A Day at Horseshoe Curve
Horeshoe Curve is undoubtedly one of the most famous railroad locations in
the nation, and one of the busiest mainlines in the land. The Pennsylvania
Railroad's massive mountain crossing is spectacular, awe-inspiring, and
the constant stream of trains struggling upgrade rarely stops.
Now that Conrail, the curve's most recent tennant, is an enganged species.
The curve will soon by owned by another railroad, so it seems appropriate
to put this group of photos, all shot on 20 April 1990, online.
The first group of photos were shot in downtown Altoona, where helpers
sets are added to upgrade (westbound) trains, and cut off downgrade
(eastbound) trains. Here is where the battle begins.
The second group of photos were taken at the Curve itself. Here the
upgrade fight is at its peak; the valley thunders with the combined
noise of a half-dozen or more locomotive struggling to lift trains over
The final few photos were taken at Gallitzin, near the top of the grade,
where the railroad tunnels under the mountains through three (now two)
All photos by Andrew Toppan.
A heavy freight "makes a run for it" in downtown Altoona, at the base of
Road power is GP40-2/B40-8/GP40-2, with two SD40 helpers on the point.
A freight with three SD40-2s stops to pick up helpers in Altoona.
This train, like most freights, will get rear-end helpers. Only intermodals
get headend, helpers.
An eastboud (downgrade) train rolls into Altoona to drop its helpers.
Road power is one C30-7A, one GP38-2, and one C40-8, with helpers on the rear.
The eastbound (above) and the westbound (two above) pass in Altoona.
A light helper set of two SD40s drifts into Altoona.
Rear-end helpers slow an eastbound coal drag as it enters Altoona.
Four recently-shopped GP38-2s prepare to take a coal train upgrade from
Two helpers (SD40/SD45-2) lead a pair of SD50s upgrade on a loaded unit
Another pair of helpers are pushing hard on the rear. Only very heavy
trains -- such as loaded coal trains -- recieve both headend and rear-end
The coal train approaches the center of the curve.
The thunder of struggling locomotives is absolutely deafening as trains
reach this point.
A closeup of SD50 #6787, the 4th unit on the coal train.
The coal train continues its upgrade grind as it enters the uphill half of
A closeup view of the coal train power after it passed the center of the
The rear-end helpers on the coal train come into view on the curve, long
after the headend power passed by.
Three big SDs lead an intermodal train upgrade through the curve.
Unusually for an intermodal train, there is a set of read-end helpers on
A set of helpers drift downgrade through the curve, headed for Altoona and
another hard shove over the mountain.
Two SDs lead a freight downgrade through Allegheny Tunnel at Gallitzin.
The headend power, and two helpers on the rear, are in full dynamics to
control the train's speed. The thunder of trains struggling upgrade is
replaced by the deafening high-pitched whine of dynamic brakes.
An unusual view of a train entering the New Portage tunnel at Gallitzin.
Taken from above the tunel portal, this view shows a downgrade train on
"The Slide", the steepest part of the hill.
This feature created and maintained by Andrew Toppan.
Copyright © 1997, Andrew Toppan. All Rights Reserved.
All photographs are copyright by the photographer.