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Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Ohio River Bridge

Pittsburgh & Lake Erie (P&LE) Railroad Ohio River Bridge



Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Ohio River Bridge (40°41'34.52"N, - 80°17'27.33"W)

The Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad (P&LE), also known as the "Little Giant," was incorporated on May 11, 1875. The P&LE Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Terminal was built between 1898 and 1901 housed the company headquarters, passenger station, train shed, and freight houses, which were located at the south bank of the Monongahela River adjacent to the Smithfield Street Bridge and Carson Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The astonishing part of the P&LE station was its ornamental interior adorned with brass, mahogany, marble, gilt, and showcased a mosaic stained glass cathedral ceiling.The terminal’s interior was a stark contrast to the smoky and grimy industrial city that was Pittsburgh at the close of the century.

The Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 11, 1974. Today, the Grand Concourse set in its Edwardian splendor is part of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation Station Square restoration, which began in 1976 and opened to the public in April of 1978. Station Square is a 52-acre indoor and outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment complex.

The P&LE was a heavy-duty railroad since the tonnage that it transported was out of proportion to its route mileage, which was 1/10 of 1% of class 1 railroads, but moved more than 1% of the nation's tonnage. This was largely because the railroad was strategically located along many of the busiest and largest steel operations in the country including the greater Pittsburgh area, which consumed and shipped vast amounts of material. It was a specialized railroad deriving much of its revenue from coal, coke, iron ore, limestone, and steel. The railroad is legendary for hauling these products with Berkshires, a massive steam locomotive.


The original line began in the east near 24th Street in the South Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh near the Jones and Laughlin Iron Works, which opened in 1879.  It also connected to the Monongahela Connecting Railroad and the Pittsburgh, McKeesport & Youghiogheny (PM&Y) at this terminus. From this point, the P&LE right of way follows the left downstream bank of the Monongahela River past the terminal to the Golden Triangle, where that waterway meets the Allegheny River and becomes the Ohio River. The railroad continued northwest along the left downstream bank of the Ohio to Monaca where it crosses the wide Ohio River reaching the city of Beaver. From there it followed the Beaver River utilizing the former Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal right-of-way for most of this route along the Beaver River to just south of New Castle, where it then followed the Mahoning River west-northwest, leaving Pennsylvania just east of Lowellville, Ohio. From there it ran northwest into Youngstown, terminating at a junction with the New York Central known as Haselton. By 1879 the railroad’s main line between Pittsburgh and Youngstown had been completed The P&LE never reached its namesake destination Lake Erie (at Ashtabula, Ohio) until the formation of Conrail in 1976, a century after its founding.

The most remarkable structure on the P&LE main line has always been the Ohio River crossing in Beaver County at river mile 25.7. However, this bridge actually replaced a single-track bridge built in 1890, which itself replaced a wrought iron bridge at the same location. designed and built in 1878 by the Philadelphia Bridge Works. 



The new bridge was assembled on an alignment 300 feet upstream from the old bridge, just west of its turbulent confluence with the Beaver River, which was probably the greatest challenge of the original construction campaign. The relocation required permission from the U.S. War Department, which had jurisdiction over navigable waterways. Approval was contingent upon the railroad providing a 700 feet clear channel for shipping.






Taking a slight skew and pier protection into account, the main span is required to be 769 feet long. This was beyond the capabilities of any simple truss design, but within the range of a cantilever, which uses structural continuity over the piers to distribute loads to adjacent spans called anchor arms.

The Monaca-Beaver Railroad Bridge is significant for its relatively long and heavy cantilever truss. It consists of two spans: a southern cantilever through truss of 769 feet with 320-foot anchor arms; and a northern camelback through truss of 370 feet.

The bridge is notable in that rather than selecting an alternate proposal, the P&LE railroad proceeded with its original plan to erect a cantilever bridge over the Ohio River in July 1907 despite its similarity to a defective bridge designed to cross the St. Lawrence River. The Quebec Bridge collapsed during construction a year earlier on August 29, 1907, which caused many similar projects to be cancelled. After the Canadian government investigated the infamous Quebec disaster and it ceased to be a news item, the engineering press paid significant attention to the progress of the Monaca-Beaver Bridge project.

The structure type is classified as a pin-connected cantilever through truss with suspended span and a pin-connected subdivided camelback through truss. Construction of the bridge began in March 1908.  

The McClintic-Marshall Construction Co. (Pittsburgh) built the superstructure and despite a simple, conservative, and relatively heavy design, the bridge broke new ground in bridge assembly and included a number of innovative structural details and erection procedures devised by Albert Lucius (consulting engineer, New York) and Paul L. Wolfel (Chief Engineer, McClintic-Marshall Construction Company). Through precise specifications, design checks, materials testing, and painstaking review, P&LE Assistant Chief Engineer A. R. Raymer maintained strict quality control, which ensured the project's success.


The substructure is also significant for its early use of concrete pier caissons, which was built by the Dravo Contracting Company (Pittsburgh). The “Engineering Record” reported a number of outstanding details including the use of unreinforced concrete caissons for the tower piers, the design of custom-built reusable erection equipment, the invention of a wedge bearing to prevent "hammering" of the anchor arms, special tapered rivets, and a novel traveling crane that avoided the "enormous erection stresses" that plagued previous cantilever bridges.



This massive cantilever railway bridge was completed in May 1910 and is one of the most famous railroad bridges in America. 




At the turn of the 19th century (1899), the P&LE became a subsidiary of the New York Central Railroad (NYC). Beginning in 1934, the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) bought trackage rights over P&LE from McKeesport to New Castle since B&O's route through Pittsburgh had excessive grades and curves.

In the 1930's and 1940's, the most common meathod of travel in North America was by train and trolley. Local commutes to a nearby metropolitan area and medium to long distance trips to regional cities were predominately made by rail. Two-lane winding highways of steel linked America. During the 1950's, a shift began to occur and Americans were commuted in America. The development of faster, more economical passenger aurcraft meant that moderately priced long distance travel was within the reach of more Americans, especially business travelers who appreciated the dramatic decrease in travel time.

President Eisenhower's commitment to developing an efficient interstate highway network enabled more people to travel by car, thus eroding the railroad’s passenger base. 

The P&LE's passenger service provided daily commuter traffic to Pittsburgh and through service with connections to the New York Central, the Baltimore & Ohio, and the Erie Railroads.

During this period, P&LE was successful, because its traffic and profits primarily were derived from the coal industry and it was not impacted by the decline of passenger transportation following World War II, when the increasing popularity of cars and airplanes began to affect the railroad passenger business. Nonetheless, by the 1970s, P&LE’s passenger traffic essentially disappeared. Following the formation of the Penn Central when the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroad merged on February 1, 1968, the P&LE operated as an independent subsidiary. After the collapse of the Penn Central financially in 1976 and the formation of Conrail, P&LE became an independent railroad because P&LE was owed $15.2 million by Penn Central. 

The economic landscape of P&LE's territory continued to decline and the P&LE would struggle to be profitable during the decade of the 1980’s which saw the vast majority of the steel mills, foundries, chemical plants, potteries, and heavy industry of the Pittsburgh region downsize and eventual close. First, the financially destitute P&LE sold of its interest to then PRR successor, Conrail followed by CSX Transportation, successor to the B&O a few years later. The P&LE sold its New Castle-to-McKeesport line to CSX, which included the Monaca-Beaver Ohio River Bridge in July of 1991 and officially ended its service on Sept. 11, 1992.  After 100+ years, the Ohio River Bridge still supports freight traffic for CSX on a double-track mainline.


ORWT Photos

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