Edited by Tom Rimer
The Allegheny Valley Railroad constructed the Sligo Branch in 1874. The AVRR ran along the east bank of the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh northward to the area around Oil City PA and had seen their profits increase dramatically due to the oil boom in that area. The Low Grade line was constructed in 1874 from Redbank on the Allegheny River 110 miles northeast to Driftwood PA. The Sligo Branch cut off of the Low Grade at Lasonham, 5 miles from Redbank and traveled through Rimersburg, the largest town along the line to Sligo, making the branch 10.1 miles in length. The branch was originally built to tap the great lumber and coal resources of Clarion County. The lumber was quickly exhausted but the huge bituminous coal veins to this day have supported the branch. It's interesting to note that the Sligo branch has outlived five railroads that have owned it over the years and is still in use in 2002. The Pennsy took control of the Allegheny Valley Railroad in 1900 and the line was extended to Buffalo NY, becoming the PRR's Buffalo & Allegheny Valley Division. The Low Grade Line connected at Driftwood with the Pennsy's Harrisburg to Buffalo mainline.
The Sligo Branch transverses some of the most rugged topography in the area climbing 525 feet in the first five miles with 12-degree curves. This dictated that double headed H class consolidations be used to negotiate the tight curves and control the tonnage on the steep grades. These locomotives were used exclusively along this branch with H-10's being the last used steam along the line in 1956. The Pennsy used mainly GP-7's and GP-9's when dieselization occurred and these locomotives continued in use throughout the PRR and Penn Central ownership of the branch. Two to four GP's were generally used in tandem depending on the amount of tonnage to be hauled and on occasion as many as six locomotives were used to bring the loaded coal hoppers down the steep grade from Rimersburg to Lawsonham. From there the loads were taken either 5 miles south to Redbank and the Pittsburgh to Buffalo mainline, or 105 miles northeast to Driftwood and the connection with the Harrisburg to Buffalo mainline. Locomotives for the branch were serviced and stationed at Phillipston, a locomotive service facility that was on the Allegheny Valley line about 3 miles north of Redbank. Passenger service was operated over the branch until April 15, 1941.
Countless mines and coal loaders have existed over the branch in it's 128 years of existence. Today C&K Coal is the only remaining regular customer on the line and is a strip mining operation with a loader near Sligo. Coal is trucked to the loader and accumulated for anywhere from a week to a month. The coal train is brought to town with as many as 100 empty hoppers brought up the branch. Since the area around Rimersburg is the only level area on the branch, the hoppers are parked here and taken to the loader 30 or so at a time. Once loaded, the hoppers are returned to Rimersburg and parked or taken down to Lawsonham. The trip down the 4%+ grade to Lawsonham is accomplished in usually three installments of 30+ hoppers each with 3 to 6 locomotives in the lead. The 100 hoppers were then reassembled on the low grade and taken northward to a power plant in the Buffalo NY area.
During the time the Pittsburg & Shawmut owned the branch, a string of loaded hoppers broke loose from the C&K loader just outside of Sligo and dragged a single SW-9 with them downgrade to the end of the line at Sligo where they piled up. About a year ago another string of loaded hoppers broke loose from the loader -- this time without a locomotive, and once again piled up at the end of the line. The grades along the branch are absolutely hazardous. Rimersburg is the pivot point at the top and it is downgrade from there in either direction.
The Sligo Branch was constructed by the Allegheny Valley RR, and then passed to the Pennsy in 1900 and to the Penn Central in 1968. Conrail then owned the branch until the early 1990's when they sold the Low Grade and the Sligo Branch to the Pittsburg & Shawmut RR. In the late 90's the P&S was sold to the Genesee & Wyoming who today operates it with Buffalo & Pittsburgh motive power out of Brookville PA. The little branch has flown many flags and still endures today, even though it is now down to one customer.