Posts Tagged ‘NS Pittsburgh Line’

The Hunt for Gold October in Pennsylvania

October 17, 2022

This week fall colors are peaking in Pennsylvania, so I took a trip to the Altoona area.

First stop was Cresson to catch Amtrak No. 42, the Pennsylvanian.  I got this train but clouds did not cooperate.

Norfolk Southern then sent a couple trains. one uphill and one downhill, and the sun did come out for these.  Also, a familiar face showed up. Roger Durfee was also up for the weekend.

Here are some of those pictures. Enjoy

Article and Photographs by Todd Dillon

PennDOT, NS Reach Agreement on Route Improvements to Pittsburgh-Harrisburg Route

June 28, 2022

An agreement has been reached between the state of Pennsylvania and Norfolk Southern on infrastructure improvements that will be made as part of plans to launch a second daily Amtrak train between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

The improvements will cost $200 million with final details on the projects to be worked out by late this year.

Officials said the second Amtrak train is still about three years away from being inaugurated.

Currently the Pittsburgh-Harrisburg segment is served by Amtrak’s New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian, which operates via Philadelphia.

There are numerous Amtrak trains operating between Harrisburg and Philadelphia on the Amtrak-owned Keystone Corridor.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation did not provide any details about planned infrastructure projects and a department spokeswoman said the agreement has yet to be signed by all parties involved.

It is at this point an agreement in principle. Earlier reports indicated that 12 new and upgraded interlocking plants on the NS Pittsburgh Line.

NS Gets Approval of Pittsburgh Clearance Project

June 1, 2022

The Pittsburgh City Council has signed off on a plan by Norfolk Southern to increase clearances through the city to accommodate double-stacked container trains on its Pittsburgh Line.

The council approved a plan set forth in December 2019 by a mediator to raise bridges in some locations and lower the tracks in others.

The three bridges to be raised are on West North Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, and South Negley Avenue. They will be raised by 30, 33, and 17 inches respectively.

Tracks will be lowered by 18 inches beneath the Columbus Avenue bridge. A new bridge will replace the existing Merchant Street structure.

NS also agreed to build a pedestrian bridge at North Avenue and Brighton Road.

Funding for the work is being provided in part through a $20 million federal grant.

Station Inn in Cresson Sold

May 16, 2022

A popular central Pennsylvania railfan hangout has been sold.

The Station Inn in Cresson was sold to Alex and Leah Lang. Alex Lang is chief information officer for Transtar, which owns several short line railroads in the Northeast and Midwest.

The bed and breakfast inn is located next to Norfolk Southern’s Pittsburgh Line. It was founded 30 years ago by Tom Davis, who died in 2021.

Report Details Infrastructure Projects Needed on NS Pittsburgh Line for Added Amtrak Service

March 10, 2022

The infrastructure improvements that will be made to the Pittsburgh Line of Norfolk Southern to accommodate a second New York-Pittsburgh Amtrak train include new tracks and interlockings.

NS and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation have released the results of a traffic study that contains the planned infrastructure projects.

The costs of those projects range from $147 million to $171 million with much of the funding expected to come from federal money provided by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The projects include a new third track on the Rockville Bridge over the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, a new 5-mile-long main line track through Rose Yard in Altoona, the addition of three new interlockings (crossovers), and expansion of nine existing interlocking plants.

A new track would also be built through the Pittsburgh Amtrak station to enable freight trains to bypass it.

The report projects that Amtrak departure times from Pittsburgh will be 7 a.m. and noon with trains arriving in Pittsburgh from New York at 3:11 p.m. and 9:01 p.m.

The current schedule of the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian is to depart Pittsburgh at 7:30 a.m. and arrive at 7:59 p.m.

The NS Pittsburgh Line is among the nation’s most heavily used rail freight lines and has handled as much as 100 million gross ton-miles in recent years.

The route has a top speed for passenger trains of 79 miles per hour but operations are complicated by a 40-mile helper district with 1.8 percent grades over the Allegheny Mountains west of Altoona.

NS currently operates 45 trains a day on the mostly double-track line excluding helper moves.

The Pennsylvanian is the sole Amtrak operation between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg although in the passenger carrier’s early years the route saw three daily roundtrips between those points.

As recently as 2004 the line had two pairs of New York-Pittsburgh Amtrak trains.

An analysis of the report published on the website of Trains magazine noted that the report fails to explain how up until that point NS managed to accommodate twice-daily Amtrak service without unduly hindering its freight operations.

However, one change since the discontinuance of the Three Rivers in 2004 has been NS plans to increase clearances on the Pittsburg Line through the city between the Amtrak station and CP Wing in Wilmerding.

That will add more potential for traffic conflicts with Amtrak trains in downtown Pittsburgh.

Because of clearance restrictions on the Pittsburgh Line, NS routes its approximately 16 double-stacked container trains along the south shore of Monongahela River through Pittsburgh over the Ohio Connecting Bridge, Mon Line and Port Perry Branch.

The report used computer modeling to simulate passenger and freight traffic and assumed that by 2020 NS would be operating six additional manifest freights and one additional westbound intermodal train beyond today’s operations.

 “Norfolk Southern does not have adequate capacity to operate the proposed new and modified Amtrak schedules without degradation to both Amtrak and NS operations,” the report concluded. “To mitigate the added delay to both Amtrak and NS trains, and to protect NS priority (expedited) traffic, additional infrastructure is needed.”

Specific projects and their estimated costs are: Add mainline track at Pittsburgh station, $12.5 million to $18.5 million; add universal three-track interlocking at Milepost 276 west of the Johnstown Amtrak station, $9.5 million to $11.5 million; install universal three-track interlocking at Milepost 257 in Portage, $7.8 million to $9.8 million; add new main track between CP Altoona (Milepost 236.8) to CP Antis (Milepost 232.5), $51.5 million to $61.5 million; upgrading 9 miles of an existing controlled siding between CP Antis and CP Gray in Tyrone, $11.5 million to $14.5 million;  and added 8 miles of new mainline track between the Amtrak station in Harrisburg and CP Banks at Marysville, $50 million to $55 million.

The traffic study and report can be read at

Day on the East Slope

June 23, 2021

About three weeks ago I took a trip to Altoona, Pennsylvania, and railfanned the east slope of the former Pennsylvania Railroad Alleghany Mountain grade.

Here is a selection of some of my photographs, all of which were taken at Bennington Curve.

In order they include a downhill stack train, Amtrak’s westbound Pennsylvanian, and an eastbound coal train that had the PRR heritage leading and the Lehigh Valley heritage as a DPU

Photographs by Todd Dillon

CSX in an Unexpected Place

December 31, 2020

If you’re familiar with the Pittsburgh Line of Norfolk Southern then this location probably looks familiar. It is Cassandra, Pennsylvania, and the image was made at a popular railfan hangout.

Yet you might be thinking, “say what? That’s a CSX train.” Indeed it is.

Back in October 2013 CSX had a major derailment on its route east of Cleveland. Some of the railroad’s highest priority intermodal trains were sent detouring over NS through central Pennsylvania.

Although lead unit 5212, a GE ES44DC, had been built for CSX it had an apparatus that was compatible with the train control system used on the Pittsburgh Line.

Therefore, the trains could operate with their CSX locomotives, making for an unusual sight because foreign units did not typically lead trains on the Pittsburgh Line.

These images were made during my first visit to Cassandra, a day trip that began early and ended late because it was an out and back excursion.

The fall foliage wasn’t quite as brilliant as I had hoped it would be, but it still looked like October.

Staking Out MG Tower on the East Slope

August 20, 2020

The second day of my trip to the East Broad Top Railroad in Pennsylvania was spent on the east slope of Norfolk Southern’s grade over the Allegheny Mountains.

Mid Grade tower, or MG for short, is located about halfway up the grade about two miles west of Horseshoe Curve.

It used to be an important place on this busy mainline and while still busy it has been negated by technology.

Sadly, the tower has fallen upon hard times and is scheduled to be demolished. Here are a few photographs from my visit.

Article and Photographs by Todd Dillon

Pittsburgh Residents Opposing NS Clearance Plan

December 4, 2019

Norfolk Southern has encountered considerable citizen resistance to its plan to operate double-stacked container trains through the north side of Pittsburgh.

The dispute has gone to mediation after residents protested that the project to increase clearances in the city will cause added noise pollution as rail traffic increasedsfrom about 25 trains a day to as many as 50.

The residents have also expressed concern about the type of cargo that the train will carry.

NS plans to raise bridges at Pennsylvania and West North avenues, lower the tracks at Columbus Avenue Bridge and build a new Merchant Street Bridge.

NS said raising the bridges is needed because it cannot lower the tracks in some areas.

The project in April 2017 received a $20 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for the bridge work. NS will pay $8.2 million.

The Pittsburgh residents sought mediation after the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission declined to intervene on their behalf against the bridge construction work.

The mediator, who was chosen by NS and the Northside Leadership Conference, has said he will work with NS.

PennDOT representatives are meeting with community groups to listen to their concerns.

NS has said that routing stack trains over its Pittsburgh Line, which is also used by Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian, is a shorter and faster route than the Mon Line that the carrier currently uses.

The Mon Line bypasses downtown Pittsburgh, running along the south side of the Ohio and Monongahela rivers.

Work on the clearance project has already begun in the suburbs, but no work has yet been undertaken in the city.

A Pennsylvania court had agreed to hear arguments on the dispute, but delayed the hearings for at least 90 days to allow the mediation process to play out.

No Injuries in NS 3-Train Derailment in Pennsylvania

November 11, 2019

No injuries were reported in a three-train collision on Norfolk Southern in Pennsylvania on Friday.

New reports indicated that the railroad’s Pittsburgh Line reopened on Sunday morning following the crash in which one train struck the other from behind, causing a derailment that struck the third train on an adjacent track.

The crash occurred about 3:30 p.m. near Georges Station Road in Hempfield Township about three miles east of Greensburg.

NS said in a statement that a westbound empty crude oil train hit the rear of an intermodal train, derailing both locomotives of the tank car train and some of the tankers. The derailed locomotives remained upright.

Eleven intermodal cars carrying 50 containers also derailed. Of those nine intermodal cars carrying 32 J.B. Hunt containers spilled onto the adjacent track.

NS said that after the line is reopened that traffic would be delayed 24 to 48 hours.

Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian did not operate on Saturday between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The Sunday eastbound train originated in Harrisburg.

Officials said no hazardous material was spilled during the derailment.

Railroad officials are still investigating the cause of the collision.

Railway Age reported that the tank car train was operated at restricted speed of less than 20 miles per hour when it crested a grade and was going around curve when it struck the stationary intermodal train on an descending grade.

The report said the Pittsburgh line in that area has positive train control, but that a PTC system would not necessarily have prevented the collision because although it regulates the maximum restricted speed in a location “it is unable to determine the exact position (emphasis in original) of obstructions ahead.”

The trade magazine said existing PTC systems do not through an end-of-train device determine the position of the rear of a train and transmit that telemetry to a following train via the wayside and central office PTC equipment.

Obstructions could be a stopped train, a broken rail, or an improperly lined switch. PTC also cannot determine “half the range of vision” for a railroad’s restricted-speed rule, Railway Age reported.

At best PTC could mitigate the severity of restricted-speed accidents.

Railway Age said PTC will not prevent some low-speed collisions caused by permissive block operation in which more than one train is in a block a time.

Nor can it prevent accidents caused by trains “shoving” in reverse, derailments caused by track or train defects, grade crossing collisions, or collisions with previously derailed trains.

The magazine said such features might become part of the next generation of PTC.