The Chartiers Branch left the Panhandle main line at Carnegie, PA (MP 8.5) and ran along the banks of Chartiers Creek for 23.6 miles nearly due south to Washington, PA. Timetable direction, Carnegie to Washington, was westward. The entire branch, and its two connecting branches were located completely within Allegheny and Washington Counties in Pennsylvania.
The first attempt to build a railroad through the Chartiers Valley occurred in 1831. The Washington & Pittsburg Railroad was incorporated in February of that year, and was given a charter in March to construct a line from the city of Washington, PA to the city of Pittsburgh. Subscriptions were taken, and civil engineer Charles DeHass completed a survey of potential routes. The survey showed the Chartiers Creek Valley as the easiest route between the two named points. Subscription investment never reached the amount necessary to begin construction, and the charter lapsed. An additional attempt was made in 1837, with the same result.
On February 7, 1853, the Chartiers Valley Railroad was incorporated, and was given a charter on March 22 of that year to accomplish the unfulfilled task of the Washington & Pittsburg. The Pittsburgh & Steubenville Railroad had acquired right of way in 1849 from Pittsburgh to the (West) Virginia border, and surveys showed that its route from Pittsburgh to Mansfield (Carnegie) was the most practical way to reach Pittsburgh from Chartiers Creek. A connection point was established at Carnegie, and the Chartiers Valley began acquiring its own right of way and grading the line. Funds were exhausted by 1856 with the work about one-third complete, and all construction stopped. Foreclosure followed in 1861, but it was not until after the Civil War, in 1866, that the line was sold to William Howard, solicitor for the Pennsylvania Railroad.
The Chartiers Railway Company was incorporated in 1867 and, with Pennsy support, completed the work. Service began from Carnegie to Canonsburg (14 miles) on December 19, 1870, and to Washington on May 18, 1871. On December 8, 1871, the Chartiers Railway was leased to the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati & St. Louis Railway, successor to the Panhandle, which was the successor to the Pittsburgh & Steubenville. The lease was passed on to the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway upon its formation in 1890. The PCC&StL finally acquired the Chartiers Railway Company on November 20, 1907.
Development of the coal fields along the route in the 1880s and later industrial development in the valley reversed the initially poor revenues, and the line was a solid performer for the Pennsy through the Second World War. With improved highway access to the industries it served, and the depletion of on-line coal reserves which occurred almost simultaneously during the war, the inexorable decline began. The B&M branch was abandoned from MP 4.9 to MP 8.0 in 1942 with the closure of the Bishop and Creedmoor mines. Passenger service to Washington ended on July 20, 1952. Single tracking of the previously double track line began at about the same time. Block and Interlocking stations were removed as the decline accelerated. With further mine closures, the Westland and Palanka branches were abandoned in 1955. On August 4, 1959, the connection with the main line at Carnegie was abandoned for 0.7 miles to the Junction No. 1 connection with the Pittsburgh, Chartiers & Youghiogheny Railway, and the Chartiers Branch became the Washington Secondary, accessed via the Scully Branch on trackage rights over the PC&Y. The Block Signals went dark for the last time.
Not much else changed through the Penn Central era, though Maintenance of Way dropped to near zero, and train frequencies, consists and speeds along with it. Although the Chartiers Creek flood control project of the early 1970s eliminated the nearly annual flood damage which had caused significant maintenance problems throughout the history of the branch, the condition of the roadbed steadily deteriorated. The B&M branch and the Waynesburg Secondary were abandoned prior to the Conrail takeover in 1976. Conrail ceased operations west of Tylerdale (MP 21.8) and on the Tylerdale Connecting on April 30, 1982. The line was renamed the Canonsburg Industrial Track, and Conrail began looking for a buyer in 1994, as it tried to divest itself of industrial lines.
On December 9, 1996, RailTex began operations on the remaining trackage of the Chartiers Branch, from MP 0.7 near Glenn to MP 20.1 near Arden, purchased along with a remnant of the Panhandle main and the Scully Branch, and the PC&Y, which Conrail had acquired on December 8, 1993. The new company is called the Pittsburgh Industrial Railroad, with headquarters in the old PC&Y facilities in McKees Rocks.
Two PRR branches connected with the Chartiers Branch. The Bridgeville & McDonald Branch (B&M), originally called the Miller's Run Extension, left the line at Bridgeville (MP 4.0) and extended eight miles west along Miller's Run to Venice, where it served the Bishop coal mine.
The Westland Branch headed west from Houston (MP 15.3) to the Westland (Midland No. 3) coal mine, five miles distant. The two-mile Palanka Branch, off the Westland Branch, served the Palanka mine. At its western terminus, the Chartiers Branch connected with the narrow gauge Waynesburg & Washington RR, also a PRR property, which was converted to standard gauge in 1944 and operated as the Waynesburg Secondary. Unlike the Chartiers Branch, the W & W had tortuous curves and long, steep grades, and had few on-line industries. It saw little traffic, existing mainly as an interurban passenger route.
The Chartiers Branch connected with the half-mile long Tylerdale Connecting RR at Tylerdale (MP 21.9). This road was jointly owned by the PRR and the B&O, and provided an interchange with the B&O Benwood, WV (Wheeling) to Glenwood, PA (Pittsburgh) line. It owned no motive power or rolling stock. The Pennsy handled industrial customers and switching on the northerly 0.26 miles of the line, with the B&O doing likewise on the southern quarter-mile.
The Montour RR, a coal hauler jointly owned by the Pennsy and the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, connected at Hills (MP 8.6).
The Pittsburgh & West Virginia, a Pennroad line, connected to the B&M Branch about a half mile west of Bridgeville.
The Pittsburgh, Chartiers & Youghiogheny, also a joint PRR/P&LE property, shared the Chartiers Branch right of way from Junction No. 1 at MP 0.7 near Glenn to Woodville (MP 1.9). The PC&Y and the PRR also shared the PC&Y right of way for 2.6 miles from Jct. No. 1 to Lewis Run Junction at the west end of Scully Yard. This segment was operated by the PRR as part of the Scully Branch.
The Chartiers Branch was essentially a water level route, following the banks of the creek fairly closely, usually at the edge of the flood plain. It ascended from an elevation of 770.8 feet above sea level at Carnegie to an elevation of 1060 feet above sea level at Washington. Grades were easy, and the steepest of these were at either end of the line. The westbound grade out of Carnegie was 0.92% for the first mile to Junction No. 1, and the westbound grade for the final quarter-mile to the Waynesburg Secondary was 1.67%, the steepest of the entire route. The steepest eastbound grade was 0.86% for a distance of about 100 yards at the Rich Hill Mine near Meadowlands. Grades on the B&M and Westland Branches were similar, with a steady westward climb to the mines which marked the end of each branch.
Curves on the Chartiers Branch were also most extreme at the termini; 11 degrees at Carnegie, and 9 degrees at Washington. About two-thirds of the route was on tangent track, with most curves less than 5 degrees. The B&M branch was likewise mostly straight, with 18 curves in 8 miles, and only two curves in excess of 10 degrees. The Westland branch was a little more crooked, with 27 curved sections in 5 miles, though only three of these were in excess of 10 degrees.
The Chartiers Branch crossed the creek for which it was named 19 times in 23 miles. There was one tunnel, called Bell, 502' long, about one mile west of Hills. The tunnel was built for a line relocation out of the Chartiers Creek flood plain sometime after 1900. The entire route was double track until the 1950s, with numerous sidings to serve the many industrial customers, and small yards near the coal tipples.
Block Stations on the Chartiers Branch were: Carnegie, LD at Leasdale (MP 1.6) and Houston (MP 15.3). Passenger and Freight Stations were: Carnegie, Glenn (MP 1.0), Woodville (MP 1.9), Bower Hill (MP 2.8), Kirwan (MP 3.4), Bridgeville (MP 4.0), Mayview (MP 6.4), Boyce (MP 7.6), Hills (MP 8.5), Van Emmen (MP 11.6), Morganza (MP 12.6), Richfol (MP 13.2), Canonsburg (MP 14.2), Houston (MP 15.3), Shingiss (MP 16.0), Meadow Lands (MP 18.0), Arden (MP 20.0), Tylerdale (MP 21.9), Chestnut Street (MP 22.8), and Washington (MP 23.6).
Industries and Traffic Base
The Chartiers Valley Railroad was conceived to provide interurban passenger service from Washington to Pittsburgh, and to intercept freight which was traveling the National Road through Washington en route to Wheeling, and bring it to Pittsburgh. If that had remained its mission, the line would now probably be another little-known failure. But the railroad made it profitable to mine the rich coal fields which surrounded it, and the mines made it profitable to operate a railroad.
In 1889, in the two miles between the first two crossings of Chartiers Creek, eight mines produced over 500 car loads of coal per day. By 1916, coal from 25 mines traveled over the Chartiers Branch, much of it from the very productive mines on the B&M and Westland branches. The mines served were: Mansfield No. 1, Mansfield No. 2, Bower Hill, Bridgeville, Morgan Slope, Davis, Hazel, Boone, Manifold No. 1, Manifold No. 2, Enterprise, Melrose, National No. 1, National No. 2, Creedmoor, Laurel Hill No. 2, Laurel Hill No. 5, Midland No. 1, Midland No. 2, Midland No. 3, Union, Allison, Meadow Lands No. 1, Meadow Lands No. 2, and Rich Hill. Interchange coal traffic flowed from connections with the PC&Y, Montour, and Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal, which would become the P&WV in 1917.
With ready reserves of coal, and a reliable supply of water in the form of Chartiers Creek, it was natural for heavy industry to locate nearby. Universal Rolling Mill opened at Kirwan in 1908. American Vanadium Steel and Flannery Bolt Company, located across the tracks, would eventually join with Universal, which merged with Cyclops Steel in 1936, into Universal-Cyclops Specialty Steel Division. The Higbee Glass works, also at Kirwan, opened prior to the turn of the century, and became General Electric's Bridgeville Glass Plant in 1913. With Mayer Brick Works also at Kirwan, Silhol Lumber & Supply in Bridgeville, and the James B. Sipe Paint Company, which moved from Pittsburgh to Bower Hill in 1903, the two mile segment between the B&M Branch connection at Bridgeville and the PC&Y junction at Woodville was one of the most congested on the route.
From Bridgeville to Morganza was mostly farmland. Aside from the interchange at Hills with the Montour, and the coal supplied to the power houses at the Allegheny County Poor Farm at Mayview (later, Mayview State Mental Hospital) and the Pennsylvania Reform School at Morganza (later, Western Center), most traffic traversed this segment without a stop. Canonsburg was the next industrial center in the valley, with Canonsburg Steel & Iron, Canonsburg Milling, Pennsylvania Transformer Co., Fort Pitt Bridge Works, Canonsburg Pottery, W. S. George Pottery, Hardy & Rankin, Vitro Manufacturing Co., Washington Grocery Corp., T. C. Lumber Co., and American Brake Shoe Co. all with sidings located in the five miles between Morganza and Meadowlands. At Washington, more than 25 customers had sidings in the final three miles of trackage, including Continental Can, O'Brien Steel, Washington Steel, Oil Well Supply, Crescent Brewing, Highland Glass, Duncan Miller Glass, Washington Grain & Feed, Albert Packing, Sinclair Oil, and Atlantic Refining.
Prior to World War II, passenger trains would carry milk from the many dairy farms in northern Washington County for delivery to Pittsburgh and Washington. Otherwise, not many agricultural products originated on line. Almost all commodities carried by the branch were industrial resources or products which either originated or terminated on line. The little overhead traffic which did exist was mostly coal delivered by the Montour and P&WV, destined for points elsewhere on the PRR.
As industries closed and merged, and as Interstate Routes 79 and 70 diverted traffic from rail to highway, the diverse and abundant freight consists were gone. By the end of the Conrail era, only grain traffic for Arden, Electrical equipment for Cooper Power Systems at Canonsburg, and the odd shipment of scrap steel to Universal Stainless Steel Products at Kirwan remained. The closure of Cooper's operation, and cutbacks at Universal because of the glut of imported specialty steel result in a single train of five to ten 100 ton grain hoppers, five days per week, where sixty years ago over 800 car loads of freight per day had passed.
Remaining Physical Plant
With the exception of about a mile of right-of-way at either end of the line, the roadbed of the Chartiers Branch remains intact. No signals, yards or service facilities remain. A few lineside structures still exist. The freight station in Washington has been designated a historic landmark. It has been restored, and houses several small businesses. The Bridgeville station, also designated as a historic landmark, is now the Bridgeville Public Library. Stations at Woodville and Boyce are now private residences.
The station at Canonsburg survives, complete with its brick platform and walkways, as the Sons of Italy Social Hall.
Howell, Cecil G., The Building of Pan Handle Division of The Pennsylvania Railroad, Oakdale, PA: How Book, 1995.
Kobus, Ken and Consoli, Jack, The Pennsy in the Steel City, Upper Darby, PA: PRRT&HS, 1996.
Schaeffer, Gene P., The Montour Railroad, Telford, PA: Silver Brook Junction Publishing Company, 1997.
Thomas Cushing, editor, History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, (2 Volumes), Chicago: A. Warner & Co., 1889.
Department of Mines of Pennsylvania, Map of the Bituminous Coal Region, 1916, Harrisburg, PA: Wm. Stanley Ray, State Printer, 1916.
Anonymous, The Township of Scott, 1861-1962, A Brief History, No copyright claimed.
Bridgeville Community Association, Bridging The Years, Volume 2, Bridgeville, PA: Bridgeville Community Association , 1976.
Track Charts of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Pittsburgh, Chartiers, and Youghiogheny Railroad.