire broke out and engulfed the large shed in a matter of hours. Unknowing of the origin, time in controlling the fire prolonged. It became harder to control and put out the fire as it burned for almost 3 days. As the steel skeleton of the train shed laid exposed and bare, the decision to remove it commenced in 1923. They erected what is known as Umbrella Shelters. Much simpler and easy to build, there were 8 that stood above the platforms to protect passengers from the elements.

On January 16, 1933, Broad Street Station made history again when the first electrified train to take passengers to New York City left from this station. Years prior, Pennsylvania Railroad had begun electrifying all railroad lines that led to Philadelphia. The first track to be done was the Paoli line, nearly 19.2 miles. The Chestnut Hill line came next at just around 12 miles.

A decade later, Broad Street Station was cursed with another fire. September 12, 1943, the second fire ignited and scorched the platforms and umbrella structures. Train cars were melted and mangled. The terminal was in ruins as metal pipes and beams fell and damaged the train cars below.

The fires were the beginning of the end. With the Pennsylvania Railroad constructing two more stations in Philadelphia, 30th Street and Suburban Station, Broad Street Station would decline in the 1940’s. In 1952, the last train left the station. Just one year later in 1953, the station was torn down.


  • Albrecht, Harry P. Broad Street Station, Pennsylvania Railroad, Philadelphia, 1881-1952. Clifton Heights, Pa.: H. P. Albrecht, 1972.
  • Duffy, Edward W. Philadelphia: A Railroad History. Philadelphia: Camino Books, 2013.
  • The Philadelphia Improvements. Bryn Mawr, Pa.: The Chapter, 1987.




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