Horseshoe Curve
Altoona, Pennsylvania

Text and photos by Brad E. Smith (Franklin,Wisconsin)

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When the Pennsylvania railroad was built across the Allegheny mountains of western Pennsylvania, a ledge was cut into three mountains for the tracks to gain enough elevation to pass over the top of the range. This site is a historic landmark where people have come to watch the trains climb and descend the horseshoe shape grade. Stairs would take the visitor from the road to the track level observation area.

In 1992, the United States Government made this into a national park, constructing a museum and visitors center. A funicular railway was built at that time, to transport visitors to the top, for those who would rather not climb the 194 steps to view the trains. As many as 100 trains per day pass on these tracks, most with locomotives on the front and more on the rear pushing uphill or holding the train back, going downhill. The two funicular cabins were built in the shops of the Durango & Silverton Railroad, in Colorado. They are made of metal, with oak interiors and are painted in the colors of the locomotives of the Pennsylvania railroad.

The funicular track climbs an elevation of 30.5 m. over a distance of 82.3 m. and the tracks are set at a 37% grade. The electric winding machinery is located at the lower terminal and can be viewed through a large window. The operator is also located at the lower terminal. With the entrance fee to the park, two tokens are given, Additional tokens can be purchased separately.

Type of funicular
Type of tracks
Diff. of levels30,5 m
Length82,3 m
Gradient37 %
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Copyright 1997 by Michel Azéma, Paris (France)
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