See also: The Story of Pittsburgh Railways Interurban Division, the forward from this issue of Electric Railroads which provides an introduction to the two main routes of the Pittsburgh Railways Interurban Division


Map adapted from map on page 10 of the Electric Railroads magazine.

Construction of the Charleroi Interurban

by John Baxter
Electric Railroads, Number Twenty, July 1952
Published by the Electric Railroaders Association, Inc.

The text in this left column was scanned and converted via OCR from a reprint of the original article.

Like most sizeable transit lines, the Pittsburgh-Charleroi interurban route had its very earliest beginnings in the more or less feeble attempts of small towns in the Monongahela River valley to provide local transportation, but the real momentum behind the development was provided by interests much wider in scope.  Members of the Mellon family of Pittsburgh and companies they controlled conceived and constructed this high speed interurban line to give the residents of the Valley, some distance from Pittsburgh, adequate transportation by electric railway from early morning to late at night between Charleroi and PRR's Union Station in Pittsburgh.  By means of branches and extensions to be operated as local lines and feeders, this service was to reach communities within a reasonable distance of the main line.
The undertaking partook the nature of a competitive enterprise, for there were other electric railways in the territory to be traversed.  To keep schedule, PRW [private right-of-way] was advisable, making the line run through rural territory, sparsely populated.  It took masterful handling, backed by ample financial strength to consummate the undertaking and put it into operation.  The Pittsburgh interests decided to do the job rather than to wait for its completion by some other company and then buy it.
The earliest piece of the line in use was in Monongahela City.  Locally promoted Monongahela (known locally as Mon City) Street Ry. Co. was chartered in 1889 to operate from the Lake Erie RR station in East Mon City, on Bridge St. (E. Mon City), across the Monongahela River bridge, to Bridge St. (Mon City), Main St., 10th St., Chess St., to Riverview.  The original intent was to build a line connecting Belle Vernon and Mon City on the north side of the river.  Construction began in 1895 from Bridge and Main Sts. (Mon City), along Main St. to the city line, then 1700 into adjoining New Eagle to the car barn.  Operation over the 1-1/2 mile line began on Sept. 30, 1895 with one car on an 18 minute headway, power being purchased locally.
Until 1900, no additions or improvements were made.  Then Pittsburgh capital was brought in and heavier rail replaced the light 52 lb. rail formerly used.  Service had to be suspended from July until December while this work was completed, but has been continuous since that date.  The line was then extended north an additional .6 miles to Riverview and the next year was extended south along Main Street to Black Diamond Mine and thence away from the river over PRW thru unpopulated Black Diamond Hollow to a connection with the north end of the newly constructed Charleroi & West Side Street Railway at Lock #4, North Charleroi.  This 3-1/2 mile section of PRW included three long steel bridges, all built for double track.  Bridge #2 was 581' long and 150' high.  Eldora Park was later built in this area and the interurban carried many pleasure seekers to this pleasant sylvan area.  Charter franchises on 10th Street and across to East Mon City were abandoned.
The locally owned Charleroi, Belle Vernon and Fayette City Street Railway began construction in 1897 of a three mile electric line from North Charleroi southward thru Charleroi to Spears.  Before operations could begin, the line was taken over by Pittsburgh interests and within a year was merged with the Charleroi & West Side Street Railway.  The latter company, organized in 1899, had a charter franchise in Allenport, a town south of Charleroi, and had begun construction so that by the merger date of Sept. 1, 1899, it had projected a 6-mile line from North Charleroi thru Belle Vernon to Allenport.  In addition to the 3 miles thru Charleroi, 2 miles were built in 1900 and by January 1, 1902, thru service was being operated from Allenport to Lock #4.  Construction south of Allenport was completed by the Pittsburgh Railways, who in 1906, took over the locally chartered Allenport & Roscoe Street Railway (formed in 1903) and constructed the 2.4 mile extension to Roscoe, Pa. on June 20, 1910.  This completed the interurban to its present southern terminal.
The Donora line was projected by the West Shore Electric Street Railway Co. in 1905.  Closely tied to the Pittsburgh Interests, they secured franchises for a local line in the town and had it in operation by December 18, 1906.  The local route was from 1st and McKean on McKean, 13th, Moulder, to 15th Street.  In 1911, the line was extended to Black Diamond over PRW and in 1915 cars began thru trips from Donora to 7th Street, Mon City.  Service to Riverview began in 1919.  On November 1, 1920, service on the Charleroi-Pittsburgh line went from a 30 to 60 minute headway, with trips on intermediate times being made between Pittsburgh and Donora.  This arrangement operated for more than four years, during which time another service operated between Riverview and Roscoe.  On February 22, 1925, thru service from Donora to Pittsburgh was discontinued and in 1930, one-man operation started on the route.  A wye located at a passenger and freight station in Donora on McKean Street between 4th and 5th was used for turning the single end thru cars from Pittsburgh.  
These developments from Mon City southward were being pushed at the same time as action to the north was taking place.  The Mellon family had organized the Pittsburgh & Charleroi Street Railway in 1901 to build an interurban line from Mount Lebanon, a suburb six miles to the south of Pittsburgh, to Mon City, a total of 18 miles.  Connections were to be made at Mount Lebanon with the city line of the subsidiary Pittsburgh & Birmingham Traction.  By merging in 1902 with the Mon City Street Railway, - the tie-in with lines abuilding to the south was complete and thus all future operation and much construction was done in the name of the Pittsburgh Railways.  
In 1902, construction was pushed to extend the single track line north from Riverview to Finleyville and on toward Castle Shannon.  On September 12, 1903, cars ran thru from Allenport to Shannon where passengers transferred to continue their ride to Pittsburgh by steam train and incline of the Pittsburgh & Castle Shannon RR, By October 10, tracks had been extended from Castle Shannon to Mt. Lebanon where by 950 year lease, cars passed onto tracks of the Pittsburgh & Birmingham Traction to continue the trip to town via Washington Road, finally transferring passengers at the top of the Pittsburgh Incline on Mt. Washington.  The two electric lines were to split fares on thru passengers and each company was to have an inspector at the junction to count and agree on the number of fares.  Actual operation of both lines was by the Pittsburgh Railways by the time thru service was established, so these precautions did not have to be taken.  On December 1, 1904, cars began using the present 42-Dormont line between Dormont and West Liberty, replacing operation along a country wagon road with that along fine double track PRW.  The new route then went thru the new Mount Washington tunnel to a downtown Pittsburgh terminal at 3rd Avenue and Wood Street.  In August 1905, the downtown terminal was moved to the Union (PRR) Station, the route followed was Smithfield, Liberty, to Station; then Liberty, Wood, Water and Smithfield St. Bridge.  The next year the route was changed to Smithfield, Liberty, Grant, 7th, Liberty, Wood, Water and Smithfield.  
Meanwhile many improvements in bridge strengthening, track improvement and double tracking were taking place.  About 9 miles of double track from Castle Shannon south to Finleyville and 1/2 mile from Charleroi Viaduct #1 to the Charleroi North Boro line cost more than a quarter of a million dollars.  Four substations were erected with power being purchased from the affiliated Duquesne Light Co.  For further expansion, charter rights were secured in the Valley towns of Elizabeth and Clairton but were never exercised.  
How the interurbans got the use of their present fine route from Castle Shannon to the Mt. Washington tunnel is a story in itself.  The Saw Mill Run valley where the trolleys enjoy a rapid transit right of way compared to the congested parallel auto highway, was traversed since the 1870's by the Pittsburgh & Castle Shannon RR Co, a narrow gauge passenger and freight steam railroad.  The Pittsburgh end of its line began at a 1700' coal tunnel on the hillside above the present Mt. Washington street car tunnel.  The city end of the old coal tunnel was connected with an Incline 850' in length rising from Carson Street.  Tracks in a horse shoe curve connected the tunnel with the line coming in from Shannon.  Though single track, the road possessed 5 engines, 7 passenger cars, 320 coal cars, 14 passenger stations, and a second tunnel 1766' long.  
After a short receivership in 1879-80, the company leased a strip east of the southern approach to its tunnel and thereon constructed an incline of varying degrees of ascent parallel with Haberman Ave. up the "back" side of Mt. Washington.  The top of this incline adjoined the top of another steeper and longer "front" incline which was built to drop city-bound riders to Carson St.  
Passengers and freight in the 1890's then used the steam train in to Warrington and Haberman Aves, transferred to ride up onto Mt. Washington on the back incline, changed at Bailey St., descended to river level at Carson St. via the presently operating Castle Shannon Incline.  Coal shipments continued to move through the old tunnel.  
The Pittsburgh Coal Co., principal shipper on the line, purchased control of the railroad company in 1900 and operated it until 1905, experiencing continued deficits, but finding it necessary to maintain the road in order to get its product out to market.  Persons closely associated with the railroad had secured franchises and R/W for additional passenger lines through its valley and up the hill along Bon Air Ave. to Brownsville Rd. on one side and into Brookline on the other.  These, along with 3 locomotives, 5 passenger cars, 3 combinations, 10 flat and gondolas and 275 (1-1/8 to 1-1/2 ton capacity) coal cars, were leased in 1905 by Pittsburgh Railways, constituting all the property of the P&CSRR, except the old tunnel and the tracks and old front incline, which the coal company retained for its own use.  
At this time interurbans from Charleroi were making the circuitous trip from Shannon to town via Mt. Lebanon, so little time was lost in planning for the changeover so that broad gauge cars could traverse the same R/W as the narrow.  Electrification and the placing of extra rails outside the narrow gauge began in October 1908, and first electric cars were run inbound through the valley route on July 15, 1909.  Outbound service was established on November 1 of the same year, so that with the necessary tie-in with the present Mt. Washington street car tunnel completed, the Charleroi as well as the Washington interurbans for the first time covered their present route to and from downtown Pittsburgh.  
Freight, coal and passenger service with steam locomotives had been continued by Pgh. Rys. during the period of electrification and double gauging, but after electric cars began running regularly, coal trains were moved on the narrow gauge rails only at night.  Passing sidings consisted of spur or stub switches into which the passenger car would pull to let the string of coal cars pass.  
Tied in with the electrification of the Castle Shannon line was the construction of a double track line connecting it with the 39-Brookline via West Liberty Ave. route.  Real estate interests in Brookline not only arranged for this line's construction but contributed heavily toward electrification of the main line.  Loop service via Brookline was operated for some years but was later dropped because it interfered with interurban operations.  
Hauling of coal was discontinued on May 1, 1912 and most of the narrow gauge rail removed except where it was retained as a guard rail on bridges and curves.  In 1913, double tracking and some relocation was done between Oak siding and Shannon, while in 1915, the "in front" incline was changed over from steam operation to electric.  The "back" incline was still in existence in 1919 but had all but been aband6ned with only one daily trip being made for franchise purposes.  Now only a trace remains of the "back" incline where the Pittsburgh Railways feeder cables traverse the PRW while the "front" incline, now known as the Castle Shannon incline, is still operated by the Pittsburgh Railways.  Its huge steel cars haul both passengers and autos.  
The Pittsburgh & Castle Shannon RR had maintained a roundhouse and shops at Castle Shannon.  These buildings were altered for interurban use in 1912 and a car house of the interurban division established there.  In 1925-26, a modern administration building was erected but the subsequent depression resulted in the closing of the Shannon barn on June 20, 1932.  At this time the cars and men were moved to South Hills (Tunnel) Car house at the south end of the Mt. Washington tunnel.  Actually South Hills is two car houses in one; items of overhead are combined but seniority, work and equipment are separate.  
A local service sharing the trackage out of Pittsburgh with the interurbans began operation to Fair Haven (Frederick Street) in 1916, extended later to Shannon, then to Library in 1924.  Restrictions on riding interurbans locally in this area became effective from time to time from 1916 to the fall of 1951 when Route 37-Shannon service was eliminated during the off-peak hours.  
Because of bridges and steep hillside running between Boggs and Oak siding, this stretch still remains single track with two passing sidings.  This limits the capacity of the route, not only as to its future development into a high speed real rapid transit line, but also when extra heavy service is demanded today by the Annual Allegheny County Fair in South Park held about Labor Day (reached by shuttle bus from Mesta Stop on the Charleroi line).  When this occurs, outbound operation is again seen via West Liberty Avenue thru Dormont and Mt. Lebanon.  
   
Noted in Passing...
A 1927 Interurban Time Table describes the lines as follows:
 
WASHINGTON: This is the "Historic Route." It passes through country in which some of the most stirring actions of the French-Indian War took place.  In addition to this and the beautiful surrounding farm land, this route passes the Reformatory at Morganza and the Washington County Home.  At Washington, is located the old College of Washington & Jefferson, the buildings and campus of which alone are worth the trip.  
CHARLEROI AND DONORA: Well named the Scenic Route.  Pass thru beautiful country dotted with charming residences.  On the way one sees the remarkable Mingo Valley with its heavy woods and rocky hillsides.  At Riverview, one obtains a remarkable view of the Monongahela River and from that point the car runs almost parallel to the river across which occasional glimpses are obtained of the great Mills and Coal Tipples which help make the Pittsburgh District the greatest industrial, center in the world.  Over the entire route the passenger is delighted with splendid views of real country.  
CONNECTIONS: Charleroi cars make connections at Monessen Junction for Monessen, Belle Vernon and Fayette City (to the east).  At Fifth St., Charleroi, with cars for Ellsworth and Bentleyville (to the west).  
 
Electric Railroads, Number Twenty, July 1952
Published by the Electric Railroaders Association, Inc.
Lackawanna Terminal, Hoboken, New Jersey
 
Reprinted from the Electric Railroaders Association, Inc. from the Pennsylvania Railway Museum Association, Inc., P.O. Box 832, Pittsburgh, PA 15230  
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT The author wishes to acknowledge his indebtedness to the following for their assistance in the preparation of this material: J. Clarence Day, Earl P. Forrest and Oliver W. Brown, Jr., all of the "Washington (Pa.) Reporter"; Newton E. Tucker, Albert R. Dauk, William A. Keller and Karl H. Hittle of the Pittsburgh Railways Co.; Howard W. Staas and Kempton F. McNutt of the Philadelphia Co.; and last, but by no means least, Herman P. Hewitt, retired Washington operator with 46 years of local and interurban service.  Principal photo contributors: Robert H. Brown, Charles J. Dengler and Edward S. Miller and Harry C. Bartley.