Todd's Railfan Guide to



The guides for the Altoona area are divided into the following maps:
     Index page
     Altoona Proper
     Altoona West

     Altoona East
    Horseshoe Curve

     the East Broad Top RR Railfan Guide
      the Railroader's Museum

Pictures are always needed if anyone feels inclined to take 'em, send 'em, and share 'em, or if you have something to add or correct.... credit is always given!  Contact info is here

This page covers Horseshoe Curve, located about 5 miles west of Altoona PA. 

Horseshoe Curve is probably the most famous railroad oriented site in the eastern United States.

This is what everyone comes to Altoona for, and it is well worth the trip.  The elevation at the east end of the curve is 1594 feet above sea level, and the west end is 122 feet higher.  The curve is 1800 feet across, 2375 feet in length, and forms a 200 degree arc.  The average degree of curvature is 9 degrees and 15 minutes, or a 619 foot radius.... comprised of two curves - a 637' radius curve on the north side, and it tightens up to 609' radius on the south side.  The grade is 91 feet rise per mile, which equates to 1.8%.  The Curve has been in continuous operation since it opened in 1854, and helps trains reach the summit of the Allegheny Mountains.  It was designed by John Edgar Thompson and Herman Haupt.

There are about 50 trains a day that use the Curve.  Many westbound freights use helpers, which cut off at Cresson.  Amtrak also runs the Pennsylvanian,  one a day in each direction.

On the top row, aerial "birds eye view" shots from www.bing.com/maps .  Details of the visitors center are to the right, and the far right photo is of a signal bridge on the "downside" of the hill, towards Altoona.

Second row of pictures are of the visitors center, the incline, or funicular, and the Pennsy Geep that replaced the K-4 Steamer #1361.  The incline only runs April thru October.

Some historic highlights:
     The Curve was opened on February 15th, 1854, and originally had only two tracks,
     Union soldiers protected the curve during the Civil War,
     The park in the curve area was beautified for public use in 1879,
     The Curve was widened from 2 tracks to 4 between 1898 and 1900.
     A paved road opened to the park in 1932,
     Construction of a guest house began in 1940, which later became a gift shop,
     The Nazis attempted to sabotage the Curve during WWII in Operation Pastorious
     Pennsy K-4 put on display in 1957, and the Pennsy turned over control of the park to Altoona,
     National Historic Landmark status is given to the site in 1966,
     Conrail removed one of the four tracks in 1981, and it remains that way today,
     An agreement with the National Park Service is signed in 1989 to develop the site,
     The Railroaders Museum manages construction of a new $5.8 million visitors facility,
     The new Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark opened on April 25th, 1992.

For more info:


Aerial Shots



At The Curve



From The Top


      A couple of pictures from above the visitors center by Marc Lingenfelter... nice spot!

MG Tower


  Photo by Marc Lingenfelter...

Nice tower, but not manned any more unless they're doing maintenance.  It handled a couple of crossovers, which are now controlled, like everything else, far, far away.  The tower is supposed to be torn down soon, if not already.  The tower is not easily accessible, unless you feel like taking the risk to get arrested.

More pictures of the tower and trains at MG can be found here.

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NEW 8/22/2011
Last Modified 22-Sep-2013