Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway -
West Side Belt Railroad
Jay Gould, with his son George Jay Gould, amassed numerous railroad companies in an effort to create a single corporation with a transcontinental system. The Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway in Pittsburgh was the Gould railroad intended to provide access to the great industrial hub of Pittsburgh and act as the link between the western lines in Ohio and seaports in Baltimore, MD.
The West Side Belt Railroad was a piece of the patchwork system. The WSB picked up in Pittsburgh's West End, where the WPT RR stopped -- and by cutting through the South Hills, connected to rail lines on the Monongahela River, and then to the Western Maryland Railroad.
George Gould's dream of a transcontinental railroad empire brought him into competition with Alexander Cassatt, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. By the time Gould arrived in Pittsburgh the Pennsy, the Baltimore & Ohio, the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie and others had long since secured all of the obvious routes for railroads into the region. And these railroads made extensive efforts through political pressure and real estate dealings to impede the approach of Gould's connection with the Wabash lines from the Midwest. But Gould was no stranger to such tactics: as the court battles and council meetings raged on, he confidently began tunneling through Mt. Washington and building the piers for the bridge over the Monongahela which would bring the line into downtown Pittsburgh. He reportedly had enough "influence" with enough of the local officials to gain the enabling ordinances allowing the Wabash to complete the railroad in 1904.
The technical difficulty of building a railroad into Pittsburgh where all of the "good" routes had been taken, the massive costs of the construction, and Gould's speculative business practices led to the bankruptcy of the Wabash line four years after it opened.
The Gould railroads which were built around Pittsburgh continued on under new ownership. The Wabash properties in Pittsburgh, including the West Side Belt Railroad, were acquired by the Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railroad in 1917. Beginning in 1964 these lines were leased by the Norfolk & Western, which subsequently sold them off in the formation of the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway in 1990. The structures along these rail lines still have markings from their previous owners -- and indeed several streets along the route in Allegheny County are named "Wabash."
Abraham Kirkpatrick Lewis (1815-1860) began mining on the face of Mount Wahington about 1843. His business success was nearly immortalized in the proposed naming of Union Township, the predecessor of the West End before it became part of Pittsburgh; the courts thought "Kirkpatrick" was too long a name for such a small place. Kirk Lewis built one of the earliest inclined planes, just west of the Duquesne Incline, for carrying to coal to the Monongahela River. He ran perhaps the first tunnel clear through Mount Washington, a distance of one mile, through to the Saw Mill Run Valley. To serve his mines along this valley, he constructed a two-mile-long horse-drawn tramway, called the Horse Railroad, which delivered coal to a tipple at the mouth of Saw Mill Run on the Ohio River and extended to the Little Saw Mill Run Valley. His early railroad was replaced by a new steam powered railroad built with the investments of the Economites (Old Economy Village, Ambridge), who were also key investors in the establishment of the Pittsburgh, Chartiers & Youghiogheny and the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie railroads.
The Little Saw-Mill Run Railroad company was incorporated July 23, 1850, and the road was opened in April 1853. From river docks near Temperanceville (West End) on the Ohio River, it followed Saw Mill Run upstream to Shalersville (currently the site of the interchange of PA51 and the Parkway West, outside the Fort Pitt Tunnels). From this point, also known as Banksville Junction, it turned to follow the present course of Banksville Road along Little Saw Mill Run. The adjacent Banksville Avenue was the regular road at that time; only short pieces of it remain open. The LSMRR continued up Banksville Road to the coal mining town of Banksville at Potomac Avenue.
A devasting storm struck the West End and North Side of Pittsburgh, June 27, 1874. A waterspout struck Butcher's Run (East Street Valley); many lives were lost with extensive property damage at Woods Run and Spring Garden as well. The Little Saw Mill Run Railroad lost three newly constructed trestles.
In the 1890s, The Pennsylvania Railroad had control over most freight shipments in and out of Pittsburgh. In a move to raise the rates, traffic was slowed to a near standstill with shipments laying idle throughout the area. One industrialist decided to do something about it: Andrew Carnegie purchased the Pittsburgh, Shenango & Lake Erie Railroad, extended and modernized for heavier traffic and created the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad. He further hinted that he was intending to construct another line southeast to Baltimore.
It was at this time, that the Gould family and their associate Joseph Ramsey -- named general manager of the Wabash in 1895 -- saw their opportunity. Ramsey looked at the map and noted the Western Maryland in the east and the Wheeling and Lake Erie in Ohio could be used as part of the Gould's intended transcontinental system. The West Side Belt Railroad was incorporated in July, 1895, with the stated purpose of transporting coal from Bruce, PA, (aka Bruceton) along Saw Mill Run to the Ohio River. The WSB purchased the Bruce & Clairton Railroad which extended the line to the Monongahela River. Merging with the Little Saw Mill Run Railroad in 1897, the WSB had created a line which would skirt through the South Hills of Pittsburgh, picking up valuable coal freight, and allowing a connection Carnegie's Union Railroad in West Mifflin, PA, and to the Western Maryland Railroad.
Meanwhile, Ramsey and his cousin James W. Patterson, chief engineer of the Wabash, quietly surveyed and planned a route to connect westward from Pittsburgh to the Wheeling and Lake Erie in Ohio. Construction began in 1900 on this 39.3 mile line, the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway. February 1, 1901, Carnegie signed tonnage contracts for his steel operations with the WPT; twenty-four days later he sold his steel interests.
The 1904 track layout and profile drawings of the West Side Belt Railroad do not list a date of opening for the section between Banksville Junction and the Ohio River. This, of course, was part of the former Little Saw Mill Run Railroad, and judging by the drawings, it had not been fully modernized at that time. The trestles are shown as wooden trestles -- not the steel structures which stand today.
For the remainder of the line, the profile drawing shows construction progressing in three phases: Sep 1902, Feb 1903 and Dec 1903. Along the way, there are a few plate girder spans and a few concrete arches noted, but most of the original structures were wooden trestles.
The cost of construction and the failure of promised freight to materialized kept the WPT from being profitable. And although the WSB was able to operate profitably due to its mining connections, in 1908 it was among the first parts of the system to enter receivership. The WSB was one of the few tangible assets the WPT had to offer in its attempts to re-organize and stay in business.
Soon afterward, there was a burst of modernization along the West Side Belt. The structures which stand along the line today generally show dates of 1909. The tunnels were updated in 1910 systemwide. The Wabash properties in Pittsburgh, including the West Side Belt Railroad, were acquired by the Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railroad in 1917.
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