In recent years Amtrak's Keystone Service has exploded in popularity as the carrier has upgraded the route with full electrified capability which not only as increased train speed but also required less transit times as trains do not have to switch motive power. In a typical year, Amtrak now sees its ridership over this nearly 200-mile stretch of track top out well over one million easily putting it within the company's top-ten corridors around the country. The history of the route dates back to the carrier's earliest years with the Keystone, a train that operated across Pennsylvania, as well as the Silverliner Service. Today, a version of the former is known as the Pennsylvanian and operates alongside the current Keystone Service.
It is quite likely that the success of the New York to Harrisburg route will continue well into the future consider the electrified service and large metropolitan region the trains serve. The history of the current New York-Harrisburg corridor can actually be traced long before there ever was an Amtrak. With the Pennsylvania Railroad's main line to both Chicago and St. Louis slicing directly through the heart of the Keystone State (which split at Pittsburgh) the company ran numerous named trains between the Steel City, Philadelphia, and New York such as the flagship Broadway Limited and others like the St. Louisan (New York/Washington - St. Louis), Duquesne (New York - Pittsburgh), and Pittsburgher just to name a few. The latter two trains, of course, served the Steel City and by the time Penn Central was created in 1968 only regional Keystone Corridor trains remaining included the Duquesne (originally named after Fort Duquesne in Pittsburgh) and Silverliner Service (Philadelphia - Harrisburg).
Both of these survived until Amtrak began on May 1, 1971. The Duquesne was retained by the carrier until Amtrak's first official timetable was released on November 14, 1971 when it was renamed as the Keystone, trains #42 and #43. This lasted until 1979 when the Keystone was dropped in favor of today's Pennsylvanian in 1980. Interestingly, due to its regional nature the Silverliner Service was always a relatively popular train even under Penn Central. It first entered service on the PRR around 1963 when the railroad took delivery of new Silverliner cars (thus the name) from the Budd Company. They carried the classic Budd stainless steel appearance and also sported a look similar to the company's popular Rail Diesel Car (RDC) save for the fact that they could operate electrically.
The PRR came to own 38 Silverliner cars for service on the Keystone Corridor with funding provided through the new Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (at the time the railroad was in far too much financial trouble to pay for the equipment itself). When Amtrak began it also kept this operation and it remained relatively unchanged over the next decade. However, in 1981 it was renamed as today's Keystone Service and extended to New York City. In an effort to avoid confusion between the New York - Harrisburg and Philadelphia - Harrisburg along the Keystone Corridor individual named trains were used including Big Apple, Harrisburg Express, Susquehanna, and Valley Forge. For more streamlined operations and better efficiency, however, Amtrak ended this practice in 1995 when all trains were listed as simply the Keystone Service (that year also spelled the end for the iconic Broadway Limited).
Today, the train remains a rather simple, regional train with few on board amenities and consist that usually includes just five Amfleet standard coaches with both no business class or cafe service. The train's 195-mile corridor typically requires a 3.5-hour trip one way. Overall, there are forty-six train numbers that accompany the service including 600, 601, 605, 607, 609-612, 615, 618-620, 622, 637, 639-656, 658, and 660-672. This, along with the large metropolitan cities the train serves is the significant reason why it sees so many travelers/commuters on an annual basis, which now tops out at nearly 1.5 million. Throughout the mid-1990s, when Amtrak began receiving General Electric's new Genesis diesel locomotives for use in standard service to replace aging EMD F40PHs, they could almost always be found powering the Keystone Service west of Philadelphia.
For many years the Harrisburg to Philly main line was electrified by the
PRR although it was shutdown some years ago. Finally, in the mid-2000s
Amtrak received funding, $145 million between the state of Pennsylvania
and federal government, to restore the electricity, reopening it to
through electrified traffic in October of 2006. This allowed track
speeds across the entire corridor to be increased to 110-mph, which
further grew demand. Today, trains are usually powered by Amtrak's
trusty AEM-7 motors, a Swedish locomotive that has been in service since
the late 1970s and early 1980s. Today, the Keystone State has its own website to provide riders and those interested in perhaps riding by train to learn about it, which you can visit here.