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Altoona - Horseshoe Curve

rating locomotive rating locomotive rating locomotive
Rating is valid during winter. During summer only if bushes / trees are kept low.

Since Pennsylvania (PA) has such a huge railroad history,
Pennsylvania has its own table of contents :

  • HOME - USA - Pennsylvania
  • Railroad history
  • Museums
  • Museum Railroads

    My POI's from Pennsylvania : Google Earth kmz-file
    [ Version 2014-02 ]
  • Altoona - Horseshoe Curve
  • Modern railroad in PA
  • Enola Yard
  • Norfolk Southern (NS)
  • CSX


  • Where ?

    USA - Pennsylvania Altoona on Google Maps Horseshoe Curve on Google Maps

    160 km east of Pittsburgh ( 2 hours by car )
    400 km west of Philadelphia ( 4 hours by car )

    Important links

  • The Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum
  • World Famous Horseshoe Curve - Official Website
  • Webcams ➚ live from the Horseshoe Curve and the Railroaders Museum in Altoona.
  • Railfan Pennsylvania : A very good website with an extensive LINKS ➚ section
  • Railfan Locations
  • Allegheny Portage Railroad ➚ - National Park with railroad theme. Buldings, but no actual trains to be seen.
  • The Gallitzin Tunnels ➚ - Top of the mountain west of Horseshoe Curve.

    Please remember that I will only link to VERY important websites, but I will mention a lot of "names" so you can Google these names yourself.

    Altoona

    Altoona was one of the main centers for railroads in Pennsylvania, and is still today a major "hub" for the east-west freight traffic.

    Passenger traffic, which once was huge, is now limited to 2 AMTRAK trains pr. day; the "Pennsylvanian" - New York to Pittsburgh train.

    The freight yard, Rose Yard, in Altoona is run by the Norfolk Southern railroad company, where helper-locomotives (helpers) are added / removed to the trains before the climb up to Gallitzin through the Horsehoe Curve.

    The helpers stay with the train till at least Cresson; a few miles after Gallitzin. Some helpers stay on for the run down to Johnstown. At Cresson helpers are also added for adding brake power to trains going downhill towards Altoona.

    Norfolk Southern also runs the Juniata Locomotive Shop in Altoona, so there is a good posibility of seeing various engines and cars at the Juniata Locomotive Shop and on trains to and from Altoona.

    The Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum is a MUST-SEE. Please note that the name is "Railroaders" museum; i.e. it is dedicated to the men and women working on the railroad.

    On the other side of the AMTRAK station in Altoona there is a big parking lot with a great wiew of the tracks; there even is the "Altoona RailWalk" between the parking lot and the tracks.

    Horseshoe Curve

    The world-famous "Horseshoe Curve" is a MUST-SEE for all railroad fans. No where else in the world can you be surrounded by long freight trains; 100+ cars; going at a very slow speed up or down the slope.

    HOWEVER,

    this is, at least in July 2014, ONLY possible when there are no leaves on the trees; i.e. in the winter-time. In summer the trees / bushes will more or less completely BLOCK the view from the "Horseshoe Park".
    UPDATE 2017 - it seems like the Norfolk Southern has listened to the protests and have cleared the area. But this is unconfirmed.


    The actual VIEW of track / trains is limited to about 140 meters of track, but of course you can HEAR the engines.

    I am not "legally" allowed to say that selling tickets at currently 7 USD ( + a 4% Preservation Fee ) to the Horseshoe Curve Park is a rip-off and a scam, but it sure feels that way during summertime, because you can't see the trains all around you.

    You can see more of the trains for free at Cresson or at the Cassandra Overlook. ( See below ).

    In fact, I left after seeing the first train when I realized how little of the train I actually could see. I demanded a full refund, which I got.

    The, otherwise, very kind lady at the Visitors Center, explained that Norfolk-Southern was at fault. They wouldnt spend money on cutting down the trees / bushes. I am not convinced that Norfolk Sourthern is the only one at fault. Some of the trees/bushes seem to be on "Horseshoe ground".

    And surely an organisation like "Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark" could get things done. After all - this is the USA, where they get things done quickly, huh ?


    So if you read this article; please send a letter / email to the "Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark" AND to Norfolk Southern, complaining that the trees and the bushes completely ruin the view; - at least during summertime.

    Railroaders Memorial Museum
    1300 Ninth Ave.
    Altoona, PA 16602
    U.S.A.
    Email : info@railroadcity.com

    Norfolk Southern
    Dave Pidgeon
    Manager Public Relations
    4600 Deer Path Road,
    Harrisburg, PA 17110
    Email : david.pidgeon@nscorp.com

    Norfolk Southern
    200 N 4th Ave,
    Altoona, PA 16601
    USA

    You can find other contacts at Norfolk Southern here. If you know off a better contact person at Norfolk Southern; PLEASE let me know ASAP.

    Please also write to the local newspaper, The Altoona Mirror and complain. Please do point out that tourists are important for the Altoona region.

    It really is both a shame and an outrage, that the wonderfull Horseshoe Curve, ( and the tourists ), are treated like this.



    Since I first saw the painting by Grif Teller "The Horseshoe Curve" from 1951, I was fascinated by the curve :
    Grif Teller horseshoe curve
    If there is no image above : Click this link.

    The painting was made for the 1952 Pennsylvania Railroad Calendar, and can be found i.e. in the book "Great Railroad Paintings", edited by Robert Goldsborough ( Peacock Press/Bantam Book) from 1976.
    Great Railroad Paintings
    A great book if you can get it.


    What is so special about the Horseshoe Curve ? - Well I guess you have to be there to experience it.

    You are surrounded on 3 sides by trains. They drive slowly - VERY slowly. They take a long time to pass you. A long freight train can easely take 6-8 minutes to go through the Horseshoe Curve on one of the 3 tracks.

    The sound is perhaps the final factor. The engines working hard and the squeeking of the many wheels is ... impressive or deafening.

    The building of the curve and the railrod line in itself is impressive.


    There is an admission fee to enter the Horseshoe Curve. Currently (July 2014) it is 7 USD ( + a 4% Preservation Fee ), which is a bit in the pricey end compared to other museums and given what you actually get for your dollar at the Horseshoe Curve.

    But I guess that the money goes to the "Railroaders Museum" in Altoona. Just dont expect that your 7 dollars are used to maintain and equip the Horseshoe Park.

    There is a funicular included in the admission price, - but it runs only every 30 minutes ( every full and every half hour ). Since the trip only takes about 1 minute, you would think that they could have the funicular run a bit more often. The only restrooms are at the visitors center, BTW, so at least considering this .... you get my drift !

    You "can" watch the trains from below, for free, but depending on how much work there has been done cutting down trees and bushes, you risk not seeing any trains; just hearing them.

    Currently (July 2014) you cannot see anything from below during the summertime. When the leaves have fallen of trees/ bushes the view might be better.

    If you want to watch trains for free, there are plenty of other places nearby, see below, where the trains will pass, but only at the Horseshoe Curve will they go around in a curve.

    WARNING - Rattlesnakes at Horseshoe curve

    It is no secret that there are snakes and rattlesnakes in the woods around the Horseshoe Curve. Take a look at Google Earth and you will notice how the Horseshoe Curve is surrounded by "nature".

    However it was a big surprise for me to see, that the rattlesnakes ALSO are in the actual Visitors Center area.

    Rattlesnakes should be shy and avoid humans;- right ? WRONG !

    I encountered a rattlesnake; yes - with rattles at the tail; on the concrete steps that lead from the Visitors Center up to the higher level. About 1 meter long, 4-5 cm thick and enjoying the warm, sunny concrete and was not about to give up its place in the sun, just because humans wanted to use the steps.

    Worse : The staff at the Visitors Center have the equipment ready to remove any snake from the area. Where they put the snake I dont know; perhaps they just tosh it out in the grass next to the steps, but it sure felt like it was quite a daily task for the staff.

    I say this only so you are warned. Snakes are a part of the nature - I accept that ( but I'd rather not encounter any snake). Parents with children should NOT let their children run around on their own, and it would be wise to NOT wear sandals/ open shoes.


    Other railroad sites to visit in the neighborhood

    While I generally refer to my POI's (Google Earth kmz-file) :

    Tyrone

    Great curve to take fotos. Trains are moving faster here, but there is a crossing, so you'll be warned when a train comes.
    CAUTION. Level crossings in the USA generally starts signalling, compared to those in Europe, VERY late. You'll often be able to actually see, let alone hear, the on-coming train before the level crossing starts signalling.

    Brickyard Crossing

    Altoona West. Where the slope up to Horseshoe Curve begins.
    CAUTION. Level crossings in the USA generally starts signalling, compared to those in Europe, VERY late. You'll often be able to actually see, let alone hear, the on-coming train before the level crossing starts signalling.

    Cresson

    Long stretch where you can follow the trains. However no curves, but a wooden platform ( FREE ) next to the tracks gives you a really good view.

    The Cresson Station Inn is a popular place to stay and watch trains. Rooms are a bit pricey, but it appeals to true rail-fanners.

    The Cassandra Overlook

    Not to be confused with the movie "The Cassandra Crossing" from 1976.

    The Cassandra Overlook is a VERY good place to watch trains. And its 100 % free.

    Download the Cassandra Overlook local information folder as pdf-file. [2,4 MB]

    The Cassandra Railroad Overlook Motel, 116 Portage Street, Cassandra, PA 15925, is an option for true railfanners. Contact John Shuniak at john@cassandrarailroadoverlook.com

    Rooms are affordable, - you get what you pay for, but its clean. I stayed there for one night. John, the owner, is a very nice guy who knows a lot about the railroads. He even arranges an all-nighter where he puts up lighting at the overlook. Check out the photos on his website. [Choose "Gallery"]

    I find it very hard to say anything negative about the motel, but I MUST be honest, so the best thing I can say is: Definitely for true railfanners - but DON'T EVER bring your wife or girlfriend.




    I can recommend this book about trains and Altoona / Horseshoe Curve : "Altoona Action".
    altoona action








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