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Saturday, October 1, 2011

11-10-01 PHOTOS: Altoona Wet

Late last summer it became apparent that the killjoys at Norfolk Southern were embarking on a project to resignal the entire Altoona terminal area which for the 100+ years have been under the auspices of ALTO tower, which I had visited previously in 2005. This was coming on the heels of a similarly mean spirited project to replace the PRR position lights up and around the horseshoe curve and unlike a number of other recent resignaling projects I was not going to be caught flat footed and therefore resolved to drive out the 3+ hours to Altoona to document what was there before it all came crashing down.

Unfortunately my schedule in the fall of 2011 was quite full and combined with the fact that many people didn't know when the project would be completed and that there was a Fall Foliage running out of Altoona and around the Horseshoe Curve on October 1 I made the choice to pick that weekend for my trip. I say unfortunately because the weather was just a few hairs short of completely unworkable with a light to moderate drizzle falling over the entire day with ambient lighting about what you would expect. Doublely disappointing was that my first trip was in only slightly better conditions so it looked as if every time I was to go to Altoona the clouds would roll in and the sky would open up.

Anyway armed with a pair of cameras, one a high resolution DSLR, I set out in the wee hours of Oct 1 in order to make it to the "Brickyard" automatic signal west of town to snag a picture of the Bennett Levin PRR E8's passing under it. After that I would head downtown to take as many photos of ALTO tower and its related signaling as I could and then I could head out to see if CP-ANTIS was part of the re-signaling project as it's interlocking hardware dated from 1981 instead of the 1970's or before for the rest of the Altoon Terminal. All said and done I took about 500 photos that day which are all visible in the full gallery.

We begin at the Milepost 238 automatic known as "Brickyard" which is also the distant to SLOPE interlocking, which itself is under direct wire control from ALTO tower. This section of the main line has three tracks, the outer two running under Rule 251 with only the center track #2 being bi-directional rule 261. Both eastbound signals on tracks 2 and 3 can display / over / for Slow Speed moves at SLOPE as SLOPE has a very short signal distance to ALTO and will display Slow Approach instead of Approach when a Stop signal is displayed at ALTO. The Approach Medium indication available on track #1 is for 1 to 2 diverging moves at SLOPE.

The MP 328 signal gantry was in a bad way with the uprights separating from the concrete footings and 1930's era signaling with tar impregnated cotton insulation around the signal cable wires. Still the replacing it with cheap Darth Vader masts on an ungainly 4 track wide cantilever is just insulting the the home of the PRR, especially for a railroad that recently installed brand new N&W PL's in its home of Roanoke, VA. Anyway all of the signals up and down the eastern slope are approach lit and were able to provide warning of the approaching Foliage Charter. 

PRR E8 #5711 was heading the charge up the grade. The charter's route was to head up and around the curve before heading back through Altoona, up the N&BE to Lock Haven and then down the Buffalo Line to Harrisburg before returning to Altoona (I think).

On the rear was Bennett Levin's PRR 120 and a couple other PV's providing the first class consolidations behind 4 Amfleets and one Metroliner Cab Car.

Unfortunately I left the Brickyard just a few minutes too soon as the Eastbound Pennsylvanian rolled by as I was waiting to cross the main line at the grade crossing just south of the signal location. Amtrak P42 #51 was providing the power that day.

After parking at the Altoona Railroaders Museum I walked over to the 17th St bridge which provides an uninterrupted view of ALTO interlocking and tower. The tower which dates from the first decade of the 20th century was deceptively given a new coat of paint just a few years ago by NS. Here we can see the eastbound signal gantry directly adjacent to ALTO tower and governing movements on tracks 1 and 101, which is just a short siding between here and SLOPE, as well as the new 3 track cantilever replacement. The new ALTO interlocking will encompass the space between here and the western limits of SLOPE and get rid of the old pusher pocket and replace the right handed yard ladder with a new universal crossover arrangement with the helper tracks pushed off onto the south side of the line. 

It wasn't too long before the E8's showed up again. #5711 was still in the lead as there is a loop track west of the Horseshoe Curve at CP-UN. The charter was run in conjunction with the annual Altoona Railfest which wasn't very festive due to the rain.

Here is a video of the move passing through ALTO interlocking.

Here we have PRR 120 passing under the famous ALTO westbound signal gantry which dates from the Penn Central era when the State was installing the 17th St bridge and needed to move things around a bit.

Heading in on track #2 right behind the Charter was an NS helper twin pack composed of SD40-2's 6312 and 6301. Here they are making a diverging move from track #2 into the helper pocket although their final destination would be the Altoona Yard.

Video of the helper set making the diverging move.

Of the 5 tracks the ALTO beam gantry spans, the center one is a pocket track designed for helper sets like 6312/6301, seen here diverging onto track 1, to lay over and be attached to the rear of through trains before they begin their assault on the eastern slope.

A rather wet ALTO as seen from the rear quarter. The whole area is highly accessible from local roads, although be prepared to hug the curb as the "PRR Expressway" lacks both sideways and a shoulder on that side.

When ALTO was partly re-signaled in the 1970's all the new equipment was thrown into this impressive bank of US&S branded relay cabinets to the west of the tower.

The ungainly new three signaled, 4 track wide cantilever mast for whatever will replace ALTO. NS has a real hard on for cantilever masts and almost never uses traditional signal bridges.

With obstructions cleared for construction access I could get a reasonable angle on the eastbound signal gantry which is of a very early lattice design from the era when steel was far more expensive than the manpower needed to bolt it into interesting shapes. The 10R signal governing track #1 is displaying an Approach indication which suggested that some more train action was imminent.

What showed up was NS C40-9W #9763 on the head of an autorack train. Let's hope those C&S workers digging cable trenches called about the location of that burried gas main. Oh, can you tell how fucking hard its raining at this point?

Same train under the PRR signal bridge with SD60M #6775 running elephant style behind 9763.

No rest for the soaked. The famous signal bridge showing a Clear indication on track #3 westbound.

ALTO is divided into two sections, east and west, each with its own US&S Electro-Pneumatic style interlocking machine. The east end consists of a few crossovers as well as the start of track #3. The west end handles the right handed ladder. Here we see a pretty standard condition with Medium Clear displayed on the east end 38L signal and Clear on the west end 2L signal. Also visible is the Clear indication displayed on the 2371 auto signal at SLOPE (which is only in service on tracks 1 and 2.)

What rounds the bend is a unit garbage train (probably from New York City) headed up by another SD40 helper pair with 6319 on point.

The two helpers plus three regular road units take the diverging move over the 31 switch before taking the 2L signal and then passing ALTO tower. The 38L and 36L signals were replaced with PRR Pedestal types when the new transportation center was built.

Video of what I just described above.

The City of Altoona built a railfan observation walkway stretching between the Altoona Transportation Center and the Railroaders Museum. Here we can see the main section of ALTO interlocking with the right handed ladder and connections to the Cove Secondary track and MofW dump siding.

The Museum's most famous resident, now under cover.

Now ALTO tower has a US&S type unit lever CTC machine that has remote control of CP-WORKS, CP-HOMER, CP-ROSE and CP-ANTIS. I already knew that HOMER, WORKS and ROSE were to be included in the re-signaling, but the newer CP-ANTIS is in a rather isolated spot and not typically photographed. Therefore the third activity of the day would be an expedition out to CP-ANTIS to see WTF was going on out there. Using Google Earth it appeared that I could park and make a quick quarter mile trek through unobstructed forest to get to the interlocking.

Unfortunately reality did not follow the plan with quick being replaced by wet, forest being replaced by dense undergrowth and unobstructed being replaced by a significant body of water. However some recent storm damage provided me with a solution and, two cameras in tow, I managed to scurry across...only be be greeted by more bad news.

Oh well, at least I got out there in time to fully document the old interlocking plant and was even rewarded with a westbound unit tank car train headed up by NS SD70M-2 #2771 with an old style PL dwarf signal in the foreground that has more paint than metal.

CP-ANTIS is where the two westbound Altoona Yard leads split from the main tracks. It can sort of be thought of as ALTO's mirror twin. Here the same train takes the diverging route from track #2 westbound onto the inbound yard lead with the new 4-head cantilever signal arm laying on the ground waiting to be installed.

Of course not trip to Altoona would be complete without stopping by the Horseshoe Curve. But like everything else that day the curve was really really wet and miserable and fucking cold which was made worse as I had to change out of my long pants and sweatshirt which had been soaked on my trip out to CP-ANTIS. Here we see a bunch of C40-9W's descending the curve in the rain.

Guarding the curve is PRR GP9 #7048 which replaced PRR K4 #1361 which was sent to Steamtown for restoration.

 Here we have a video of NS SD70M-2 #2748 and C40-9W #9858 with a largely empty doublestack train ascending the curve.

And some doublestacks descending.

I'll end things with this shot of the PRR branded funicular ascending the rather short incline between the curve museum and the observation park itself.

Well that's it for this week. Coming up will be two straight sets featuring the Silverliner II so stay tuned.

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