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4.30.2017

Bennington Curve: Train Watching Near Horseshoe Curve and the Galitzin Tunnels

The area around Bennington Curve is beautiful. This is located in the small area in between Horseshoe Curve and the Galitzin Tunnels. Trains navigate the tightest curve on the entire main line in this spot, after heading through Horseshoe Curve. Additionally, you can see the rails split to head through the Allegheny and New Portage Tunnels, also known as the Galitzin Tunnels. Bennington was home to a ghost town and a major train wreck in 1947, "The Wreck of the Red Arrow," leading to a myriad of different mythical sightings of ghosts. The main thing that remains of the town area is an old cemetery. Aside from that, the land consists of the right-of-way and State Game Lands. It is only accessible by way of a rough road that is susceptible to muddy conditions. You will need to park your vehicle at some point and walk the rest of the way in. It is well worth the effort if you love trains. While we were there, we saw some people doing some ATV riding.
We visited the tunnels right before our stop here, and this mystical fog had filled the valley. It was completely clear the other side of the tunnels, and no rain was in the area or forecasted.
A remnant of the past. The cemetery of the the ghost town of Bennington remains here. 
On the other side of the mountain at the eastern portal of the tunnels, the skies were absolutely clear.
The fog was rolling in to the area of Bennington Curve as we got further in. 
Seeing the locomotive lights illuminating the fog was really a sight to behold.
This is Norfolk Southern's locomotive number 9900. This website for railspotting shows locomotive photos and where they were spotted. I always love looking and seeing where these locomotives have gone. It has photos of locomotive 9900 working from Minnesota, all the way down to Florida. This locomotive has travelled the old main lines of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the New York Central, the Lehigh Valley Railroad, and others that have all been absorbed into the Norfolk Southern Network.
More fog and darkness settling in as we await a sighting of the Amtrak Pennsylvanian.
The headlights of the next approaching train
So exciting!
A unit lead by Norfolk Southern 9264. Another train approached from the opposite direction. At this point, the other line is roughly 20 feet higher up, providing for a pretty exciting experience.
This train was carrying lots of tractor trailers, most with Thermo-King refrigeration units.
There is the train on the rail line above, traveling in the opposite direction with double stacked containers.
Here comes the Amtrak Pennsylvanian! Locomotive 123 was pulling the train on this day. This locomotive has been documented on runs all the way out to California and down to Florida. 

The area of Bennington Curve is a must to explore for any rail fan. Just be aware that the State Game Lands Road is treacherous and a little walking is involved in getting to where you would like to go. This spot is a ton of fun, for it gets so much rail traffic and it is absolutely beautiful. It is located right between the Galitzin Tunnels and Horseshoe Curve, in the darkness on the edge of town between Galitzin and Altoona.  If you plan on visiting this, ensure that you have a vehicle with aggressive treads and ground clearance, and know that you will be doing some walking. This spot requires quite a bit more work to visit than Horseshoe Curve, but visiting is certainly a must for people who are into railroading. 

4.27.2017

Altoona's Horseshoe Curve: A Railroad Engineering Marvel

As someone who is into railroading, watching trains at Horseshoe Curve is like a dream. This is one of the most highly sought after railspotting locations in the world. People come from all over to see the trains maneuver through this giant curve that allowed the old Pennsylvania Railroad to get across the rugged mountains of the Alleghenies without a ton of tunnels. Prior to this, the main method to get freight and passengers across the Alleghenies was by way of a series of many inclined planes at the nearby Allegheny Portage Railroad. While this was an engineering feat that is still impressive to this day, it was not efficient enough for the needs of a booming economy. Horseshoe Curve enabled the Pennsylvania Railroad to cross the Alleghenies in an expedited manner and it remains an engineering marvel to this day. It was considered to be so important during the World War II era, that some Nazi spies attempted to sabotage the line to halt American shipments to the war effort from what Roosevelt coined as the "Arsenal of Democracy." That is just how important this single location was, and remains, in regards to American infrastructure. 

We were treated to some especially excellent railroading action on this visit, with the passing of a rail inspection train, and the Amtrak Pennsylvanian heading west for Pittsburgh.

You can opt to climb a series of steps to get up to the viewing area, or you can ride this funicular/inclined plane. 
While the Pennsylvania Railroad no longer exists in name, many of its wonders and innovations in infrastructure remain to this day. Norfolk Southern now owns the Main Line that goes through this location. As we were riding the incline on this visit, a Norfolk Southern train passed along. Here is a view through the window.
There is Brit!
The incline! A neat aspect of this incline is the fact that it is mostly on a single rail. The two cars pass each other at one bend in the middle of the track.
An old Pennsylvania Railroad Diesel Locomotive, sitting exposed to the elements. It is a cool display, though I really wish it was protected from the elements a little bit. 
A hawk taking in a birds eye view.
Last spring the viewing area was groomed, creating a better view. It was getting pretty grown in and they thankfully cut everything back. Some old timers say that the view is more clear than ever.
One end of the curve
Both ends of the curve in view. A series of reservoirs leads all the way to the edge of the town area of Altoona. One small runoff stream takes mine subsidence into one specific protected reservoir, keeping it protected and away from the water supply. It is pretty neat to see how these projects look when they are done right.
Here comes a single team of Norfolk Southern Locomotives without a load.
No zoom, just to give you a sense of just how immense the area of the curve is.
The team of four locomotives.
You can get pretty close to the track and trains, as seen here. It is nice to get one of the best views you can get of any railroad, at such close proximity and in a safe manner. 

Here you can see one of the reservoirs. On the left, you can see the mine subsidence basin. The basin leads to its own protected pool, keeping it from getting into the water supply.
A sure sign of summer, some blooming sumac.
I would love to see some old Pennsylvania Railroad rolling stock, whether it be diesels or steam, rolling through the curve. When is the next special train coming through?
Waiting for the train! 
This just may be one of the ultimate places to have a picnic.
Summer means that it is maintenance time. You can see many replacement rail ties sitting alongside the rails. This train here is an inspection vehicle. The engineers inspect the rails for any possible problems from these vehicles. I had never seen this happen before, so it was a real treat. 
They run these trains when the rails are being cleared. At this time, that means my favorite thing is about the happen!
Here comes the Amtrak Pennsylvanian! This is the last remaining daily route that crosses along the old Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line. I've made it a mission of mine to capture photos of the Pennsylvanian crossing through as many areas as possible, and we based this visit to the curve upon that. The timing was right and we got to see the westbound Amtrak Pennsylvanian traverse the curve!

Seven vehicles including the locomotive, and the train occupies only a small portion of the entire curve. That gives you a sense of scale for how large the curve is, and how it has attracted tourists since its inception.

Just passing by!

The train heading out of the curve on the western end, heading into a much smaller curve, Bennington Curve, the tightest curve on the old Main Line, and into the famous Galitzin Tunnels. 
Here is a freight car from the old PRR.
All in all, this is a place you have to check out. Even if you are not into railroading, the mountainous beauty and cool summer breezes in this area make it fun to just sit out and relax, especially if you have a picnic lunch. For people who are serious about railroading, there are a bunch of great places to watch the trains in this area, across the entire area of the Main Line, heading all the way towards Johnstown, especially at Bennington Curve and the Cassandra Overlook, which we will focus upon in another article, and at the Gallitzin Tunnels. A number of straight aways and wide open areas can be found in and around Altoona, especially around the Railroaders Museum. 
For more information on visiting and their hours of operation, check out their website at http://www.railroadcity.com/visit/world-famous-horseshoe-curve/

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