The Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway Bridge
stretches over the Monongahela River into downtown Pittsburgh in 1907.
of the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway
* Last Modified
- December 3, 2019 *
A postcard image showing the Wabash
Bridge in 1946.
The Final Piece In A
The Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway
was the final piece in the grand dream of railroad baron Jay Gould and his son
George. The Gould's envisioned a single corporation with an intercontinental
railroad system to move freight from coast to coast. For several years, they
had acquired numerous independant lines, gradually expanding their reach westward
from the Pacific Ocean towards their east coast lines.
By the turn of the century, most of the
pieces were in place. The key to achieving this dream was building a
connecting line through Pittsburgh. The coast to coast system would then be
complete. This connecting line would be known as the Wabash Pittsburgh
As an independant railroad, the story of
the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway is one of poor planning, corporate
competition, bad luck, numerous disasters and one man's stubborn determination
to forge ahead against all odds. The Wabash opened for business in 1904 and,
despite high hopes of success, was bankrupt just four years later.
The legacy of the short-lived Wabash
Pittsburgh Terminal Railway endures to this day as one of Pittsburgh's hard
luck stories. However, the long-term legacy of the Pittsburgh connection built
by the Gould's continues to this day with the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad, a
successful independant interstate line that utilizes the old Wabash routes
to the south of Pittsburgh.
Much of the local line, including the
the Rook Yard and tunnel in Greentree, the Bigham Cut, the bridges and tunnels
along Saw Mill Run and Library Road, and the Castle Shannon Viaduct are much as
they were when constructed over a century ago. The sounds of the Wheeling & Lake
Erie locomotives as they skirt the borders of the Brookline community on their
way south towards Castle Shannon are a daily reminder of the once lofty
aspirations of Jay and George Gould.
The Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal
An Intercontinental System
... By Any Means Necessary
Starting with investments in small
railroads in New York, Jay Gould began to amass a network of connecting
lines that was to eventually span the entire length of the country. Gould
first acquired the Erie Railroad in New York state, and in the west, the Union Pacific Railroad, Kansas Pacific Railway and Missouri Pacific Railroad.
Upon his death in 1892, Jay Gould's
railroad empire was passed on to his eldest son, George, a ruthless businessman
who continued consolidating and building the system. He acquired the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad and then the Western Pacific Railroad, completing the line from the Mississippi River
to the Pacific port of San Francisco.
Jay Gould (left) and his son George
were determined to create a single corporation
with a transcontinental railroad. In 1904 that dream became a reality.
Only four years later their corporation fell into bankruptcy.
George Gould's competition for the western
freight business was the Southern Pacific Railroad. In an example of the
underhanded business practices that became his trademark, he formed a company
to build a breakwater in San Francisco Bay. This created valuable new land
in the harbor area, but left the Southern Pacific terminal high and dry.
Gould then built a track atop the breakwater to his new Western Pacific
terminal, usurping his rival's access to ocean freight.
East of St. Louis, Gould acquired
the Wabash Railroad, providing a connecting branch as far east
as Toledo, Ohio. To complete the transcontinental system, Gould now needed
a connecting line to link the Wabash Railroad in Toledo with the Western Maryland Railway in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, which ran
through to the port of eastern port of Baltimore.
This final piece of the coast-to-coast
system was intended to run through the great industrial and freight center of
Pittsburgh, and would be called the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway. At
the turn of the century, more freight was shipped through Pittsburgh than any
other city in the United States, including the port of New York.
The route of the Wabash Pittsburgh
Terminal Railway, from Zanesville OH to Connellsville PA.
In 1901, Gould acquired the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad, extending the western line from Toledo to Zanesville, Ohio. The
Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway was then created by piecing together several
independant railroads south and east of Pittsburgh. From the east, he extended his
reach by acquiring Soutwestern Pennsylvania lines, including the Little Saw Mill Run Railroad and the West Side Belt Railroad in Pittsburgh. With these acquisitions the gap between Zanesville
and Connellsville had almost completely been covered.
All that remained was the construction
of two extensions, one that would connect his Western Pennsylvania holdings with
the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad in Ohio, and another to bring the railroad
directly to a depot in downtown Pittsburgh. These grandiose projects required
upgrading the existing local lines and extending them into West Virginia and
Ohio, construction of several bridges, viaducts and tunnels, and the building
of a major terminal complex in Pittsburgh.
Little did George Gould know at the time,
but the technical difficulty of building a railroad into Pittsburgh, where all
of the good routes had already been utilized, the massive costs of the construction,
the fierce competiton that developed with established rivals like the Pennsylvania
Railroad, and his increasingly speculative business practices, were a recipe for
The Little Saw Mill Run
Abraham Kirkpatrick Lewis (1815-1860)
began mining on the face of Mount Washington about 1843. Lewis built one of the
earliest inclined planes, just west of the Duquesne Incline, for carrying coal
to the Monongahela River. He built the first tunnel through Mount Washington, a
distance of one mile, that led 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 Creek
on the Ohio River. Soon the line was extended to the Little Saw Mill Run
Valley in Banksville. This early railroad was eventually replaced by a new
steam powered railroad.
A steam locomotive of the Little Saw Mill
The Little Saw Mill Run Railroad Company
was incorporated July 23, 1850, and the line opened in April 1853. From the
river docks near Temperanceville (West End) on the Ohio River, the narrow-guage
railroad followed Saw Mill Run Creek upstream to Shalersville (outside of the
present-day 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 Creek. The adjacent Banksville Avenue was
the only roadway at that time. Only short sections of it remain today.
The railroad line continued along Banksville Avenue to the coal mining
town of Banksville located at Potomac Avenue.
The West Side Belt
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. Industialist Andrew Carnegie decided to do something
to end the difficulties with the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Carnegie purchased the Pittsburgh,
Shenango & Lake Erie Railroad, then extended and modernized the line for
heavier traffic, creating the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad. He further
hinted that he was intending to construct another line southeast to
In 1895 George Gould saw his opportunity.
He noted that the Western Maryland Railway in the east and the Wheeling and
Lake Erie Railroad in Ohio could be used as part of his proposed transcontinental
system. To this end, the West Side Belt Railroad was incorporated in July 1895.
It's stated purpose was to transport coal from Bruce, PA along Saw Mill Run to
the Ohio River.
The West Side Belt Railroad acquired
the Bruce & Clairton Railroad, then merged with the Little Saw Mill Run
Railroad in 1897, completing the line from Bruce to the Ohio River in
Temperanceville. Gould's newest railroad acquisition ran through through the
South Hills of Pittsburgh, picking up valuable coal freight. It connected to
Carnegie's railroad in West Mifflin and eventually to Gould's Western Maryland
Railroad in Connellsville.
The West Side Belt Railroad was a
profitable line and remained as such after the Wabash Railroad went into
receivership in 1908. The line was upgraded in 1909 for heavier freight
traffic and the Belt Railroad remained active for another twenty years.
It was purchased by the Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railroad in
Constructing the Wabash
Pittsburgh Terminal Railway
The Braincild of Joseph
John Ramsey was the vice-president of
Gould's Wabash Railroad in the late 1890s. Born on Pittsburgh's South Side and
a graduate of the Western University of Pennsylvania on the North Side, he
was the driving force behind Gould's decision to make a move into the
highly competitive Pittsburgh market. While Gould's dream was to create a
Transcontinental System, it was Ramsey's dream to bring the railroad into
the city of Pittsburgh.
Ramsey formulated the
route of the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway. He convinced Gould of
the feasibility of the Pittsburgh extension and received both Gould's
financial backing and political clout. Ramsey quietly began surveying
and buying the necessary land needed to build the railroad.
Construction began in 1900 on the
initial 39.3 mile stretch of the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway, extending
westward from the outskirts of Pittsburgh towards the Wheeling & Lake Erie
Railroad. Good news came on February 1, 1901, when Andrew Carnegie signed
tonnage contracts for his steel operations with the Wabash, thereby ensuring
the railroad would receive a sizable portion of the lucrative Pittsburgh
Political Pressure From
At the time Gould set his sites on the
Pittsburgh region, competition in the Pittsburgh market was already
dominated by the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad,
the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad and several other regional lines.
These railroads had long since secured all of the obvious routes for access
into the city. Their executives exerted extreme political pressure and
influence to impede the approach of Gould's Wabash connection from the
Gould was no stranger to such tactics.
As the court battles and council meetings raged on, he continued building.
His engineers confidently began tunneling through Mt. Washington and building
the piers for a new bridge over the Monongahela, which would bring the line
into downtown Pittsburgh. After two years of political wrangling and back
door dealing, the shrewd Gould was able to gain enabling ordinances
from local officials. This allowed Gould to complete the Wabash Pittsburgh
Terminal Railway in 1904.
Constructed In Three
Construction of the Wabash Pittsburgh
Terminal Railway was completed in three phases. In September 1902, the southern
and western portions of the line were completed. This section required the
construction of numerous small bridges and trestles. Between the new freight
marshalling yards in Greentree and the 600-foot Mount Washington,
engineers carved out a curved course that required the buildng two tunnels,
the Greentree Tunnel and the Bigham Tunnel.
An aerial view showing the Rook Marshalling
Yard and the path of the Greentree tunnel.
The second phase included the construction
of a third tunnel. This was a major cut through the heart of Mount Washington,
from a southern portal near Woodruff Street to the northern portal on the downtown
side. The Wabash Tunnel was
completed in February of 1903.
The Wabash Tunnel, constructed in
The third phase of construction included
building the railroad's large, elevated nine-track terminal complex in downtown
Pittsburgh, stretching from Front Street to the Depot Building at Liberty Avenue
and Ferry Street, with a spur switch line extending to Duquesne Way.
Map of the Wabash Terminal Complex in
Also to be constructed was a bridge spanning
the Monongahela River to connect the elaborate downtown terminal with the tunnel.
The 14,000,000 pound span measured 812 feet. At the time it was the longest railroad
bridge in the country and third longest in the world, a status it held until
1909. Bridge construction was completed in February 1904.
The Wabash Railroad Bridge and Terminal
Complex in 1907.
On July 4, 1904, while the Depot building
was in the final states of construction, the first train of the Wabash Pittsburgh
Terminal Railway left Pittsburgh as a special excursion to the St. Louis World's
Fair. The ornate terminal and office building opened in 1905. Joseph Ramsey's dream
of a Pittsburgh railroad hub and George Gould's vision of a transcontinental
corporation were a reality.
The ornate Wabash Terminal Building
opened in 1905.
Gould Went A
Bridge Too Far
One Disaster After
Despite the high hopes of owner
George Gould and engineer Joseph Ramsey, the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal
Railroad seemed doomed from the start. Gould's shady dealings had mobilized
the other railroads against him. His many competitiors did whatever they
could to deny him access to their markets. When Andrew Carnegie sold his
steel company to J.P. Morgan, the previously negotiated freight contracts
with Carnegie Steel were nullified. As a result, Gould's grand railroad
was never able to turn a profit.
Business failures aside, the railroad
was also plagued with a string of disasters that earned it the title
of "Pittsburgh's Hard Luck Railroad" before the line ever went into
operation. During construction of the line through Greentree in 1902, the
wooden interior of the Bigham Tunnel caught fire. The collapsed debris were
removed and the passage rebuilt as an open cut.
The Wabash Bigham Cut, to the right
of the Parkway, was once a tunnel that collapsed in 1902.
The Bigham Tunnel setback paled in comparison
to the events of October 19, 1903.This
was the day that the final piece of the bridge was to be set in place over the river.
Both ends jutted out from the banks, and as a crane hoisted the final girders into
place, disaster struck. The crane came loose and sent steel, wood and several helpless
workers plunging into the river below. The disaster took the lives of ten
Additional distractions like a smallpox
epidemic among the workers, strikes, riots and flooding caused further
hardships. Finally, the financial Panic of 1907 devastated the Gould fortune.
Within a year he was forced to sell off many of his railroad holdings, and
the dismantling of his vast empire began.
A Somber Look
Into Pittsburgh's Wabash Past
October 19, 1903 - A Disastrous Day
Pittsburgh's Hard Luck
This is an article by
Joe Bennett that appeared in a Pittsburgh Press Roto addition
on September 5, 1977 entitled "Pittsburgh Bridges Falling Down."
When they finally tore down the Wabash
Bridge in 1948, nobody was sorry to see it go. The 812-foot railroad span seemed
to live under a curse from the beginning, perhaps haunted by the ghosts of the men
who died building it 45 years before.
By the time it was dismantled, it had
become a useless, dead skeleton hanging over the Golden Triangle. When the job
was done, Roto magazine ran a cover photo showing the "new look" of Downtown
Pittsburgh without the old eyesore.
The Wabash's sorry history began in 1902
when railroad entrepreneur George Gould commissioned its construction as part of
what would be his transcontinental system.
Pittsburgh, then the nation's freight
capital, generating more traffic than New York, Chicago and Philadelphia combined,
was to be the crown jewel of the Gould empire, but he had to fight to get it. The
Pennsylvania Railroad was financially and politically entrenched here, and Gould
spent millions just to remove the obstacles local politicians threw up.
Gould's bridge, linking his new terminal
on Water Street to the Wabash Tunnels through Mount Washington, loomed 109 feet
above the Monongahela River. Its construction was costly in lives as well as
The morning of October 19, 1903, was a key one
for the bridge project. The two ends of the bridge, being built from opposite sides
of the Mon, were to be joined that day.
Supply barges were maneuvered into position
in the river, and cranes on the bridge started hauling steel up. Earl Crider, on
one of the barges, helped hook five beams to ropes from a crane. Later he described
"There was an awful crash over our heads.
Looking up I saw beams and girders in the air. Then it seemed that the entire part
of the bridge extending out over the water had begun to fall. I had only an instant
to see all this. Then I jumped into the water. I was hit on the side of the head
with a beam of wood, but the water saved me from being crushed."
Crider was one of the lucky ones. The carrier
supporting the crane had broken loose, catapulting toward the edge of the bridge.
Machinery, steel and men were crushed and swept off the bridge.
"They fell through the air like flies," said
John McTighe, who watched the disaster from Water Street. "The men were shrieking
and yelling as they fell. Some were clinging to pieces of iron and beams."
In all, ten men died. Seven had been on the
bridge, three on the barges below. Five others, including Crider, escaped by
jumping into the river. They may have been warned by the quick action of the
hoisting engineer, who sounded an emergency horn as soon as he saw what was
There were miraculous escapes, too. One
unidentified worker, swept off the bridge, made a convulsive midair grab for a
safety rope and hung there while the deadly steel cascaded around him. Then he
slid down the rope to a boat and joined in the rescue operation. Another man lay
semi-conscious on a beam at the very edge of the bridge. When he came to his
senses, he looked around, saw where he was, and scrambled to safety.
At least two men survived the 109-foot
plunge to the water. Thomas Shelley landed between two of the barges and suffered
only a leg injury. "My fall to the river was quick," he reported, "but I thought
a whole lot in that short time."
Rescue work, begun almost immediately,
was severely hampered by crowds of curious Downtown workers, who had flocked to
the river banks to watch the show.
The October 19 disaster was the worst in a
series of misfortunes that beset the Wabash job. Weather was a constant problem,
and a smallpox epidemic hit the workmen. There were strikes, riots, landslides
Nor did things improve after the bridge
opened with much fanfare in 1904. Despite Pittsburgh's rich freight market, Gould's
railroad never made enough money to pay for itself. The line was an engineering
marvel, cutting straight through the worst terrain Western Pennsylvania could
present, with hardly a hill or a curve to mar the traveler's ride. But construction
had cost about $1 million a mile, and the Wabash never wrested control of the
market from the Pennsylvania.
The new Wabash Bridge in 1904. Note the Wabash
Tunnel to the left along Mount Washington.
Weekly Gazette Coverage
Of The Bridge Disaster
The October 20, 1903 Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette
reported on the accident. It was 8:30 the morning previous morning, and work was
proceeding on the Water Street side of the bridge. Five I-beams were being hoisted
from a barge in the river to the structural work of the bridge. The beams weighed
nearly nine tons and were being lifted using a traveler and boom.
When they had been drawn by the crane to a
point about fifty feet above the water, the rope bearing the great burden of metal
suddenly snapped. The same instant the jib staffs in the crane gave way. This
portion of the structure projects about sixty feet over the stream beyond the floor
construction of the bridge, and with a rasping, grinding sound the whole mass
pitched forward, hurling the workmen down into the barge as if they had been shot
from a catapult.
Tons of iron went with them. The men in the
barge were caught as if in the jaws of a trip-hammer. Under the great weight the
barge capsized and some of the men who were not killed outright were pinned under
the twisted beams and drowned. Some fell over 100 feet and struck on top of the
wreckage, escaping with terrible injuries. A few men struck the water and were
News of the disaster spread quickly through
the city, and patrol wagons and ambulances were followed down Water Street by
thousands of onlookers. Men employed on the opposite bank of the river quickly
boarded skiffs to assist in the rescue of their co-workers. Willing hands from
nearby towboats and other craft along the riverfront also gave prompt
The traveler both after the accident (left)
and before the accident. Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette photo.
Soon mutilated bodies, still in death, were
carried out and laid on the wharf while the morgue wagons made hurried trips to
the dead house. The injured were quickly extricated and taken to nearby hospitals.
The crowd remained throughout the afternoon, and it took several hours to recover
all of the corpses.
As the sun went down bridge workers led by
"Spike" Kelly, hoisted a black flag that was attached to the pier near the accident
site. It fluttered in the breeze as the last body was recovered at 7:30pm. Later
that evening the towboat Little Fred pushed the stricken barge to the Smithfield
Street Bridge were it was raised with a dock hoist.
The names of the dead were William C. Kempton,
W. J. McLeod, George Wells, Clark L. Fleming, Frederick Solinger, Frank Dalby,
John R. Campbell, G. W. Keitlinger, Charles Simmons and Edward Morris. Those severely
injured were Aaron Fowler, William Jay, Adam Vosburg, Thomas Shelley and
Officials of the American Bridge Company,
during their inspection the following day, blamed the accident on an insufficiently
braced Traveler. Heavy hog chains over the top of the traveler and boom may have
avoided the catastrophe. The brace of the boom, on the downstream side of the
traveler, had swung away from the upright, throwing the entire weight on the joint
above, which in turn broke the boom.
Bridgeworkers had a different story. They
felt that the traveler was not built for hoisting such heavy loads. Engineers
countered that the equipment was capable of handling much larger loads and that
the traveler used was more than sufficient. The accident surprisingly caused no
structural damage to the bridge itself.
The two sides of the Wabash Bridge come
together in November 1903.
A Coroner's Jury in November 1903, after
hearing testimony from bridgeworkers, engineers and management regarding the safety
of the traveler and the ropes used to hoist the beams, determined that the disaster
was purely accidental and no blame was placed on anyone. One thing everyone agreed
on was that there appeared to be a hex on the railroad venture itself, one that
became known as the "Curse of the Wabash."
Later publications listed the cause of the
traveler failure to be as such ... "while the traveler was working well within its
capacity, the lower chord of the cantilever truss collapsed and the over hang
revolved downwards against the bridge trusses. The only reason to which failure
can be ascribed is that the bottom chord of the overhang in the panel next to the
traveler tower had become injured a short time before by a blow, probably from the
2-ton steel ram used in driving pins. This blow apparently buckled some of the
lattice bars and forced the chord out of position. When it was subject to live load
the stress was greatly increased by the eccentricity and the member failed under a
The Wabash Bridge under construction on the
north shore (left) and the two travelers meeting in the middle.
Bankrupt in Four
The Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal
Railroad's major facilities included the Wabash Terminal, an ornate
eleven-story building, the Wabash Tunnels through Mount Washington, the
Wabash Bridge, a stone skew arch over Saw Mill Run near Woodruff Street
known as the Seldom Seen Arch, and another stone archway which serves
as a tunnel for Greentree Road near Chartiers Creek.
The nine-track elevated downtown
terminal complex was covered by a trainshed which extended from Forbes
Avenue to the Boulevard of the Allies. A switching trestle extended
across the Triangle to a location just short of Fort Duquesne
Boulevard. There was also the Greentree freight marshalling facility
known as the Rook Yard.
Although the Wabash Pittsburgh
Terminal Railway opened with gala fanfare and high expectations, Gould's
dream of a transcontinental empire soon came crumbling down around him in
a sea of red ink.
The high cost of construction, over
$1,000,000 per mile, and the failure of promised freight contracts to
materialize kept the railway from being profitable. The only part of the
railroad to operate at a profit was the West Side Belt, due largely to its
mining connections. Soon the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway went
The Wabash Enters
The Western Maryland Railroad was
the first of Gould's properties to fail, entering receivership on March 5,
1908. The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad and the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal
Railway soon followed, in May of the same year. This ended through traffic
between Pittsburgh and Gould's western railroads.
The Wabash Bridge and Terminal Complex
in 1908, the year the railroad filed for bankruptcy.
The West Side Belt Railroad was
the first part of the Pittsburgh system to enter receivership. The Belt
Railroad was one of the few tangible assets that the Wabash Pittsburgh
Terminal Railway Company had to build upon in it's attempts to reorganize
and stay in business.
A burst of modernization along
the line led to the construction of much of the infrastructure that is
in place today along Saw Mill Run Creek in Brookline, Overbrook and
Castle Shannon. The bridges and tunnels were all rebuilt in 1909.
Workers on the West Side Belt line, along
Cadet Avenue in Brookline, in 1909 (left); A P&WVRR train hauling coal
along Saw Mill Run, across from Bausman Street, heading towards Castle
Although the West Side Belt
Railroad remained a profitable venture, these recovery attempts did
little to bring profitability to the struggling Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal
Railway as a whole. In the end, George Gould lost all of his Pennsylvania
holdings, much of his railroad empire and a substantial amount of his
After years of operation by its
receivers, the company was finally sold at foreclosure, in 1916,
and reorganized as the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway.
The Wabash Bridge crosses the Monongahela
River to the Wabash Tunnel entrance in 1930.
Photos Of The Wabash
The Wabash Railroad Bridge in 1905.
The Wabash Bridge stretches over a smokey South
Side to Mount Washington.
The Wabash Bridge heading into the terminal
complex in downtown Pittsburgh in August 1912.
A river boat under the Wabash Bridge.
The Monongahela River Wharf with the Wabash
Bridge in the background.
Riverboats line the north shore of the Monongahela
River on August 8, 1922, with the Wabash Bridge in the background.
The elevated platforms along the Wabash
The Wabash Bridge in 1938.
Water Street and Liberty Avenue on August 16, 1943,
with the Wabash Bridge in the background.
The Wabash Bridge in 1945.
The Wabash Bridge stands as a bridge to nowhere
in 1947 after the terminal complex was removed.
The Wabash Bridge being dismantled in
Final Pieces Of Hard Luck
For The Wabash Railroad
In 1908, the Wabash was forced to go into
receivership, and in 1917, the local spur was absorbed by the Pittsburgh and West
Virginia Railroad. After 1931, passenger traffic was discontinued, and only freight
traffic moved through the elaborate Downtown terminal. Then, in 1946, fire destroyed
the terminal. The Wabash bridge became a useless hulk.
A plan to use the bridge and tunnel as part
of a mass transit system into the South Hills had been dropped. Somebody suggested
taking the bridge down and putting it up elsewhere. Finally, the old bridge was
scrapped and the steel melted down for use in the Dravosburg Bridge that was being
built in 1948.
The Pittsburgh aerial view above, taken in
1948, shows the Wabash Bridge during the dismantling of the span. The terminal
complex to the left had been removed the year before. All that remained was the
grand terminal building, which was eventually razed in 1955 during construction of
the Gateway Center complex.
and West Virginia Railroad
A New Era Of
The Wabash properties from
Pittsburgh to Zanesville OH were purchased in August 1916 and reorganized,
in November of that year, as the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railroad.
Under new ownership, the railroad began a new era of cooperation with
the other major railroads in the region. The railroad was included in
plans for a new major system that consisted of the Pennsylvania Railroad,
New York Central Railroad, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Erie
Tracks of the P&WVRR pass under the
Timberland Avenue Bridge in 1918.
This was the last important railroad
built in the Pittsburgh area. The route laid out by Joseph Ramsey for the
Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway ran along the tops of the ridges, involving
difficult engineering problems. Nearly 6% of the mileage of the line is on
bridges and 2% in tunnels. There are over 170 bridges of more than ten feet
in length and twenty-one tunnels. Of these, 151 bridges and eighteen tunnels
are on the mainline. The costs of maintaining the road were exceptionally
Pittsburgh & West Virginia steam
locomotives at the Greentree Rook Yard.
Despite these challenges, the Pittsburgh
and West Virginia Railroad found success where the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal
Railroad had found failure. One benefit of being on the high ground was that
freight shipments continued during times of flooding, when other railroards
were unable to operate. The new railroad consistently posted annual income
increases during the 1920s.
The Pittsburgh and West Virginia
Railroad acquired the West Side Belt Railroad in December 1928, and in
February 1931 the Belt Railroad was extended to Connellsville PA,
re-establishing the route once used by George Gould to connect to the
Western Maryland Railway.
The Depression years brought the first
operating losses. This situation was reversed by the increasing traffic during
World War II, which brought the railroad back to profitability. The railroad
continued to operate with a net profit until 1958.
The Curse Of The
Some said that the Pittsburgh
Wabash was cursed. The railroad line had certainly seen its share of
tragedies over the years. As part of the Pittsburgh and West Virginia
Railroad, these misfortunes continued, as if the rails themselves
were under a dark spell.
In November 1925, a landslide
blocked the downtown portal of the Wabash Tunnels and severely damaged
the first approach span to the Wabash Bridge. In October 1931, due
to a lack of ridership, passenger service into downtown was
The Wabash Bridge over the Monongahela
River and the
terminal complex in downtown Pittsburgh in 1938.
The elaborate Pittsburgh terminal
facilities, stretching the width of the Golden Triangle at Stanwix Street,
continued to be used for freight transfers. Then on March 6, 1946, a
warehouse building caught fire. Flames soon spread to the railroad trestle
and parts of the Wabash terminal building. The damage sustained was estimated
The Wabash elevated platform and terminal
building along Ferry (Stanwix) Street in 1908 (left) and
the terminal building at Third Avenue after the second 1946 fire.
Two weeks later, another fire
completely destroyed the Wabash Terminal and the trestle. The blaze spread
to and gutted eleven warehouses. This final disaster put the Pittsburgh and
West Virginia Railroad officially out of business in downtown
The Wabash Terminal Complex being
dismantled in 1947.
The Wabash Bridge was dismantled and
melted down as scrap metal in 1948. What remained of the terminal complex,
including the landmark Wabash Terminal Building, were razed in 1955
to make room for the Renaissance I Gateway Center project. The superstitious were convinced
that these developments put an end to the curse of the Pittsburgh
The Wabash Terminal building being
razed in 1955.
The only remaining signs of the
Wabash Railroad in downtown Pittsburgh are the Wabash Tunnels on Mount Washington and two darkened bridge piers standing idly
along the banks of the Monongahela River. The aging piers stand as monuments
to the hard-luck legacy of George Gould and the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal
The Wabash Bridge piers have stood
idle since 1948. The top of the piers are often
decorated with multicolored banners attached to poles.
Of Sabotage In The South Hills
Whether it was the Curse of the
Wabash or just plain coincidence, there were two incidents in the South Hills
of Pittsburgh were saboteurs planned to use dynamite to destroy sections
of the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railroad's West Side Belt line. The first,
in Bethel Park near Coverdale, was successful. A second attempt, near Glenbury
Street in Overbrook, was foiled by a group of local teenagers. The following
articles provide the accounts.
Washington Reporter (May 25, 1927):
At Coverdale Is Blown Up
Ties and Rails
Hurled In All Directions By Dynamite Blast
Experienced Bombers Set
More than 100 feet of the main line of
the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railroad was blown up by a dynamite explosion
early today, near Castle Shannon.
These and pieces of rail were hurled
in all directions and holes three feet deep were made along the road bed.
Service along the main line will probably not be resumed until late
The blast has temporarily held up
hauling of coal from the Pittsburgh Terminal Coal company mine at Coverdale,
a non-union mine closely allied with the Pittsburgh and West Virginia
The dynamiting was evidently done by
one experienced in the handling of explosives.
From the Pittsburgh
Press (January 16, 1932):
Find Dynamite, Train
Four Overbrook Boys
Prevent Tragic Explosion On Railroad Tracks
Blowing up of a train at Overbrook
was averted last night when four boys found 56 sticks of dynamite on tracks
of the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railroad's West Side Belt
A few minutes after the explosives,
sufficient to damage the entire neighborhood, had been removed, a train from
the Castle Shannon-Coverdale area sped over the rails.
Had the locomotive struck the dynamite
wide havoc would have been wrought, bomb and arson detectives
The dynamite was found in a box about
forty feet from Frederick Street.
Jerome Seible, 17, of 2504 Vineland
Street; William Price, 18, Franklin Street; Lawrence McGrail, 19, of 123
Jacob Street, and Harry Tewell, 16, of 91 Glenbury Street stumbled over the
box while walking on the tracks about 8 p.m.
They saw the layers of dynamite sticks
and the sign, "Danger, dynamite 40 percent extra strength" on each
Running to Overbrook Police Station, the
boys notified officers. Patrolman Conrad Dietz and Edward Brown went to the
scene and removed the dynamite. A few minutes later the train
Each of the sticks was one and one-quarter
inches thick and eight inches in length. The box was taken to the city detective
bureau, where it was found to bear the numbers 1CC14 and 28-35.
These were being checked as a clue
to the owner.
After each stick of explosive and it's
wrapper had been carefully soaked in water, all were replaced in the box, which
then was dropped into the Allegheny River from the Manchester
William Price, Lawrence McGrail, Harry
Tewell and Jerome Seibel show the spot where they found
fifty-six sticks of dynamite on the P&WV railroad tracks on January 15, 1932
The Norfolk and Western Railway
By 1960 the Pittsburgh &
West Virginia Railroad operated 132 miles of road on 223 miles of track
That year the railroad reported 439 million net ton-miles of revenue
Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railroad
trains cross the tressel at Whited and Jacob Streets in Brookline,
On October 16, 1964 the Norfolk
and Western Railway, which had merged with the Wheeling & Lake
Erie Railway in 1988, leased the Pittsburgh & West Virginia. Then, in
May 1990, Norfolk and Western sold off most of the former Wheeling & Lake
Erie Railway, which was reorganized as an independant regional
The newly formed Wheeling &
Lake Erie Railway acquired the lease to the former Pittsburgh & West
Virginia line. Today, the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railroad
exists only as the name of an investment trust responsible for the
collection of lease monies.
The Wheeling & Lake Erie
Railway is responsible for administration and maintenance the lines
formerly used by the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway, and later
the Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railroad. Since 1990, the railroad
has experienced a sustained period of success and stability.
The Wheeling and
Lake Erie Railroad
The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad
was established on April 6, 1871, a narrow gauge line between Norwalk, OH
and Huron, Ohio. The line was gradually expanded to the West Virginia coal
fields. The line became operational on May 31, 1877. However, the new road
was unable to attract regular traffic, or financing for expansion, and closed
within two years.
With investment by railroad financier
Jay Gould in 1880 and financial reorganization, the line was converted to
standard gauge and expansion within the state of Ohio began again. Service
from Huron to Massillon, Ohio was opened on January 9, 1882 and new lines
were constructed that eventually reached the Ohio River and Toledo. The
Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad also developed new docks on Lake Erie at
Huron that opened May 21, 1884. Transportation of iron ore from the Lake
Erie ports to steel plants in southeastern Ohio became a main source of
The railroad became one of the main
pieces in George Gould's plan for a transcontinental network. The railroad
was tied to the Gould system until 1908, when financial difficulties forced
the dismantling of Gould's coast-to-coast system.
The Gould railroads were placed in
receivership, and from 1908 through 1916 the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad
returned to it's roots, transporting coal from West Virginia, and ores
from Lake Erie, to Ohio mills.
In 1910, the railroad began producing
locomotives at it's Brewster OH facility. It became one of the finest
production facilities in the country. The company rolled boilers and built
fifty of their own steam engines, something never tried by the larger
Steam locomotives of the Wheeling
and Lake Erie Railroad in the 1940s.
In 1916 the former Wheeling & Lake
Erie Railroad was sold at foreclosure and rechartered as the Wheeling
& Lake Erie Railway. The railroad began a period of sustained growth
and stability. By At the end of 1944 the railroad operated 507 miles
of road and 1003 miles of track. That year it reported 2371 million net
ton-miles of revenue freight and similar success in passenger
In 1949 the Wheeling and Lake Erie
Railway was leased to the Norfolk and Western Railroad, and in 1988 merged
into the Norfolk and Southern system. The railroad was dissolved in 1989
and the assets sold in 1990 to a group of investors who renewed the old
The new rail system was made up of
a combination of the former Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad, with an accompanying
lease of the Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railroad. The 576 miles of track,
combined with trackage rights acquired from Norfolk and Southern, encompassed
The new company was restructured in
1994, and has since that time has enjoyed a new period of sustained growth.
The railroad now handles over 130,000 carloads per year and operates in Ohio,
Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland. It is one of the largest regional
railroads in the country.
The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway
currently handles steel and raw materials to and from five different mills,
aggregates from four different quarries, chemicals, industrial minerals,
including frac sand, plastic products, grain, food products, lumber, paper,
and petroleum products including natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica
operations. The company services over 500 customers.
The railroad's fifty-three locomotives
and 1,600 cars are kept in working order at the company's updated locomotive
and car repair facility in Brewster OH.
Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad Website
The Wheeling and
Lake Erie Railroad in Brookline
Though the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal
Railroad ended operations in 1908, the railroads which were built around
Pittsburgh continued on under new ownership. The Pittsburgh and West Virginia
Railroad operated most of the local lines once owned by Gould. Later they were
acquired by the Norfolk & Western Railroad, and subsequently sold in the
formation of the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad, which operates the former
Wabash Pittsburgh and West Side Belt lines today.
Trains of the Wheeling and Lake Erie
Railroad still run daily along the border of Brookline, in the South Hills
of Pittsburgh, on their way east and west. For local rail enthusiasts in
Pittsburgh's South Hills, the railroad is a great way to experience a piece
of the city's glorious railroad past.
A measure of the success of the
Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad can be guaged by the number of trains churning
their way up the 1.5% grade along Saw Mill Run and Library Road. Where there
was once one or two trains a day, there are now up to five trains making the
4.5 mile uphill climb towards Castle Shannon each day.
A video of a Wheeling & Lake Erie
Railroad train thundering past Whited Street in Brookline.
Along the line, from Greentree to
Castle Shannon, are many impressive and lasting vestiges of the Wabash
Pittsburgh Terminal Railway that are still in use. These include the
Greentree Rook Marshalling Yard, the railroad bridge over the Parkway
West, the one-mile Greentree Tunnel, the historic Seldom Seen Arch, the tressels at West Liberty Avenue and Edgebrook Avenue,
the Castle Shannon Viaduct, and the many vehicle tunnels along the way,
at Overbrook School, Glenarm Street, McNeilly Road, Kilarney Road and
Sleepy Hollow Road. All of these historic sites are over a century
There is also the infamous Wabash Tunnel, which has been refurbished for vehicle use to ease traffic
congestion during the morning and evening rush hours.
Photos Of The
Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad In Brookline
Four photos of Wheeling and Lake Erie
trains passing over the tressel at Whited Street in Brookline.
Four photos of Wheeling and Lake
Erie trains at locations along Jacob and Ballinger Streets in Brookline.
Photos Of The
Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad In Greentree
The Rook Freight Marshalling Yard
in Greentree continues to be a busy place for rail traffic.
The one-mile Greentree Tunnel connects
the Rook Yard with the old West Side Belt line along Saw Mill Run.
Photos Of The
Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad In Castle Shannon
Wheeling and Lake Erie trains pass over
the Castle Shannon Viaduct at Castle Shannon Boulevard.
Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad trains
passing through Castle Shannon.
* Pictures and Video
of W&LERR trains in Brookline provided by Steven Mincin *
Life After the Railroad
For the Wabash
Tunnel and Bridge Piers
Although the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal
Railway ceased operation in 1908, it's legacy has endured. Over a century later,
the Wabash Tunnels and the Wabash Bridge piers keep coming up in plans for new
Pittsburgh transportation ideas, becoming what many Pittsburghers consider
a huge money pit. That's a lesson George Gould learned over one hundred
The Wabash bridge leads into the Wabash Tunnel,
exiting on the south end along Woodruff Street.
The neglected and unused Wabash Tunnels became a lure for other doomed transportation projects. Passenger rail
service through the tunnel continued until 1931. That same year, Allegheny County
bought the tunnel for $3,000,000 with the intention of converting it to an automobile
traffic tunnel to relieve some of the growing congestion at the Liberty
A $5000 feasibility study was commissioned
in 1933 to determine whether the tunnel was suitable for automobiles. Old stories
say that railroaders had to lay low when passing through the unventilated tunnel.
The problem of ventilation and the cost of addressing the issue were enough to scrap
that project. While the county deliberated, limited freight rail service continued
through the tunnel until 1946, when the Wabash Terminal in downtown Pittsburgh was
destroyed by fire.
The condition of the South Portal of the Wabash
Tunnel along Woodruff Street, circa 1963.
Skybus - The Westinghouse
The tunnel remained dormant from 1946
until 1970, when the Port Authority purchased the property. A year later the transit
authority began a $6 million project to ready the tunnel for the Westinghouse
Transit Expressway, or "Skybus," a revolutionary yet controversial rubber-tired
automated people mover system. A demonstration project of the Skybus system was built in South Park. If successful,
a bridge would have been built across the Monongehela using the original Wabash
Bridge piers to bring the system into downtown Pittsburgh. In the end, high costs
and politics doomed the project here in Pittsburgh.
Between 1994 and 1997, an additional
$8 million in renovations were made to the tunnel by the Port Authority, this
time in conjunction with plans for a major busway to serve the western
suburbs and the Greater Pittsburgh Airport. As with Skybus, this project
envisions the construction of a new bridge across the Monongahela River,
possibly using the old piers from the Wabash bridge.
The Airport Busway
In 1996, a $3.1 million contract was
awarded to demolish the Skybus runway system and install new paving and drainage
inside the Wabash Tunnels. In 1998, a new portal building was constructed at the
west end of the tunnel and the existing portal building on the city side,
visible from downtown on the face of Mount Washington, was rebuilt. Ventilation,
electrical and communication services were also updated.
By the end of the 20th century, with
millions of dollars of renovations again performed in anticipation of the
tunnel's rebirth, no final decisions had been made on the new Airport Busway
project. Ideas were still being submitted, debated and challenged in court.
Only one thing seemed certain, and that was that as long as the Wabash Tunnels occupied a space in the Pittsburgh landscape, it would draw the
attention of those with grand schemes and grand dreams. It had become one of
Pittsburgh's biggest money pits.
The Wabash Tunnel north portal in 1999.
... The Rebirth of the Wabash Tunnel
In 2000, plans to link
the Wabash Tunnels to the new Port Authority's $275 million West Busway were dropped.
The Money Pit had claimed another victim. All of the tax dollars spent on
planning and related construction had been wasted. As the Wabash waited
patiently for it's next victim, plans were introduced to open the tunnel
to vehicular traffic during rush hours as a HOV accessway into and out of
downtown Pittsburgh to relieve congestion at the Liberty and Fort Pitt
In 2003, the Port Authority awarded
an $11 million bid to build ramps to link the tunnel to Carson Street across
from Station Square and to Route 51 at the southern end. As Pittsburghers
patiently awaited the inevitable bad news that the project would be somehow
abandoned, the unthinkable actually happened!
On December 26, 2004, nearly two years
after their 100th anniversary, and a mere 59 years since being permanently
mothballed by the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railroad, and a mere $31.1-plus
million or so taxpayer dollars later, the Wabash Tunnels was reborn as our city's
newest HOV (High Occupation Vehicle) accessway. The tunnel is a one-way road
that is reversed to accomodate the differing traffic flow patterns. As hard
as it was to imagine for Pittsburgh's old-timers, the tunnel was actually
open to vehicular traffic.
Ramp leading to the north portal
of the Wabash Tunnel.
It was a great day for the city of Pittsburgh,
but the cautious few had their doubts. Was the curse of the Wabash finally
laid to rest? Had the demonic curse that afflicted this hole in the Mount
for the past 100 years been finally been excorcised? Only time could tell.
The city kept its' fingers crossed and hoped for the best.
* Graffic courtesy of the Post-Gazette
The Saga Continues ...
In January of 2007, only two
short years since the opening of the tunnel that was to revitalize traffic flow
in and out of the city. Pittsburgher's are once again shaking their heads in
disbelief as the mounting cost of operating the century-old money pit is starting
to take a toll on Port Authority and municipal coffers.
Forecast to handle
approximately 4500 vehicles per day, daily traffic flow in April of 2005 was
closer to 150 vehicles per day. It was estimated that the tunnel was costing
taxpayers $12 for each vehicle that passed through. The Port Authority, already
struggling with budgetary problems from its regular transit operations, is
paying nearly $600,000 per year to a private firm to maintain the facility.
If the Port Authority closes the tunnel, then the agency will be forced to repay
$20,000,000 in federal grant money used to refurbish it in the first
Read the following 2007
Post-Gazette articles for a look into the madness:
"Wabash Tunnel Has Become An Expensive
"PAT faces tough decision on Wabash
The entrance to the Wabash Ramp on
A Bomb Shelter
Heads are spinning and confusion is
setting in. The brightest minds in Pittsburgh can't figure this one out.
Maybe the guy who wanted to turn it into a cocktail lounge had the right
Another suggestion would be to sell it
to some eccentric millionaire who renovates it into a private home. There's
plenty of square feet to develop, there are two private driveways leading to
the front and rear entrance, the veranda on the city side will offer a
spectacular view, and the home can double as a bomb shelter in case of a
The North Portal of the Wabash Tunnel
Whatever the future holds in store for
the much-maligned Wabash Tunnels, nothing can take away the fact that this
prized piece of real estate has most definitely earned its' place in the
annals Pittsburgh city lore.