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Railroad History, Pittsburgh Plan, 1923

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General Description

The Pennsylvania Railroad System serves, directly through its own lines, all the territory bounded by the Atlantic Coast on the east from New York City to Norfolk, on the north by Lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron and Michigan from Sodus Point to Chicago, on the west by the Mississippi River at St. Louis and on the south by the Ohio River at Louisville, Cincinnati and Wheeling and the Potomac River at Washington. While a map of the lines of this great system presents an apparently hopeless entanglement, the line of 80 degrees longitude (which substantially passes through the cities of Erie and Pittsburgh) would intersect but one of the divisions of this great system, that connecting New Castle and Oil City, and divides this great system into its "Lines East" and "Lines West." Practically all traffic passing from one to the other of these two parts passes through the City of Pittsburgh. The latter is the center from which direct lines of the system radiate in as many as a dozen different directions. Such of these lines with their branches as lie in the area formed by a perimeter line drawn through Renovo, Altoona, Fairchance, Waynesburg and Erie in Pennsylvania; Wheeling, West Virginia; Marietta, Zanesville, Columbus, Lorain, Cleveland and Ashtabula in Ohio; and Buffalo and Rochester in New York, form the Central Region of the whole system with regional headquarters at Pittsburgh.

The lines entering Pittsburgh fall under the following Divisions:

From Pittsburgh to Altoona, and branches with connections to other divisions, to eastern points and the Atlantic Coast.

West Penn Branch: From Pittsburgh (North Side) along the right bank of the Allegheny River, to Butler, Indiana, and Conpitt Junction, Pennsylvania, and also to Blairsville Intersection, Pennsylvania, on the Pittsburgh Division.

Allegheny Valley Branch: From Pittsburgh, along the left bank of the Allegheny River, to the Kiskiminetas Junction, where it connects with the Allegheny & Buffalo Division to Buffalo and Rochester.

From the junction with the Pittsburgh Division at South Duquesne, along the left bank of the Monongahela River, extending generally southward, to Fairmont, W.Va., and Uniontown, Pennsylvania.

EASTERN DIVISION: (Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago Railway)
From Pittsburgh, extending generally northwestward, along the right bank of the Ohio River, with connecting division terminating in lines to Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and other lake ports on the Great Lakes.

PANHANDLE DIVISION: (Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad)
From Pittsburgh, extending generally westward to Columbus, connecting with other divisions to Sandusky, Mackinaw City, Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis and Peoria.

Various Divisions Linked Together

For passenger and express business these main divisions all use the Pennsylvania Station (known as the Union Station) at Liberty Avenue and Eleventh Street, Pittsburgh. These main divisions are further connected for handling freight traffic by the following lines:

The Brilliant Cutoff, including a bridge across the Allegheny River, connects the Pittsburgh Division, at a point a short distance east of the East Liberty business district of the city, with both branches of the Conemaugh Division, one branch being reached at the south end of the bridge and the other on the north shore.

Connection between the Pittsburgh Division and the Monongahela Division is made at Port Perry by a bridge over the Monongahela River at that point.

The Ohio Connecting Railroad, crossing the Ohio River at Brunot's Island within the city, links together the Eastern Division on the north side of the river with the Panhandle and Pittsburgh Divisions on the south side, the two latter having a connection at the south end of the Monongahela River bridge.

The Allegheny Valley branch of the Conemaugh Division is connected with the Eastern Division near the Penn Avenue Freight House at 11th Street, and with the Pittsburgh Division at 28th Street.

The West Penn Branch of the Conemaugh Division connects with the Eastern Division at Sandusky Street, Pittsburgh, and with the Pittsburgh Division at Conpitt Junction and Blairsville Intersection.

Traffic: Trackage: Congestion

The Pennsylvania System normally handles about 11 per cent of the freight transported by all the railroads of the United States. Its most concentrated traffic is within the Pittsburgh District and, since "through traffic" predominates in the bulk of all traffic moved, the district is in a very real sense a gateway for this railroad. The road is practically four-tracked throughout the most congested part of the district.

Particular attention is called to the heavy traffic on the Pittsburgh and Eastern Divisions. During the month of October, 1921, within the limits of the district, approximately 70,000 carloads (in and out) moved over the Pittsburgh Division and about 95,000 carloads moved over the Eastern Division. In addition to this freight traffic, there takes place a daily movement of passenger trains over the Pittsburgh and Eastern Divisions of respectively 148 and 116 trains.

The industrial growth within the Pittsburgh District, which has been very rapid, and which has been very largely the result of the development of the railroad itself, has created a very heavy local railroad business and has entailed a multiplicity of "switching movements" upon the road. This service and an extraordinarily large through and local passenger movement have congested the railroad's lines and have interposed serious obstacles to the operation of trains.

Temporary and Partial Relief

Temporary and partial relief measures have been developed by the railroad, as follows:

(a) By increasing train loadings. This has been accomplished generally by the use of heavier types of locomotives, and to some extent by the use of cars whose tonnage carrying capacity is of a greater proportion to net weight than formerly.

(b) By the elimination of grade crossings. Much attention has been given the subject, and vast sums of money have been expended in eliminating grade crossings. On the main lines east, there is not a main road crossing in Allegheny County. The nearest main crossing to the Union Station on the Eastern Division is at Dixmont, 9 miles out; on the Panhandle Division at Crafton, 6 miles out; on the Allegheny Valley Division at Verona, 10 miles out; on the West Penn Division at Sharpsburg, 6 miles out (the one at Millvale is about to be eliminated); and on the Pittsburgh Division (Monongahela River Line) at Homestead, 7 miles out. In fact the only serious interference between the lines of this system and highways occurs at 28th Street and Liberty Avenue, Penn Avenue and Smallman Street, and also at Railroad and Pike Streets where the tracks are now used for serving industrial plants only, these tracks having been formerly the main tracks of the Allegheny Valley Railroad, now a part of the Pennsylvania System.

(c) By the construction of additional main line tracks and also connecting lines between the various Divisions as described on page 20. Prior to the construction of any of these connections, all traffic, both passenger and freight, between the "Lines East" and "Lines West" passed through the Union Station Yard, and either by the Panhandle bridge over the Monongahela River or the Fort Wayne bridge over the Allegheny River.

The last of the connecting lines built was the Brilliant Cutoff. Since it came into use, the main tracks from East Liberty Station westward through Union Station Yard and across both the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers have been free of freight movement except a small amount destined to or from the local freight stations within that territory, and the majority of passenger trains of the Conemaugh Division have been diverted from the tracks along the Allegheny River below Brilliant and Sharpsburg to the main line at East Liberty. Through freight from east of Blairsville, destined for the Northwest, leaves the Pittsburgh Division at Conpitt Junction and passes by way of the north bank of the Allegheny River. Freight from the eastern lines east of Braddock, destined for the southwest, passes along the south bank of the Monongahela River. The traffic between Blairsville and East Liberty destined for the northwest may go by the Brilliant Cutoff bridge, or follow the traffic to the south of the Monongahela and then on the Ohio Connecting bridge. The traffic from the Monongahela valley reaches the northwest system over the Ohio Connecting bridge or passes to the southwest system on the south end of the Panhandle bridge.

However, these main tracks which have been used as by-passes for freight movement around the Union Station Yard long ago reached the limit of their capacities because of (a) the enormous increase in through freight traffic and (b) the interference with main track movements by the local service that must be performed in and out of the industrial plants located along these main tracks. The diagram showing the routing and density of freight movements (page 21) indicates how intensively the tracks along the right or north bank of the Allegheny River are used and the importance of the functions of the various river bridges in or near Pittsburgh.

The diversion of the freight traffic to these by-pass lines permits the natural growth of the passenger business in and out of the Union or, as it is known, Pennsylvania Station. But with the passage of time the present facilities for this class of business have become wholly inadequate. The necessity for additional tracks in the station is realized by the officers of the System, and studies have been made looking well into the future. To carry out the betterment plans for this traffic, and for other reasons, the Grant Street Freight Yard will be moved, probably to the property at Forbes and Boyd Streets, which location is referred to at other points in this report.


It is quite obvious that with the present by-pass tracks being congested, they must themselves be by-passed. The greatest necessity for such by-passing lies with the through traffic to and from the northwestern lines.

Such new lines should be built well beyond the district. A direct line with grades and curvatures within practical limits, to serve as a northern detour, can be had between the mouth of the Kiskiminetas River and Homewood Junction on the Beaver River. Since this idea presented itself to the Committee it has been learned that plans for such a line are being prepared. In the operation of such a line through traffic that now passes through the city will not come within twenty miles of it.

The almost inexhaustible field of bituminous coal immediately south of Pittsburgh and to the west of the Monongahela River furnishes large tonnages for the Shenango and Mahoning valleys and the Great Lakes. This traffic now passes through Pittsburgh. A considerable portion of this traffic could be diverted by way of Raccoon Creek, which stream empties into the Ohio a short distance below the mouth of the Beaver River, up which valley the traffic now moves.

A detour to the south of Pittsburgh for the use of traffic to and from the southwest system is not at this time necessary. In fact, the northern detour above referred to could be used for freight movement between the east and the southwest by the use of existing lines in eastern Ohio which intersect the southwest and northwest systems, the latter at points west of the proposed detour line.

The entrance to the Pennsylvania Station for passenger trains crossing the Monongahela River bridge is congested because the double track in the Panhandle tunnel must be operated as a gauntlet. Recognizing that the track facilities of the Union Station must be greatly increased in the near future, the Company has prepared plans for series of tracks at two levels, the upper for through trains. The present location and elevation of the tunnel would mean heavy grades in the immediate approach to the upper level of the trainshed. As an improvement which should be made simultaneously with the enlargement of track facilities, it is suggested that the tunnel should be relocated from the east (north) portal and through the greater part of its length. A proposal heretofore made (see Major Street Report) that the City project Ross Street northwardly to Bigelow Boulevard and widen the same could be carried out jointly by the City and the railroad, the latter being given sub-surface rights for a new tunnel under Bigelow Boulevard and Ross Street.


The yards of the Pennsylvania Railroad System, within the Pittsburgh District, are listed below, those on each division or branch being named in the order of their proximity to the central business district of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Division
-- Wilkinsburg Yard
-- East Pittsburgh Yard
-- Pitcairn Yard
-- South 30th Street Yard (Pittsburgh)
-- South Duquesne Yard
-- Thomson & Howard Yard

Conemaugh Division, West Penn Branch
-- Herrs Island Yard (Pittsburgh)
-- Etna Yard
-- Sharpsburg Yard

Conemaugh Division, B. & A. V. Branch
-- 16th Street Yard and Produce Yard (Pittsburgh)
-- 18th Street Yard (Pittsburgh)
-- 30th Street Yard (Pittsburgh)
-- Coleman Yard (Pittsburgh)

Monongahela Division
-- Shire Oaks Yard

Eastern Division (Fort Wayne)
-- Island Avenue Yard (Pittsburgh)
-- Manchester Yard (Pittsburgh)
-- Jacks Run Yard (Pittsburgh)
-- Conway Yard

Panhandle Division
-- Corliss Yard (Pittsburgh)
-- Carnegie Yard
-- Scully Yard

The principal yards used for the "breaking up" of freight trains, and for the classification of cars for their various local destinations, are Pitcairn, Etna, Sharpsburg, Coleman, South 30th Street, Shire Oaks, Island Avenue, Conway and Scully. Of the foregoing, Scully, Sharpsburg, and Conway, are practically the only yards which can be extensively increased in size and capacity. It is important that this be done as their capacity can be approximately doubled at comparatively small expense. Additional room is desirable at Pitcairn, and some extension could be secured by the shifting of Turtle Creek. However, this yard would be greatly relieved by construction of the northern detour, previously described.

Yards which are located close to heavily concentrated industrial districts, and from which cars are dispatched locally in trains, are Wilkinsburg, East Pittsburgh, 18th Street, 30th Street, South Duquesne, Thompson & Howard, and Island Avenue. Both through trains and cars for local delivery are dispatched out of Wilkinsburg Yard.

Island Avenue Yard, in addition to being used for classification (see list of such yards above) is also largely used as a gathering point for cars to and from local industries. Under normal conditions this yard is congested. It should be relieved of classification so far as possible, and should be devoted practically entirely to handling local business.

Jacks Run, Corliss, and Carnegie Yards, the last two being adjuncts in a way to Scully Yard, are a group having a more or less special purpose. When business is heavy they are used as classification yards, but at other times they are used for storage, hay and grain cars, bad orders (i.e. cars requiring repairs), etc. Corliss is not well adapted for use as a classification yard because of the heavy grades on the south end approach thereto and the close proximity of the Corliss Tunnel. Passenger trains follow this route.

Herrs Island Yard and other Conemaugh Division tracks in the vicinity are used for sorting cars for local delivery. The yard is located upon an island in the Allegheny River. The Pennsylvania Railroad uses the island as a stock feeding and watering station; the stock pens, packing houses and other industries on the island being served by tracks from the double track connection at the lower end of the island, and from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's connection at the upper end. (The high line of the B. & O. to the Pittsburgh Junction bridge passes over the island but has no connection with it.) All available space is taken up by the stock pens, packing houses, soap factory, reduction works, etc., and there is great congestion. It is suggested that the back channel of the river (on the north side of the island) should be filled in and the reclaimed space developed with additional trackage for the joint use of the Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio Railroads. Inasmuch as the stock yard industry is an important and growing one which will require space for expansion, since the related industries may also be assumed to require increased space in the future, and since all such expansion will involve large expenditures, it is suggested that, before any considerable investment for such expansion is determined upon, consideration should be given to the removal of these industries to a new location outside the city.

Freight Stations: Team Tracks: Warehouses

See Section X, pages 56 to 67 inclusive.

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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. 19-34. Pittsburgh, Pa : Citizens Committee on City Plan of Pittsburgh, [1923], c1924.