Leave No Station Unphotographed: The Blog of SubwayNut.com


The Nice, Empty Scenic Pennsylvanian Across Horseshoe Curve to Elizabethtown

When I booked this months ago I decided to turn my final day of this trip into a quafecta points run to get more Keystone corridor stations of Elizabethtown, Mount Joy, and Lancaster plus a quick layover for an extra 100 points in Philly. I should also add that the Capital to Pennsylvanian Route is always at least slightly more expensive than the Lake Shore Limited or going via Washington. Low Bucket for example is $98 vs. $100 and the Pennsylvanian always seems to go up first!

I get back to the Pittsburgh Amtrak station after my early arrival on the Capital Limited at 6:45, and pick my luggage up in front of the Amish family I rode the Capital Limited with who are getting their’s sorted out.I then head upstairs and sit in the roped off smokers area to at least get some last moments outside in this warm morning. The station feels crowded for having just one train departure. There is sort of a line at the front by the doors out to the tracks. It is luckily informal. The station has quite a big staff for two trains a day. I keep seeing more Amtrak employees. They’re allowing people with special needs and Business class to board early using an electric cart although their no uniformed red caps.

I’ve been told 7:10 is general boarding and don’t flash my Select+ Card. I don’t need to be the first one on, just early enough to snag a window seat on the right for horseshoe curve.

  • 7:03 – I see the conductor go up to the Business Class car with some passengers pre-boarded and close the traps there.
  • 7:06 – They remove the corral and the blob moves out. I join the front. I learn that the downside to turning today into a points run is being told to board the Amfleet I coach. I guess Elizabethtown, my first destination of the day is considered short-haul. At least I’m not told where to sit. I get surrounded by Amish. Fine by me, I enjoy listening to their unique dialect. Two doors to the train are open. Our waiting entertainment is seeing all the bus lanes entering and leaving the busway by the end of the now unused light rail branch to Union Station.
  • 7:23 – We lose HEP, were going from standby to regular power.
  • 7:30 – With a double toot we leave PGH and pass above the neighborhood away from downtown I had breakfast in. We follow the busway out of town. I don’t have a seat mate!
  • 7:34 – Hermon Avenue busway station and go along the sides of green trees. The bus loop and us go through a valley. There is greenery on each side interrupted by buildings and overpasses.
  • 7:38 – Nagley Avenue busway station. It now feels like were more just in an embankment beneath things. Then another busway station. The look close to transit stations.We gain some speed and see houses and the river off to the left. No sign of a conductor. The busway has switches sides. The car is too crowded to sit on the side with a better view.
  • 7:43 – Look over and see another busway station.
  • 7:45 – Through a hilly suburb. The conductor comes, all the Amish have paper tickets. I get my paper seat check to ELZ in the mostly before Philly intermediate car. A vast majority of my car is going to Harrisburg.
  • 7:47 – Pass what I assume is a steel mill. Then a double stack alongside us. My window is extremely dirty (I don’t think there is a car wash in Pittsburgh) so there won’t be too many pictures. We keep going through small towns that are the Pittsburgh suburbs and basically feel like one continuous town.
  • 7:51 – Wilmerding with a large sign and all of its parked school buses. The sun breaking through some clouds is really pretty. I just wish I had slept better. The line has tons of tracks, I think at least three most of the way, hence this as the line of the Broadway Limited.
  • 7:55 – We switch over onto the right track so I can’t tell how many exist.
  • 8:11 – Get the announcement for Greensburg. A bunch of the Amish are getting off, were right on time.

We arrive at 8:12 in Greensburg the station is located on an embankment and it has two platforms. We wrong rail, stopping on the left side platform. There is a wheelchair lift enclosure on both platforms. We get the double-toot at 8:14 and leave. There is clearly a still intact underpass with elevators up to each platform. A nice station house is off to one side of the tracks. I find it sad that these stations have all this wasted grade separation infrastructure for just one train per day that the state of PA almost pulled the plug on.

We leave and speed up into the trees. The sun breaks through some of the cloud cover. The advantage to an Amfleet-I is AmtrakConnect. It works quite well. There not too many people on their computers. A lot of the train is asleep.

At 8:23 we have come into another town, its Latrobe. One platform looks half abandoned. Things are again grade separated. Its a flag stop but there are customers. I see the conductors heading back, holding a stool to open the door closest to the the cafe. I bet the platform at the normal door between the two coaches wasn’t in great shape. This platform looks like has public access at least from the windows of the train. A NS freight train passes us as we stop. I realize we haven’t gone through a single grade crossing yet (that I at least have noticed). We keep going by small houses on good fast tack.There tons of little towns. The mountainous terrain is pretty, but tons of trees. This becomes a route I want to ride again in winter to be able to see through the trees. I’ve realized this is a big advantage on Northeastern routes. We follow a valley, with a river down below us.

At 9:00 I see the crew getting up there getting ready for Johnstown with quite a few people getting off about half of them. most of them Amish. Including some I don’t remember from yesterday (as in passengers are riding just from PGH, not connecting). It’s one exit is again at the rear of the car. The exiting passengers line-up over about half the car. There is a nice old station house off in the distance. This platform clearly has restricted access. We arrive at 9:03, 1 minute early. The double-toot comes at 9:07. I see this station also has an underpass. I’m finally fully awake. The overpriced mocha from Starbucks has done its job.

The conductor is scanning tickets and clearly understands his technology. One passenger printed out the e-mail, not the PDF. He gets her by last name. Someone flashes a computer screen and he scans her ticket that way. This train is making me think I really prefer regional trains with only conductors who don’t assign seats in coach a lot more than overnight trains with their attendants who assign seats like your invading their fiefdom.

We leave Johnstown and really get into the mountains, going slower as we start heading through them. We follow the 3 tracks.

  • 9:22 – Pass the little town of South Fork. A small towns along a river as we rise through the mountains.
  • 9:24 – Summerhill. Cell Service is good, AmtrakConnect is working really well.
  • 9:28 – The town of Portage. We keep speeding through the countryside.
  • 9:32 – The town of Lily. There quite a few houses. This feels very different than rural Montana.
  • 9:35 – Pass a viewpoint overlooking the tracks with some people on it and an old caboose in Cression. I notice that our train is on an outside track that takes a slightly different route than the other three tracks on this line.
  • 9:39 – We go up a spur into Gallitzin between cliffs that is separate from the other tracks. Then enter tunnel hill (the other tracks have their own tunnels). The standard railway of the world is really impressive.
  • This tunnel feels quite long and we finally break through the otherside about a minute later at 9:41. There is a freight train on the line above us. I hear some of the Amish talking about the horseshoe curve in their Pennsylvanian Dutch.
  • 9:43 – We slow down for the curves along the rock blasts. I see highway US-22 down beneath us, and slowly curve around the horseshoe. There is a nice view down into the valley beneath us.
  • 9:47 – Some moving locomotives pass us the other way.
  • 9:50 – Pass the viewing platform at horseshoe curve. Our train is too short for it to be that impressive. We went over a similar one on the Coast Starlight rising up from SLO. There are quite of few people watching trains in front of a historic diesel locomotive on display that get a locomotive toot from us. This isn’t necessary, there isn’t a grade-crossing. We continue through trees. We keep passing the reservoir alongside the line, the rock cut remains impressive. The line continues through the mountains.
  • 9:56 – The first grade crossing I’ve noticed. It looks like it serves an access road to a UTZ plant. The crew comes through gathering the Altona passengers for the rear of the car. Were going to be late by a few minutes. I’m not going to try for photos.
  • 9:57 – Pass Altoona interlocking. There slightly fewer cars. For the first time I hear the conductors announce a station stop over the PA. They announce the usual “Not all doors will open.” It appears just one behind the cafe car. We enter this city as the line remains grade separated. The detraining passengers again take up half the car.

At 9:59 2 minutes early we arrive the fenced off platform across from Amtran local buses. This station has an overpass across a road to get to a modern concrete transit center (Amtrak and Greyhound). This is clearly not an open to the public platform. One man gets off with the crowd for a few puffs of his cigarette. It’s clear I might have been able to get a few photos but not nearly enough to call it a genuine photo essay of the odd little platform. We leave at 10:03
10:06 – pass through a large freight yard and I notice a bunch of NS locomotives (including some heritage F-units). There are also a few cars of a business train. We leave Altoona and its large yard behind before entering the Rose Car Shops home to tons of NS locomotives.

  • 10:15 – The line becomes faster as we pass a junkyard and start to enter Tyrone.
  • 10:17 – I see the conductors walk through to the front vestibule followed by a couple passengers. Time for the flag stop of Tyrone.
  • We arrive in Tyrone at 10:18 to a nice old depot blocking a grade crossing to a dirt road. Passengers have a shelter on a platform without fencing. There is a depot just beyond with some nice old Pennsy signage. We continue through the hilly terrain that is covered in trees. The track is definitely in decent shape. Their some curves.
  • 10:26 – We keep following a river downhill. Roads and houses are never far behind
  • 10:26 – Pass a huge quarry or mine, I have no idea what it is used for.
  • 10:29 – Pass a few houses and the stream as we take a more southern direction at this point through the mountains heading downward.
  • 10:31 – Into a tunnel, I notice an abandoned tube alongside ours. Then I see people fly fishing in the stream.
  • 10:32 – Pass a siding box labeled tunnel and see some cultivated fields. We keep going over water and are making good speed.

At 10:42 we arriving Huntingdon 2 minutes early. I head to the doors, tell the conductor I thought we had a moment. He says you have 1 minute. I get a few photos of the tiny station and get back on. I don’t think I’ll make a page for these three but okay. The platform looks completely unrestricted. The reason I’m curious about this is in case of a road or transit trip. I’ve found limited transit options between these stations, maybe one day the Pennsylvanian will have roll-on roll of bike service, and I can make a long weekend out of camping and photographing the stations of the Pennsylvanian.

  • 10:46 – We leave town back into the trees and the lady across from me actually asks if I don’t mind watching her stuff so she can head to the cafe. Normally I just leave mine and hope the travelers eye won’t take anything. I’ve never had a problem on Amtrak. The train is right on time. We go back to the trees and rolling hills of the wide ROW of the Pennsylvania Railroad that has at least two tracks everywhere but room for more.
  • 10:55 – The houses and buildings of Mt. Union
  • 11:00 – We go back to the trees. The landscape isn’t amazingly scenic but of those rolling hills we have in the east. I’m also impressed at how fast the railroad is.
  • 11:07 – Pass corn fields and the town of Mcveytown. Its absolutely tiny. I can barely find it on my phone. The hills on each side of the line are impressive.
  • 11:10 – Pass an intermodal freight train of double-stacks going the same direction as us although were going a lot faster. Its nice to see the double-tracked railroad used to its fullest. It has 3 NS locomotives.
  • 11:13 – The train is a bit jerky as were going around a curve. We cross another regular grade crossing in a rural community. I’m still surprised how few there are.
  • 11:18 – Like I can set my watch to this train I hear the conductors collecting seat checks for Lewistown.

At 11:19 we arrive Lewistown to a nice old depot, 2 minutes early. I don’t try to step off. This platform is unrestricted and has people milling about. We leave on time at 11:21. Next stop Harrisburg for what should be a longer fresh-air stop! ETA is simply listed as 12:55, yesterday it arrived at 12:30. I’m looking forward to a walk and photos of what I already know are restricted platforms.

  • 11:34 – Mifflintown with a nice old, historic looking depot that looks abandoned. We go back to trees
  • 11:37 – Port Royal with nice old houses as we follow the Juniata River that is beyond the trees going downward towards Harrisburg.
  • 11:39 – We go back to fields along the line. Their mountains off in the distance that were approaching. The river forms a gab in the mountains that we go through.
  • 11:49 – In the trees and following a narrow road as we zoom through the hills. There some more corn fields and other crops on places of flat land between the trees.
  • 11:53 – Go through Newport, quite a few houses overlooking the railroad line. We go back to fields and buildings. The line becoming flatter.
  • 12:03 – Start going through Duncannon and catch glimpses of the extremely wide – river on the left side of the train. There tons of trees so its not as scenic as it might be
  • 12:04 – A nice, old depot along the tracks. The wide, river views continue. We start following a road that rises up onto cliffs above us.
  • 12:07 – An announcement (repeating a second that I haven’t heard) that the cafe car is closed until departure from Harrisburg and that they need all passengers in their original seats until the crew change is finished. We keep seeing that river that will take us all the way into town. Then a huge lot of buses and vans in the river valley. The houses become a bit more numerous.
  • 12:13 – Marysville with a few houses along the river. Then Mary interlocing.
  • 12:15 – Start crossing the river on an extremely wide bridge designed for more tracks than currenlty exist. Portions of the tracks are overgrown. There trees all around us.
  • 12:17 – Start passing industry and factories as we come into Harrisburg. There is an intermodal freight yard. Then we start seeing the houses of Harrisburg, we slow down.
  • 12:19 – Now an engine shop as we pass a refueling pads. I see the crew with their suitcases, I know what that means were about to arrive in Harrisburg for a long fresh air stop. Our departure time is 1:05! I pack my computer up as we pass intermodal freights since I’m just 17 minutes of travel to my first photo stop of the day of Elizabethtown and I want to get photos of Harrisburg.
  • 12:22 – As we keep passing a yard the conductor collects most of the seat checks in my car with “Harrisburg in a Few Minutes at the back of the Coach.”
  • 12:24-Announcement that Harrisburg is first high-level platform and there is a gap. We keep passing a rail yard as we enter. Lots of NS Southern freights. They announce that the gap is because of construction and repeat that not all doors will open. We enter the station. I’m fully packed to get off 15 minutes later after our departure.

The catenary begins and we arrive at 12:28 on track 1. I notice the historic locomotives and please pardon our dust signs. We lose HEP briefly. I get off and am immediately blown away by the history of the wonderful and historic train shed and depot that is the Harrisburg Station. The station is currently under construction with the tracks getting realigned to allow entry at higher speeds. We detrain onto little temporary ramps with wide gaps that lead down to brick mostly high-level platforms. Realizing I have half an hour I take my time getting photos including a nice walk on this hot day outside the station for some exterior photos. I even head down one of the overpasses across the train yard for some more photos. I have ridden the Pennsylvanian once before (years ago before this blog) but had forgotten how beautiful Harrisburg’s station is. I’m a huge fan of the train shed. Eventually around 1:00 I re-board for my final short journey.
At 1:03 we lose HEP, were getting ready to depart.
At 1:05 we slowly leave passing some ballast fixing equipment and go into trees. We’re on the right side track as we speed up along the electrified Keystone Corridor. I assume we don’t go as fast as their regular express trains with our diesel locomotive. We go back to trees and follow the river. I realize I’m on Amtrak owned track for the first time of this trip. There was though quite a bit of Metrolink and Coster owned track. Plus Caltrain north of San Jose it basically owns that track.

  • 1:13 – Pass the Harrisburg Airport. Th conductors come through as we go to fields. I notice some people with paper tickets. The conductors are discussing how they won’t accept any extra tickets (The Pennsylvanian is the only reserved train on the Keystone Corridor)  but already have a monthly in the cafe and a ten trip. They refer to my destination as E-town. We zoom through trees.
  • 1:19 – Get the announcement that all doors will open at Elizabethtown, they have enough crew members for all the Amfleet-II manually operated doors?

I arrive in Elizabethtown at 11:20, 3 minutes. I get off to modern high-level platforms on an embankment. I have an amusing moment when I realize that they have MUed the doors in the one Amfleet I that has platformed. The cafe and business class car are beyond the end of the platform. Luckily their doors haven’t opened. The other conductor opens up an Amfleet II door at the front and I have time to run up for a locomotive shot. The entire train might be able to platform if the locomotive hadn’t stopped so short and pulled up beyond the platform. I get photos of the train leaving at 1:23.