The Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway
and Pittsburgh's Hard Luck Bridge

The Wabash Bridge over the Monongahela River - 1907.
The Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway Bridge stretches over the Monongahela River into downtown Pittsburgh in 1907.

History of the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway

♦ Final Piece Of Grand Dream
♦ Transcontinental System By Any Means
♦ Little Saw Mill Run Railroad
♦ West Side Belt Railroad
♦ The Brainchild Of Joseph Ramsey
♦ Political Pressure from Competitors
♦ Constructed In Three Phases
♦ One Disaster After Another
♦ Hard Luck Bridge - October 19, 1903
♦ Weekly Gazette Coverage Of Tragedy
♦ Bankrupt In Four Years
♦ Wabash Enters Receivership
♦ Photos Of The Wabash Railroad
♦ More Hard Luck For The Wabash

P&WVRR - New Era Of Prosperity ♦
Curse Of The Wabash ♦
Acts Of Sabotage - South Hills ♦
Norfok And Western Takes Charge ♦
Wheeling And Lake Erie Railroad ♦
W&LERR In Brookline ♦
Photos Of The W&LERR ♦
What's Next For Tunnel And Piers ♦
The Skybus Project ♦
The Airport Busway ♦
Rebirth Of The Tunnel ♦
The Saga Continues ♦
The Wabash Tunnel History ♦
The Seldom Seen Arch ♦

* Last Modified - June 25, 2021 *

The Wabash Bridge in 1946.
A postcard image showing the Wabash Bridge in 1946.

The Final Piece In A Grand Dream

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 transcontinental 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 Terminal Railway.

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 Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway.

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.

Stock Certificate from the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway.

The Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway

A Transcontinental 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 (1836-1892)       George Gould (1864-1923)
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.

Map of the Wabash Terminal Railway line through
Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania
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.

A Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway Bond

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 disaster.

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The Little Saw Mill Run Railroad

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 locomotive of the Little Saw Mill Run Railroad.
A steam locomotive of the Little Saw Mill Run Railroad.

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.

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The West Side Belt Railroad

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 Baltimore.

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.

The West Side Belt Railroad.

The West Side Belt Railroad was incorporated on July 26, 1895 in Harrisburg, with the stated purpose of transporting coal over standard gauge rails from Clairton to the Ohio River docks in Temperanceville (West End). The railway would also engage in passenger and freight service, both to and from the city of Pittsburgh.

The president was James Callery and the majority shareholder was John Scully. Rumors quickly began circulating that the the railway was intended as the local trunk line in George Gould's dream of a transcontinental Wabash system with a hub in the highly competititive Pittsburgh market.

Pittsburgh Press - July 26, 1895

The West Side Belt acquired the existing Bruce & Clairton Railroad and the Little Saw Mill Run Railroad, which already had an established line to the tipples and river docks where the coal barges waited. The twenty miles of connecting track (from Banksville to Monongahela City) between these two existing systems would be constructed through West Liberty, Reflectorville, Fairhaven and Castle Shannon.

The Little Saw Mill Run Railroad Company was incorporated July 23, 1850. From the river docks near Temperanceville (West End), the narrow-guage road followed Saw Mill Run upstream to Shalersville (outside of the present-day Fort Pitt Tunnels). From there followed the course of Little Saw Mill Run to the coal mining town of Banksville, at present-day Potomac Avenue.

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The route through the South Hills to West Mifflin was originally laid out by the B&O railroad when that system opened its Wheeling and Finleyville Division, but never laid down.

The West Side Belt purchased the route, which had at most a 1.5% grade and averaged only one percent. The greatest curve was just eight degrees. Chief engineer J. H. McRoberts secured the property rights-of-way.

By 1897, the initial twelve miles of the route had been surveyed, and there was some discussion about whether the line should an electrified or conventional steam railway.

Pittsburgh Press - May 26, 1901

There was no debate, however, regarding the potential untapped riches that lie along the railroad route in the form of black gold. It was an investor's dream. The region was estimated to have 40,000,000 tons of the finest bituminous coal in the world.

This coal was in high demand in Europe, and the West Side Belt Railroad ensured that the product would now be placed on the market. Prospects for success were so high that the company purchased over 10,000 acres of rich coal land along the railroad route.

Construction of a new railroad line, with direct access to Pittsburgh, was expected to be a boon to development along the route. Castle Shannon projected a 100% increase in property valuations, and there was an increase in home construction in towns like Fairhaven (Overbrook).

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On February 1, 1898, the railroad was purchased outright by John Scully, president of the Diamond National Bank. Bonds were issued to fund the continuing modernization of the Little Saw Mill Run Railroad, including the construction of a 1000-foot trestle in Temperanceville to provide LSMRRR cars with a direct connection to both the P&LERR and the Panhandle Railroad.

Pittsburgh Press - October 9, 1901

An interesting anecdote regarding the now defunct Little Saw Mill Run Railroad, pointed out in the November 21, 1899, Pittsburgh Daily Post was that the railroad line had a gradual ascent nearly all the way. It was not unusual to a car loaded with passengers heading inbound through the Banksville corridor to the West End without an engine or motor of any kind. Gravity did all the work, with a conductor continually applying the brake.

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As the 19th century drew to a close, talk persisted that the West Side Belt was being designed solely to carry George Gould's Wabash rail traffic into the city center. These discussions now involved a tunnel through Mount Washington, and a railroad bridge over the Monongahela River to Ferry Street. Engineers were already working on the preliminary stages of the tunnel.

This arrangement would give partnering systems like the Bessemer Railroad, and the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad, a direct connection to downtown Pittsburgh, challenging established giants like the Pennsylvania Railroad and the B&O for a share of the lucrative Pittsburgh market.

Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette - March 23, 1902

These rumors were soon substantiated when Gould officially announced his plans to extend his Wabash Railroad into the heart of the city via the Wabash-Pittsburgh Terminal Railway. The West Side Belt Railroad was to be the trunk line leading to the Wabash Tunnel and Bridge, then to an elevated freight/passenger platform and terminal building downtown.

In April 1902, the West Side Belt Railroad Company, along with all accumulated land holdings, was absorbed into a new corporation called the Pittsburgh Terminal Railroad and Coal Company.

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Construction of the West Side Belt line was not without its share of difficulties. Legal challenges by competing railroads, troubles with the terrain, and protests by landowners caused delays.

One particular dispute developed with the nearby Pittsburgh & Castle Shannon Railroad. Both railroads followed the Saw Mill Run corridor, running adjacent to each other for a portion of the way. The P&CSRR sued the West Side Belt for encroachments in two locations were their routes ran parallel.

Pittsburgh Daily Post - May 16, 1902

At Oak Station, along Oak (Whited) Street in Reflectorville, the P&CSRR had a mining operation and rail yard. The West Side Belt attempted to erect a trestle it was alleged would interfere with the station's proper operation.

Further down the line, in Castle Shannon, the West Side Belt had to construct a long viaduct that ran over the P&CSRR line. Again, it was alleged that one of the concrete supports interfered with the operation of the line.

Castle Shannon Viaduct.    Castle Shannon Viaduct.
The West Side Belt's Castle Shannon Viaduct running over the light rail lines which follow the former P&CSRR route.

Despite the concern over operational safety, at the heart of the dispute were the rights to the lucrative coal fields and the shipment of the mined product. A decision by Judge Marshall Brown in July 1902 to dismiss the case was a major victory that cleared the way for the completion of the West Side Belt Railroad.

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Historically, this was not the first time that the two competing railroads went head-to-head, literally. In May 1878, the Little Saw Mill Run Railroad and the P&CSRR were involved in a dispute that resulted in the conflict known as the "Castle Shannon Railroad War".

1900 Whited Street - 1920s
The Hays estate at 1900 Whited Street, shown here in the 1920s. Once a rest stop along the railroad line, this 1850s-era
home has seen many changes over the years. The railroad tracks run along the hillside behind the house.

In a touch of local irony, the president of both of the antagonist railways, the P&CSRR and the Pittsburgh Southern (which leased the Little Saw Mill Run Railroad), was Milton Hays, who grew up in the home at 1900 Whited Street, in what was then Lower St. Clair Township.

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A notable incident with a property owner occurred in early-August 1902, when the Landau Brothers, owners of a strip of land at the bottom of Lang (Pioneer) Avenue at West Liberty Avenue. The contractors were forced to cede nearly one-third of their property for the railroad right-of-way and the relocation of the lower portion of the roadway.

Pittsburgh Press - August 13, 1902.    Hopkins Plot Map - 1905

When railroad construction crews arrived to begin grading the property in question, which required a hillside cut and creating a short abutment to reach the West Liberty Avenue railroad bridge. Although having legally obtained the right-of-way from the borough a few years back, the owners were displeased with the encroachment and the reported stand-off developed.

After some tense exchanges, construction eventually finished their work and the property matter between the Landau Brothers and the railroad was somehow settled.

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The South Hills portion of the railroad, construction of which began in June 1901, was completed by September 1902. The entire West Side Belt Railroad line, from the Ohio River docks to Clairton, was fully modernized and operational by the summer of 1904.

Once in business, the West Side Belt became one of the more profitable line in the Wabash-Pittsburgh Terminal Railway system. In 1909, the West Side Belt Railroad line was upgraded to handle heavier locomotives and increasing freight traffic.

The West Side Belt Railway Company was part of a December 1916 reorganization that resulted in the creation of the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway Company, headquartered in Wellsburg, West Virginia. The P&WVRR purchased the West Side Belt Railway outright in December 1928.

Constructing the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway

The Braincild of Joseph Ramsey

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.

Joseph Ramsey
Joseph Ramsey

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 shipping market.

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Political Pressure From Gould's Competitors

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 Midwest.

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.

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Constructed In Three Phases

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 building two tunnels, the Greentree Tunnel and the Bigham Tunnel.

Map showing the Wabash's Greentree 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, built in 1903.
The Wabash Tunnel, constructed in 1903.

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.

The Wabash Bridge Terminal Complex.
Map of the Wabash Terminal Complex in downtown Pittsburgh.

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 Bridge in 1907.
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 Wabash Terminal at Liberty Avenue
and Ferry Street, opened in 1905.
The ornate Wabash Terminal Building opened in 1905.

Gould Went A Bridge Too Far

One Disaster After Another

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 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 workers.

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

The Wabash Bridge - 1910.

Pittsburgh's Hard Luck Bridge

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 dollars.

The Wabash Bridge 1907.

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 what happened:

"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 happening.

The Wabash Bridge accident in 1903.

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 and floods.

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 Wabash Bridge in 1904.
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 saved.

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 assistance.

The Wabash Bridge Traveller.
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 Frank Hoover.

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 Wabash Bridge - 1903.
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 static load."

The Wabash Bridge - 1903.    The Wabash Bridge - 1903.
The Wabash Bridge under construction on the north shore (left) and the two travelers meeting in the middle.

Bankrupt in Four Years

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.

A Steam Engine of the P&WV Railroad.

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 into bankruptcy.

The Wabash Enters Receivership

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 - 1908.
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.

Railroad workers on the West Side Belt line,
along Cadet Avenue and Timberland in 1909.    A P&WVRR train passes along Saw Mill Run near
Bausman Street heading towards Castle Shannon in 1925.
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 Shannon.

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 fortune.

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 in 1930.
The Wabash Bridge crosses the Monongahela River to the Wabash Tunnel entrance in 1930.

Photos Of The Wabash Railroad Bridge

The Wabash Bridge in 1905.
The Wabash Railroad Bridge in 1905.

The Wabash Bridge.
The Wabash Bridge stretches over a smokey South Side to Mount Washington.

The Wabash Bridge in 1912.
The Wabash Bridge heading into the terminal complex in downtown Pittsburgh in August 1912.

The Wabash Bridge.
A river boat under the Wabash Bridge.

The Wabash Bridge.
The Monongahela River Wharf with the Wabash Bridge in the background.

The Wabash Bridge in 1922.
Riverboats line the north shore of the Monongahela River on August 8, 1922, with the Wabash Bridge in the background.

The Wabash Terminal Complex.
The elevated platforms along the Wabash Terminal Complex.

The Wabash Bridge in 1938.
The Wabash Bridge in 1938.

The Wabash Bridge in 1943.
Water Street and Liberty Avenue on August 16, 1943, with the Wabash Bridge in the background.

The Wabash Bridge in 1945.
The Wabash Bridge in 1945.

The Wabash Bridge in 1947.
The Wabash Bridge stands as a bridge to nowhere in 1947 after the terminal complex was removed.

The Wabash Bridge in 1948.
The Wabash Bridge being dismantled in 1948.

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 Golden Triangle

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.

Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railroad.

The Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railroad

New Era Of Prosperity

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 an era of cooperation with the other major railroads in the region. The railroad was included in plans for a proposed system that consisted of the Pennsylvania Railroad, New York Central Railroad, B&O Railroad and the Erie Railroad.

The Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railroad tracks
pass under the Timberland Avenue Bridge in 1918.
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 high.

P&WV Locomotive at the Rook Yard - 1921.    P&WV Locomotive at the Rook Yard - 1942.
Pittsburgh & West Virginia steam locomotives at the Greentree Rook Yard.

P&WV Locomotive at the Rook Yard - 1938.    P&WV Locomotive at the Rook Yard - 1939.

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.

Pittsburgh and West Virginia locomotive - 1950s.

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 Wabash

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 discontinued.

The Wabash Bridge - 1938.
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 at $200,000.

Wabash elevated platform and terminal
building along Ferry Street in 1908.    Wabash terminal building after 1946 fire.
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 Pittsburgh.

The Wabash Terminal Complex being demolished in 1947.
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 Wabash.

The Wabash Terminal being demolished in 1955.
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 Railway.

The Wabash Bridge piers have stood alone
and idle on the banks of the Monongahela
since 1948, monuments to the hard-luck
legacy of the George Gould's Wabash RR.
The Wabash Bridge piers have stood idle since 1948. The top of the piers are often
decorated with multicolored banners attached to poles.

Acts 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.

From the Washington Reporter (May 25, 1927):

Railroad Line At Coverdale Is Blown Up

Ties and Rails Hurled In All Directions By Dynamite Blast

Experienced Bombers Set Off Explosion

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 today.

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 Railroad.

The dynamiting was evidently done by one experienced in the handling of explosives.


From the Pittsburgh Press (January 16, 1932):

Find Dynamite, Train Is Saved

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 line.

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 said.

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 side.

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 passed.

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 Bridge.

Overbrook Boys Foil Explosion On PWVRR line.
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 in Overbrook.

The Norfolk and Western Railway Takes Charge

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 freight.

A P&WVRR train crossing trestle at
Whited Street in Brookline - March 1957.    A P&WVRR train crossing trestle at
Whited Street in Brookline - March 1957.
Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railroad trains cross the trestle at Whited and Jacob Streets in Brookline, March 1957.

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 carrier.

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.

Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad.

The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway

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 revenue.

Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad Stock Certificate.

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 railroad companies.

W&LERR steam locomotive.    W&LERR steam locomotive.
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 traffic.

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 corporate name.

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 840 miles.

A railroad crossing in Bethel Park.

The 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. As of 2018, 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.

♦ Follow the W&LERR Tracks Through Brookline / History of the West Side Belt Railway ♦

♦ Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway Company Website ♦

The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway 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 Railway, which operates the former Wabash Pittsburgh and West Side Belt lines today.

The West Side Belt Railroad.

Trains of the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway 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.

Click to see video of W&LERR train
thundering past Whited Street in Brookline.
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 trestles 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 old.

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

W&LERR train passes Whited Street.    W&LERR train passes Whited Street.
Four photos of Wheeling and Lake Erie trains passing over the trestle at Whited Street in Brookline.

W&LERR train passes Whited Street.    W&LERR train passes Whited Street.

W&LERR train passes through Brookline.    W&LERR train passes through Brookline.
Four photos of Wheeling and Lake Erie trains at locations along Jacob and Ballinger Streets in Brookline.

W&LERR train passes through Brookline.    W&LERR train passes through Brookline.

Photos Of The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad In Greentree

The Rook Yard in Greentree.    The Rook Yard in Greentree.
The Rook Freight Marshalling Yard in Greentree continues to be a busy place for rail traffic.

A train heads toward the Greentree Tunnel.    The Greentree Tunnel.
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

W&LERR train passes over the Castle Shannon Viaduct.    W&LERR train passes over the Castle Shannon Viaduct.
Wheeling and Lake Erie trains pass over the Castle Shannon Viaduct at Castle Shannon Boulevard.

W&LERR train passes through Castle Shannon.    W&LERR train passes through Castle Shannon.
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 years ago.

The Wabash Terminal Complex.
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 Tubes.

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 Wabash Terminal South Portal - c1963.
The condition of the South Portal of the Wabash Tunnel along Woodruff Street, circa 1963.

Skybus - The Westinghouse Transit Expressway

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.

A Skybus train heads towards
the North Station loading platform.

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 on Mount Washington.
The Wabash Tunnel north portal in 1999.

Finally ... 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 Tunnels.

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!

The Wabash Tunnel Western Portal off of Woodruff Street    The Wabash Tunnel City-side Portal on Mount Washington

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
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 Showing Traffic Flow Times of
Operation for the Wabash Tunnel
* 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 place.

Read the following 2007 Post-Gazette articles for a look into the madness:

"Wabash Tunnel Has Become An Expensive Venture"

"PAT faces tough decision on Wabash Tunnel"

The entrance to the Wabash Ramp in Pittsburgh.
The entrance to the Wabash Ramp on Carson Street.

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 idea.

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 terrorist attack.

The Wabash Tunnel.
The North Portal of the Wabash Tunnel in 2007.

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.

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