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Railroad History, Pittsburgh Plan, 1923



The development of transportation facilities in Pennsylvania, particularly through the Pittsburgh District, constitutes one of the most brilliant chapters in engineering history. The deeds accomplished in overcoming the apparently insurmountable difficulties interposed by nature, are a lasting tribute to the men of genius and vision who lived in that great constructive period preceding and following the Civil War.

The following brief sketch of the rapid development of transportation facilities within the Pittsburgh District illustrates the importance of the District to the railroads, especially when one considers the great cost of railroad construction in this territory.

Pennsylvania System

The first great step in linking East to West took place during the years 1826 to 1835, when definite connection by railroad and water was established between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. What was called "The Pennsylvania Route of 1836" was made up of four divisions as follows.

Division No. 1. The Columbia Railroad (a horse car road), extending from Fairmount water works in Philadelphia to Columbia, a distance of 82 miles. The horses were later replaced by locomotives.

Division No. 2. The Central Division of the Pennsylvania Canal, extending along the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers from Columbia to Hollidaysburg, 172 miles. The lockage in this division was 747 feet. There were 18 dams, 33 aqueducts and 101 locks. The canal was 40 feet wide at the top, 28 feet wide at the bottom, and 4 feet deep.

Division No. 3. Allegheny Portage Railroad, from Hollidaysburg to Johnstown, crossing the crest of the Allegheny Mountains and having a total length of 37 miles. The crossing of the mountains was accomplished by the use of four miles of "inclined planes," consisting of a series of 10 separately operated grades, varying in length from 1607 to 3117 feet, the steepest of which did not exceed 10 per cent. Each grade, or plane, was provided at its head with a stationary engine which operated a cable to which were attached the railway cars. On descending grades the cars were gravity propelled and, on level or nearly level grades, first horses, and later locomotives, were used. The ascent from Hollidaysburg to the Summit was 1,398.71 feet in 10.10 miles. The descent to Johnstown was 1751.58 feet in 26-1/2 miles. This stretch of tracks was subsequently relocated and all but one or two of the inclined planes avoided.

Division No. 4. The Western Division of the Pennsylvania Canal, extending from Johnstown to Pittsburgh, a distance of 104 miles. The lockage over this portion was 471 feet. To carry this section there were built 64 locks, 10 dams, 2 tunnels, 16 aqueducts, 64 culverts, and 152 bridges.

Within Pittsburgh, the canal followed closely the right-of-way now used by the Conemaugh Division (West Penn) of the Pennsylvania Railroad, crossing the Allegheny River at 11th Street by means of an aqueduct. It extended across Penn Avenue, supported by a stone arch bridge, and came to an end in a small basin at Second Avenue. Basins were provided east and west of 11th Street and north of Liberty Avenue, and a larger basin at about the location of the present Grant Street freight yards.

The distance from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia was travelled in 3 days and 19 hours.

The total cost of the canals and portage railroad, not including Division No. 1, was approximately $10,000,000.00, all of which was paid by the State of Pennsylvania. For a time the canals and portage railroad were a great success, but later, on account of the high cost of maintenance, and difficulties of operation, they gradually became a financial burden to the state. By the year 1855, the Pennsylvania Railroad was in successful operation from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, making further use of the canal route unprofitable. It was offered for sale in 1855, with no bidders. It was again offered for sale in 1857, and was purchased by the Pennsylvania Railroad, operated by that road for three months at a loss, and then abandoned.

The first railroad into Pittsburgh was the Ohio and Pennsylvania, now the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago Railroad, which was put into operation in 1852. It terminated on the North Side, at Federal Street. In 1856 the original Fort Wayne bridge was built and the road then entered Pittsburgh proper. In 1858 a crossing of Penn Avenue was effected after much municipal opposition, and the road was brought into the "Union Station," making through and uninterrupted traffic practicable from Philadelphia to Chicago.

In 1854 what is now the Pittsburgh Division was completed, its terminus in Pittsburgh being at the present site of the Duquesne Freight Station. This was an especially strategic position, as navigation interests also centered at that point, and the interchange of freight was a considerable item. The Duquesne Station was reached by a single track in Liberty Avenue, which was not removed until 1905 when, in connection with the elevation of the Federal Street Station and bridge, a double track elevated line was substituted along the Allegheny River adjacent to Duquesne Way. Two years previous to the completion of this road, through trains were operated from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, a part of the old Portage Railroad being used.

The Allegheny Valley Railroad was begun in 1853 and completed to Kittanning in 1856.

The Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad (Panhandle Division) entered Pittsburgh in 1865, and the Pittsburgh, Virginia & Charleston Railroad (Monongahela Division) was completed to Homestead in 1873. The Chartiers Valley Railroad, later a part of the Panhandle Division, was built in 1866.

The West Penn Railroad (Conemaugh Division) was completed from Freeport to Federal Street Station and opened for traffic in 1866. The Butler Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad was built in 1871.

The "first Union Station," which accommodated all branches of the Pennsylvania System, was constructed in 1863. It was destroyed by rioters in 1877 and rebuilt as a temporary structure, which endured until 1899, when construction of the present station was begun.

The Ohio Connecting Railway, consisting of 9 miles of track and a double track bridge over the Ohio River, was opened for traffic in 1890. The Brilliant Branch or cut-off from East Liberty to Aspinwall, with connection to the Allegheny Division, was put into operation in 1904. These last two pieces of construction are the most important works in this vicinity in recent times, and afforded a much needed flexibility in operation of the Pennsylvania Railroad through Pittsburgh.

Baltimore & Ohio Railroad

The present lines of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in the Pittsburgh District were originally built under the charter of the incorporations indicated below, all of which are now owned by this road.

The Pittsburgh & Connellsville Railroad was incorporated in 1837 and 1846, and the extension of the line into Cumberland was authorized in 1853. Construction was started between Pittsburgh and Connellsville in 1847, and the Sand Patch Tunnel at the crest of the Alleghenies was begun in 1854. The line between Connellsville and West Newton was opened for traffic in September, 1855, and from West Newton to Port Perry, where a connection was made with the Pennsylvania in 1857. The line from Port Perry to Pittsburgh was completed and opened for traffic in October, 1861. There was considerable opposition between 1864-68 to the negotiations for an extension of the line between Connellsville and Cumberland, and it was not until 1868 that construction was started. This line was completed and opened for traffic in June, 1871, thereby inaugurating a new trunk line between Pittsburgh and the eastern seaboard. The distance from Pittsburgh to Baltimore is 339 miles, with maximum grades over the Alleghenies 60 feet to the mile eastbound and 90 feet to the mile westbound. Between 1900 and 1904 the line was double tracked, and in 1914 the old single track tunnel at the crest of the Alleghenies was replaced with a modern double track structure.

The Glenwood Railroad, 2.12 miles long from Wheeling Junction to Marion Junction, was started in 1896 and completed and opened for traffic in 1897.

The Wheeling, Pittsburgh & Baltimore Railroad, 66.5 miles long through Wheeling and Wheeling Junction, was begun in 1851. The line between Wheeling and Washington, Pa., was completed and opened for traffic prior to 1857. The line from Washington, Pa., to Wheeling Junction was completed in sections as a narrow gauge railroad, and was standardized in 1883. Ferry service over the Monongahela river was maintained to West Homestead until 1884 when the first bridge at Wheeling Junction was completed. The latter was renewed as a modern structure in 1915.

The Pittsburgh Junction Railroad was constructed in 1883 and opened for traffic in 1884. The charter covers the line between Laughlin Junction and Millvale, with a branch line along the south side of the Allegheny River from 9th to 43rd Streets; a total length of 7.22 miles. Within the past few years this line has been reconstructed from the end of the Neville Street tunnel to Millvale, culminating in 1921 in the opening of a new double track structure over the Allegheny River.

The Pittsburgh & Western Railroad, total length 205 miles, includes the line between Allegheny (present North Side district) and New Castle, Pa., with a branch to Butler, Foxburg, Kane, and Mt. Jewett. Construction was started as a narrow gauge line between Etna and Zelienople in 1877, and completed and opened for traffic in 1879. The section between Millvale and Allegheny was completed in 1880, and this was extended to a point between Jacks Run and Woods Run in 1881. In the latter year the line between Zelienople and New Castle was completed as standard gauge, and in 1882-3 the line from Etna to Zelienople was standardized. Using trackage rights over the Pennsylvania Railroad from Millvale to Etna, the route from Allegheny to New Castle was inaugurated as a complete standard gauge line in 1883.

Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad

This road, now a part of the New York Central Lines, was placed in operation in 1879. It was single track and extended from the Jones & Laughlin steel mill (on the South Side, Pittsburgh) to Youngstown, Ohio, following the Ohio, Beaver and Mahoning valleys.

The Pittsburgh, McKeesport & Youghiogheny Railroad was completed from Pittsburgh to Connellsville in 1883 and, the following year, was leased to the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad for 999 years. It connects at Connellsville with the Western Maryland Railroad, thus giving a direct route from Pittsburgh to tidewater.

The McKeesport & Belle Vernon Railroad was opened in 1889. In 1890 it was consolidated with the Pittsburgh, McKeesport & Youghiogheny; in 1895 it was extended to Fayette City; and in 1903 it was connected with the Monongahela Railroad at Brownsville Junction.

The original passenger station at Pittsburgh was a frame structure which was replaced by the present terminal in 1901. The Terminal Annex building and the Central Warehouse were constructed in 1915 and 1916.

Union Railroad

This road was built in 1896, although important additions were made after that time. The connection from South Duquesne to Clairton was constructed in 1920.

Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad

This road was constructed in 1896-7. Both the Union and the Bessemer & Lake Erie are controlled by the United States Steel Corporation.

Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railway

This road is the successor under foreclosure of the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway Company. This in turn, was a consolidation of the Pittsburgh, Carnegie & Western Railroad, the Cross Creek Railroad, and the Pittsburgh, Toledo & Wabash Railroad.

The line from Pittsburgh Junction (where connection is made to the Wheeling & Lake Erie and to Pittsburgh) and the terminals in Pittsburgh were completed and the line placed in operation in 1904. The West Side Belt Railroad, owned by the Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railway, was constructed in 1905.

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Last modified: 14-Oct-2001

Source document: Citizens Committee on City Plan of Pittsburgh. "Railroads of the Pittsburgh district : a part of the Pittsburgh plan." p. 49-51. Pittsburgh, Pa : Citizens Committee on City Plan of Pittsburgh, [1923], c1924.