Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tyrone Gap

This woodcut was published in "Picturesque America," edited by William Cullen Bryant,  D. Appleton and Company, New York, page 338. The woodcut is of the "Gap at Tyrone. The foreground is the Juniata river. In the far distance in the bottom third, center of the image is a steam powered train moving westbound. The railroad is on its 1850's alignment as it is today.

Tyrone - Bridge with Steam Locomotive and Passenger Train

This photograph is from "Art Work of Blair County," W.H. Parish Publishing Company, Chicago, 1893, page 1. It is a "Scene on the Juniata River, showing Pennsylvania Railroad  bridge near Altoona." The photograph is remarkable for the reflection in the river. The locomotive is a D13c classification, American wheel arrangement. The American wheel arrangement was a locomotive with 4 leading wheels supporting the cylinders and smokebox at the front of the steam locomotive and 4 driving wheels supporting the firebox and boiler. The D13c had 68 inch diameter drivers. The engine and tender were 48 feet 7 inches in length. This engine developed a tractive force of 17,970 pounds. The train is likely operating at 40 mph in 1893 as a passenger train in this area toady would do.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

28. Tyrone

As the proposed Allegheny frontal line relocation ends at 40.666506N78.244739W the transition to returning to the mainline begins there as a 1 degree curve transitioning to a tangent at 40.667444N78.232133W connecting to the mainline at milepost 221.2 (40.6643N78.223883W). A 1 degree curve would allow a 110 mph speed. This has been expressed in the yellow line.

Should no alternative over the Allegheny frontal be built, a 2 degree curve in orange from milepost 222.2 (40.6659N78.241833W) to 40.667444N78.232133W terminating at milepost 221.2 (40.6643N78.223883W) would allow an 80 mph speed.

The current NS passenger speed is 40 mph from milepost 223.6 through milepost 220 in blue.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

27. Is There a Way to Eliminate the Horseshoe Curve?

J. Edgar Thomson was undoubtedly a brilliant civil engineer. He built a route over the Allegheny frontal in the 1850's using manpower, horsepower, black powder and manual tools. His achievement was the Horseshoe curve.

If Thomson were alive in the mid 20th century he would have had diesel powered, hydraulically actuated earth moving equipment and trucks plus dynamite to build a a right of way over the Allegheny frontal.

The ideal heavy freight railroad in America is one with a gradient of 1 per cent or less. No extra power is needed assuming that curvature does not contribute to the friction of a moving train.

This exercise is using the existing Pittsburgh to Harrisburg as much as possible. Suppose a line is drawn from the vicinity of Cresson at milepost 250 to the vicinity of Tyrone, PA near milepost 222. The line is 22 miles in length. The existing railroad is 28 miles in length.

A straight line northeasterly from Cresson to Tyrone crosses largely undeveloped forest, some farmland and very little developed space. Yes, some large fills and cuts would be required but no more so than a typical right of way for an interstate highway crossing the Alleghenies.

The elevation at Tyrone is close to 900 feet. The elevation at Cresson is 2030 feet. For simplicity, 2000 feet minus 900 feet means that 1100 feet in elevation must be overcome.  That would be 50 feet elevation for each of the 22 miles. That equates to 0.9 (nine tenths) of 1 per cent gradient. The line would be just less than a 1 per cent grade. It would be capable of 110 mph operation.

Assuming the operation of a passenger train at its maximum allowable speed for the 28 miles, The current line has a maximum 51.9 mph operational limit requiring 32.66 minutes.  That is an ideal speed estimate not accounting for a station stop.

In comparison, the suggested 22 mile new line operated at a conservative 90 mph would require 14.6 minutes. That would be an 18 minute time saving.

The new line is in yellow leaving the mainline to create a new mainline at milepost 250 (40.474069N78.582289W) to the vicinity of milepost 222 (40.666506N78.244739W)

Monday, August 15, 2011

22. - 26. Over the Allegheny Frontal Altoona to Gallitzin

 October 1976, a special steam powered excursion powered by the Reading T1 steam locomotive owned by the Allegheny Railroad group headquartered at Akron, Ohio is pulling a heavy train of 1920's era passenger equipment westbound. Assisting the steam locomotive is a General Motors Electro Motive Division GP30 diesel locomotive. The train will take an hour to travel from Altoona to Gallitzin. Altoona is two miles behind and the train is in the vicinity of milepost 238 on a 1.88 per cent grade

In October of 1976 Conrail was six months old. Tracks 3, 2 and 1 to the left of the train are in place. Conrail would in 1984 remove track 2 determining that the capacity it represented was no longer needed. This is a 1.5 degree curve.
The locomotives have just passed underneath the signal bridge at milepost 238.5. The line of white lights on the signal bridge above the train now indicate a stop signal for a following train. The track ahead belongs to the train. The perspective of the photo gives an idea of the severity of a 1.88 per cent gradient.

This photograph was made at about milepost 240.1 looking across the second reservoir within the Horseshoe curve. The gradient is still 1.82 percent. The curvature is 6 degrees with the higher outside rail being 4 inches higher than the inside or closer rail.

The train is at about milepost 241.8 on  a 1.34 per cent gradient through 9.4 curvature with a 4 inch right rail elevation. The steam locomotives wheels have just lost traction and slipping with high speed revolutions. The train is slowing to less than 10 mph.

Milepost 242, the center of the Horseshoe curve. A group of spectators has gathered to see the unusual sight of a steam locomotive in 1976. The last year of steam locomotive operations by the PRR was 1956.

The train has begun to accelerate slightly. The steam locomotive on display behind the spectators is PRR class K4 number 1361. It is currently not at that site, in restoration limbo under the control of Railroaders Memorial Museum, Altoona.

The grade has increase to 1.76 per cent on a 9.4 degree curve with 4 inch super elevation. of the right rail on each track. The locomotive has again lost traction. Its speed is 5 mph or less. The smoke plume is being blown forward by the slight breeze. 

The locomotive has regained its traction and will successfully get the train to Gallitzin, PA. The locomotive is at about milepost 242.3.

The train is almost over the Horseshoe curve. The speed is back to about 10 mph. The smoke is no longer drifting due to a slight breeze. The gradient continues to be 1.76 per cent.

The train is about to enter the Allegheny tunnel at Gallitzin. The 4 diesel locomotive freight train shown has left the Portage tunnel and is eastbound descending a 2.28 per cent grade towards the Horseshoe curve. The track underneath the lead locomotive is the New Portage branch of the PRR from Altoona to Duncansville to Gallitzin. The New Portage Railroad was first built by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to replace it system of levels and inclines powered by stationary steam engines to move its cars from Hollidaysburg to Johnstown connecting the western canal from Johnstown to Pittsburgh with the eastern canal connecting Hollidaysburg to Harrisburg and finally Columbia, PA. The PRR while building its line over the Allegheny frontal via the Horseshoe curve used the New Portage Railroad connecting with it at Duncansville from Altoona and connecting east of Johnstown at the Conemaugh Viaduct near Mineral Point, PA. The new Portage Railroaad was dismantled by the PRR in 1858 and its track used elsewhere. Circa 1905 the New Portage branch was rebuilt to serve the increased traffic being carried by the PRR. It also served as a bypass of the Horseshoe curve should circumstances require an alternative route over the Allegheny frontal. The New Portage branch was deemed redundant by Conrail in 1981

The October 1976 special passenger train is entering the Allegheny tunnel at Gallitzin. This is milepost 247.3 at the tunnel entrance. The black apparatus seen outside the entrance to the Gallitzin tunnel to the right is an abandoned sheet metal ductwork attached to fans used to ventilate the tunnel when numerous steam locomotives would foul its air. The fans and ductwork no longer exists.

The 11 miles from Altoona to Gallitzin are an obsolete way to cross the Allegheny frontal. The 1976 photographs provided a perspective as to the nature of the line that photographs from the cab of a diesel locomotive at the head end of train would not demonstrate. The symmetry of the train to the line can only be demonstrated from the open window of  a 1920 era, open window coach.

Is there a better way to cross the Allegheny frontal?

Friday, August 12, 2011


Where did the name for this blog come from? Test Plant refers to a research and development tool used in the mechanical engineering for a locomotive. The Test Plant tool was a stationary stand to operate prototype steam locomotive designs built by the Pennsylvanian Railroad in 1904 and first applied at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904. In 1905 the Test Plant was moved to Altoona, PA.

The drawing above is page 24 of "The Pennsylvania Railroad System at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition - Locomotive Tests and Exhibits," published in 1905.

Here is a sketch of the Test Plant from page 61 of "Apex of the Atlantics," by Frederick Westing, 1963, Kalmbach Publishing Co., Milwaukee, WI, 1963. The book described how the PRR designed a passenger locomotive, class E6, using the Test Plant. Atlantic was the name used to refer to a steam locomotive that had 4 leading wheels supporting the smoke box, 4 driving wheels attached by driving rods to the steam cylinders at the front of the engine and 2 wheels at the rear of the locomotive supporting the fire box of the boiler assembly.

Pictured is a steam locomotive positioned for stationary testing. It is an atlantice with a 4-4-2 wheel arrangement.  "The purpose of the locomotive test plant was to support and hold the subject locomotive stationary but with driving wheels revolving and a full head of stem in the boiler. Through its use Pennsy test plant engineers could make a firsthand examination of an engine, feeling its pulse, checking its respiratory rate, and determining its blood pressure with the accuracy of a clinical diagnosis. Results of such a checkup could quickly reveal whether or not the locomotive came up to the standards set for it."


The NS Norfolk Southern passenger speed is 44 mph at milepost 238.3, Brick Yard. Named for a brick manufacturing facility located nearby, Brick Yard is a place often visited by railfans to watch and photograph train operations over the Allegheny frontal. Milepost 237.3 is the 24th Street crossing. At milepost 237 the passenger speed becomes 30 mph. Milepost 236.7 a signal tower named ALTO is located. Milepost 236.4 is the 12th Street pedestrian bridge over the NS line adjacent to the Amtrak passenger station.

Altoona was created by the Pennsylvania Railroad when the locomotive and car manufacturing and maintenance facilities were established there in 1850. ("History of City of Altoona and Blair County," by Ewing and Slep, 1880, Mirror Printing House, Altoona, PA, Page 63.) The original workshops were located where today's Railroaders Memorial Museum and adjacent shopping center is located in downtown, Altoona, PA. In 1905, a stationary test plant where prototype locomotives were operated under controlled and measured conditions to determine appropriate locomotive design became part of the workshop complex.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

25. Horseshoe Milepost 242

The NS Norfolk Southern passenger speed is 44 mph past milepost 242 to milepost 240.8 where the passenger speed is 35 mph through milepost 240.1 where the speed returns to 44 mph through to milepost 238.3, Brick Yard. Brick Yard is noted as it is a vantage point used by railfans to observe operations over the Allegheny frontal.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

24. Allegrippus

The NS passenger speed is 44 mph beginning at milepost 246. The descending grade is 1.75 percent to the Horseshoe curve at milepost 242. The Allegrippus curve is noted and is at milepost 244.4.

23. Bennington

The descending grade from the tunnels at Gallitzin east to Bennington curve is 2.28 per cent. The NS passenger speed is 30 mph. The authorized maximum  passenger speed becomes 44 mph east of the Bennington curve.

The Bennington curve was the site of the PRR Red Arrow passenger train derailment of 1947.

22. Cresson - Gallitzin - Crest of the Allegheny Frontal

The entries that follow for milepost 250 through to milepost 236 will describe the existing conditions of this NS Norfolk Southern line finished for the Pennsylvania Railroad PRR in 1854 and in turn owned and operated by the Penn Central Railroad and Consolidated Railroad Corporation before is current ownership. At the curve at milepost 250 near Cresson, PA the passenger speed is 40 mph. At Gallitzin there are two tunnel locations shown as a dotted blue line. The passenger speed becomes 30 mph at the milepost for the tunnel portal further east at milepost 247.4. The northern tunnel location has two tunnels, one of which no longer is used and was a single track. The other tunnel and most northern one was widened for two track operation and heightened for double stack container operation in 1994. The southern tunnel is a single track tunnel. The tunnels from north to south are named the Gallitzin, the Allegheny, the Portage. The descending grade eastbound is 2.28 per cent.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Horseshoe Curve Thunder by Kuhler

Otto Kuhler, industrial designer and artist, lived in Pittsburgh, PA in the 1920's. He has interpreted one K4 class steam locomotives of the Pennsylvania Railroad westbound and one M1 class steam locomotive westbound on the left. Both the K4 and M1 steam locomotive was designed, developed and built by the Pennsylvania Railroad using a stationary test plant where a prototype locomotive could be operated in place measuring fuel efficiency, steam consumption, drawbar force, tractive force etc. The K4 steam locomotive fleet was built in the late teens and twenties both at the PRR Juniata Shops at Altoona as well as the Baldwin Locomotive Company's facilities at Eddystone, PA near Philadelphia, PA. The 301 M1 locomotives were built both by the Juniata Shops and Baldwin Locomotive Company. The locomotive to the left is 4700, the first M1 locomotive built. The locomotive to the right is a K4 with the number 1361. The 1361 is one of 2 K4 locomotives out of the 425 built to have been preserved. The perspective is as if lying alongside the mainline in the vicinity of milepost 242 looking up as the locomotives work upgrade and westbound. This painting most capably expresses the energy and work done by steam locomotives as they operated over the Horseshoe curve. Kuhler made the painting circa 1960. The painting was used for a print that was published as a fundraiser for the Intermountain Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, Denver, CO in the late 1960's.

Horseshoe Curve Perspectives Milepost 242

This photograph was made in  1934 looking east.  The curvature in the immediate foreground is 9.4 degrees and the gradient in foreground and to the right is 1.76 per cent. See:http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2007661523/

From the vicinity of milepost 242 looking east artist Joseph Pennell expressed the energy of operating trains over the Horsehoe curve and Allegheny frontal in this etching done circa 1920. A freight train is in the foreground westbound to Gallitzin. A passenger train is descending the grade eastbound to Altoona. Smoke plumes from steam locomotives are visible in the distance on the east and west legs of the curve.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

1954 100th Anniversary Flashbulb Photo - Horseshoe Landscape

The photographer is looking in a northwesterly direction. The Sylvania Company manufactured flashbulbs for photography. They had embarked upon an advertising campaign demonstrating the capability of their product. A westbound passenger train in the foreground stopped for the photograph. A new freight locomotive is to the right of the passenger train. Around the Horseshoe Curve in the distance at Kittanning Point are newly manufactured freight cars from the Altoona Works.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Horseshoe Curve East Leg

The rear of the steam powered passenger train is at about milepost 241.6, a location of a signal bridge spanning the mainline in this circa 1940 photograph made from the higher leg of the Horseshoe curve looking northerly. The photograph shows what a 1.34 % grade looks like. The passenger train is about 800 feet long.

Between Gallitzin and Horseshoe Curve

Allegrippus Curve landscape painting from about milepost 245.5 circa 1860 looking eastbound. The PRR mainline is in the foreground and left distance. Barely shown to the right is the ROW of the New Portage Railroad that was constructed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania coincidentally with the Pennsylvania Railroad's construction of its line over the Allegheny Frontal.
Allegrippus Curve, looking eastbound circa 1900.
About two miles west of the Horseshoe Curve looking east from Allegrippus Curve above Sugar Run in the valley below. This is an 1875 woodcut from "The Pennsylvania Railroad," by Sipes.
Here is a similar view published in Harper's Monthly 1884 also from the vicinity of milepost 245.5.
Looking west from vicinity of milepost 244.5 towards Allegrippus. Sugar Run is to the left. The sketch is after a photograph published on page 56 of August 2004 Trains Magazine. The sketch gives an idea what a 1.8% grade east of Gallitzin is like.

Horseshoe Curve from the Valley

From the valley floor, Artist George Hetzel circa 1876 painted this landscape looking west at the Horseshoe Curve. This painting is in the collection of the Sarah Mellon Scaife Art Museum at Pittsburgh, PA .

This 1893 photograph was made from a similar perspective as that of landscape artist George Hetzel around 1876. The photographer is on the breast of the reservoir dam that had been built since 1876.  The photographer is looking west. From "Art work of Blair County," W. H. Parish Publishing Company, Chicago, 1893.

Horseshoe Curve Illustrated

 An 1875 woodcut illustration of the Horseshoe curve. This view is from Kittaning Point looking east. It is apparently early morning. A steam locomotive's smoke plume ascending the grade is to the left. A steam locomotive smoke plume can be seen on the right on the higher level of the grade west. Tracks can be seen in the left foreground. The height of the higher track compared to the lower track is 122 feet. The track alignment is the same today with 3tracks instead of the  2 tracks of 1875. From "The Pennsylvania Railroad" by Sipes.
This is the 1952 PRR Pennsylvania Railroad Calendar illustration of the Horseshoe curve from the Kittanning Point cut. Looking easterly from the vicinity of milepost 242. The 9 to 9.4 degress curve in the center of the curve is shown. At that time the curve had 4 tracks. Toady it has 3 tracks. An eastbound passenger train powered by a diesel locomotive is meeting a westbound freight train also powered by a diesel locomotive. In the right distance a steam powered train is eastbound and just beginning its descent of the Allegheny frontal.
The above etching was done by Joseph Pennell circa 1925. The perspective is from Kittanning Point looking east. It projects the energy of steam locomotives and multiple trains crossing over the Horseshoe curve.

This 1875 woodcut illustration views the Horseshoe Curve looking southwest. The cut to the right center is Kittaning point. Its excavation was used to create the fill in the foreground. The passenger train is climbing the grade west. From "The Pennsylvania Railroad" by Sipes.

This woodcut was published in a periodical called "Every Saturday" in 1871. The perspective of the artist is from the locomotive engineer's seat looking backwards and westerly downgrade towards Kitanning Point. The fireman has just scooped a shovel of coal for the firebox. An artist leans on the edge of the locomotive cab. A writer, the man seated holding a pen / pencil, is seated where the fireman might sit when he is able.

Horseshoe Curve

This low level oblique aerial photograph is looking easterly above the Horseshoe Curve of the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line. Altoona, PA is in the top center of the photograph. The line over the Allegheny frontal was designed by J Edgar Thomson of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Gallitzen tunnel at the top of the grade from Altoona was completed January 21, 1854. The Pennsylvania Railroad withdrew the traffic it had been moving over the frontal via the New Allegheny Portage Railroad on February 15, 1854. While the civil engineering demonstrated by Thomson in the 1850's was remarkable, if he were designing the line today there would be no Horseshoe Curve. The grade combined with the curvature that binds wheels requires extra tractive force to move trains. Tractive force is a measurement of force needed to overcome gravity in moving a train. riding around the Horseshoe Curve is a fine and memorable experience. The best viewpoint is from the cab of the locomotive. Watching trains round the curve appeals to the senses as machine works against gravity.
So, if Thomson had diesel powered, hydraulic activated equipment and modern explosives instead of manual tools, men, horses and black powder, how might the line over the Allegheny frontal been designed? How might the line have not exceeded a 1% grade?

Note: Photos by http://www.galacticafanfic.com/flying/flying.html


Beginning at milepost 255.9 through milepost 255.3 the NS passenger speed is reduced from 79 mph to 70 mph. The passenger spped from milepost 254.8 to milepost 252.7 is 60 mph. It is 60 mph for all of milepost 251 increasing to 75 mph for milepost 250.

Realignment shown in yellow from milepost 255.8 (40.404647N78.643186W) to milepost 251.2 (40.436044N78.618544W) using two 1 degree curves and a tangent would allow 110 mph.

20. Portage

A milepost 260.5 the NS passenger speed reduces from 79 mph to 60 mph. The NS line is shown in blue.

Realignment shown in orange with a 1 degree curve at milepost 260.5 (40.390919N78.705467W) to 40.39425N78.689W then a tangent and another 1 degree curve to return to the mainline at milepost 257.1 (40.396206N78.661219W) 110 mph could be authorized.