The B&O's Grant Street station in Pittsburgh
|Service type||Commuter rail|
|Predecessor||B&O Pittsburgh—Versailles service|
|First service||February 1, 1975|
|Last service||April 28, 1989|
|Distance travelled||18.2 miles (29.3 km)|
|Average journey time||40 minutes|
|Service frequency||Eight weekday round-trips (1983)|
|Train number(s)||101-118 (1983)|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
The PATrain, also known as the Mon Valley Commuter Rail, is a defunct commuter rail service formerly operated by the Port Authority of Allegheny County in the Monongahela Valley. Service began in 1975 when the Port Authority assumed control of the Pittsburgh—McKeesport—Versailles commuter trains operated by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) (part of the Chessie System). The Port Authority discontinued the service in 1989.
In the early 1970s the Port Authority (PAT), which since 1964 had controlled all bus and streetcar service in Allegheny County, had negotiated with the B&O and Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad (P&LE), the last two private sector commuter operators in the region, about the possibility of expanded rail service. At the time the B&O operated six weekday round trips from Pittsburgh to Versailles, while the P&LE operated a single weekday round trip from Pittsburgh to Beaver Falls. The Pennsylvania Railroad had ended service on its six commuter routes in 1964, citing lack of patronage.
Neither the B&O nor the P&LE showed much interest in expanded service, citing existing operating losses and declining patronage. PAT then proposed that it take ownership of the B&O's service, with the B&O operating it under contract. The B&O trains made the run from McKeesport to Pittsburgh in 25 minutes, twice as fast as comparable bus service. Among the strongest supporters in the local government were then-mayor Peter F. Flaherty and County Commissioner William Hunt. Another champion was Harold Geissenheimer, PAT's director of transit operations. In 1974 PAT estimated capital costs for a three-year trial at $1.7 million, plus $1.9 million in operating costs. The capital costs would be split between the federal government, the state of Pennsylvania, and the county, and would include the purchase of two locomotives and nine coaches. PAT would increase the existing two-car trains to four-car trains, while also increasing frequency of service. The per-passenger subsidy was estimated at 95 cents, compared to between 6 and 13 cents for the typical bus passenger. Daily ridership then stood at 300; PAT's best case projection was 3,000. A proposal by Hunt to extend service further to Elizabeth was unsuccessful: the route was owned by the P&LE, which requested $500,000 to rehabilitate the line. This the state would not provide, as the line would still mostly carry P&LE freight traffic and not commuters.
The PAT takes over
On February 1, 1975, PAT took over the service from the B&O. By mid-1977, daily ridership had grown to 1,400, a significant increase over the B&O days. On the other hand, the per-passenger subsidy stood at $2.77, nearly three times the 1974 projection, while the bus subsidy was 8 cents per passenger. Defenders pointed out that the figure included capital costs (including a payment of $10,000 per month to the B&O for equipment leasing), which inflated costs and made the comparison inexact. In addition, the PATrain made the trip from Versailles to Pittsburgh in 23 minutes, while it took over an hour by bus.
In 1978 PAT renewed its agreement with the B&O, and was finally able to secure the capital funding for the new equipment plus a new intermodal transportation center in McKeesport. The McKeesport Transportation Center opened on December 21, 1981. In addition to buses and the PATrain, the center saw service from Amtrak's Chicago—Washington Capitol Limited. Additional capital improvements included the construction of new park and ride lots at Braddock and Versailles and the addition of a new stop at Port Vue.
In mid-1979 service stood at eight round-trips Monday-Friday and five round-trips on Saturday. There was no service on Sundays. Three round-trips terminated at McKeesport, with the remainder continuing to Versailles. In a nod to railroad tradition the Port Authority assigned names to the trains: PATrain, Early Bird, Pittsburgher, Golden Triangle, Shopper, Mid Day, Mon Valley, McKeesporter, and Youghiogheny.
Decline and discontinuance
Daily ridership peaked in 1981 at 1,800 during the reconstruction of Parkway East (which had spawned the short-lived PennDOT-operated Parkway Limited). By 1983 daily ridership had dropped below 1,300, spread over eight daily round trips. Operating expenses for FY 1982-1983 were $1.8 million, of which only $500,000 was recovered. PAT's operations director cited multiple factors, including fare increases, van pools, and a generally poor economic situation in the Monongahela Valley.
PAT discontinued service after April 28, 1989, citing declining ridership and increasing operating losses. PAT instituted express bus service to cover the route.
|PATrain heading downtown|
|PATrain at Versailles, 1981|
Trains operated in push-pull mode. A typical consist in the 1980s was three-four coaches, the last of which was fitted for cab control. Motive power was provided by a pair of refurbished EMD F7A diesel-electric locomotives. The trains were painted in a brown-and-orange scheme. PAT owned ten ex-Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) coaches, all originally built by Pullman-Standard. When service ended in 1989 the equipment was sold to the Connecticut Department of Transportation to bootstrap the new Shore Line East service. At times Budd Rail Diesel Cars were used instead.
Inbound PATrains originated at Versailles (1st & Wampler). They then used P&LE Liberty Boro Bridge to cross the Youghiogheny River to reach Port Vue-Liberty (along River Road). Departing Port Vue, trains turned east and crossed the Youghiogheny a second time via the P&LE McKeesport Bridge to reach McKeesport (Lysle Boulevard & Sinclair). Trains then followed the north bank of the Monongahela River, heading north-northwest toward Braddock (6th & Washington). Finally, trains continued running west along the river to reach the B&O's Grant Street Station in downtown Pittsburgh. Grant Street was a commuter-only station; all B&O's intercity traffic used the P&LE's station on the opposite side of the river (now Station Square).
- "PAT Signals For More Trains". Pittsburgh Press. February 22, 1970. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- Walsh, Lawrence (January 23, 1972). "Rails Fail To Pull Riders From Autos". Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- Leherr, Dave (January 3, 1974). "PAT Testing Feasibility Of McKeesport Rail Run". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- Leherr, Dave (February 1, 1974). "Hunt Backs PAT's Commuter Plan". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- Leherr, Dave (June 6, 1977). "PAT's Rail Experiment: Are Expenses Too High?". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- Grata, Joe (May 26, 1978). "Rail Pact OK'd For Mon Commuter". Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- Fisher, Ken (December 22, 1981). "McKeesport transit station opens". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- Fisher, Ken (December 24, 1980). "Work starts on Mon Valley train stops". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- Port Authority of Allegheny County (June 17, 1979). "Mon Valley Commuter Rail".
- Fisher, Ken (October 6, 1983). "PAT's deficit rising as train ridership drops". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- Merriman, Woodene (April 25, 1989). "The PATrain's Last Ride". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- Bowen, Douglas John (November 1, 1990). "Commuter rail lines build and rebuild to meet rising demand". Railway Age – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Retrieved 2012-12-10.
- LaMay, Robert. "The Shore Line East Commuter Railroad in Pictures". Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- Port Authority of Allegheny County. "Mon Valley Commuter Rail". Retrieved 2011-05-29.