J. Alex Lang

Night Trains over the Allegheny Mountains

Cassandra, Pa. 2010

Tons of railroad freight traffic traverses Norfolk Southern’s busy main line between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The line was originally built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 1860s and substantially upgraded in the early 1900s. (For a thorough history, I suggest Roberts “Triumph” series of books.)  A fairly significant grade is required to conquer the Allegheny Mountains – the challenging terrain resulted in the design of Horseshoe Curve, which at one time was a significant engineering feat.  Going westward, the grade begins in Altoona and is steepest in the few miles before the summit at Cresson.  The “downhill” grade is gentler but much longer, reaching to Johnstown, Pennsylvania before following river level and then into roller-coaster terrain of Westmoreland County.

The traffic density, combined with the drama and intensity of mountain railroading, makes this a very popular region with rail enthusiasts.  I’ve been addicted since my first trip to the area in 1991, especially after my first stay at the Station Inn in 1994. Over the years I’ve been developing my night photography technique, and would like to share a very brief collection of images going from east to west.  This series begins in Altoona, PA – goes up and over the hill at Cresson, and part of the way down the West Slope.