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"Symbol of Service"

P&WV "Banning Viaduct" (1,582 ft.) over the Youghiogheny River (Jacobs Creek, PA)

Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railway

September 24, 2006 (near Jacobs Creek, PA)


On February 11, 1931, an extension to Connellsville (PA) was opened on the Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railway, making a connection with the Western Maryland Railway (and points east). This formed the famous "Alphabet Route" which was an independent line between the Northeastern states and the Midwest. This was roughly the same route originally identified by George "Jay" Gould to assemble a transcontinental railrod, but now using the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad (Nickel Plate) rather than the originally planned Wabash Railroad to reach St. Louis and Chicago.

The name "Alphabet Route" was created from the many lettered initials of the participating railroads (NYC&STL, W&LE, P&WV, WM, RDG, CNJ, L&HR, NYNH&H). Symbol freights on the middle section of these railroads were called "Alpha Jets."

The Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railway was the last major railroad built in the Pittsburgh area, operating 132 miles of track throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Since most of the desirable passages were taken by other railroads, the P&WV was forced to find an alternate mainline route, consisting of 151 bridges (nearly 8 miles of the total railroad) and 18 tunnels.

Increased rail traffic prompted the P&WV to purchase the first "single-expansion" 2-6-6-4  articulated from Baldwin in 1934 (J-1 Class, #1100-1102 with booster). These remarkable locomotives were designed for heavy freight service in the mountains between Pittsburgh and Connellsville, with a tractive effort of 97,500 (lbs.) and equipped with 64" drivers to negotiate tight curves. The P&WV took delivery of another four locomotives in 1937 (J-2 Class, #1103-1106).

The last steam locomotive was retired in 1953, after the P&WV received their final Fairbanks Morse H-20-44 road switchers (#50-71 built between 1947 and 1953). The railroad was now fully dieselized with nearly 100% FM locomotives.

P&WV - Fairbanks Morse H-20-44

Alphabet Route - Eight Railroads

Abandoned P&WV Ry. Bridge - Connellsville, PA

The old P&WV line now operates under the new Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway to a CSX (B&O) mainline connection at Connellsville. The huge P&WV bridge over the Youghiogheny River is now abandoned, since connections no longer exist with the Western Maryland Railway.

Western Maryland 2-10-0 "Class I-2" (eastbound)
Passing P&LE Connellsville station for Bowest (P&WV bridge in background)

~  Connellsville Operations  ~
Connellsville (PA) once served five railroads, including the Baltimore & Ohio, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh & West Virginia, Pittsburgh & Lake Erie and Western Maryland. The old B&O mainline is the only active railroad in town. Once the Western Maryland Railway was abandoned in 1975, the connections with the P&LE (Dickerson Run) and P&WV soon disappeared. See map below.
The Pittsburgh & Lake Erie originally entered the Connellsville region as the Pittsburgh, McKeesport and Youghiogheny Railroad Company, incorporated in 1881 and leased to the P&LE for 999 years in 1884. At the turn of the 20th Century, the P&LE developed Dickerson Run yard to service the extensive coal fields of the Connellsville region. The yard was located in a narrow, remote valley of the Youghiogheny River. As the Connellsville coal fields gradually disappeared, the yard's strategic importance diminished and was abandoned by the 1970's.
The old Pennsy "Southwest Secondary Branch" (now operated by the Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad) is active between Radebaugh (Greensburg), Youngwood (location of the first "Hump" yard), Scottdale and Bullskin Tipple Company (near Route 119 north of Connellsville). When Conrail left the area in Fayette county, they abandoned the parallel portions of the "Southwest Secondary Branch" next to the former B&O "FM&P" branch. The remainder of the line and  bridge over the Youghiogheny River was removed in the 1980's.

Pittsburgh & Lake Erie (in red) - Connellsville Area (circa 1960)

Bowest (located east of Connellsville) marks the western end of the Allegheny Mountains and the end of the Youghiogheny River Gorge. It was also a junction on the B&O "FM&P" branch (Fairmont, Morgantown & Pittsburgh), where coal was shipped on the Western Maryland, via trackage rights over the B&O. The Pittsburgh & West Virginia also interchanged with the Western Maryland at this point, through jointly owned yards and service facilities. Back in August of 1949, there was an average of five B&O and two Western Maryland trains per weekday, operating from Fairmont (WV) to Bowest yard. The name Bowest reflects the B&O and Western Maryland presence (BO-WEST).
Until the mid 1950's, eastbound P&WV trains and/or locomotives backed into Bowest yard off the mainline (located just east of the Western Maryland truss bridge over the B&O "FM&P branch), while westbound P&WV trains backed out of Bowest yard onto the mainline. After this period, P&WV and WM diesels were "pooled" with only crew changes on the mainline at Bowest. P&LE crews rarely ventured to Bowest, since the usual practice was for WM crews to interchange with the P&LE at Dickerson Run (until the yards closed).

Old Linen Postcard - Connellsville P&LE Station

P&LE Station (Connellsville, PA)

The P&LE (former Pittsburgh, McKeesport & Youghiogheny) station at Connellsville, built in 1911, was unique because it ran through town on an elevated concrete platform. Passengers would enter the station at street level, purchase their tickets and climb several stairs up the tower to a platform at track level. The P&LE was the only railroad that operated through a town while remaining elevated.

B&O (BR&P) and PRR Lines - DuBois (PA)

In 1991, the Pittsburg & Shawmut Railroad, which operated from Brockway (PA) south to Freeport (PA), purchased the 110 mile “Lawsonham to Driftwood” line from Conrail. This was the former Pennsylvania Railroad “Low Grade/Secondary” line through Sabula Tunnel (length 1743'), DuBois and the B&O (BR&P) crossing at Falls Creek (PA). In April 1996, the P&S merged into the Genesee & Wyoming.

PRR "Secondary Main" (Tunnel near Sabula, PA)

Kinzua Viaduct , Mt. Jewett, Pa. (May 2005)

The original Kinzua Viaduct was built in 1882 by the New York, Lake Erie and Western Coal and Railroad Company. The bridge spanned 2,053 feet across Kinzua Creek and stood 301 feet high, making it the second highest railroad bridge in the United States (fourth in the world). Due to increased traffic and train loads, the entire structure was replaced by a steel deck-girder design on September 25, 1900.

The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad bypassed the valley with a parallel route, several miles longer. By the late 1950's, the Erie reached an agreement to share the B&O tracks. A final “farewell excursion" train ran on June 21, 1959. Four months later, a wreck on the B&O diverted trains over the bridge for one day, until the viaduct was again closed. In 1963, the Kinzua Bridge State Park was created.

On July 21, 2003, a "100-mph tornado" ripped through the Kinzua Creek valley causing extensive damage to eleven of the twenty support towers. Due to the high cost of repair, the viaduct will not be rebuilt.


The New York & Erie Railroad (chartered 1832), originated at Piermont, north of New York City, before heading west to Binghamton, Hornell, Olean, Salamanca and finally reaching Dunkirk (NY) on May 19, 1851. Later on May 7, 1859, the Atlantic & Great Western Railroad was chartered from West Salamanca to the state line at Pennsylvania. As traffic grew in size on the Erie, coal became the main source of locomotive fuel (replacing wood). The Erie would push southward into the coal fields of Pennsylvania on February 26, 1859, with the merger of two earlier roads to form the Buffalo, Bradford and Pittsburgh Railroad Company. This line ran 25.97 miles south through Bradford (PA), after a connection with the mainline at Carrollton (NY). This branch known as the "Bradford Division" would travel through Bradford, Kinzua Viaduct, Mt. Jewett (trackage rights over BR&P to Clarion Jct.), then over Pennsy tracks to ultimately reach Brockwayville (PA).


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