West Penn Railways

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West Penn Railways
West-penn-railways-logo-a.jpg
Locale Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia
Dates of operation 1904–1952
Predecessor Brownsville Street Railway Co., Greensburg and Southern Electric Street Railway Co, Latrobe Street Railway Co., and others
Successor None (Exception: Co-operative Transit Company was the successor of Wheeling area lines.)
Track gauge 5 ft 2 12 in (1,588 mm) (Exception: Kittanning area lines were 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm).)
Length 339 miles (546 km)
Headquarters Connellsville, Pennsylvania
Former depot in Greensburg, now City Hall
Former freight station in Greensburg
Former depot in Connellsville
Former depot in Uniontown

West Penn Railways, one part of the West Penn System, was an interurban electric railway headquartered in Connellsville, Pennsylvania. It was part of the region's power generation utility.

History[edit]

West Penn Railways consisted of 339 miles (546 km) of electric trolley railway at its peak. It operated in a well populated mining region of rugged mountainous western Pennsylvania and connected numerous towns and villages with hourly or better transport from its north end towns at McKeesport, Latrobe and Trafford through the larger towns of Greensburg, Mt Pleasant, Connellsville, Scottdale, and Uniontown to southern most Fairchild and Martin. A branch extended to Brownsville on the Monongahela River. Some of its predecessor trolley companies operated as early as 1889 in the Greensburg area and as early as 1893 in the Wheeling area. West Penn Railways Company, as a separate corporate entity from its parent power company, was chartered on February 18, 1904. It operated a very active and inexpensive regional transportation service until August 9, 1952, when its last trolley ran on its one time busiest Uniontown to Greensburg line. Because much of its fare generating business was to bring residents of outlying areas into nearby towns for shopping and entertainment, particularly to see movies in the 1930s and 1940s, the West Penn's business declined with the decline in area mine and coking employment, the construction of better roads, and increased car ownership and use. An unsubstantiated story holds that once television reached the region, West Penn's management, facing an obvious future of fewer and fewer riders due to people staying home to watch TV, decided to abandon railway operations quickly. At one point near abandonment, the still well maintained big orange trolleys ominously carried signs reading, "To keep the 5c fare we need more riders".

Operation[edit]

Like most interurbans, West Penn's trolleys were powered from an overhead electric wire. The cars themselves were larger and heavier than typical city streetcars and were painted in a standout bright orange. West Penn's broad gauge (5' 2½") single track was laid in streets in towns, but out in the countryside the track often ran on a right-of-way separate from roads. At some points, the West Penn's single track would reenter a road in order to use a road bridge and run not in the center but on one side, and motorists had the unusual problem of having to face a trolley approaching them head on in their lane. This odd arrangement also existed in some of the towns with the trolley running alongside the curb. In the country, sidings allowed opposing cars to pass at various points, and a crude but effective block signal system existed which required the motorman to reach from his trolley's window and throw a toggle switch.[1] West Penn had some very substantial long bridges crossing ravines and valleys. As was typical for interurbans, stops were more frequent than for a conventional railroad, curves were tighter, and gradients (slopes) could be much steeper. West Penn Railways as a vibrant transportation system played a key role in the pre-automobile unpaved poor road era and were an important factor in the region's economy.

Former structures still standing[edit]

The depot building in Greensburg (constructed in 1927) still stands at 416 South Main Street and is now used as the Greensburg City Hall. The freight station in Greensburg, slightly to the west of City Hall, is also extant. In Connellsville, the former West Penn depot is a three story structure now used as a bank at 125 South Arch Street. In Uniontown, the former depot (11 East Penn Street), built in 1932, is used as a business school.

A concrete bridge built in 1908 over Monongahela Creek still exists near Allison, Pennsylvania[2]

Coke Region lines[edit]

The bulk of West Penn Railways' trackage formed a network in Allegheny, Westmoreland, and Fayette counties of Pennsylvania, comprising 158 miles (254 km) in 1917, with headquarters in Connellsville. The main line ran from Greensburg, through Hecla (now known as Southwest), Mount Pleasant, Scottdale, Connellsville, and Uniontown, a distance of 31 miles (50 km). This trip took 2 hours 25 minutes, with service provided every half hour.[3] The speed averaged approximately 13 miles per hour (21 km/h), including stops. The ridership was almost entirely local in nature; most passengers rode only a few miles (mainly from their homes to the nearest town for shopping, or to go to work). Service ended on August 9, 1952.

The phrase "Coke Region" is based on the area's fame for producing coke (fuel) from coal. The coke industry suffered a major blow in the 1920s after byproduct ovens were built near the Pittsburgh steel mills, rendering the "beehive" facilities that dotted West Penn's territory nearly obsolete. As a result the trolleys had fewer passengers to take to work, and the decline began in earnest.

Branches and minor lines were as follows.[4] (Date of last rail service is in parentheses.)

  • McKeesport - Wilmerding (1904)
  • McKeesport - Lincoln Way (1924)
  • Locust Street, McKeesport (1925)
  • Jerome Street, McKeesport (1928)
  • Scottdate - Meadow Mill (1931)
  • Boston - Scott Haven (1932)
  • Greensburg - Bunker Hill (1934)
  • Tarr - Mount Pleasant (1936)
  • Irwin - McKeesport (1938)
  • Greensburg - Hunker - Scottdale (1939)
  • Larimer - Trafford (1942)
  • Irwin - Larimer (1948)
  • Uniontown - Brownsville (1950)
  • Uniontown - Martin (1950)
  • Uniontown - Fairchance (1950)
  • Connellsville - Dickerson Run (1951)
  • Connellsville - Phillips - Uniontown (parallel to the main line but separate) (1951)
  • Irwin - Greensburg (1952)
  • Latrobe - Hecla (now Southwest) (1952)
  • Connellsville - South Connellsville (1952)

Noncontiguous lines[edit]

There were five other components of West Penn Railways which did not connect to each other or to the main network of "Coke Region" tracks:

  • Kittanning: A line ran from Cowanshannock to Kittanning to Lenape Park (1899-1936). Lenape Park was an amusement park built and operated by the company. This line was built to a 4 foot 8½ inch gauge, the only element of West Penn Railways not built to a 5 feet 2½ inch gauge.
  • Oakdale - McDonald Street Railway: This line connected these two small communities west of Pittsburgh, operating 1907-1927.
  • Wheeling Traction Company (Wheeling, West Virginia): Service operated from Wheeling south to Moundsville, and from Wheeling north to Weirton. Another line ran on the opposite (western) bank of the Ohio River, from Shadyside to Rayland, with a branch to Barton, and a connection by bridge to Wheeling. Another branch connected Brilliant and Steubenville to the Wheeling-Weirton line. Track length in 1917 was 102 miles (164 km). Wheeling's earliest trolley service consisted of horse-drawn trolleys in 1863 and electric trolleys in 1890, although this was prior to West Penn Railways acquiring control in 1906. Control by West Penn Railways ended in 1931, after which an employee-owned cooperative, Co-operative Transit Company, conducted operations on the Wheeling-Barton and Wheeling-Shadyside routes until 1948 when river flooding caused irreparable damage.

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Middleton, Wm: p223, ...crude but effective block signal system using a single light bulb burning in a birdcage type structure which the motorman controlled from his trolley's window when he reached out and actuated a toggle switch.
  2. ^ http://www.stuffthatsgone.com/Allison%20PA%20West%20Penn%20Rwys%20Glencoe%20Viaduct.htm
  3. ^ West Penn Railways (no author, no ISBN), Pennsylvania Railway Association, Inc., Pittsburgh, Pa., 1973, p. 6
  4. ^ West Penn Railways (no author, no ISBN), Pennsylvania Railway Association, Inc., Pittsburgh, Pa., 1973, p. 18

Bibliography[edit]

  • (No author shown) (1973). West Penn Railways. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Railway Museum Association, Inc. No ISBN. 
  • CERA staff, Joseph Canfield editor (1968). West Penn Traction, CERA Bulletin #110. Chicago. IL: Central Electric Railfans Association. 
  • Volkmer, Wm D (2002). Pennsylvania Trolleys in Color, Volume 3, Pittsburg Region; and Volume 4, The 1940s. Morning Sun Books, Scotch Plains, NJ. 

External links[edit]