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The Western Pennsylvania Railroad Company

The Railroad Was Slow in Coming
to the Kiskiminetas (Kiski) Valley.

The Kiskiminetas River (Kiski, as the locals call it) is located in south western Pennsylvania. It forms the north eastern boundry of Westmoreland county, about 20 - 25 miles north east of Pittsburgh. It empties into the Allegheny River about 17 miles north of Pittsburgh at a place known as "Kiski Junction"

The following is reprinted from the "VANDERGRIFT NEWS" written by Don Stevenson. 

The old Pennsylvania Mainline Canal was still the only way to ship goods from the Kiskiminetas (Kiski) Valley to Pittsburgh as late as 1865. In 1835, David Leech, Thomas Roberts, and Eli Toland establish the Western Transportation Company (aka David Leech & Co.) to conduct transportation business over the Main Line Canal.  

Railroads that would eventually replace the canal were slow in coming into the valley.  

The original railroad that was assigned the job of opening this line was the NORTH WESTERN RAILROAD COMPANY that was chartered in 1853. The railroads immediate plan was to build a rail line from a point on the Indiana Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad to New Castle, PA. The line was to follow the Conemaugh and Kiskiminetas Rivers to Allegheny Junction (now known as Kiski Junction). From New Castle it would connect with the Cleveland and Mahoning Valley Railroad, which would connect with Cleveland, OH. 

This would have created a through line to the west, something the Pennsylvania Railroad did not have at the time. 

1858 saw the North Western Railroad Co. completing most of the grading and ballasting of the route from Blairsville to Kiski Junction, but the financial panic of 1857 had taken its toll and the North Western Railroad could not meet its financial obligations. 

Work on the line was stopped and the line was foreclosed on. It re-organized in 1859 as the Western Pennsylvania Railroad. (April 10, 1860, the Northwestern Railroad Company became reorganized as the Western Pennsylvania Railroad Company. April 10th is date of transfer of assets) Work would not begin on the road until 1862, a delay of two years. At this time the Pennsylvania Railroad agreed to advance the Western Pennsylvania Railroad Line $500,000.00 to complete the line to Kiski Junction, where they would connect with the Allegheny Valley Railroad on the east bank of the Allegheny River, in Allegheny Township, Westmoreland County, PA. 

(Oct 27, 1861 Flood damages Western Division Canal below Blairsville.) 

(May 27, 1862 The PRR approves aid to the Pittsburgh & Steubenville and the Western Pennsylvania Railroad under the Commutation Act; aid to the West Penn was repealed July 9, 1862) 

(Early 1863, Work resumes on the Western Pennsylvania Railroad.)

 (Fall 1863; Western Pennsylvania Railroad opens between Blairsville and Saltsburg, PA 15.7 miles.) 

(In 1866, the Western Pennsylvania Railroad had a 4-4-0 locomotive numbered 15.) 

In 1866, the first train went across the Allegheny River from Freeport towards the east.

One of the hold ups in completing the railroad was the tunnel that was being built at Hyde Park, then a part of Allegheny Township. 

The tunnel was started in 1859, and not completed until 1865. The work was stopped on the tunnel from 1860 until 1862, the civil war years, as it was on the rest of the line. 

The tunnel was constructed of huge stone, which was quarried nearby. The superintendent at the tunnel was Robert B. Campbell, whose workers presented him with a gold tipped cane upon completion of the tunnel. 

The tunnel was used until 1904, at which time the railroad changed route to follow the horseshoe shaped curve around Hyde Park. Why the tunnel was originally built is unknown. The rest of the line was ready for traffic in 1863, two years before the tunnel was completed.  

The line down the Kiski finally opened in July of 1865, and was leased to the Pennsylvania Railroad the following month. 

At about the same time, the Pennsylvania Railroad sold the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal right of way, on the west side of the Allegheny River, to the Western Pennsylvania Railroad, from Freeport to Allegheny City (now known as the North Side of Pittsburgh, PA.) The following year the Western Pennsylvania Railroad finished a railroad line from Freeport to Allegheny City, where it connected with the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago Railroad. 

As part of the sale of the canal right of way to the Western Pennsylvania Railroad, the state required that a line be built from Freeport to Butler, Pennsylvania. This was completed in 1871 and is called the Butler Extension Railroad. 

The original line down the Kiski did not follow the current route of the railroad, and old maps, from 1867 to 1876 shows it much further from the river, in certain areas, than it is today. It originally had many steep grades, and over the years the tracks have been relocated until now the maximum grade is 0.4 percent. 

Armstrong County was left out in the cold when the early railroads were built in the valley. The canal was still in operation, and its route along the north side of the Kiskiminetas River would have been the ideal location for the railroads to be built. 

In the 1880’s the railroads routes were being moved closer to the river, but the only place in Armstrong County to benefit from this was Kiski Township. The railroad run on the Armstrong County (north) side of the river from the Indiana County line to just below Avonmore, here it crossed the river on a railroad bridge and then through a tunnel that took the trains just east of Salina. Remains of this tunnel are still visible on both the Avonmore and Salina side of the old tunnel. 

In 1950 a new railroad bridge replaced this bridge and tunnel, and the trains then traveled around the bend in the river, which had been graded to handle the trains without the need of the tunnel. 

In the late 1880’s the railroads ran a line through both Apollo and Leechburg. This was accomplished by building bridges on both ends of each town, and routing certain freight and passenger trains through the towns.

Sometime during the period of 1888-1890 a branch railroad was built from Schenley to Leechburg. Connecting with the Allegheny Valley Railroad at Schenley it enabled the coalmines in that area to get their products to market. 

A branch was built from Apollo eastward to serve the coalmines in that area along the Kiski.

Many stations were established throughout the valley, and some of their names are still known to this day. Some of these stations were Roaring Run, Helena, West Apollo, Bagdad, North West Station and Kiski Junction.

The last passenger train to run through the valley was pulled by a K4s and a Mr. Harry Bruce was the last passenger to ride the train. Passenger service disappeared from the valley in 1957, and for a while it looked like freight trains were doing the same. Only one set of tracks remain along the Kiski, but recently freight trains have once more started hauling freight along the tracks. There is even talk about putting a second set of tracks in again, and although we may never see a return of the number of trains that used to go by daily, we can see more trains than you could two years ago.

From the Western Pennsylvania Railroad Company, Apr. 1, 1903: Constructed by that company--
Fairbanks Junction, Pa., to terminus, 1865
Butler Junction to Allegheny City, (Northside Pittsburgh) Pa., 1863-1866
Butler Junction to Butler, Pa., 1869-1871
Blairsville to Bolivar, Pa., 1881-1883
Blairsville, Pa., to terminus, 1.23 miles in 1892 and 0.27 mile in 1899
Black Legs Creek branch, near Saltsburg, Pa., 1894
Apollo branch, near West Apollo Junction, Pa., 1886-1891
Schenley branch, near Leechburg, Pa., 2.39 miles in 1890 and 2.43 miles in 1899
Winfield Junction, Pa., to terminus, 1899-1902
Baileys Run branch, near Creighton, Pa., 1896
Constructed partly by the North Western Railroad Company,
1854-1857 and completed by the Western Pennsylvania Railroad Co.
Blairsville to Freeport, Pa., 1863-1865
Acquired by that company from the Avonmore Land and Improvement Company, Dec. 18, 1893,
Avonmore branch, near Salina, Pa. Increase in mileage, particulars not obtained
Less abandonment, Fairbanks Junction, Pa., to terminus, 1900


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Last modified: January 04, 2008