• UK railfan's upcoming trip to PA

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in Pennsylvania
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in Pennsylvania

Moderator: bwparker1

  by davidcn
 
Hi!
Looks like I'll be conducting a lightning railroad trip (by road!) to Ill; In; Oh & Pa for 2 weeks in June/July. This forum has been of real help in putting together an itinerary and I reckon targets in Pa have to include: Gallitzin, Enola, Conway, Nicholson (for the viaduct), Pittston (RMDI) and Horseshoe Curve - don't want to get too caught up in urban areas (too time-consuming!).
Two questions really: (1) Because time's tight I'll be going for volume and as much variety as possible, BUT I am intrigued by short lines. Any practical suggestions anyone can make, please? (2) Horseshoe Curve's a must, just because it's Horseshoe Curve, BUT what's the foliage situation like now? No point setting aside the best part of a day if all you're going to see is an interesting collection of North American tree species!!
Any other help or general suggestions will be gratefully received.

Cheers!

  by metman499
 
Hi, I would avoid RMDI. They have become security conscious and it is very hard to get in there. I would sub in the DL shop in South Scranton. Not only are they a shortline but they also run obscure power. Depending on what day of the week you are up there are several chase opportunities. The Reading and Northern has some sharp units that run out of Pittston and Penobscot in the northeast. The Curve has had a nice tree cutting programme in recent years and the view has really been opened up.

  by Franklin Gowen
 
davidcn, welcome to the Pennsylvania Forum! I will do my best to help provide you with ideas and info for your railfan adventure in the U.S.

You've made a wise decision in choosing to spend part of your trip in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We have the highest rail mileage out of all 50 states. PA also has an unmatched amount of variety in current operations, motive power, train museums, history & heritage, and even artifacts of lines that are long gone.
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Shortlines: You've helped me answer this question for you. Since you're already planning on visiting Nicholson and Pittston, then I advise you start gathering information on the Reading Blue Mountain & Northern RR - we usually just call it the Reading & Northern. The R&N operates as far north as Mehoopany, in order to service the Proctor & Gamble factory there. I don't think that's far from Nicholson.

In many railfans' estimation, ther R&N is the state's best shortline freight railroad. It's certainly the biggest...I believe that by mileage, it's the fourth-largest railroad in the state! It is a successor to the mighty Reading Company; once the world's largest hauler of anthracite (hard coal), and whose 19th Century operations were financed in part by British bankers. R&N operates much of what was once the Reading's Shamokin Division -- the cluster of branches reaching out from the main line to all of the anthracite mines in that area. For some good insight on the Reading (my favorite railroad!), visit here.

The R&N's headquarters and engine facilities are located in Port Clinton, PA; 20 miles north of the city of Reading. R&N is reputed to be a friendly operation IF you show that you are safety-conscious and respecful of their property. After being brave and considerate enough to check in at the railroad's offices, fans often report that they are given permission to photograph the engines in the yard as long as they stay off the tracks. You should check out their website here. Look at the trackage maps on their website; that'll explain where they go better than my words can. :wink:

I advise that you email the managers of the R&N directly, well in advance of your planned trip. If you explain that you are a foreign visitor, it is possible (though NOT certain) that you might receive some special consideraton. That's up to your sense of persuasion as well as diplomacy...I hope you get lucky!

There's a lot to know about the R&N, so you should sift thru their website. There are also two railfan-oriented Yahoo!Groups that you can subscribe to which can offer valuable information: tristate-rr and Reading and Northern. Be sure to ask plenty of questions. tristate is by far the busier of the two groups; the R&N list is a shadow of its former self. You must do some detective work to gather the latest railfan gossip about current operating patterns.
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If you do decide to visit the Delaware Lackawanna shortline railroad instead of RMDI, their fans have also created a Yahoo!Group devoted to their operations- it's here ! The DL's ALCO diesels are sought after as a rare treat for the eye, ear and nose! (mobile smoke factories - our version of the U.K.'s Deltics :-D ) The tristate-rr list will again be useful here.

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Horseshoe Curve: With regards to the herbaceous content of that location, I have great news for you - major tree-trimming has been done in the past two years, greatly improving sight-lines as seen from the visitors' area at the top of the staircase from ground level! :) :) Here's a link to help illustrate how much better things are now: looking east in the morning from atop Horseshoe Curve.

Please be advised that there are MANY railfan-signifigant locations in the greater Altoona area that are well worth visiting. Horseshoe Curve is world-famous, but that's mainly because of its immense historical signifigance. Only recently has "good photography opportunities" been added back on Horseshoe's list! Access & visiting hours at the Curve are limited, which can be a real pain due to the confined geography and its effect on the few workable sun angles for good photography.

I don't know how much pre-trip research you've already done, but you had best search for info on the "West Slope". You'll thank me later :wink: . The West Slope is the segment of the railroad from the Gallitzin summit downgrade to Johnstown. Recommended places to stop for a few hours are: the Gallitzin tunnels (you already knew that :) ), Cresson, Lilly, Cassandra (you'll love the "railfan overlook" bridge!), Portage, and Summerhill. I enjoy it more than the freight yards and locomotive repair shops in downtown Altoona, or even Horseshoe Curve itself. Here is the email Yahoo!Group to subscribe to: NSWestSlope
Quite a few area experts post in the group. Tony Kimmel, one of the group's co-owners, is especially knowledgeable.

I'll be blunt: there is no realistic mathematical model that will allow you to do anything other than scratch the surface of Altoona/Horseshoe/west Slope railroading IF you allow only one day for the the region. I strongly, emphatically recommend a minimum of two days in that area. Three would be much better. Why? From downtown Altoona, up past Horseshoe Curve, over the mountain crest at the Gallitzin tunnels, and down the West Slope to Johnstown is 39 miles by rail; more, by road. That might not sound like much, but remember that you have to go up and down the crest of the Allegheny Mountains on winding roads. If you are a real shutterbug (avid train photographer) I'd advise changing locations throughout each day as the lighting likewise changes. Hence my advice to obtain lodgings in the immediate area for a multi-day stay. The guys on the West Slope list will tell you the same thing. though it might be tempting, I would not recommend spending too much time at any single location...there are so many neat paces in which to view the trains, so don't deprive yourself!

Here's the best recommendation for purely railfan-centric overnight lodgings: The Station Inn, in Cresson, PA. This is a bed-and-breakfast, not a hotel, but it caters exclusively to railfan tourists. It is located just across the street from the railroad and the helper station at Cresson, where most sets of helper diesels are serviced! Please note that they do not accept credit cards - cash or checks only. The Station Inn is a very friendly place. Guests routinely sit on the covered porch in front of the Inn and watch the trains go roaring by, just 100 feet away. That's especially exciting at night!

Another great place to stay in the area is The Tunnel Inn at Gallitzin, PA. This seems more like a small hotel, and they do accept credit cards. This place is literally next to the west portal of the Gallitzin tunnel at the mountains' crest. They even have floodlights mounted on the side of the building, which they use to illuminate the sides of passing trains for your after-dark viewing pleasure! How's that for hospitality?

Note that both of the above establishments are very popular, and very small. During the summer months, they routinely sell out their weekend availablity months in advance! Even finding rooms during Monday to Thursday can be a challenge in summertime. Act soon to avoid disappointment, okay?
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I hope that I've given you enough help to get your pre-trip data harvesting off to a good start. The email-based Yahoo!Groups are especially valuable; most of that sort of info is not really posted directly to websites such as this one. I have more info for you, but I'll begin a second post instead to keep it separate. This post is already pretty gigantic!

If you have any questions about what I've written, PLEASE feel free to send me a private message in care of this website. Just click on the "PM" button found below the bottom of this message. You are very fortunate to have this opportunity to explore what I think of as the best railfan territory in the United States. I am happy to assist you any way I can, so that you can make the most out of the time you have. :-D
  by davidcn
 
Wow! Two really helpful responses already - thanks! Looks like I'll release valuable time and scrap the RMDI idea.

Big thanks to Franklin - God knows how long it took you to put that lot together! (And more to come???) I always knew Pennsylvania would be a big draw - may well be a week in the other three states and a week in PA. (The idea was to land at O'Hare and drive to Philly - did Cape May to Chicago last year for birding, motor racing, aircraft and railroads!)

I appreciate the offer of private messages, Franklin, (which I may take up) but I wanted to say a public 'thank you'.

'Bye for now

Dave

  by bwparker1
 
You can easily spend a week in PA. There are shortlines in the nearby vicinity of Altoona as well... The Everett Railroad and the Nittany and Bald Eagle.

http://www.nshr.com/NBER/nber.shtml

http://www.everettrailroad.com/

Also, this is a very good Yahoo group for railfanning issues/tips in Central PA.

http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/c ... A_railfan/

Please post any questions, we have a very knowledgable readership!

Brooks
  by Warren Thompson
 
davidcn wrote:Hi!
Looks like I'll be conducting a lightning railroad trip (by road!) to Ill; In; Oh & Pa for 2 weeks in June/July. This forum has been of real help in putting together an itinerary and I reckon targets in Pa have to include: Gallitzin, Enola, Conway, Nicholson (for the viaduct), Pittston (RMDI) and Horseshoe Curve - don't want to get too caught up in urban areas (too time-consuming!).
Two questions really: (1) Because time's tight I'll be going for volume and as much variety as possible, BUT I am intrigued by short lines. Any practical suggestions anyone can make, please? (2) Horseshoe Curve's a must, just because it's Horseshoe Curve, BUT what's the foliage situation like now? No point setting aside the best part of a day if all you're going to see is an interesting collection of North American tree species!!
Any other help or general suggestions will be gratefully received.

Cheers!
If you have the time, take in the State Railroad Museum in Strasburg, the Strasburg Railroad, and Steamtown in Scranton. And there's always the East Broad Top for narrow-gauge steam.