General History of the Railroad Shops in Altoona, PA

Altoona Machine Shops - Juniata Shops


Special History Study PRR Shops and Works Altoona, PA

Upon incorporation of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1846, officials immediately began drawing up plans for their railroad's maintenance facilities as their railroad progressed westward. Many small shops were built, but Altoona was selected as the site of the largest of these shops with its unique location at the foot of the Alleghenies playing a roll in that decision. Construction on the first buildings of the Altoona Shops began in early 1850, but train service was not available to Altoona until September 1850. The new Altoona Shops began locomotive maintenance in December 1852, but the land surrounding the shop was not incorporated as the borough of Altoona until February 1854.

Finally in December 1866, the AMS built their first locomotive from scratch, an odd class D 4-4-0 weighing about 35 tons. Over the years the shops were expanded, but eventually the AMS became too crowded and could not perform all required locomotive maintenance. Plans were developed in 1886 for a new shop, located in the Juniata section of Altoona, completed in 1890. In July 1891, the Juniata Shops (JS) completed their first locomotive. The AMS and JS existed together as locomotive builders for 13 years until it was decided the AMS would no longer build new locomotives. Of the many other PRR shops, the Columbus Shops were the last non-Altoona shop to build a locomotive (1897). In 1904 the last new locomotive was completed at the AMS but production continued at the JS. The years 1924-25 saw the construction of a large erecting and machine shop addition with bays A through D (numbered north to south) on the north end of the JS. In June 1928 the Juniata Shops name was dropped in favor of Altoona Works (AW). The Altoona Works name encompassed the Altoona Machine Shops, the Juniata Shops, the Altoona Car Shops, the South Altoona Foundries, and the East Altoona Enginehouse. Finally in August 1938, all locomotive work was transferred to the JS.

Locomotive production at the AW slowed considerably in the later years. In 1946 the last new steam locomotive was built in Altoona. It was a Baldwin-designed T1 4-4-4-4 passenger locomotive. Between 1946 and 1957, the last year of PRR steam, the AW was modified to perform maintenance on diesel locomotives which included a new diesel shop (present-day test shed) built in 1954. A large-scale conversion to diesel maintenance did not occur until 1964 when the PRR partially upgraded the E&M shop.

After the merger with the New York Central in February 1968 to form the Penn Central, the Altoona Works name was dropped in favor of simply Juniata Locomotive Shop (JBS). Today, nothing but this web site operates under the name Altoona Works. Under PC, JBS struggled through many years of uncertainty. Thankfully, under Conrail management JBS was preserved as their main locomotive maintenance facility. In 1982 a new paint shop was constructed after the miscellanious shop burned in 1981. Then in 1983 a major modernization program was completed to bring JBS up to state-of-the-art technological standards for locomotive maintenance. Included in this was the addition of "E bay" which enclosed a large open area between the E&M shop and the original Juniata Shop buildings.

In the 1955, needing a large and modern freight car repair shop, the PRR completed the Samuel Rae Car Shops in Hollidaysburg, just a few miles south of Altoona. While this shop was never considered a part of the Altoona Works, the SRCS would go on to produce tens of thousands of brand new freight cars for the PRR, Penn Central, and Conrail. When Conrail took control of the PC, the Sam Rae name was dropped in favor of Hollidaysburg Car Shop. Even under Conrail, the HCS produced over 10,000 new freight cars and many more overhauls. Sadly, in 2002 Norfolk Southern closed the doors of the HCS forever. Today the building remains mostly empty and is for sale/lease. Once used for storage, much of the extensive yard surrounding the shop has been removed and scrapped.

Today JBS is the most modern locomotive heavy repair facility in the railroad industry. Their capabilities include every locomotive component, large or small. JBS began a program in the 1990's to gain contracts from outside customers to overhaul, complete & test, and even build new locomotives from kits. JBS is the only shop to receive contracts from both EMD and GE to build new locomotives, and at the same time. After the 1999 takeover of Conrail, Norfolk Southern has favored JBS as their main locomotive shop employing 1,000 or more highly skilled men and women. Norfolk Southern employs more people in Altoona, PA than any other location on the system.

JBS is operated by Norfolk Southern's mechanical department and continues to perform regular maintenance, overhauls, and remanufactures on all types of locomotives. Thoroughbred Mechanical Services, a subsidiary of Norfolk Southern Corporation, handles all insourcing projects for outside customers.

NS Thoroughbred Mechanical Services

Sources: NRHS Horseshoe Curve Chapter, R. H. Lehmuth

Copyright 2006-2010 L.R. Myers. All rights reserved.

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