Altoona Works

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Altoona Works
(Pennsylvania Railroad Shops)
Black-and-white photo showing tracks and box cars waiting outside rows of rectangular shop buildings, one with a smoke stack.
Juniata Shops at Altoona Works in 1988, during the Conrail era.
Altoona Works is located in Pennsylvania
Altoona Works
Location of the Altoona Works railroad shops in Pennsylvania
Location 9th Ave. at 13th St., Altoona, Pennsylvania
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Built/founded 1850–1925
Governing body/owner Norfolk Southern Railway
PA marker dedicated October 5, 1996

Altoona Works is a large railroad industrial complex in Altoona, Pennsylvania. It was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad to supply the railroad with locomotives, railroad cars and related equipment. For many years it was the largest railroad shop complex in the world.


In 1849, PRR officials developed plans to construct a repair facility at a town newly established for this purpose, Altoona. Construction was started in 1850, and soon a long building was completed that housed a machine shop, woodworking shop, blacksmith shop, locomotive repair shop and foundry. This facility was later torn down to make room for continuing expansion.[citation needed]

The initial portions of the complex were constructed in 1850, and many additional buildings and facilities were added to the complex up until 1925. For many years it was the largest railroad shop complex in the world.[citation needed]

Initial construction of the works was in the 12th Street area during the 1850s. These facilities were replaced later by the Altoona Machine Shops. The first locomotive was built there in 1866. A total of 6,783 steam, diesel and electric locomotives were manufactured in Altoona between 1866 and 1946.[1]

In time additional PRR repair facilities were located in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Mifflin, and the Altoona Works expanded in adjacent Juniata, Pennsylvania. Inventor Alexander Graham Bell sent two assistants to the Altoona shops in 1875 to study the feasibility of installing telephone lines.[citation needed]

In 1875 the Altoona Works started a testing department for PRR equipment. In following years, the Pennsylvania Railroad led the nation in the development of research and testing procedures of practical value for the railroad industry.[2] Use of the testing facilities was discontinued in 1968 and many of the structures were demolished.[citation needed]

The turntable at the Altoona Works in 2014

In May 1877, telephone lines were installed for various departments to communicate with one another.[3]

Fort Wayne, Indiana, also held a key position for the railroad. By the turn of the 20th century, its repair shops and locomotive manufacturing facilities became known as the "Altoona of the West."[citation needed]

In the 1920s the site consisted of 125 buildings on 218 acres (0.88 km2), and the shops employed over 16,000 workers.[4][5] Portions of the complex are still in use by Norfolk Southern Railway (NS).[citation needed]

By 1945 the Altoona Works had grown to be one of the largest repair and construction facilities for locomotives and cars in the world.[6] During World War II, PRR facilities (including the Altoona Shops) were on target lists of German saboteurs. They were caught before they could complete their missions.[7]

The locomotive shop at Juniata is currently operated by NS with approximately 1,100 employees.[citation needed]

Major facilities (1920s)

  • Altoona Machine Shops (renamed 12th St Car Shop in 1928)
    • Built steam locomotives during 1866-1904
    • Later in the 20th century it handled locomotive repair and manufacture of engine parts
  • Altoona Car Shops
  • Juniata Shops
    • Built 1888-1890; expanded 1924-25
    • Built steam and electric locomotives during 1891-1946
    • Included a paint shop, boiler shop, blacksmith shop, boiler house, erecting shop, two-story machine shop, electric and hydraulic house, two-story office and storeroom, paint storehouse and gas house, and hydraulic transfer table and pit.
    • Repair work only in the mid-20th century
    • Builds and remanufactures locomotives today
  • South Altoona Foundries
Map of Altoona Works
Map of Altoona Works circa 1931.

See also


  1. Norfolk Southern Railway: Timeline. Accessed September 5, 2008.
  2. "History of the Altoona Railroad Shops National Park Service Special History Study Chapter 1: History of the Altoona railroad shops (continued)13. Changes after World War II". National Park Service Special History Study. United States National Park Service. 2004-10-22. Retrieved 2008-03-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "History of the Altoona Railroad Shops Chapter 1 Heading 7 The Altoona Railroad Shops After The Civil War Paragraph 10". National Park Service Special History Study. United States National Park Service. 2004-10-22. Archived from the original on 17 August 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Alexander, Edwin P. (1967), The Pennsylvania Railroad: A Pictorial History, New York: Bonanza Books, p. 133<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Paige, John C. (1989), “A Special History Study: Pennsylvania Railroad Shops and Works, Altoona, Pennsylvania,” Washington, DC: United States National Park Service.
  6. "Chapter 4: Significance and Recommendations for Future Research 1. Significance of Altoona Works". National Park Service Special History Study. United States National Park Service. 2004-10-22. Archived from the original on 16 August 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Railfan's Guide to the Altoona Area". Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links