History of Pittsburgh Commuter Rail Service:
Monongahela Valley Commuter Rail Service - The PATrain

By Glenn A. Walsh

2009 January 7

Pittsburgh was served by several different commuter rail lines from the nineteenth century through 1989. These commuter rail lines were operated, primarily, by four major railroad carriers --

* Pennsylvania Railroad, with two major Downtown area passenger terminals:
** Union Station, later renamed Pennsylvania Station or just Penn Station, located at the intersection of Grant Street and Liberty Avenue.
** Fort Wayne or Federal Street Station, located on Federal Street at the elevated railroad right-of-way on the Lower North Side.

* Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which had a major railroad station, then a small commuter station in Downtown Pittsburgh:
** Major railroad station on the Downtown side of the Smithfield Street Bridge; this railroad station was demolished in the 1950s for construction of the Penn-Lincoln Parkway East Expressway (Interstate 376/U.S. 22/U.S. 30). ** In 1957, following demolition of the major B&O Station, a small B&O Commuter Rail Station was constructed at the corner of Grant Street and First Avenue, to serve the B&O commuter rail lines to the Mon Valley.

* Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad (which became affiliated with the New York Central Railroad system in 1887 until the formation of Con-Rail), with a grand railroad station and 6-floor headquarters office building located on the South Side end of the Smithfield Street Bridge. Their main rail yards were located at the main railroad station and in McKees Rocks.

* Wabash and Pittsburgh Terminal Railway, which later became known as the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway. The Wabash and Pittsburgh Terminal Railroad was nineteenth century industrialist and financier Jay Gould's failed attempt to compete with the Pennsylvania Railroad. However, as other railroads already had claimed the more advantageous rail corridors, Jay Gould was forced to construct his rail line on less favored, and more expensive, alignments, including a tunnel and bridge (the Wabash Tunnel and Bridge) to access Downtown Pittsburgh. In Downtown Pittsburgh, at the approximate location of today's Four Gateway Center office building, Jay Gould built a landmark railroad terminal. However, this building suffered a bad fire in the 1950s. This gave city officials, who had been planning a massive reconstruction of the Downtown's Point District (which had been composed of Pennsylvania Railroad and Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railroad rail yards, as well as old exposition buildings and warehouses), an excuse to tear-down the Wabash Terminal. The Point District was rebuilt with a much, much larger Point Park (later, Point State Park) and an eleven-building office, hotel, and apartment complex called Gateway Center (the first large public-private development project in the nation), as the linchpin of the city's "Renaissance I" urban renewal. The only structures remaining in the Point District, from before redevelopment, were the Fort Pitt Blockhouse (from the 1750s--oldest structure in the city) and the Pittsburgh Press building (now the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette building), as well as the buildings adjacent to Gateway Center of St. Mary's Catholic Church (headquarters of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh), Joseph Horne Department Store (which was the city's oldest department store before closing in the mid-1990s), and Jenkin's Arcade (demolished in the 1980s to make-way for the 31-floor Fifth Avenue Place).

With the fire and demolition of the Wabash Terminal in the 1950s, Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railroad commuter service from the southwestern suburbs ended. Due to falling ridership and increasing costs, Pennsylvania Railroad commuter rail service, from several areas of the metro area, ceased in the mid-1960s.

In 1967, the Pennsylvania Railroad and long-time rival, New York Central Railroad, agreed to a merger which formed the Penn-Central Railroad. The Pennsylvania Railroad, and later Penn-Cenral Railroad, had planned to redevelop their massive real estate holdings in the city's Strip District into a huge office, apartment, and retail complex to be called "Penn Park." This redevelopment included a huge new main post office at 25th Street. However, it also included the demolition of Pittsburgh's historic Pennsylvania Railroad Station (as the Pennsylvania Railroad had also demolished the historic Penn Station in New York City), to be replaced by a modern passenger rail station.

However, before much work could be done on the Penn Park redevelopment project, the Penn-Central Railroad fell into bankruptcy. This ended the Penn Park project and saved the historic Pennsylvania Railroad Station, which years later was redeveloped by the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) into an apartment building called The Pennsylvanian; Amtrak continues to operate a railroad station adjacent to the building. The Penn-Central bankruptcy delayed construction of a new Pittsburgh General Mail Facility; in the early 1980s, this new main post office was constructed in the Manchester neighborhood on the North Side, rather than at the 25th Street site in the Strip District.

Later, Penn-Central, and a few other bankrupt railroads in the northeastern section of the United States, became a quasi-government corporation called the Consolidated Rail Corporation (Con-Rail). In the 1990s, Con-Rail was purchased by the Norfolk-Southern Railroad.

Port Authority of Allegheny County Transit System (PAT) had planned a Westinghouse-produced, rubber-tire rapid transit system called "Skybus," which would have a terminus near the Pennsylvania Railroad Station as part of the Penn Park redevelopment project. This controversial rapid transit project was later replaced with a Light-Rail Rapid Transit System, called the "T," which also includes a station next to the Pennsylvania Railroad Station. This Skybus station, and later LRT station, was originally called "Penn Park," a name which continued to be used for decades following the demise of the Penn Park redevelopment project. Today, this rail station (which is currently unused) is simply called Penn Station.

By the 1970s, only two commuter train lines ran into Pittsburgh --

* Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's Monongahela Valley Service.

* Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad's Ohio Valley service to Beaver Falls and College.

The P&LE commuter rail line only ran one round-trip each weekday; from Beaver Falls to Pittsburgh in the morning and back to Beaver Falls in the afternoon. With Federal funds received by Beaver County in the late 1970s, a second midday round-trip "shopper" run was operated for a short time, utilizing only one passenger car of the four-car train.

Although the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad, amazingly, continued operation of their commuter service much longer than would normally have been expected, it could not last forever. With the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s, the P&LE was losing their industrial business.Eventually, the P&LE would go out of business, merging in 1992 with the CSX Corporation, formerly the Chessie System Railroad (B&O and C&O railroads).

However, P&LE commuter rail service ended sooner. Pittsburgh's first subway, providing access for light-rail vehicles through the Downtown, opened on 1985 July 3. Ironically, at the end of that business week, P&LE commuter rail service ened permanently. So, for only one week, Beaver and Ohio valley commuters were able to take the P&LE train to the terminal at the newly-named "Station Square," (then owned and operated by the PIttsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation), and then walk across Carson Street to the Station Square Light-Rail Station and take the new subway into Downtown Pittsburgh.

For a short time in 1981, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) operated a commuter rail line from Greensburg to Pittsburgh's Penn Station, to provide motorists with a viable option during reconstruction of the Penn-Lincoln Parkway East Expressway (Interstate 376/U.S. 22/U.S. 30). This service started well with reasonably good ridership on 1981 March 3. However, ridership quickly started dropping as commuters discovered that other highway options were not as bad as first thought.

Long-time public transit advocate Glenn A. Walsh wrote a letter to PennDOT suggesting that one reason for the lower-than-expected ridership was that people in the eastern suburbs did not really know where the suburban railroad stations were located. He suggested that PennDOT print maps of station locations on their railroad timetables. To Mr. Walsh's surprise, PennDOT payed attention and did exactly as Mr. Walsh suggested. However, it was already too-little too-late. By the end of the Summer the "Parkway Limited" commuter rail service was discontinued.

The B&O had run commuter rail service into Pittsburgh for decades. As the Pennsylvania Railroad had gotten out of Pittsburgh commuter rail service in the mid-1960s, there was fear among Pittsburgh civic leaders that the B&O might do the same.

On 1970 February 27, the relatively new Port Authority Transit system intiated a study regarding the feasibility of assuming control of the B&O commuter service, and extending the service beyond McKeesport to the adjacent borough of Versailles. PAT negotiated with B&O from 1971 to 1974 to take over the service, with the B&O operating the service and maintaining the equipment under contract with PAT. With the energy crisis hitting the nation, an agreement was reached in October of 1974, and PAT's Monongahela Valley Commuter Rail Service, nicknamed the PATrain, began operations on 1975 February 1.

PAT had agreed to lease the equipment for three years from B&O, including two locomotives, then acquire the equipment outright. Initially, riders were attracted to the new PATrain service by the rehabilitated equipment, extension to Versailles, increase in headways (service frequency), and integration of the rail system into the PAT fare structure, which allowed for transfers and permits to be used by riders to reduce commuting costs.

However, as time went on, ridership started declining. The Port Authority started considering ways to increase ridership and revenue.

Long-time public transit advocate Glenn A. Walsh proposed commuter rail service through Oakland to Penn Station in Downtown Pittsburgh in 1979, at a public hearing in McKeesport regarding the Port Authority Transit's Monongahela Valley Commuter Rail Service, better known then as the PATrain. The idea was to increase ridership to the PATrain service.

The PATrain then ran (with eight round-trips on weekdays and five round-trips on Saturday; no service on Sunday or holidays) from Versailles and McKeesport with stops in Braddock and Hazelwood, to a terminus at the now-demolished B&O Commuter Rail Station at Grant Street and First Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh. The grander B&O Railroad station, on the Downtown side of the Smithfield Street Bridge, had been demolished a couple decades earlier for construction of the Penn-Lincoln Parkway East Expressway (Interstate 376/U.S. 22/U.S. 30).

It was Mr. Walsh's contention that the PATrain could increase ridership by being rerouted through Oakland to a terminus at the Pennsylvania Railroad Station in Downtown Pittsburgh. This would provide Mon Valley commuters with better access to the Downtown Pittsburgh office district (PAT had employed a shuttle bus, from the B&O Commuter Station to transport PATrain riders to other points in Downtown). It also would have allowed for the erection of a new commuter rail station in Oakland, which would have attracted Mon Valley commuters who work in Oakland. The Oakland station would also have been a fast way to travel between Downtown and Oakland.

For this proposal to become a reality, a $1 million rail link, between the then-B&O line [through Panther Hollow, the Schenley Tunnel (under Neville Street), and across the 33rd Street railroad bridge] and the Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line (Pittsburgh Division) would need to be constructed. Mr. Walsh, at that time, was also lobbying for construction of this rail link, which would also permit the Shenandoah Amtrak train to run from Washington DC to Chicago through Pittsburgh, with a stop at Pittsburgh's Penn Station. On one Sunday, Mr. Walsh rode a tourist train from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland, on the B&O line that would make such service possible. At that time, the Shenandoah train ran through Cumberland to Chicago, bypassing Pittsburgh.

A few years later, Amtrak did construct the needed rail connection, in the Bloomfield section of Pittsburgh. Amtrak, then, did start running the Shenandoah, which took the more historic name Capitol Limited, from Washington to Chicago via Pittsburgh. The Capitol Limited continues running through Pittsburgh to this day.

A major obstacle to Mr. Walsh's PATrain proposal was now gone. And, by the mid-1980s the B&O Railroad, also known as the Chessie System and later known as CSX Corporation, started planning for the sale of their Pittsburgh commuter rail station and rail yard. So, sometime in the future the B&O Station would no longer be available for use by the PATrain. At that time, Port Authority officials started seriously considering Mr. Walsh's proposal to reroute the PATrain via Oakland to Penn Station. They even considered contracting-out operation of the PATrain to Amtrak, which, of course, operated other trains through Penn Station.

However, when Allegheny County Commissioner Dr. William Hunt of McKeesport, a strong proponent of public transit and particularly the PATrain, retired from the the Allegheny County Board of Commissioners in the late 1980s, the PATrain's fate was doomed (earlier in the decade, the five Saturday round-trips had been eliminated). Without his political influence, Port Authority officials were now free to get rid of the PATrain, something they had wanted to do for a long time.

And, this is despite the fact that Federal funds had been used in the mid-1980s to build new stations with park-and-ride lots at Braddock, Port Vue/Liberty, and Versailles, as well as a huge transportation center in Downtown McKeesport and purchase rehabilitated railroad locomotives and passenger cars [previously Budd Rail-Diesel Cars (RDCs) had been used for this service]. The McKeesport Transportation Center included multiple bus bays for shuttle buses to various McKeesport and Mon Valley points, as well as two major bus lines to Downtown Pittsburgh. The Transportation Center also included a high-level commuter rail platform that was used by both the PATrain and Amtrak's Capitol Limited.

However, Port Authority officials started preparing justifications for eliminating the PATrain service. In one instance, while the PATrain normally did not run on holidays such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, one year the PATrain did run on that particular holiday with practically no publicity informing the public of the change in schedule. It was no wonder the train carried few passengers that day.

In early 1989, the PAT Board decided to terminate PATrain service by May. Of course, they had the Federally-madated public hearing in McKeesport. Mr. Walsh strenuously opposed the abandoning of the PATrain service. However, PAT officials had already decided what they wanted to do, and the PAT Board approved the abandonment.

On Friday, 1989 April 28, the PATrain ran for the last time. Due to Mr. Walsh's work schedule (he was scheduled to be Lecturer for the 7:00 p.m. show in Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium), he could not ride the very last PATrain run. However, Mr. Walsh did ride the 3:45 p.m. run that day, from Pittsburgh to Versailles and the return trip arriving back Downtown at 5:03 p.m.

The rehabilitated locomotives and passenger cars were sold to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, for commuter rail service in the "Nutmeg State." Park-and-ride lots in Versailles and Port Vue/Liberty are still used for a few substitute bus runs PAT employs, following the end of the PATrain. However, the Braddock rail station and park-and-ride lot have been allowed to decay; regular bus service remains on Braddock Avenue.

The Hazelwood stop had been abandoned several years earlier. There had not been an actual railroad station in Hazelwood; the train simply stopped at a railroad grade-crossing at Hazelwood Avenue, which was located within spitting distance of Second Avenue. PAT officials believed that the 56-series buses, which paralleled the PATrain line to Downtown along Second Avenue, would provide comparable service for Hazelwood residents. It was said that one of the regular PATrain riders from Hazelwood was a woman who worked in the Hendejohn Furniture Showroom at Ross Street and First Avenue, just across First Avenue from the B&O Station.

The McKeesport Transportation Center continues to be used for bus connections, but the passenger waiting station is rarely used. As Amtrak's Capitol Limited also stopped using the McKeesport Transportation Center (although this Amtrak train continues stopping in Pittsburgh and Connellsville), a chain-link fence was intalled as a barrier on the former commuter rail high-level platform. During operation of the U.S. Steel mill (former National Tube Works) across the railroad tracks from the McKeesport Transportation Center, an underground tunnel was used for steelworkers to access the mill from the Transportation Center grounds. With reuse of this mill as an industrial and office park, this underground tunnel was abandoned and buried.

gaw - 2009 Jan. 7

News Regarding the PATrain

Berger, Eric. "Historic Railroads Co-Star in New Tom Hanks Film."
Railfan & Railroad Magazine 2023 March 20. First retrieved 2023 March 22.
The trains scenes drew inspiration from the Mon Valley Commuter Rail service operated by Port Authority of Allegheny County in the Monongahela Valley from 1975 to 1989.

History of Pittsburgh Commuter Rail Service:
Monongahela Valley Commuter Rail Service - The PATrain

Authored by Glenn A. Walsh
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2009 January 7

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Other Internet Web Sites of Interest

History of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh

History of Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, Chicago

Astronomer, Educator, and Telescope Maker John A. Brashear

History of Andrew Carnegie and Carnegie Libraries

Historic Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh

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