The Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark is located on Glenwhite Road in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Situated to the west of south Altoona, Horseshoe Curve is only a short distance past the Kittanning Reservoir and Lake Altoona. Horseshoe Curve is a railroad horseshoe curve that was completed by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1854. The rails were later used by Penn Central and then by Conrail. Currently, Norfolk Southern Railway owns and operates this section of the railroad. Amtrak's passenger train called the Pennsylvanian also traverses this curve.
The Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark preserves a stretch of railroad that was designed so that it would loop around a difficult section of the valley in a semicircle. The backside of the Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark is surrounded by mountains, and there is a scenic view of the surrounding valley. John Edgar Thompson was responsible for the engineering plan that used the surrounding landscape and approximately 450 Irish immigrant workers to create Horseshoe Curve. In 1966, Horseshoe Curve was designated as a National Historic Landmark. Horseshoe is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Regular hours of operation for the Horseshoe Curve are from sunrise to sunset daily. Visitors can still get a view from the rails by riding on the funicular, which is and incline trolley that leads directly up to the railroad tracks. In addition, visitors can also get a view from the rails by hiking the steep steps up to the railway. While there is a charge for riding on the funicular, there is no admission fee charged for entry to Horseshoe Curve.
The arc that forms Horseshoe Curve is 220 degrees and actually consists of two curves. The north side has 637-foot radius, and the south side has a radius of 609 feet. The horseshoe curve of the rails is 1,800 feet across, and the length of the curve is 2,375 feet. There is a 9 degree and 15 minute degree of curvature. The east side of the curve is actually 122 feet lower than the west side of the curve. The grade of the curve is 91 feet per mile, and the east end elevation is 1,594 feet above sea level.
When the curve was originally built, it consisted of two tracks. Somewhere between 1898 and 1900, it was widened to four tracks. In 1981, Conrail removed one of the tracks, and the tracks have remained in this three-track configuration ever since.
With help from the National Park Service, renovations were made in 1992, and visitors were then able to ride on the incline to the tracks. In addition, upper and lower picnic areas were established, and a Visitors Center with a small restaurant was created. The Visitors Center has a trackside observation area that is open from April through October. This area is managed by the Railroaders Memorial Museum.
Geologists have noted that the area around the Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark contains remarkable rock outcroppings, which include the Devonian Catskill Formation. For additional information about the Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark, interested parties can call 814-946-0834.