The waiting room of New York’s old Penn Station, demolished in 1964.

In 1924 the English writer Rebecca West, traveling by train across America, wrote, “It is, you see, so exquisitely irresponsible from the very beginning. One packs one’s trunks, in no particular hurry; it will do if they are ready an hour before starting. One gives them to the hotel porter, who in return presents one with checks. Never does one think of them again till one gives the checks to the express company at the station where one ends one’s journey, and it delivers them at one’s hotel. This, you will allow, is different from England where one has to keep watch on one’s luggage as on a sick child. Thus disembarrassed, one goes nonchalantly to the train which, should one be in New York, starts from a cathedral. Europeans to whom I have said that the Americans are geniuses in architecture would be angry with me for having understated the case if I could show them the Pennsylvania station in New York. We in Europe have tried to treat the railway station in the grand manner. England made its great comic efforts in the cruet-stand Gothic of St. Pancras and the monumental mason’s nightmare of Euston, and then gave up the attempt and relapsed into the formless chaos of Victoria and Waterloo. Germany kept up the struggle longer, but to no good. Leipzig Hauptbahnhof, vast as it is, is only remarkable because it produces, as one could not have believed that masonry could, the effect of obesity. One longs to advise it to give up bread and potatoes. But here, in New York, is a marvel of noble stone arching over an infinity of pearly light, with a certain ultimate beauty in its proportions which gives a solemnity to all that happens beneath. The crowds hurrying between the booking offices and the platform look dwarfed, yet for all that, more and not less significant, as processions of worshipers do in great churches. For some things—and those great and admirable things—one must go to America.”

I might note that train travel in this country isn’t quite so elegant these days. And the current Penn Station….