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Edition #148, April 15, 2011

Better Late

Photographer: Kevin N. Tomasic

                                                                            Photo by Kevin N. Tomasic

Better Late

Growing up on Mt.Troy, above Pittsburgh’s North Side put me squarely above the B&O’s Pittsburgh and Western (P&W) subdivision. The P&W crossed the Allegheny River on a big steel bridge just over the hill from where I lived.

Most every day I’d ride my bike along East Beckert Street and would stop at a point where I could watch and wait for the B&O to run a train west up the P&W. In the late 60’s the preferred power on the B&O around Pittsburgh were F-units and old geeps, usually in groups of four or five. The sound of those EMD’s was incredible as they wound out heading upgrade. So was the squeal of the wheels when they negotiated the hard right turn at the end of the bridge and headed on upriver.

As I got into photography, I always swore that I’d shoot a westbound mainline train on that bridge from a nice vantage point that I’d picked out on Troy Hill (which was below my Mt. Troy vantage point). It just never seemed that I could find that westbound train-all I ever got were some Chessie geeps on switch runs and one nice visit from C&O #614 on a westbound steam special.

Years passed, I moved away from home and CSX downgraded the P&W to the point where only a couple of eastbound empties a day drifted down the grade and across the bridge. Westbounds generally required helpers, which cost money and besides they could always be run on the water level Pittsburgh and Lake Erie mainline.

In 1997 I moved my family back to where I grew up and bought a home with a view. My front porch overlooks that P&W bridge crossing the river, though trees make it tough to see most of the summer. I told my wife that I’d never really “shot” that bridge and that it was driving me nuts only seeing eastbounds going across it. She’d laugh every time I’d jump up from the couch to see yet another eastbound go by.

As CSX assimilated the P&LE even the eastbound empties began to disappear and by late 2003 they announced that they were filing to abandon the P&W from Bakerstown, Pa. to Glenshaw, Pa., effectively severing it as a through route. A couple of lengths of rail were removed and except for the occasional delivery of sand to Glenshaw Glass, the P&W fell silent. But all was not lost-two shortlines: the Buffalo & Pittsburgh (B&P) and the Allegheny Valley Railroad (AVR) offered to buy the line. B&P would run from Eidenaugh, Pa. to Glenshaw and the AVR would run from Glenshaw to Glenwood, where CSX had a yard. Amazingly CSX agreed to sell a through route off to these two shortlines, thereby saving the P&W.

In reality, there really wasn’t much through traffic, only a little interchange work at Bakerstown, Pa and those sand cars from before. This changed dramatically in the spring of 2004, when the Ellwood City tunnel on the B&P collapsed; severing B&P’s link to the CSX at New Castle, Pa. Quickly the CSX, B&P and AVR coordinated a new interchange at the aforementioned Glenwood yard. Around midnight the B&P would send an eastbound out of their Butler, Pa yard, arriving in Glenwood at 5 AM or so. The crew would get their interchange cars and run back west at 6 AM, hoping to make it back to Butler, before the hours of service law would catch them.

Finally, I had my chance to shoot the westbound train I’d been trying to get for so long! To top it off the power would most likely be one of the ex-SP SD-45’s that the B&P rostered. Watching the weather, I picked out a couple of good Saturdays to catch the B&P. The first weekend, the train got out early, so I only got him on the Bakerstown grade and not the bridge, but on the second Saturday I got up before dawn, walked my dog and camped out on the bluff on Troy Hill.  It was a tough wait, since I had no idea if the train had already gone west, plus the hillside where I sat was covered with my mortal enemy-poison ivy! The sun kept getting better as time marched on from 6:30 to 7 AM--he was awfully late coming west. Why, I wondered, then the answer-the eastbound Capitol Limited popped out of the Pittsburgh station and down the “Capitol Connector”. The connector allows “The Cap” to go from the ex-Pennsy main to the ex-B&O P&W main for its journey to Washington, DC. A couple of quick blasts for the grade crossing behind the Iron City Brewery and she was gone.

A long 15 minutes passed before I heard the rumble of the big orange 45 leading three more units west. Around the curve and into the sun they came-I finally had my westbound.

Better Late.

Kevin N. Tomasic


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