Peters Creek Railroad History

Peters Creek Railroad History

B&O Railroad Station
Finleyville, Washington County

The history of railroads parallels that of mining and steelmaking in the Peters Creek Valley. The Pittsburgh Southern Railroad was a narrow gauge railroad built in the late 1870's. It connected Washington, PA with Pittsburgh and was one of the first railroads to be built in the watershed. It only lasted 5 years before being bought by the B&O Railroad and upgraded to a normal gage line. This railroad is still active and is operated by the Allegheny Valley Railroad.
Most of the other railroads in the watershed were short-line coal haulers servicing the burgeoning steelmaking industry along the Monongahela River during the late 1800's and early 1900's. The Pennsylvania Railroad's Peters Creek Branch followed the north bank of Peters Creek and serviced numerous coal mines that appeared along the creek from Large to Snowden. This line travelled through a tunnel that became famous as the site of a local legend. Here's one account of the Greenman haunting:

Greenman's Tunnel
South Park Twp

"A man from West Mifflin or Dravosburg was working on power lines at the top of the tunnel. He received a severe electric shock and his skin was tinged green as a result. Some reports state that he lived for some time afterward; others state he died that day. It is said that if someone goes to the tunnel at night, turns off the car headlights, and calls for him -- he will appear and come toward your car. His face may appear in the car window or he may try to place his hands on your car. Because of the electrical charge, you may have difficulty restarting your vehicle."

Montour Trail
Jefferson Hills

The Montour Railroad was a coal hauling line that serviced the largest mining operation in the watershed, the Montour #10 mine in Library. The right-of-way of this railway eventually followed Piney Fork Run all the way to its confluence with Peters Creek. In time, competition and dwindling numbers of mines made these short-line operations unprofitable. The PRR abandoned the Peters Creek Branch in 1963 and the Montour Railroad ceased operations in 1984. Today, their right-of-ways are part of the Montour Trail; a 48 mile recreational trail from Coraopolis to Clairton. Approximately 12 miles of this trail will parallel Peters Creek and Piney Fork Run when complete. The Montour Trail is also part of the Great Allegheny Passage; a 150 mile trail connecting Pittsburgh with Washingron, DC.
The Wheeling & Lake Erie railroad is currently operating within the watershed. Trains can be seen and heard along the Connellsville Branch on a daily basis and less frequently on the Clairton Branch. This railroad travels along Lick Run, then splits; one section continuing over the Peters Creek Viaduct to Connellsville while the other follows the southern bank of Peters Creek to the Clairton Coke Works. This line was originally built in the early 1900's as part of the West Side Belt Railroad.

Ravensburg Tunnel
Wheeling & Lake Erie Clairton Branch
Jefferson Hills

Some Recent Railroad History

Railroads have been and continue to be important to the economic health of the region. They also tend to be located in the floodplains of rivers and streams and at times carry some very toxic substances.

There are also times when events outside of the watershed can have the potential to significantly impact the water quality of our streams. Train derailments have the potential to degrade aquatic life in streams for many years. One such event occurred in north central Pennsylvania last year along the Driftwood Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek in Cameron County. 47,000 gallons of highly concentrated sodium hydroxide spilled into the stream and killed thousands of fish, waterfowl, amphibians and aquatic insects in 35 miles of stream.

Fillkill in Driftwood Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek
Cameron County, PA

On September 19, 2006 a massive landslide in Kilbuck Twp buried the Norfolk Southern Railroad's tracks and caused the railway to reroute trains. One of the reroutes brought many trains onto the Wheeling & Lake Erie Clairton Branch. This trackage was not up to handling such large trains and on September 26th a derailment occurred along Peters Creek Rd in Jefferson Hills near the Turnpike Maintenance Facility. Luckily, there was not a spill of toxic chemicals.

2006 Derailment along Peters Creek Road
Wheeling & Lake Erie Clairton Branch
Jefferson Hills