Altoona Live Scanner and ATCS Feeds

Welcome to Railfan Pennsylvania's Live Scanner and ATCS Feeds from Altoona, PA! Listen in and watch as Norfolk Southern trains move through the greater Altoona area on this section of the Pittsburgh Line. The Altoona East dispatcher is in control of moving high priority intermodal trains around slower manifests and unit trains as they get recrewed in Altoona. Helpers are often added or removed in Altoona as it is the east end of the Pennsylvania Railroad's infamous crossing of the Great Barrier. Heading west out of Altoona, trains climb the East Slope: eleven miles of 1.8% grade to the summit at Gallitzin. To the east of Altoona, the old PRR Middle Division is much more forgiving as the main line follows the Juniata River towards Harrisburg. At the heart of Altoona is Norfolk Southern's Rose Yard and the JBS locomotive repair facility. Rose Yard is a relatively small classification yard which builds trains for the handful of local jobs that work industries and interchange with several shortlines in the Altoona area. Rose is also the location of the crew office and is the preferred re-crew location on the mainline and yard tracks. JBS crews often move locomotives around as new arrivals or newly built/rebuilt locomotives are released. JBS is also home to the NS F-units and executive business cars.

On June 16th, 2012, the new ATCS controlled interlockings in the Altoona area were fully cut in, giving control to the Altoona East Dispatcher. This marked the end of the manned ALTO Tower which had dispatched trains through Altoona for over a hundred years.

1) The helpers shove a westbound under the old CP-ALTO signal bridge for the last time on June 16, 2012.
2) A month later, two eastbounds pass through the new ALTOONA interlocking. (Photos by Dustin Faust)

Click Here to Download PDF of Track Diagram

Listen to the Altoona Live Scanner Feed with the media player of your choice, courtesy of Altoona Live Audio Channel or on the embedded audio player below. The audio player may not load properly in browsers other than IE.

The current version of the NS Pittsburgh Division ATCS files can be found on the ATCS Monitor Yahoo Group. You must be a member of the Yahoo group to have access to the program and files. If you are not a member of the group, please join by clicking here.

Frequencies Monitored by the Live Scanner Feed:

160.800 AAR 46
160.980 AAR 58
160.860 AAR 50
  NS Road 1
NS Road 4
NS Road 3
  Road Channel, Pittsburgh Line, Altoona East and Pittsburgh East Dispatchers
Yard Channel, Rose Yard
Yard Channel, JBS Industrial

Defect Detectors Heard, from East to West:   Signals Heard, from East to West:

PT 225.9
PT 238.2
PT 240.7
PT 241.0
PT 241.0
PT 245.5

  HBD-DED, all tracks (Tipton)
HBD-DED, tracks 1 and 2 EB (Brickyard)
SWD, tracks 1 and 2 EB (Wikes)
HBD-DED, tracks 2 and 3 WB (Wikes)
HBD-DED, tracks 1 and 2 EB (Wikes)
DED, all tracks (Benny)

Dragging Equipment Detector
Hot Box Detector
Sliding Wheel Detector
Audible only when a defect is detected
East Altoona (PT 232)
Altoona, Yard 1 and #2 Secondary tracks only
Altoona, track 1 only (PT 234)
Altoona, track 2 only
Altoona (PT 236)
Altoona, Main 9 only (PT 236.5)
Altoona (PT 237)
McGarveys Curve
Scotch Run Curve
East of the Horseshoe Curve
West of the Horseshoe Curve
East of Allegrippus (PT 243)
Bennington, track 1 EB only
Map of Signal and Defect Detector Locations in the Altoona Area

View a Larger Map of the Altoona Area

Typical Operations and Trains Heard

 Lay of the Land
The PITL from Duncannon (near Harrisburg) to Altoona is controlled by the Altoona East dispatcher. West of ALTOONA, it becomes the territory of the Pittsburgh East dispatcher. It is common to hear both dispatchers in Altoona since they use the same channel, 160.800. Reference the google map above.

After emerging from the tight curved Little Juniata River valley, westbound trains enter the town of Tyrone. Tyrone is a station stop for the Amtrak Pennsylvanians, so a small shelter sits along track 2. Just west of Tyrone is GRAY. At GRAY, the Nittany and Bald Eagle (NBER) shortline railroad connects to NS along with a small interchange yard. Between GRAY and ANTIS, a third controlled siding (CS) track is located to the south of track 1. It is primarily used to move high priority trains around slower ones or to temporarily store unit trains if Rose Yard is full. West of ANTIS, two tracks (#2 Secondary and 1 Yard) split off toward Rose Yard while the main line continues along. HOMER is a track 1 only connection to Rose Yard, commonly used by helper sets or locals. Just west of HOMER on 1 and the PT 234 signals on 2 is the ROSE recrew platform. Unless a train goes into the yard, most trains needing a recrew do so at ROSE.

West of ROSE is WORKS. Here, the many tracks from the west end of Rose Yard enter the dispatcher territory as well as the industrial lead to JBS to the north. Once again, a controlled siding (CS) track is present to the south of the mainline which connects to ALTOONA a short distance away. At ALTOONA, the tracks are renumbered to accommodate three mainline tracks. From east to west, the CS, 1 and 2 tracks become 1, 2 and 3 tracks respectively. In other words, a train going from 2 to 2 at ALTOONA must cross over to do so. Between ALTOONA and Rose Yard is COVE JCT which connects 1 Yard track to the Cove Secondary. West of ALTOONA, the East Slope begins with its 1.8% grade to the summit. On the way, the train passes by the Horseshoe Curve at PT 242 and MG further up the grade. Several intermediate signals and four different defect detectors are located between Altoona and the summit.

 Intermodal and Roadrailer Trains
The Altoona East dispatcher usually expedites these trains through the Altoona area as quickly as possible. These trains do not recrew in Altoona, so they typically pass by, non-stop. The UPS trains have the highest priority, so do not expect 20E, 20K, 20W, 22W, 24M, 21E, 21J, 21M and 21Z to hold for any traffic. Some of the heavier stack trains get helpers on the rear. Westbound 21G, 21Q, 21T and 25Z almost always get helpers on the rear at Altoona, while 21A, 21V, 23M, 23Z and 25V will get helpers if they are especially long or heavy. East bound intermodal trains do not often require helpers, but the most probable seem to be 20Q, 20T, 24Z and 26T, while it is rarer for 20R, 24W, and 294. The UPS trains rarely require helpers.

Other trains which do not typically recrew in Altoona are the autorack train 18N and empty garbage train 64J. However, their westbound counterparts, 11J and 65J, do recrew in Altoona.

1) Westbound 21V passes the new PT 234 and HOMER signals as it is expedited through Altoona. (Photo by Dustin Faust)
2) Westbounds 21M and 23Z (with helpers) are about to tackle the East Slope, side-by-side. (Photo by Austin MacDougall)
3) Eastbound 20W threads the needle east of ANTIS on track 1, passing loaded and empty coal trains.

 Manifest Trains
All manifest trains that go through Altoona get a recrew. Although most go straight through, some trains work Rose Yard. Since westbound traffic is typically lighter, some trains will not require helpers to tackle the East Slope but must do. Eastbound trains coming from Pittsburgh usually require helpers due to heavy tonnage, but not always, especially if extra sections have been run.

Trains 10A (Conway to Altoona) and 11A (Altoona to Conway) obviously work Rose Yard. Each train runs four times a week, with 10A arriving around midnight and 11A usually departing Rose Yard just before sunrise. These trains typically have interesting power lash-ups since they ferry locomotives to and from the JBS shops.

Through trains that usually work Rose Yard are the midday 10G (Conway to Enola) and the early morning 37A (Wilmington, Enola to Conway). Other trains may work if they have locomotives for JBS or must set out bad order cars. Some trains may go into the yard if their recrews were not called until later. In that case, they will re-enter the mainline once they are recrewed.

 Coal Trains
Loaded trains from South Fork (west of Altoona) bound for the east usually descend the East Slope and enter Rose Yard. These trains are usually powered by SD80MACs on the front and the rear, but standard head end power is also common. These trains usually go by their local symbols C44, C48, C49, C50, C51 or C53. From time to time they will use their road symbol, such as 644, 650 or 652. The light SD80MACs usually leave the train in Rose Yard, couple together, and head back to South Fork light.

The loaded and empty Strawberry Ridge trains go by 410/411, 534/535, 536/537 and 642/643 symbols. The eastbound loaded trains typically park in Rose Yard until the power plant needs the train. At that point, the train is crewed and heads up to GRAY where it takes the NBER line to Lock Haven. You will hear the Altoona East dispatcher give the train a track authority on the NBER from GRAY to POST. These trains always have three SD60I's for power between Altoona and Strawberry Ridge. If the train arrives at Altoona with different power, it will get switched out to SD60I's before leaving. The empty trains also park in Rose Yard before getting recrewed and head west.

Other loaded coal trains which run all the way to Harrisburg on the Pittsburgh Line often get parked in Altoona if Enola Yard is full or the receiving power plant is not ready for it. In all cases, the helpers are removed while the train is in town. Empties are typically recrewed right away in Altoona and keep moving west to their respective destinations.

There is a rare case where a westbound loaded coal train will come through Altoona. The Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad sends loaded unit trains of clean burning anthracite coal to Sandusky OH. These trains typically run as 572 west and 573 east (empty). There have been times where 678 or 684 have been used for the loaded symbol and 685 for the empty. These trains run no more than 10 times a year and do not exceed 10,000 tons.

1) An eastbound 852 coal drag has just descended the East Slope and is heading into Rose Yard on via 1 Yard. (Photo by Dustin Faust)
2) After recrewing at ROSE, a westbound 651 passes through WORKS in early 2012 with new and old signals in place.
3) The power from an empty 537 Strawberry Ridge train has cut away from its train on 2 Relay to fuel the locomotives.

 Other Unit Trains
There is a wide assortment of unit trains other than coal that run through Altoona. Coke, crude oil, ethanol, farm equipment, grain, gypsum, iron ore and steel slabs are all handled in unit trains and all have different types of cars. In general, most trains run-through Altoona after a recrew, but it is not unheard of for them to layover in Rose Yard from time to time.

Loaded coke and iron ore trains are always loaded going east. Coke trains usually go by the 422/423 symbols and can be spotted by their dark gray load (in contrast to coal which is black) protruding above the top of the hoppers. Loaded iron ore hopper trains (406 loaded/407 empty), on the other hand, are hard to spot because they are often loaded only half way up. This is due to weight restrictions and the much higher density of iron ore in comparison to coke or coal. Since these trains are loaded going east, so they will require a helper from Johnstown to Altoona. Alas, these trains only run to the Sparrows Point in Baltimore and the foundry is currently closed due to bankruptcy. This plant has a tendency to open and close every couple years, so these trains may return.

1) A 406 iron ore train is tied down east of ANTIS on the controlled siding, waiting for a recrew. Note the WLE run though power.

Unit crude oil trains are relatively new to the Pittsburgh Line. A plant in Westville NJ (trains 64D/65D) and another in Reybold DE (trains 62J/63J and 64N/65N) have begun refining crude oil from North Dakota and western Canada in early 2012. The loaded trains arrive from BNSF or CP in Chicago and are interchanged to NS. The eastbound loaded trains commonly sport run-through BNSF power. These trains commonly have 80 to 100 tank cars with spacer cars on both ends. These trains are loaded going east, so they will require a helper from Johnstown to Altoona.

Ethanol trains for NJ look just like crude oil trains and can be easily mistaken for one another. 66Q/67Q and 68Q/69Q can come from a variety of ethanol plants in the central US, so run-through power can range from BNSF, CN, CP or UP, if the power was not switched out for NS units. These trains are loaded going east, so they will require a helper from Johnstown to Altoona.

1) A 68Q loaded ethanol train is seen here at Ardenheim, about 45 minutes east of Altoona.
2) Empty 69Q ethanol train leaves the city behind as it goes 2 to 3 at ALTOONA. (Photo by Dustin Faust)

Most of the year, NS runs a weekly eastbound farm equipment train, 62A. These trains usually have John Deere, Case and New Holland combines on flat cars. Since it is considered a high and wide movement, this train may sit in Rose Yard for a couple hours to let other traffic go by unrestricted. The empty flat cars usually return west on normal manifest trains.

NS sends loaded grain trains east to the Delmarva Peninsula, upper Virginia and occasionally to Allentown or Enola. These trains are typically made up of 60 to 80 covered hoppers, usually solid NS. The empty trains go by 51G or 51V symbols, but empties might go back on normal manifest trains instead.

The York Haven PPL plant south of Harrisburg produces gypsum as a side product and is shipped west to Ohio every couple weeks on train 64A. Since they are loaded going west, they usually get two sets of helpers in Altoona. The HPJX high side gondola cars usually emit a white cloud of dust when the train is at speed. The eastbound empty train, 63A, commonly uses only one road engine, which is rare for the Pittsburgh Line.

There are several westbound loaded steel slab trains that run through Altoona. 67Z is from Fairless PA, 69T from Camden NJ and 63D/67N from Baltimore MD. These trains are heavy, so they typically get assigned two sets of helpers to go west from Altoona. The empty eastbound gondola trains are light and do not require much power. As of mid-2012, the Baltimore trains are currently not running due to the refinery being shut down.

1) A loaded 67Z slab train is westbound through Ardenheim and will be in Altoona in about 45 minutes.

 Amtrak's Pennsylvanians
Amtrak 42 eastbound (NS 04T) and 43 westbound (NS 07T) Pennsylvanian passenger trains have the highest priority on the PITL. The morning 04T eastbound is due at Altoona at 9:54 AM and Tyrone at 10:07 AM. The evening 07T is due at Tyrone at 4:48 PM and Altoona at 5:06PM. With the station platforms all on the track 2 side of the mainline, the Altoona East dispatcher usually routes the Amtrak trains on main 2 if possible. Otherwise, a protected stop on main 1 is necessary, which takes much longer. West of ALTOONA, track 2 is the preferred route on the triple tracked section over the mountains.

1) Eastbound 04T makes its stop at Altoona station on track 2. (Photo by Dustin Faust)
2) On a different day, 04T accelerates out of Altoona while MOW crews wait on 1 Yard to begin their work. (Photo by Dustin Faust)
3) Westbound 07T slows for its Tyrone station stop. (Photo by Andy Gipe)

 Local and Yard Crews
The C42 local serves industries to the east of Altoona on the Pittsburgh Line. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, C42 first runs out to Mapleton to work US Silica (Altoona East can be heard giving the C42 crew permission to use the 196.2 switch). Then, it heads back west to Altoona, working the Tyrone interchange yard with NBER traffic along the way. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, C42 works Lewistown and sometimes Mifflin before working Mapleton on the way back west to Altoona. This train usually leaves Altoona around 7AM and returns in the afternoon/evening. Engines 5806 and 5808 are commonly used for C42, but substitutes are know to come along from time to time.

The C52 local serves industries to the west of Altoona on the Pittsburgh Line. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, C52 will work as far as Cresson with industry and RJCR interchange traffic. Tuesday and Thursday, C52 works as far as Johnstown or Seward and may work Cresson as well. This train usually leaves Altoona around 7PM and returns by midnight. C52 usually uses the same locomotives as C42, but when C42 is late, it is not uncommon for a pair of SD40E helpers to do the honors. From time to time, C52 may even require helpers to get the train over the east slope.

The CB10 (TU and TH) and CB60 (SU) work the Cove Secondary to Duncansville via Hollidaysburg. They will exit the west end of Rose Yard by 1 Yard or 2 Yard and head for COVE JCT. If they do come out of 2 Yard, they use a hand thrown crossover between WORKS and COVE JCT to get onto 1 Yard. CB10 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday works other industries in Rose Yard and at JBS.

CB12 and other CB symboled crews work the classification yard and build the local and road trains. Locomotives 2378, 3054, 5257 and 5258 are commonly used in the yard. The last two mentioned are remote control capable, so you can occasionally hear the handset being tested on the radio.

1) Eastbound C42 local is seen from Johnson Hill Rd as it passes the quarry area at Pemberton which is east of Tyrone.
2) The yard crew waits for eastbound to leave town via 1 Yard to ANTIS before continuing to shift cars. (Photo by Ben Sutton)
3) Local CB10 returns from Hollidaysburg via COVE JCT to 1 Yard near the station. (Photo by Austin MacDougall)

 Helper Movements
The NS helper fleet is comprised of thirty SD40E locomotives (NS 6300-6329) which were rebuilt from Norfolk Southern's aging SD50 fleet at JBS in Altoona. NS prefers to use their helpers in pairs, but double up two pairs if extra power is needed. All helpers are crewed out of Rose Yard in Altoona. The only exception would be recrewing an outlawed helper crew which couldn't make it back to Altoona on time. 1 Relay track within Rose Yard is currently used to hold the unmanned helper sets waiting for crews. They typically crew the helper sets at either side of 1 Relay and then make their way out to WORKS to the west or HOMER/ANTIS to the east. ANTIS is a popular spot to add helpers to WB trains since it can be done when a train is getting recrewed at ROSE. NS helper crew symbols used are in the C8x or C9x series, where the x can be substituted by A, C, D, E, G, J, K, M, N, Q, R, T, V, W or Z. For example, C8J or C9W.

1) A westbound helper set has just left Rose Yard from 1 Relay at WORKS. Seen from below the 7th overpass.
2) Helpers head west on the Controlled Siding between WORKS and ALTOONA. (Photo by Austin MacDougall)

 Various Rose Crews and Personnel
The Rose Yardmaster is in charge of all the movements within the yard. This requires working closely with Altoona East to ensure trains move smoothly through Altoona and helpers can move where they are needed.

The yardmaster usually has a yard jitney crew (J1 or J2) to his disposal who ferries crews to where they are needed in the area. The jitney comes in handy with the long manifest trains that work Rose. Helping the conductor move around the yard shortens the length of time it takes a train to work the yard and promotes safety.

Not to be confused with a 500 series symbol coal train, the 502 and 505 crews head up the car department at Rose Yard. They are often asked to assist in helping trains with various problems, such as marker troubles. Otherwise, they make repairs to various bad ordered rolling stock such as replacing brake shoes or fixing a hanging boxcar door.

 JBS Yard Crews
Will all of the locomotive repair and rebuild activity in JBS, they constantly move locomotives around within the complex. Crews working out of yard goat NS 2220 will be heard doing work around the yard, with the conductor usually measuring distances by locomotive length, not car length like typical train crews do. JBS also has a Railking trackmobile which does shifting, especially in the turntable area. Besides moving locomotives between the various shops, JBS commonly puts the outbound 11A power together or makes up trios of SD60Is for the Ridge trains. Also, the Office Car Special (OCS) makes a home at JBS, so any mention of NS 4270 or 4271 leading is a tell-tale sign that they might be putting the OCS train together. Typically, the OCS is on duty around 6AM, so early morning monitoring is advisable if it is rumored to leave Altoona that day.

1) NS 2220 watches as the Rail King trackmobile moves an ex-UP SD90MAC-HII onto the turntable.
2) Wide angle view of the turntable in operation. (Photo by Jim Johnston)
3) The OCS is almost home as it approaches ANTIS and ultimately back into JBS at WORKS. (Photo by Dustin Faust)

 Additional Information
NS_PITL - NS Pittsburgh Line Yahoo Group
Altoona Works - Webpage created to document the work of the Juniata Shops, as well as railroading in Altoona, PA in general. Cresson Cam - Free live streaming webcam of the Pittsburgh Line just west of Altoona!

Equipment List

Motorola Spectra VHF
Motorola Maxtrac 800mhz
Motorola Spectra 900mhz
Dell Optiplex 745
Pacific Wireless MA9-7N
DPD Productions Outdoor Traintenna
  Scanner Feed Radio
MCP Radio, tuned to 897.9375 mhz
BCP Radio, tuned to 936.9375 mhz
PC, feed server
Antenna for ATCS
Antenna for scanner feed, tuned to AAR channels

1) Altoona Feed radios, top to bottom: Scanner, BCP and MCP. Powered diplexer on the left and preamp on the right.
2) Altoona Feed antennae: Scanner one is side mounted, the ATCS one is mounted to the top of the pole.

1) HOMER signals, cabin and ATCS antenna.
2) COVE JCT westbound signal, cabin and ATCS antenna. (Photo by Dustin Faust)
3) ALTOONA helper pocket signals, cabin and ATCS antenna. (Photo by Dustin Faust)

Special Thanks to our Generous Donors: Project Supporters and Troubleshooters:

Brad Bender
Michael Gardner
Steven Kern
Pamela Kovach
Alex Molinski
John Schodowski
  Mike Collins
Alex Lang
Marc Lingenfelter
Dan Rapak
Travis Taylor
Jeff Vinton


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