The Norfolk Southern route from Altoona to Johnstown includes some of the steepest mainline grades east of the Mississippi. This is the busiest helper district in the eastern US. The area is unique because of the combination of mountain railroading and the density and variety of its traffic.
Among railfan attractions in Altoona are The Railroaders Memorial Museum, Alto Tower (17th St., no longer active), the pedestrian bridge near the AMTRAK station, Juniata Shop, Rose Yard, and The Brickyard at Walnut & 34th St.
West of Altoona is the World Famous Horseshoe Curve (on 40th St.). Further west, at the top of the grade, are the Gallitzin Tunnels.
When you reach Gallitzin, you’ll know you are in railfan-friendly territory. There you are welcomed to a small park that sports a beautiful 1941 PRR N5C cabin car. The car is open to visitors. The park has benches and picnic tables. The park’s adjacent museum has clean public restrooms. Tunnels Park overlooks the west portal of the 1855 Allegheny Tunnel.
Cresson is three miles west of Gallitzin. On the western slope of the Allegheny Front, Cresson is just west of the Eastern Continental Divide and is in the Mississippi watershed. Its neighbor, Gallitzin, is east of the Divide and in the Chesapeake watershed.
The engine terminal at Cresson was closed a few years ago, and used to service helper, mine run and local engines. Cresson’s Front Street observation platform is a good place to photograph terminal operations as well as mainline traffic.
RJ Corman RR brings inbound grain loads and outbound grain empties to and from the Clearfield ethanol facility. RJC also occasionally handles coal trains into Cresson via its Cresson and Irvona branches. At Portage, coal trains are loaded on the NS Bens Creek industrial track. Further west, NS crews are moving coal from Windber and Central City to the main line junction at South Fork. SD70ACus handle most of this South Fork traffic.
Between Cresson and Portage there are photo locations at Carney’s Crossing, Bridge St. and at the Lilly maintenance yard at the west end of Railroad St. The Iron Bridge in Cassandra is a great spot for shooting photos, or just relaxing as the trains blast past. In Portage, at the end of Railroad St., there are neat photo angles where the Bens Creek Branch rejoins the main line.
NS Pittsburgh Line
|Allegheny Dispatcher – AAR 51 (160.875)|
New Portage Tunnel No. 1
Allegheny Tunnel No. 2, 3
|251.0||CRESSON (The Station Inn)|
|264.6||CP-W (Track 1 only)|
|268.1||HBD-DED (Mineral Point)|