The Story of Pittsburgh Railways Interurban Division

Forward by the editor of ERA Headlights
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.


    Map from page 10 of the Electric Railroads magazine.
One of the four operating interurban systems in Pennsylvania today is the interurban division of the Pittsburgh Railways Co. Operating two main routes south from the "Steel Center of the World" to Washington, Pa. (29 miles) and Roscoe, Pa. (35 miles via Charleroi) along with a branch line from Black Diamond Jct. to Donora and three local lines in Washington, Pa., this wide (5'-2½") gauge system is one of the more interesting in the United States.
It features new all-electric, air cooled, radio equipped interurban PCC cars, a semi-rapid transit entrance into downtown, modern block signals, spectacular high steel bridges and the second longest interurban tunnel in the United States (exceeded only by the Laurel Line's at Scranton, Pa.) while retaining the characteristics of the true interurban; street running in towns enroute, single track PRW [private right-of-way] with picturesque sidings and a rich tradition of the past.
The Washington, Pa. local lines are unique in themselves as Washington, Pa. is the smallest city in the USA to boast a local trolley system.  Eight low-speed double-end orange city cars are required for this service and the local lines include such features as both double and single track, a section of PRW route and even a "Summer Only" branch to the Park.
Today, the interurbans of the Pittsburgh Railways are in a state of transition as they enter their second half century of operation.  Recent years have witnessed an extensive suburban building boom along the interurban which has increased rush hour short haul commuting traffic to new heights.  At the same time, non-rush hour local and thru traffic has dropped considerably.  A further problem is the high city ($1.89 per hour) wage rate paid for rural and small city work.  For these reasons, the Pittsburgh Railways has proposed cutting back the interurbans to new loops near the Allegheny County line and abandoning the Washington and Donora local lines without replacement.  Such a move would leave the heavy suburban traffic intact and would eliminate a great deal of deadhead mileage now required by rush hour tripper cars to both Riverview and Canonsburg.
As stated above, the two main routes of the Pittsburgh Railways interurban division run to the south of the city.  They begin on a loop thru downtown running north on Grant Street and south on Liberty Ave. and Wood Street on tracks shared with various local lines and passing all railroad and bus stations enroute.  The Greyhound Terminal provides ticket and information service for the lines with the cars stopping at the loading island out front.  After leaving downtown, the cars cross the Monongahela River on reserved way over the Smithfield Bridge and then enter the long Mount Washington trolley tunnel (length 3500 feet) for the uphill run to South Hills Jct.  Here 8 trolley lines split into four directions at the tunnel mouth and here too is Tunnel Carhouse, with its busy administration building resembling a small railroad station and its storage tracks and barns spread out along the valley PRW of trolley routes 38, 39 and 42.  Interurban cars are based at Tunnel Carhouse along with city cars.  However, both equipment and operators are kept separate, and officially the barn is known as South Hills (Local) and South Hills (Interurban) car houses.
South of the Junction, the interurban swings to the left and runs along a high hill-side on beautiful single track PRW.  At Oak siding the line crosses a main highway on a steel bridge and then returns to double track.  This section parallels the above highway and runs on the fringe of a very heavily populated area, providing a hope for semi-rapid transit service for county planners.  At Castle Shannon, cut back cars of Route 37 turn back when they are operated and the old interurban route from Mt. Lebanon now operated by Route 38-A shuttles joins the interurban.  A short distance further south is Washington Jct. where the line splits into the Washington and Charleroi divisions.
The Charleroi line continues on double track PRW to Finleyville (9 miles) passing thru a new and rapidly developing suburban area.  During rush hours and on Saturdays, frequent extra trips using city type orange cars are made to West Library Loop.  Here too extra cars for South Park are turned back (see Sept. 1950 Headlights).  At Finleyville, the line returns to city streets briefly and then crosses the B&O RR on a steel viaduct.  From here to Riverview loop, the line runs on turning, and twisting single track PRW thru a narrow wooded valley.  A favorite stop for many motormen is a cool mountain spring located at track side in this section.
At Riverview, the line again meets the Monongahela River which it crossed at Pittsburgh and which it now follows for the remainder of its run.  Riverview loop is really only a loop for Donora local cars which come as far north as this point.  Interurban trippers from Pittsburgh must wye at this point.  The Donora line then shares street track with the interurban thru Monongahela City to Black Diamond Jct.  There is extensive local riding in this area on both the interurbans and Donora cars.  South of Black Diamond, the Donora car follows the river on single track PRW to the City of Donora, scene of a chemical smoke disaster several years ago and a town which claims to be... "Next to yours, the friendliest town in the USA." There is street running in Donora and an unused wye 4 blocks short of the end of the line.
Returning to the Charleroi line, after leaving Black Diamond, the interurban cuts across country to again sight the Monongahela River at the summit of a high mountain overlooking the cities of Monessen and Charleroi.  There the line drops down one of the most scenic and spectacular sections of interurban PRW to be found any where to Charleroi, passing over several very high steel bridges enroute and presenting the rider with a new thrilling view around each corner.  In Charleroi, the line returns to street running and passes the Charleroi car house.  An interesting feature here is that northbound cars pass thru the building.  After going thru downtown, the route continues for another 25 minutes along a combination of single track PRW, S/R and city street running to the Elco loop at Roscoe, Pa.  This last section passes thru a semi-industrial area on the banks of the Monongahela.
In contrast to the Charleroi line, the Washington line presents a different type of interurban line.  It lacks the long sections of double track, the level running thru wooded valleys and the spectacular mountain side views of the Charleroi run.  Instead, it substitutes an equally beautiful "Up Hill and down Dale" single track trolley line cutting across beautiful rolling farm land.  Like Charleroi, it does have several high steel bridges of its own to add interest.
After leaving Washington Jct., the Washington line immediately switches to single track and remains so except for a short section of double track in the streets of Canonsburg.  Rush hour tripper service is operated to a wye in Canonsburg even tho the last commuter left the car many miles before.  The lack of a turn back point between Wash. Jct. and Canonsburg (and also between W. Library and Riverview on the Charleroi line) forces a great deal of extra mileage to be run to handle the short commuting riding.  The remainder of the run between Canonsburg and Washington is of no special interest except for a short trestle over a railroad and creek.  Just before entering Washington, the interurban passes Tylerdale Barn, home not only of the interurbans but also of the Washington city cars.  The actual entrance into downtown Washington is made over the tracks of route W-1 Jefferson & Maiden to an off street wye and terminal on Beau Street near Main.  Here the Company maintains a waiting room and ticket office for interurban riders.
Service on the Interurban lines is still excellent.  Both lines operate every half hour thru the day and evening with hourly service on Sundays and Holidays.  Extra cars are added to Riverview and Canonsburg during the rush hour.  This base interurban service is provided by the 25 new interurban PCC's in the 1700 series and a number of converted 1600 series PCC's.  Occasionally a city type PCC will make a tripper run to Canonsburg or Riverview.  This half hourly interurban service today is in sharp contrast to the hourly service operated for many years before World War II.
The West Library and 37-Shannon service is operated basically with city type PCC cars of several series, with the addition of some various type deck roof high speed cars, plus some interurban PCCs when they are available.  One type of orange deck roof car frequently used is the 3750 series.  This type was once operated MU on the Charleroi line, and was equipped with high back plush seats and a smoking compartment.  Today, no trace of their former comfort remains as they resemble any standard city car.
The Donora line uses standard double-end low-speed city cars in the 4300 series as do the three Washington local lines.  These are low floor deck roof Peter Witt type cars.  All interurbans and locals are one man operated.
Fares on the Interurban are on a zone basis with an Ohmer ticket machine being used.  Base fare is now 10 for a one zone ride or 8 cash for multi-zone rides.  The rate by ticket is 6 per zone.  It is recommended that railfans riding the lines use one of the commutation tickets.  A 10-trip 5-zone ticket is ideal for riding both lines.
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.