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Located 5 miles west of downtown Altoona, the Horseshoe curve was built to get trains over the Allegany Mountains, instead of the almost impossible task of trying to get through them. Built by the Pennsylvania Rail Road in 1854 as an engineering marvel at the time. The park opened for public use in 1879, making this more or less, the original railfan park...although it was built for the general public, not just for the enjoyment of railfans. The park was accessible 24-hours a day by a very difficult stairway until 1989, when the National Park Service & the Railroaders Memorial Museum decided to develop the site as its seen today.
The developed site has its pro's and con's, no longer do you have to walk the stairs, an incline plane will transport you to / from the top. The site now has restrooms and a gift shop. The grounds are kept in excellent shape, and NS helps out by keeping the brush trimmed around the curve for excellent view of the trains by the visitors. Those are the "pro's". Visits to the curve are no longer free (yes, you still have to pay if you walk the stairs), and there are limited hours that this seasonal tourist attraction is open. I wish it would be open year round (schedule: daily April to October). But, still it’s worth a visit!
What you will see is the triple track mainline, and mountain railroading at its best. Many trains use helper engines to help shove them west up the mountain, or for breaking on eastbound trains. It’s an awesome experience seeing and hearing a heavy freight train running in "notch 8" around the curve. NS runs about 60 freights a day over the curve, plus 2 Amtrak trains, and numerous deadhead moves of helper engines going to pick up their next train.
Town / City: Altoona, PA
Location Name: Horseshoe Curve
Railroad(s): Norfolk Southern / Amtrak (2 trains daily)
Rail Traffic: Heavy, expect around 60 trains during a 24-hour period, plus several light engine moves (helpers). Amtrak's Pennsylvanian passes twice daily.
Site Details: A National Historic Landmark, set up as a tourist attraction, there are 2 levels (parking lot level and a track level), gift shop, restrooms and cafe bar on the lower level, tracks & picnic tables on the track level.
Restrooms on site: Yes
Picnic Area: Yes, on the track level.
Parking: Yes, free parking.
Lighted for evening railfanning: No, closed at night, check hours before visit.
Scanner Frequencies: 160.800
Motels / Hotels: There are no railfan motels in Altoona, several chain named lodging can be found in Altoona.
Located in downtown Altoona behind the Station Medical Center (formally Station Mall) & Altoona Railroad Memorial Museum. This "railwalk" was built with the idea of train watching. Park benches, lighting as well as some covered shelters connect overhead pedestrian bridges that span over the tracks. This is a good area to watch & photograph trains. You are usually not alone train watching at this location!
Town / City: Altoona, PA
Location Name: Altoona RailWalk
Railroad(s): Norfolk Southern / Amtrak. The Amtrak station is across from the RailWalk, Amtrak's Pennsylvanian stops twice a day (one each way daily) both during daylight.
Rail Traffic: Heavy, expect around 60 trains during a 24-hour period, plus several light engine moves (helpers). Amtrak's Pennsylvanian passes twice daily. Often, helper locomotives stop near the RailWalk as they wait for passing trains.
Site Details: To explain it simply, it’s a sidewalk along the railroad tracks protected by a 4-foot high chain link fence. There are a couple of benches which have a awing over them, but that's more of a display then anything useful (you will get wet if it rains, and it’s too small to bock sunlight most of the day). Lampposts provide a great amount of light at night, so nighttime railfanning is welcome (there are usually other fans watching trains as well at night). Parking spots along the RailWalk let you sit in your car while you’re waiting for the next train. The RailWalk connects to three overhead bridges, 17th Street which is also an automobile bridge, and two pedistrian bridges, one which is open, and one that is enclosed accessed by stairs or elevator
(the later is only open certain hours, and maybe closed during cooler months).
Restrooms on site: No. There is a McDonalds within walking distance. Other places such as a Sheets mini-mart is a short drive.
Food: None on site. McDonalds is within walking distance from the Rail Walk. Subway is located inside the Station Medical Center.
Picnic Area: No, but a few park benches are located along the RailWalk.
Parking: Yes, free, but first come first serve. next to the RailWalk is a busy medical center, during weekdays spots along the tracks fill up fast, not by train watchers, but staff & patients of the medical center.
Lighted for evening railfanning: Yes.
Scanner Frequencies: 160.800
Motels / Hotels: There are no railfan motels in Altoona, but several motels are located just down the interstate at the Frankstown Road, and West Plank Road exits, both about a 10-minute drive from the RailWalk.