Pittsburgh Line

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Pittsburgh Line
Newport East (6262527656).jpg
Eastbound intermodal train on the Pittsburgh Line in Newport
OwnerNorfolk Southern
Localewestern and central Pennsylvania
TerminiCP-Harrisburg in Harrisburg
CP-West Pitt in Pittsburgh
TypeFreight rail and passenger rail
SystemNorfolk Southern, Amtrak
Operator(s)Norfolk Southern, Amtrak
Line length248 mi (399 km)
Number of tracks2-4
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Route map

P&W Subdivision
Bloomfield Connector
P&W Subdivision
Brilliant Branch
Port Perry Branch
NS Pittsburgh Intermodal Yard
SWP Radebaugh Subdivision
Conemaugh Line
Sang Hollow Extension
Stone Bridge
CSX S&C Subdivision
NS South Fork Secondary
RJCP Cresson/Irvona Branches[1]
RJCP Cresson Branch
RJCP Irvona Branch
Gallitzin Tunnels
Gallitzin Tunnels
Allegheny Tunnel
Gallitzin Tunnel
New Portage Tunnel
Horseshoe Curve
NS Cove Secondary[2]
Altoona Works
Nittany and Bald Eagle Railroad
Spruce Creek Tunnel
Enola Yard/Port Road Branch
Rockville Bridge
Buffalo Line
Harrisburg Intermodal Yard

The Pittsburgh Line is a rail line that is located in state of the Pennsylvania and it is owned and operated by the Norfolk Southern Railway. The Pittsburgh Line is Norfolk Southern Railway's primary east–west artery in its Pittsburgh Division and Harrisburg Division across Pennsylvania and it is part of the Amtrak-Norfolk Southern combined rail corridor, the Keystone Corridor.

The Pittsburgh Line is a former Pennsylvania Railroad property, beginning as two rail lines, the Middle Division Main Line and the Pittsburgh Division Main Line which were combined to the form the modern day Pittsburgh Line, and then eventually the combined Middle Division/Pittsburgh Division Main Line was combined with the PRR's Philadelphia main line to form the new Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The new PRR main line continued through the Penn Central years and was broken up by Conrail, the combined Middle Division/Pittsburgh Main Line and the Philadelphia main line were both reestablished and both respectfully received new names, the Pittsburgh Line and the Philadelphia to Harrisburg Main Line. The Pittsburgh Line was passed from Conrail to Norfolk Southern Railway and the Philadelphia to Harrisburg Line was passed to Amtrak. Together, the Pittsburgh Line and the Philadelphia to Harrisburg Main Line both make up the current day Keystone Corridor which all of it was previously referred to as the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The Pittsburgh Line spans 248 miles (399 km) between the state capitol in Harrisburg and its namesake city of Pittsburgh, crossing the Allegheny Mountains through the Gallitzin Tunnels west of Altoona and the famous Horseshoe Curve in the process. Its east end is marked with the railroad's Harrisburg Line to Reading and Philadelphia, and the Fort Wayne Line on its west end to Conway, Pennsylvania and points west in Ohio and Indiana.[3]

The Pittsburgh Line is arguably Norfolk Southern's busiest freight corridor, where 50 to 70 trains traverse the line daily.


The Pittsburgh Line is formerly owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) and it began as two rail lines, the Middle Division Main Line which was part of the PRR Middle Division and the Pittsburgh Division Main Line which was part of the PRR Pittsburgh Division. The Pennsylvania Railroad combined the Middle Division Main Line and the Pittsburgh Division Main Line into one rail line, forming the Pittsburgh Line, though at the time, the Pittsburgh Line was not refer to by that name. At the same time the Middle Division and the Pittsburgh Division was also combined together.

The Pennsylvania Railroad eventually combined the merged Middle Division/Pittsburgh Division Main Line with their main rail line to Philadelphia, forming the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad (now known as the Keystone Corridor). This Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad served as the PRR's primarily line Pennsylvania, the line continued its existence through the Penn Central years and through the early years of Conrail.

The PRR Main Line was passed down to Conrail and Conrail broke the PRR Main Line into two rail lines again, reestablishing the Pittsburgh Line and the PRR Philadelphia main line which eventually became known as the Philadelphia to Harrisburg Main Line which is now under ownership of Amtrak. The Pittsburgh Line received its current name in the 1980s under Conrail.

The Pittsburgh Line was passed down to the Norfolk Southern Railway in 1999 during the breakup of Conrail between CSX Transportation. Today, the Pittsburgh Line is a valuable asset to Norfolk Southern. Some most famous parts of the Pittsburgh Line is the Horseshoe Curve and the Gallitzin Tunnels.

Major terminals[edit]

The Pittsburgh Line is marked with three major freight terminals on both of its ends. On its east end, Harrisburg Terminal handles a bulk of the railroads intermodal traffic, with a handful intermodal trains originating and terminating there. Across the Susquehanna River in Enola is Norfolk Southern's major freight terminal in the Greater Harrisburg area; Enola Yard, which handles almost all manifest freight traffic that passes through the area. Many of the Pittsburgh Line's manifest freight trains originate or terminate here, with a few continuing south to Baltimore, Maryland and points east, while others bypass Enola and cross the Rockville Bridge over the Susquehanna to Harrisburg bound for Allentown, Pennsylvania and points east.

On its west end, the Pittsburgh Line becomes the Fort Wayne Line after crossing the Allegheny River bridge, where trains travel a short distance of 23 miles (37 km) to reach Conway Yard. Conway is the hub of activity in Western Pennsylvania, where many trains originate and terminate, with many of those trains being the same freight trains that originate and terminate at Enola Yard, respectively. Conway is the hub of operations for Norfolk Southern in the Greater Pittsburgh area, featuring a hump yard and a crew change point for virtually all Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne Line trains.


Manifest train between Port Royal and Millerstown

From Harrisburg/Enola, the railroad travels west following the path of the Susquehanna River parallel to U.S. Route 11/15, passing through the communities of Marysvile, Cove, and Duncannon. At Duncannon, the Pittsburgh Line leaves the Susquehanna and follows the path of the smaller Juniata River, of which it will follow for much of its length to Altoona, unofficially dubbed the "Middle Division", after the Pittsburgh Line's predecessor, the Middle Division Main Line which was part of the Pennsylvania RailRoad (PRR) Middle Division. U.S. Route 22 follows the route for much of its length here. Once at Altoona, the railroad arrives at the base of the Allegheny Mountain Front, of which it must climb over to reach Johnstown and Pittsburgh.

Altoona is the site of Norfolk Southern (NS)'s Juniata Shops, the largest locomotive repair facility on the NS system. Originally constructed by the PRR in 1850, this large complex of shops is what gave the city of Altoona its worth and structure.

Leaving Altoona, the railroad travels at a 1.76% grade up the east slope of the Alleghenies, negotiating the famous Horseshoe Curve during that climb. Past the curve, the Pittsburgh Line continues to climb a grade of 1.86% to the small town of Gallitzin, where the mainline reaches the top of its climb at 2,167 feet (661 m) above sea level, the total westward climb amounting to 12 miles (19 km). From there, the railroads descends the Alleghenies' west slope down to Johnstown, a total distance of about 25 miles (40 km). From Johnstown, the Pittsburgh Line follows the path of the Conemaugh River on both of its banks to Conpit Junction, where the line divides. Westbound and lighter eastbound trains take the again-graded Pittsburgh Line west towards Pittsburgh, while heavier eastbound trains take the Conemaugh Line on an easier routing from Pittsburgh, which continues to follow the Conemaugh River. The Conemaugh Line joins back in with the Pittsburgh Line at CP-PENN in Pittsburgh. The line's westernmost end is at CP-WEST PITT by Pittsburgh's Amtrak station, where it crosses the Allegheny River to form the Fort Wayne Line.

Allegheny Mountains and Horseshoe Curve[edit]

Three Norfolk Southern freight trains pass each other on the Horseshoe Curve in 2006.

Until reaching Altoona, the Pittsburgh Line is a double-track mainline from Duncannon. Once at Altoona, a third track is added for the climb up the Allegheny Mountains. The line goes back to two at Conpit Junction, where the Conemaugh Line remains a single-track route.

The east slope of Norfolk Southern's climb traverses remote mountainous terrain at a grade of about 1.8%. Roughly halfway up the westward ascent lies the Horseshoe Curve. Originally constructed by the PRR in 1854, the 220-degree curve was the solution for the railroad to gain enough elevation around a valley to reach the higher land across to continue west. Constructed mainly by immigrants, the curve was built by cutting into the hillside around Kittanning Point and filling in the necessary places for the railroad right-of-way to be laid. Today, the curve functions as a tourist attraction for both railroad enthusiasts and the rest of the public, and is a magnet for drawing visitors from all over the globe. It currently is on the list of National Historic Sites, and boasts a visitors park in the apex of the curve adjacent to the Pittsburgh Line tracks, as well as a visitors center and gift shop.

Past the curve, the Pittsburgh Line continues west to Gallitzin, passing through MG Interlocking a mile west of Horseshoe Curve, whose old PRR interlocking tower is also on the historic register, though is off-limits to the public. East of Gallitzin, the railroad passes through Bennington Curve, the site of PRR passenger wreck in 1947 killing 16 people and injuring over 100. Past Bennington Curve at a railroad timetable station called "SF", the three tracks split. Tracks 2 (bi-directional) and 3 (westward) continue on towards Gallitzin at their same ascent, while Track 1 (eastward) diverges up a 2.46% grade known as "The Slide", which is a downhill-only track restricting trains to traveling no more than 12 miles per hour (19 km/h) over its steep grade. Both sets of main tracks pass through tunnels to exit and crest in the town of Gallitzin. Tracks 2 and 3 pass through the new Allegheny Tunnel, while Track 1 passes through the New Portage Tunnel. A third tunnel can be seen; the Gallitzin Tunnel, which used to house Track 3 before the Allegheny Tunnel was heightened and widened to house Tracks 2 and 3 as well as doublestack container traffic on intermodal trains in 1994. Upon its completion in 1995, the Gallitzin Tunnel was officially closed.

Past Gallitzin, the railroad passes through the small town of Cresson, where all of the Pittsburgh Line's tracks come back together. Here is also where a locomotive helper base is located, as well as interchange(s) with the RJ Corman Railroad. Also located in Cresson is the Station Inn, a bed and breakfast run exclusively for railroad enthusiasts, which features a long sheltered porch showing a close and clear view of the Pittsburgh Line tracks.

Past Cresson, the railroad passes down the Alleghenies’ west slope and through the towns of Lilly, Cassandra, Portage, Wilmore, Summerhill, South Fork, Mineral Point, Parkhill, and East Conemaugh before reaching Johnstown at the bottom of the mountain. South Fork is the junction of the South Fork Secondary, a coal route used to reach local mines in the area which generates a train or two a day bound for various destinations.


Helpers on the rear of an intermodal train entering the Gallitzin Tunnel

Helper locomotives are used by Norfolk Southern to assist heavy trains over mountainous portions of the Pittsburgh Line. Helper crews are mainly based in Altoona and Conemaugh/Johnstown, though some helpers are called as far away as Pittsburgh. For many years, EMD SD40-2 locomotives held down pusher duties in the Altoona Helper Pool until 2009, where newer SD40E locomotives constructed by Juniata began to phase out the older locomotive models. The SD40E's finally filled the ranks of the SD40-2's in the summer of 2010. Both locomotive models are rated at 3,000 horsepower (2,200 kW), and are either used in pairs or pairings of pairs, the latter are known as "4-Bangers" on the mountain by the local railfans in the immediate and surrounding areas. In late 2019, Norfolk Southern began bringing in SD70ACUs to replace the previous SD40E fleet. In April 2020, nearly 50% of Altoona's helpers are SD70ACUs.

Passenger operations[edit]

The eastbound Amtrak Pennsylvanian passes through Cassandra on the Pittsburgh Line

Today, a pair of Amtrak passenger trains is the only passenger service that remains on the Pittsburgh Line. Amtrak's Pennsylvanian trains make the following Pennsylvania station stops on the Pittsburgh Line: Harrisburg, Lewistown, Huntingdon, Tyrone, Altoona, Johnstown, Latrobe, Greensburg, and Pittsburgh.

In May 2013 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania agreed to US$3.8 million in funding to subsidize the passenger line.[4]

See also[edit]