View north from Cable Av along Braddock Av
More detail photos
Union Railroad [URR] viaduct over Electric Av, Beech St and Cable Av
USGS 7.5" Topo Quad - UTM Coordinates:
Braddock - Zone 17; 0598 4472
-- Union RR
-- south of Cable Av
-- north of Electric Av
CROSSES (north to south):
-- pedestrian stairway to Prospect Av
-- Electric Av [SR2112]
-- Beech St
-- Cable Av
TYPE OF CONSTRUCTION / DESIGN:
concrete arch with concrete infill:
-- 4 arches between Prospect Av stairway and Electric Av
-- 9 arches between Electric Av and Beech St
-- 8 arches between Cable Av and Beech St
-- 9 arches south of Cable Av
spans over streets: steel deck girder
LENGTH OF MAIN SPAN:
TOTAL LENGTH (including longest elevated ramp):
1,400 ft est
HEIGHT OF DECK:
YEAR ERECTED / ENGINEER:
wooden trestle, c 1897; concrete viaduct, c1914
other trestle spans, c1935; viaduct arch infill c1950s
Union Railroad; Bessemer & Lake Erie 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."
As this series of structures is a part of the Union Railroad, there are only limited references in the PHLF (Landmarks) database. (No mention at all in the PA Historic Bridges database.) There are clues to a flurry of rebuilding activity in the area. The 535-foot-long multi-span crossing carrying the URR over Brown Av [PA130, LR741] in Turtle Creek is noted as being built in 1935; the similar spans over Larimer Av are not listed although they are of similar scale and design.
There is mention of a 63-foot girder span over LR639 [now SR2112] having also been built in 1935; this would be the URR over Electric Av adjacent to the former Westinghouse factories. But the date differs from the Union Railroad's anecdote. Nonetheless it is the only one of the girder spans which is mentioned, and the now-infilled concrete arch viaduct is not mentioned at all, despite its 1,400-foot-length.
The eastbound lanes of Braddock Avenue remain in the location of what was once a two-way Braddock Avenue. The westbound lanes adjacent to the Union Railroad viaduct were previously Wilson Way (aka Wilson Alley). A photo from the East Pittsburgh commemorative book shows Wilson Way with the arches open. What is now barren and mostly-unused parking lots between these two streets was once filled with two and three-story buildings. The construction of the Tri-Boro Expressway and redevelopment projects on the other side of the URR viaduct cleared all the of the buildings between the Westinghouse factory and the URR. A new Mellon Bank and a few other new buildings were built in this strip, but they have since been removed.
Additional bits of info can be pieced together regarding nearby projects. LR1074 Ramp A [East Pittsburgh-McKeesport Blvd; SR2037] is noted as two entities -- one of 1080 feet and one of 680 feet; built in 1940, ten years after the Westinghouse bridge above. Braddock Avenue was bypassed in this area with an elevated section of four-lane roadway in 1974. The widened highway includes signalized traffic intersections as it passes through lower East Pittsburgh and Turtle Creek before morphing into the limited-access Tri-Boro Expressway passing Wilmerding.
Previous to all of this, the original course of Turtle Creek flowed close to the current location of this Union Railroad viaduct. The Pennsylvania Railroad and Westinghouse each straightened and relocated the stream southward to create the contiguous flat land upon which the Westinghouse factory complex was constructed.
A classified listing in the Railroad Gazette, Volume 34, says "The Borough Council of East Pittsburgh passed an ordinance for a viaduct from Cable avenue to Oak Hill, nearly one-quarter mile long." A postcard image dated c1910 shows the old non-concrete trestle and the URR office building not in place yet. Walter Kidney's book for the PHLF says the Union Railroad general offices building was built in 1914. That building, now used for unrelated offices, currently stands adjacent to the concrete trestle.
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."
"Pittsburgh: An Urban Portrait," Franklin Toker, 1986:
The Westinghouse Electric Corp. East Pittsburgh Works extends about two miles along Turtle Creek, north of the Westinghouse bridge. George Westinghouse achieved the first practical application of alternating current for electric power transmission in 1886 with a demonstration wire between the Golden Triangle and Lawrenceville. Realizing what an immense demand his system would create for generators and electric machinery, Westinghouse purchased 500 acres of land in the Turtle Creek Valley in 1887 as the site for a giant factory complex, but fierce opposition from Edison and the partisans of direct current electricity forced him to stay his hand for six years. In 1893 Westinghouse scored two decisive triumphs over Edison by supplying AC electricity to the Chicago Fair and exploiting the water power of Niagara Falls: the next year the East Pittsburgh works opened to national and international acclaim. The plant employed 20,000 workers at its peak, many of whom lived in the small homes that were built for them by the Westinghouse land company in the nearby valleys and mesa tops of East Pittsburgh, Turtle Creek, Trafford, and Wilmerding. An impressive group of these wooden homes and boardinghouses stands north of the plant on Brown Avenue (Route 130 North), toward Churchill. From the plant came the world's first electric locomotive, first regular radio broadcast (on Pittsburgh's KDKA), and first electronic television camera. Much of the old complex was clad in a metal skin in 1957 (one manufacturing aisle was seven stories high and three football fields in length), but Thomas Rodd's French Renaissance administration building, where Westinghouse worked, is still intact.
It is two miles from Westinghouse Electric to the Westinghouse Air-Brake Works in Wilmerding (reached via Route 130 South on the Yellow Belt). Frederick Osterling designed and Westinghouse himself supervised the building of these handsome brick foundries and machine shops in 1890. Around the factories Westinghouse laid out the model industrial town of Wilmerding (the name recalls Johanna Wilmerding Negley, whose family had farmed this valley for generations). Atop a little rise in the center of town was a library and community center with a swimming pool and baths, evidently inspired by Carnegie's prototype at Braddock. When the library burned in 1896, Westinghouse directed Osterling to rebuild it in grander style, without the public facilities, as the Westinghouse Air-Brake General Office Building. Janssen & Cocken added the wing on the left in French Renaissance style in 1927. Superannuated in 1984, it is now destined to be a conference center for the non-profit American Production and Inventory Control Society.
field check; Fowler aerial map, 1897; Hopkins map, 1903; B&LE RR website and Union RR website, quoted passages; "Pittsburgh: An Urban Portrait," Franklin Toker; "Pittsburgh's Landmark Architecture", Walter Kidney; Jill Henkel; Richard Borkowski; Railroad Gazette, Vol 34, 1902.
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17-Nov-2016; 13-Apr-2009; 07-Jul-2005
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