Train Sim World
TSW: Sand Patch Revisited
Written by: Gary Dolzall.
Famed Sand Patch Grade for TSW is all the more spectacular thanks to the recent "CSX Heavy Haul" Update!
Train Sim World’s first route – America’s famed Sand Patch Grade – has always been a personal favorite and the recently released “CSX Heavy Haul Update” gave me reason to revisit the TSW route – and I found the experience even more immersive, authentic, and enjoyable!
The CSX Heavy Haul Update introduced improved and more realistic physics for the CSX GP38-2, SD40-2, and CSX AC4400CW, and also delivered enhanced visual and lighting treatments, bringing the Sand Patch route up the visual standards of the most recent TSW routes. Taken together, the improvements in physics and visuals brings new levels of realism and drama to Sand Patch.
The Baltimore & Ohio built Sand Patch Grade, opening the east-west route over the rugged Allegheny Mountains in the early 1870s. To lift the B&O’s endless armada of heavy trains over the rugged spine of the Alleghenies, Sand Patch Grade climbed from Cumberland, Maryland at an elevation of 627 feet above sea level to the line’s summit at Sand Patch, Pennsylvania and a rail elevation of 2,258 feet. From the Sand Patch summit, then the line began a descent toward Rockwood, Pennsylvania (elevation 1,837 feet).
Today, Sand Patch Grade serves as a busy steel path for CSX and the railroad’s tonnage moving between the U. S. Midwest and East Coast. Expansive Cumberland (Maryland) Terminal stands at the eastern end of the mountain crossing and is home to a complex of yard and shop facilities. At the western edge of Cumberland, at the place known as Viaduct Junction, Sand Patch Grade diverges from another ex-B&O line (CSX’s Mountain Subdivision) and the Sand Patch route (now formally known as CSX’s Keystone Subdivision) initially enjoys a low-gradient westward passage through the scenic water gap known as the Cumberland Narrows. But at a tiny hamlet named Hyndman, Pennsylvania (12 route miles from Viaduct Junction), that all changes. At Hyndman, Sand Patch’s ascent of the Alleghenies begins in earnest and the westbound gradients typically approximate 1.5 percent on much of the unrelenting climb to the summit. Following the path of rushing Willis Creek, the Sand Patch right-of-way is rugged, steep, and twisting. This section of the eastern slope of Sand Patch climbs through remote but iconic locations such as Brackens, Falls Cut Tunnel, Fairhope, and Glencoe and is highlighted by a horseshoe curve at Mance, Pennsylvania. Sand Patch’s east slope climb culminates with a tough final stretch of 1.94 percent gradient at Manila, then, just below the summit, a plunge through the 4,475-foot-long tunnel with the name “Sand Patch” cast into its weathered eastern portal. Sand Patch’s western slope features a gentler gradient (with a 1.2 percent eastbound ruling grade) but nonetheless requires horsepower and skill to lift eastbound trains, many of which are heavily loaded coal trains, up and over the Alleghenies.
After long-serving as B&O’s primary east-west route, Sand Patch Grade welcomed the trains of the Chessie System (a combination of Baltimore & Ohio; Chesapeake & Ohio; and Western Maryland) in 1973, then again morphed into the property of today’s railroad giant CSX in the 1980s. Today, CSX tonnage traffic on Sand Patch is heavy, frequent, and diverse, including coal, coke, minerals, grain, oil, chemicals, steel, autos and auto parts, and other manufactured products. Intermodal traffic is also a key component of Sand Patch’s traffic base and the line’s tunnels – as part of CSX’s “National Gateway” project – were notched in recent years to allow for the passage of double-stacked containers.
In the screenshots that follow, let’s take a renewed look at TSW’s remarkable Sand Patch Grade – and the railroading challenges and drama it delivers! - Gary Dolzall
Today called the Keystone Subdivision of CSX, the historic railroad crossing of the Alleghenies set down by the Baltimore & Ohio is best known as “Sand Patch Grade,” a name that comes from its summit and tunnel at Sand Patch, Pennsylvania. Indeed, the name “Sand Patch” is cast into the aged face of the 4,475-foot-long summit tunnel, where CSX GE AC4400CW 407 bursts into brilliant sunlight and deep shade on a spring morning (above), while on another day CSX EMD SD40-2 8044 is greeted by a stormy downpour (below). Screenshots by Gary Dolzall.
At the eastern base of the Allegheny Mountains and serving as the east terminus of the TSW Sand Patch Grade route is Cumberland, Maryland, home to sprawling Cumberland Terminal. With the church spires of classic Cumberland standing in the background, CSX SD40-2 8048 and a sister are starting the ascent of the Alleghenies with empty coal gons in tow (above). Dawn is just breaking and the day’s work just beginning at Cumberland Terminal as CSX EMD GP38-2 2744 runs light past the yard’s brick hump tower (below).
A powerful duo of CSX GE AC4400CWs are dragging coal tonnage eastbound and rolling under one of two abandoned Western Maryland Railroad trestles that still exist along the west slope of Sand Patch Grade (above). At Rockwood, Pennsylvania, which serves as the west end of the TSW Sand Patch Grade route, the weather is miserable but the engineer of eastbound CSX GP38-2 2810 has a welcoming “high green” signal (below).
Sand Patch Grade’s west slope is home to two coal loading facilities, one on the S&C Sub near Rockwood and the other on the scenic Salisbury Branch near Meyersdale. Snow has come early to the autumn Alleghenies as CSX SD40-2 8451 and a sister draw along the Salisbury Branch (above), then begin loading coal at the Shaw tipple (below).
The east slope of Sand Patch Grade is at once beautiful and torturous. The railroad clings to and often crosses rushing Willis Creek as it makes the westbound climb of the Alleghenies on a gradient typically 1.5 percent or greater. CSX SD40-2 8048 is leading coal empties upgrade near Fairhope (above) and Glencoe (below).
In an engineer’s eye view, CSX AC4400CW 407 meets a westbound stack train on the steepest part of the Sand Patch Grade at Manila (above), then a short time later the big GE curls through the horseshoe and past the famed rural post office at Mance, Pennsylvania (below).
With heavy eastbound coal tonnage, CSX 407 tops the 2,258-foot summit of the Alleghenies at Sand Patch, Pennsylvania. With the recent release of the “CSX Heavy Haul Update,” the TSW Sand Patch Grade experience is even more immersive, authentic, and enjoyable than ever. Don’t miss it!
Train Sim World
TSW: Sand Patch Revisited