TSW2: Horseshoe Curve


Going round the bend with Norfolk-Southern's busy freight route...


Horseshoe Curve: Altoona - Johnstown & South Fork is our latest outing in TSW2 (Train Sim World 2). Horseshoe Curve is a three-track bend on Norfolk Southern Railway's Pittsburgh Line in Blair County, Pennsylvania. The route runs 40 miles in length through the Allegheny Mountains between Altoona and Johnstown. Also included is 15 miles of the historic and coal-rich South Fork branch line that extends south from the main line at South Fork to Windber mine.

Norfolk Southern operate the GE ES44AC and EMD GP38-2 on the route, and these are both included in this DLC, both in Norfolk Southern's predominantly black livery with white trim. 

Obviously this route isn't about speed, but at times you'll be able to crack along at 45-50mph even though the trains might be a mile long and weigh 11,000 tons. When you're at full power doing only 18mph for long uphill stretches, life as a freight train driver isn't exactly thrilling. Nor is the crawl out of Windber mine, during which there's a section between Sidman and South Fork that is limited to 10mph‐it's mind-numbing even for a fan of freight trains. However, once you crest a slope and begin a downhill run you really start to feel the massive weight of the trains. This is where the route gets interesting, and skill and experience really come in.

EMD GP38-2 and a GE ES44AC locomotives side by side.

In order to keep control of the train's speed on the steep downhill grades you'll have to mix and frequently adjust the locomotives' dynamic and automatic braking systems (that control the brakes on all the locomotives and railcars/wagons in the train.)

There are 15 Journeys divided into 3 chapters, 4 training modules and 5 scenarios. In timetable mode there are 9 services for the GP38-2 and 68 services for the ES44AC. I have no idea why there's such an imbalance, and as the GP38-2 is such a honey to drive and simple to set up, I thought this was a real shame. In comparison the ES44AC will have you fiddling around with a computer screen every time you set off on a trip–which is rather fiddly with an Xbox controller.

The railyard at Altoona.

I came across a couple of graphical issues; a few are scenery-related (massive boulders plonked onto the scenery with zero care and their positioning was clearly never checked) and one in the ES44C cab (flickering on the light switch panels, a graphical glitch that we thought had been fixed right across TSW2). We also noticed a few trackside speed limit signs which sometimes differ from the HUD, or show nothing at all because they're the wrong way round! We can't say they're missing from all trains (because we haven't completed all the services) but we never saw a single EOTD (End Of Train Device) on the back of a train driven by me, although mysteriously they do appear on AI trains. The ever-present TSW2 pop-up is often evident, but for the most part HSC is a great-looking route, and rumbling these long trains through the Pennsylvania countryside, leaving Horseshoe Curve and looking across to the other side of the valley and seeing the tail of your train entering the curve will never, ever get old. 

A GP38-2 locomotive prepares to set off from Altoona.

We also had a problem of a technical nature when we started working our way through the Journeys list. On one (Journeys Chapter 2 10k Chicago–Allentown Manifest) we sat with a red light 57yd in front that never changed, with no signaller to contact for clearance. Multiple restarts didn't cure the problem, so we reported it to DTG. I'm delighted to report that the "jackhammering" sound that occurred on most Xbox routes, caused by the engine sound sample reverberating over itself has been fixed, and as this was particularly evident when we first played Horseshoe Curve we're delighted that DTG fixed this Xbox-centric problem.

Multiple pictures of Norfolk-Southern locomo ives

Just like Sand Patch Grade, Cane Creek and Sherman Hill there are no passenger trains on this route. There are currently only two passenger services per day on the route in real life, but it would have been nice to see, say Amtrak P42DC's (I believe they'd be correct) included as an all-new addition to the TSW2 stable. Although Horseshoe Curve is much busier freight traffic-wise than any of the aforementioned routes zooming along this route would have been a nice contrast. Of course you can always try something like that on the scenario editor!

There are quite a few level crossings but we did notice at least one at which neither the lights or barriers worked. This was mystifying as the very next crossing, and all the subsequent ones, did work. Having seen the state of some US rail crossings in real life maybe this is just ultra realism? 

The railfanning park at the Horseshoe Curve.

Regardless of its problems, I had a good time with Horseshoe Curve, it's another one of those iconic parts of American railroading that TSW2 needed, and it's great to see that Skyhook modelled the railfanning park on the inside of the Horseshoe so well, complete with railfans, picnic tables and historic 1955 No. 7048 GP9 diesel on display. I'd like to have seen more services for the GP38-2 and maybe a bit more variation other than the single shunting/switching service and a bit more imagination to the basic coal loading jobs... But you've got to love how busy this route is compared to say, Sand Patch Grade, Sherman Hill and Cane Creek. Horseshoe Curve is another decent addition to the TSW2 collection.

Thanks to Skyhook Games, Dovetail Games and Lick PR for the review code