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picture of bridge

Low Grade Viaduct descends westward to Edgar Thomson Works

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Union Railroad Low Grade Viaduct

Union Railroad [URR] over Main St and former Braddock Av at Bessemer

East Pittsburgh

USGS 7.5" Topo Quad - UTM Coordinates:
Braddock - Zone 17; 0598 4471
-- Union RR, single track

-- Edgar Thomson Works
-- Main St

CROSSES (west to east):
-- URR Port Perry Yard
-- old aligment Braddock Ave [SR2183]
-- Main St

deck girder; 20 spans

2 easternmost spans: 30 ft est + 88 ft est
3 spans over roads: 118 ft est, each
15 western spans: 75 ft est, each

TOTAL LENGTH (including longest elevated ramp):
1606 ft est


1945, Union Railroad
The Union Railroad website states: "In 1942, the six track Port Perry Yard spanning Turtle Creek was built to improve the availability of raw materials to Edgar Thomson Steel Works. The High and Low Grade Viaducts were completed in 1945. Turtle Creek Viaduct, on a new alignment, was opened to trains in 1951. These structures replaced the old viaducts which could not continue to support the ever-increasing size and weight of equipment and capacity carloads."


This was the townsite of Brinton, then Bessemer Junction, now part North Versailles and part East Pittsburgh. Where the Turtle Creek Valley opens to meet the Monongahela River had been mentioned in many historical documents related to George Washington, his rivalry with George Croghan, the cabin of trader John Fraser and others. The Turtle Creek Valley was prominent in its location on the Pennsylvania Railroad mainline between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The rail line had been completed from Pittsburgh to Turtle Creek in December 1851. A final section completed in November, 1852, opened the line to Philadelphia. The Edgar Thomson Works began operations in 1875, using the Bessemer process for the mass production of steel. The town of Brinton was plotted in 1890 and that same year, George Westinghouse began building numerous manufacturing complexes which ultimately stretched from East Pittsburgh as far upstream as Trafford.

The ensuing industrial prosperity would overtake both Brinton and it neighbor to the south Port Perry. It was said the this area had the most dense rail traffic in the world. Over time, its location at the nexus of road and rail would obliterate all remants of the town: the Pennsylvania Railroad mainline and its branch to cross the Monongahela River at Port Perry (1877), the Bessemer & Lake Erie (1897, later the Union Railroad and its own crossing at Port Perry), the connection between the two at U Junction, the George Westinghouse Memorial Bridge (1930) and the expansion of the Port Perry yard at Edgar Thomson with the URR's High Grade and Low Grade Viaducts (1945).

The last of the town's buildings were removed when Braddock Avenue was bypassed in this area with an elevated section of four-lane roadway in 1974.


This portion of the railroad was first built by the Pittsburgh, Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad. It opened in 1897 with the completion of the high bridge over the Allegheny River in Harmar (replaced 1918). Once the main line had been established many of the original structures were replaced in the years which followed. The portion of the rail line from North Bessemer in Penn Hills to East Pittsburgh was leased in 1906 and later sold to the Union Railroad.


The Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad is a route which connected the iron ore and coal docks at Conneaut on Lake Erie to the Mon Valley steel works owned by Andrew Carnegie.

Carnegie had been discussing rail transport with other lines, but determined the best way to protect his interests was to control the rail line himself. Several smaller companies had constructed sections of the route. "Bear Creek Railroad (name changed to Shenango and Allegheny Railroad Co.) was incorporated in March 1865 for the purpose of moving coal 21 miles from Pardoe to Shenango for delivery to other railroads and the Erie Extension Canal. By 1883, Shenango and Allegheny had extended north to Greenville, PA and south to Butler, PA. By 1892, the line had extended north to reach the port of Conneaut, OH. The extensions carried their own descriptive corporate names and survived a series of corporate reorganizations to become the Pittsburgh, Shenango and Lake Erie." The rail line had been completed as far as Butler, still 40 miles distant from the Mon Valley.

"The first ore boat arrived in Conneaut in 1892 stimulating the interest of Andrew Carnegie. In April 1896, a tri-party agreement between PS&LE, Union Railroad Company and Carnegie Steel Company called for construction of a line from Butler to East Pittsburgh. The Butler and Pittsburgh Railroad Company incorporated April 8, 1896 and completed, spectacularly, by October 27, 1897 including a long, single track bridge across the Allegheny River. Also in 1897, PS&LE and B&P were consolidated into the Pittsburgh, Bessemer & Lake Erie under majority ownership of Carnegie." "Four years later, Carnegie formed the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad under this exclusive ownership and arranged to lease PS&LE for 999 years. This arrangement stayed in place with the formation of U. S. Steel in 1901, which bought out Carnegie interests." "In 1906, B&LE leased, and later sold, to Union Railroad the portion of line between North Bessemer and East Pittsburgh." "In 1988, the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad became part of Transtar, Inc. Transtar is a privately-held transportation holding company with principal operations in railroad freight transportation, dock operations, Great Lakes shipping, and inland river barging. The Transtar subsidiary companies formed over the years to meet the transportation needs of various steel making facilities that were the predecessors of today's USX Corporation. Prior to 1989, the Transtar companies were wholly owned transportation subsidiaries of USX (formerly United States Steel Corporation). In December 1988, these transportation companies were acquired by a new holding company, Transtar, Inc."

"In 2001, the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad became part of Great Lakes Transportation, a privately-held transportation holding company with principal operations in railroad freight transportation, dock operations and Great Lakes shipping."


"The Union Railroad, as it exists today, has resulted from the union of all or parts of five railroads between the years 1906 and 1915. The first addition occurred in 1906 when a portion of the Pittsburgh, Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad, extending from North Bessemer to East Pittsburgh, was leased to the Union Railroad. Later in 1906, the railroad leased the Monongahela Southern Railroad. The next addition involved the St. Clair Terminal Railroad in 1920. All three properties were subsequently merged. The last addition occurred in 1915 with the lease of track from Duquesne to McKeesport via the Penn Central Bridge. The original URR extended from East Pittsburgh to Hays, a distance of six miles, and was constructed in the years 1894-1907. During the same period, 13 branches, with an aggregate length of 14 miles were built. Operations began on June 1, 1896, with 241 employees, 25 steam locomotives and no cars. On October 26, 1897, the first train was interchanged with the Pittsburgh, Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad at East Pittsburgh. This 30-car ore train from North Bessemer was consigned to Edgar Thomson."


field check; Fowler aerial map, 1897; Hopkins map, 1903; B&LE RR website and Union RR website, quoted passages;

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Introduction -- Nearby Structures

Page created: 28-Feb-2009
Last modified: 28-Feb-2009

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