Todd's Railfan Guide to

In General
Getting Here

Amtrak Schedules

Early USGS Maps


In General

Fortunately for US, Harrisburg is a compact railfan city to get around in, as most things are not too far from each other.

Harrisburg also has a lot of history associated with railroading.  The Pennsylvania RR, the Reading RR, and the Baltimore & Susquehanna/Northern Central , the Philadelphia & Reading RR, the Lehigh Valley, the Steelton & Highspire RR, Penn Central, and Conrail all came through town at one time.  Current names are the Norfolk Southern and Amtrak.

Harrisburg offers several yards, the largest and most active of which is Enola, north of downtown on the western shore of the Susquehanna.  On the eastern shore is the Harrisburg Yard.  Over to the east is the ex Reading Rutherford Yard, seeing a second life as a container transfer facility.

You have a number of historic stations around, all in good shape:
--- The main station of the area is downtown: a former 1887 PRR and Northern Central depot, now used by Amtrak.
          This is the third station on this site, earlier ones were built in 1837 and 1857.
--- An ex Reading depot in Camp Hill.
--- An ex Pennsy depot in Marysville.

Harris Tower was saved from destruction by a very active group of railfans belonging to the Harrisburg chapter of the NRHS, and is open during the warmer months.  A must see if you come to town when they are open.

The area offers a wide variety of signals: Pennsy style PL/position light signals, color light signals, searchlight signals, and "trilight" style colorlight signals - some that Conrail installed as replacements in the 80's.

A special treat awaits railfans and non-railfans alike at the Amtrak station: GG-1 #4859 and a Pennsy caboose.

And, last but not least, just north is of town and Enola is Marysville and the Rockville Bridge, one of many beautiful bridges Harrisburg has to offer.

Other things the Harrisburg area is known for:
--- The Pennsylvania state capitol.
--- Hershey Park about 15 miles to the east.
--- About 10 miles to the southwest of town on I-81 is Carlisle, where you have one of the largest car flea markets in the U.S.
--- The first steel plant (1866) in the United States started in Steelton to the southeast, later known as Bethlehem Steel.

Getting Here

Harrisburg is centrally located, and easy to get to.

From the Washington DC and Baltimore area, and locations south of DC, take I-95 from DC up to Baltimore, GO AROUND the Baltimore Beltway, I-695 (even if things like Mapquest and your GPS tell you to do otherwise), to I-83 north, exit 24, and head all the way up thru York to Harrisburg.

I-81 brings you up from the south from states such as Tennessee and the west and SW parts of Virginia.

I-81 from the north brings you down from Syracuse NY, and cities along the route include Binghamton NY and Scranton.  I-81 also provides you with connections to Buffalo and western New York.

I-78 from the east brings you in from the NE states and New York city, and ends at I-81 about 20 miles east of Harrisburg, which brings you the rest of the way in.

Going thru pretty much the middle of the state is the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I-76, bringing you in from Ohio, Michigan, Pittsburgh to the west, and Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York City to the east.


In these post 911 days, the railroads are always watching out for terrorists.  We, unfortunately, fall into the suspect category and are always being plagued and harassed by the railroad police unnecessarily.  Stay on public property, I can't emphasize this enough, and try to be civil to the railroad cops if they do come around.  BUT, and here's the big one, NS cops in Harrisburg told a friend of mine back in February 2010, that he couldn't take pictures of Enola from the US15 "overlook".  If it wasn't for the fact that my buddy personally knows the chief of police, and he came onsite to help my buddy chase off the NS cops, they would probably still be there arguing.  This one is for Tom K who said I wasn't justified for badmouthing the NS on one of my other pages.


The above map is available here as a PDF.

Conrail's Map of the Harrisburg Area


Rockville Bridge
Enola Yard
Harrisburg Yard
Harris Tower
the Amtrak Station and GG1 #4859
Rutherford Yard
the Camp Hill Depot
Capital Tower
the Other Bridges
the PA Capitol Building

        Rockville Bridge

Probably the most scenic spot around for pictures. The lower set is from the east coast off N. Front St.  In the upper set is an Amtrak train heading to Altoona and Pittsburgh, and the next full signal bridge north of the Rockville bridge.  The foggy pix are from my trip back in 2010... the fog didn't burn off till 10:30 :-(  On the bottom row are some shots from later in the day on the east side, around 5pm, when activity was pretty good.  The last two on the right are from the bed-n-breakfast on the west coast around 10am before the fog went away.




        Enola Yard

A few shots of the more exciting places to take pictures.  You can park at one of the fast food restaurants at the top of the "hill" for access to pretty good pictures from that vantage point.  There is also the lot of a former used car dealer a little further north, which affords good views of the northern end, where hump action and the yard office can be seen.  The second row of pictures are taken from the very "top" end of the yard (on the north side of I81), from the River Rd overpass, where they have been nice enough to put in viewing holes in the fence - the Conrail Historical Society had also placed an info box on the one side of the bridge, which, when we were there, had some large postcard size info cards -- many thanks to them for this effort!  The fog had not yet burned off completely in the third row of pictures.  The forth row of pictures is from the used car dealer parking lot.  The three photos on the 4th row are taken at the entrance to the yard -- being Norfolk Southern, the cops are not very nice, so please don't go into the yard, I'm not available to bail you out of jail.  Pictures on the bottom row are taken at the very south end of the yard, and remnants of the electric service are still evident.







        Harrisburg Yard

There are not many good opportunities to shoot Harrisburg Yard.  One of the few places is adjacent to the volunteer fire company, just south of the I-81 overpass.  Another is at the end of Division St, adjacent to a shopping center.  The aerial photo to the right of the map (which is of the northern end of the yard), shows a parking lot next to Herr St, where you can get good shots of trains, and is adjacent to the only signal bridge in town with searchlights on it.  Make sure you get pictures of them before they get replaced!!!



        Harris Tower

Just north of the Amtrak Depot.... The 3rd photo from the left shows how close the tower and depot are.  Also included are pictures of the impressive "Soldiers and Sailors" monuments at the end of the State St. bridge, which, if you are coming towards the Capitol Building, frame the building very nicely.  During the weekday, the lot adjacent to the tower is used for state employee parking, so let it be said that if you park there, you have been warned.  Also viewable from the parking lot, and up on the bridge, are the area's only searchlight signals.

Here's a link to webcam files at the Harris Tower: http://www.trainorders.com/cameras/harrisburg/








            Shots from the parking lot.

        The Amtrak station

A former Pennsylvania Railroad depot.  Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 #4859 and Pennsy N6b caboose #980016 are still located down on the tracks, although they sure would like to get rid of it from down there!  The scuttlebut is that they are talking to the Harris Tower folks to see if the thing can moved down there, although I would imagine that would entail building a siding to move it there since the tracks in front of the tower are all currently used.  Access to them is not open unless you go to the Amtrak Customer Service office and nicely ask if you can go down to the platform.  If you do go in and ask, they will require you to NOT climb on the equipment and STAY on the platform.  Failure to follow this could result in the management revoking the privilege for ALL OF US.  It might not be a bad idea after you go down and take pictures, to stop by the office one more time and thank them again, good PR goes a long way.  The management of the station is divided between Amtrak, and a private management company.  The private company manages the building, and the areas not used by Amtrak.  Everyone I ran into the other day was nice, in fact, the Amtrak cop didn't hassle us while taking pictures of the interior.  The right picture on the 2nd row is of the WB Pennsylvanian coming into the station, which was only 3 minutes late!



        Rutherford Yard. 

Some good pictures may be had from Dexter St on the north side of the yard, from the Milroy overpass on the east end of the yard, the 63rd St overpass - kinda in the middle of the yard, Grayson Rd on the west end of the yard, or the 40th St overpass on the west approach to the yard.  The pictures below are from 63rd St, viewed as you walk from the south side, where you can park in the shopping center off Grayson.  The fence is tightly knit, as can be seen in the photo below, but there are a couple of places at foot level for the rain to exit where you can shoot from if you really see anything interesting.  The thru tracks are on the north side, or, in the photo all the way to the right -- there is a set of WB signals way far in the distance.

East of the yard, on the way to Reading, Pleasant View Rd goes under the tracks, so forget it here.... Overview Rd is a fairly good crossing with a slight curve.... Old Farm Rd also has a crossing with fairly good sight lines.... and N Duke St has a crossing with straight track... that should get you started.  These are easy to get to via Paxton St (US322) and Bridge St from the downtown area - I83, after it passes thru Harrisburg proper, turns into US322 as I83 takes a hard left to head up to I81.


    7      the Ex Reading Depot in Camp Hill 

It's on South 18th St, just off Hummel Ave.  There is also a set of pedestrian crossing gates here too.  It's easy to get to from Enola by coming down US15 till you can't go any further on South Front St, and taking a right onto Market St, then taking a left onto 17th and taking it to Hummel.  18th street will be just off to your right...... From downtown, take the Market Street bridge over..... From the south, as in coming up I83, take the hard right exit ramp from 83 to the Harrisburg Expressway like your heading into Harrisburg, but take the first exit dropping you off on Lowther St and hang a right, it will merge onto Carlisle Road, and 18th Street will soon be on your right... take it up to the depot.
More Reading info and pictures from the pre-Conrail days here




        Capitol Tower

Located at the wye, just south of the Amtrak Station.  It's not accessible.  Plenty of signals tho :-)  The picture I took was taken from the Mulberry St overpass.  The bridge has a solid protection fence over the Philly line because of the 25kV below you.


        the Other Bridges

There are two other bridges in Harrisburg proper.  One is the ex Reading bridge, and is still in use with two tracks going over it, coming off the above wye.  The other bridge, slightly to the north, was used by the Pennsy, and no longer has tracks going over the whole bridge.  There is a small tail track coming off the wye adjacent to the Amtrak station, used to turn trains around.

      This is the Pennsy bridge, picture on the right is the western shore over the Port Road.

     The Reading bridge.

The piers to the left of the Reading bridge, and below, are from another attempt to cross the Susquehanna around 1884, as noted on Wikimapia:  The South Pennsylvania Railroad Bridge would have carried the South Pennsylvania Railroad rail lines across the Susquehanna River between Cumberland County, Pennsylvania and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Work began on the South Penn and was abruptly halted by banker J. P. Morgan in 1885 when he called a truce in the railroad wars that threatened to undermine investor confidence in the Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads. Eight piers still rise from the water at the west side of the river near the current location of the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Bridge.


    10      the Pennsylvania Capitol Building

The left photo shows you how close the Capitol Building is to the Harris Tower and the tracks.


    11       Maclay Street Station

Torn down a long, long time ago, it used to be just north of downtown on the way to Harrisburg Yard.  I found this postcard on EBay.

A Personal Favorite.

I don't usually push commercial enterprises, but this one I feel compelled to.  Being Italian, I grew up with some of the best food ever made, pastries were no exception.   The Pennsylvania Bakery, at 1713 Market St is absolutely fantastic.  I was turned onto this place a number of years ago by my friend Phil who lives in Harrisburg.  The bakery is not all that far away from the Radisson Hotel on the Camp Hill Bypass, and if you are going to visit the Camp Hill depot, it is on the way!!!



        SW, Lemoyne..... Stella Ave

A Set of SB Signals on a Signal Bridge along with a grade crossing and over height detector.  South of here, there is a crossover, and it goes from two to three tracks.


    2      SW, Lemoyne..... Walnut St

The signal here is not easily found or seen, it is a single mast mounted signal for the middle NB track.

        SW, Camp Hill..... Hummel St

The EB and WB signals are located several blocks away from each other, with fair access from various parking lots of commercial business'.  Dart Vader style color lights replace the Reading searchlights, and have simple number plates such as 2W and 1E.

      The westbound signal.

      The eastbound signal.

    In between the two signals is a storage area, and this (I think) ex Reading building and Pennsy N5b caboose.

    3a      SW, Lemoyne..... Market and South 3rd

Not on the current map, but at the location where the Pennsy used to cross the river and interchange with the Port Road, sits this lone "tri-light" signal, the only one I am aware of in the Harrisburg area.  In the right photo, you can just make out where the Pennsy went on to cross the Susquehanna.  Also note the flange lubricator located here.


        SW, Camp Hill..... Hartzdale behind the BJ's

The Reading tracks go from two to one here... gone are the Reading's searchlights, as NS has erected Darth Vader style Safetran color lights at this location.


        South of Lemoyne, Port Road

Didn't have time for close-ups.

        South of Lemoyne, Port Road

Didn't have time for close-ups.

        North of downtown, Harrisburg Yard, Hurlock St

Didn't have time for close-ups.

        Downtown, Herr St

This is the only signal bridge in town which sports searchlight signals, unique for the area.  Also here is "the end" of the electric service for the Keystone trains, and a couple of bridge abutments (use unknown, but nevertheless, interesting).  The signals are GRS.  The photo on the right was taken from the State St bridge.  I didn't get pix of the mast mounted signals across the way from the bridge, that's for another trip :-(

Now for the history lesson part, which I just learned from the guys at the Yahoo PRR Signaling Group.  These signals were installed by Conrail sometime around the 1990 timeframe, when Conrail was split it's CP-HARRIS Operation from the Amtrak HARRIS Tower.  Thanks to S Jersey Mike.



        Downtown, State St and Harris Tower

There are searchlight signals to the north of here, and Pennsy PL signals to the south.  Not a bad spot for photos, either from the parking lot adjacent to the tower or from the State St bridge.

          NB searchlights under State St, and a couple of dwarf PL's.

      Looking down at the above signals from State St.

       Looking south towards the station, two on the right from the bridge.

    Looking north towards Harrisburg Yard.

        A NB searchlight on the north side of State St.

      Excessive height detector on the north side of the bridge.

      Mass quantities of 25kV insulators north of the station.

    9a      Downtown, In and Around the Amtrak Station

Most of the signals in the immediate area of the station are either Pennsy PL dwarfs, or color light signals.  On the left is a NB freight waiting for the signal, one of two color lights in the area.  On the right are three unique installations: a dwarf on one of the bridge abutments, one on a piece of angle iron off a telephone pole, and a couple of vertical crossing lights where a road to a private company has to cross the Philadelphia tracks.


    10      Downtown, Around Capitol Tower

Most of the signals around the tower are off limits, except for the one you can get from the Mulberry St overpass, and, unless you have a camera like my Canon SX20 which will do up to x80, or an SLR with a 300mm lens, you won't be able to take good shots from the bridge.  This area is unique, for there are TWO wyes right next t o each other; one was for the Pennsy, the other for the Reading.  The Pennsy track coming off the wye onto the bridge is only used to turn trains around, and does not cross the entire bridge.


    11      Downtown, South of the Amtrak Station, Philadelphia Line

There are at least three locations south of station where a single PL signal is placed on the old cantenary supports.  The one I got coming off the NB exit ramp of I83, just after crossing the river.  Just past this location, the Reading line goes over you, getting ready to cross the river.  I think we're all surprised that the Reading lasted through the Penn Central, Conrail, and now the NS era's!


    12      Eastside, ex RDG..... 17th St, Interlocking

Ran out of feet and light to get pictures of these signals.


    13      Eastside, ex RDG...... Derry near Eisenhower/I83, behind the cemetery

This cantilever bridge spans three tracks, which is not very common, except for around these here parts!  It controls WB traffic coming out of Rutherford Yard into the downtown area.  Probably a new Norfolk Southern installation with Darth Vader colorlights.


Amtrak Schedules

Through Service From New York City to Pittsburgh on the Pennsylvanian


Keystone Service Between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

Early USGS Maps

The first three are from 1890, and are from the Harrisburg Quadrangle. 
The last two of Camp Hill and Steelton come off the 1905 New Cumberland Quadrangle.


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NEW 3/9/2009
Last Modified 19-Sep-2013