Tracks over the mountains

The building of railways around the world in the 19th century inspired some impressive feats of engineering.

Among them must surely be included Horseshoe Curve, just west of Altoona in central Pennsylvania, that was completed in 1854 by the Pennsylvania Railroad as a way to lessen the grade over the Allegheny Mountains. Today, its three tracks are operated by the Norfolk Southern Railway, carrying mainly freight, but with Amtrak passenger trains passing through each day.

It is indeed a main artery connecting Pennsylvania’s coalfields with the east coast. During World War II it was considered a strategic target by Nazi Germany because of the armaments and other materiel being transported to the east coast for shipment to Europe.

In the past year I had come across several videos of trains passing Horseshoe Curve, and determined that if I ever had the chance, I would visit.

And that’s precisely what Steph and I did during our recent trip around northeast and Atlantic states. The trains, often pulled and pushed (or braked going downhill) by as many as five or six locomotives, are just mind-blowing in their length. Just see on the video below, of a coal train negotiating the curve, that the leading locomotives are already out of sight before the last cars have appeared around the upper bend (on the right).

Here are some Horseshoe Curve statistics.

During the 45 minutes we sat by the trackside, three freight trains lumbered through. One of them was actually halted on the Curve to check the brakes of the lead locomotive 4115. An audio link between the railroad controllers and engineers was relayed at the track side viewing point so we could understand what was going on.

5 thoughts on “Tracks over the mountains

  1. shaunnmunn says:

    Wow! Is the viewing area a park? I love the scenery. What are the buildings at the base of the bend? Are they connected to the railroad?

    Do I see three tracks? Are any express tracks? I presume the hill-side track is for the up grade? Fascinating! Love trains!


    • Mike Jackson says:

      Shaunnmunn: Yes, there’s a viewing park right beside the tracks. Close up and persona and very noisy. There’s a funicular to carry visitors from the Visitor Center up to trackside, or you can climb the many steps, as we did. Three tracks. There used to be four at one time. Not sure about express tracks. Amtrak trains do come through each day.


      • shaunnmunn says:

        Thank you! Glad to read about the funicular, as I’m disabled. America is so full of great adventures, and I need no passport!

        Hope you report on other such interesting places! ☺


      • shaunnmunn says:

        Also tried to sign as a follower, but system refuses to accept my email address: If you can, THANK YOU!

        Tried 3 times. Can you override this glitch? I often cannot get my “likes” to post. Consider this article an enormous LIKE!


      • Mike Jackson says:

        I received an email from WordPress that you had successfully followed my blog. Welcome!


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