The Alphabet Route
Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railway
The Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway was incorporated on Monday,
January 29, 1917. It was a reorganization of the Wabash-Pittsburgh Terminal Railroad
which was in receivership due to the George Gould failure. It also assumed control of
the Pittsbrugh Terminal Railroad and Coal Company, which in turn controlled the West
Side Belt Railroad Company, the State Line Connecting Railway, and the Pittsburgh and
State Line Railway. These last two only existed on the documents as they had no physical
plant. The West Side Belt Railroad Company was controlled by the P&WV, but operated as
a seperate entity.
Locomotives on the P&WV tended to be a mixture of second-hand, leased,
and inherited units. Mainline freight power was predominately the twelve 900-919 series
of Mikados from the Wabash-Pittsburgh Terminal Railroad. Two 4-4-0's numbers 805-806 were
the primary power for locals and fill-in service. A variety of 4-6-0 type locomotives
were used in passenger service. Freight cars were scarce in the early days with 1497
hoppers, 2 refrigerator cars, and 6 cabooses. In addition to adding more equipment, the
P&WV extended the yard at Rook, replaced many bridges, built many new structures, and
improved the rail during this early timeframe.
This decade was a very prosperous time for the railroad. The Federal
Government returned control of the railroads in 1920 and the P&WV acquired all of the
stock for the West Side Belt Railroad. Effectively January 1, 1921, the P&WV officially
took over all operations on the West Side Belt Railroad. Milk trains were added in
1921. The P&WV rostered an all-time high of 40 locomotives in 1921, including new
Pacifics to upgrade the passenger service for the railroad. The coal miner's
strike of 1922 caused a decrease in traffic volume on the P&WV. Still, the P&WV continued
to upgrade the physical plant, adding a connection to the New York Central at Hopedale.
1923 was a very good year for the company. As result of a stock majority
ouster, a group of syndicates, with financial backing from the Metropolitan Life Insurance
Company took over controlling interest in the railroad. The commision called for
cooporation with a group of other railroads to increase traffic including the NKP, W&LE,
P&WV, and the WM. Rather than the consolidation Gould preferred, the new management
stressed agreements with other railroads and sold the geographic significance of the P&WV in
these agreements. With coal revenues dropping in 1924, the P&WV sold off the coal interests.
Business continued to increase from 1925-1927 with many improvements made
to both equipment and the physical plant. In 1927, the P&WV applied to the ICC to build an
extension to Connellsville, PA to connect with the Western Maryland Railway. The ICC
approved this request in 1928 by a 5-4 vote, overturning the recommendation of the examiner.
The ICC also approved the offical merger of the P&WV and WSB, which was effective Janurary 1,
1929. Also in 1929, the Pennroad Corporation (the financial arm of the Pennsylvania Railroad)
purchased controlling stock in the P&WV.
1931 saw the end of passenger service on the P&WV and the completion of
the Connellsville extension to connect to the Western Maryland Railway. 1932-1934 were
difficult years financially for the P&WV. The only aspect of the corporation that
was growing was an increase in freight from off-railroad sources (bridge traffic). To
handle this traffic, the P&WV ordered the first J-1 class 2-6-6-4 in 1934. Delivered
between 1934 and 1937, these would be the last steam locomotives purchased by the P&WV.
1935 saw an agreement with the W&LE to allow P&WV trains to deliver
directly to the W&LE's Brewster, Ohio yard without changing power, and the W&LE to deliver
to Rook Yard. This led to a pooling of locomotives between the two lines. From Rook to
Connellsville, the J-1's were used to handle all bridge traffic. 1937 saw the abandonment
of the Banksville Branch for a new highway project by Allegheny County. Due to its
dependancy on the declining coal market, the period from 1938-1941 were difficult
financially. 1942 saw a sharp upturn in business due to the war effort, especially bridge
traffic via the alphabet route. The trend continued in 1943 and 1944. The first P&WV
diesel, a Baldwin VO1000 was purchased. With the end of the war in 1945, the railroad
focused on the bridge traffic as the primary source of income.
On March 21, 1946, the old Wabash Freight Terminal and the surrounding
elevated P&WV track was lost in a fire. This placed a large financial burdon on the
company. 1947 marked the signing of a contract with US&S of Pittsburgh to install CTC
for the entire mainline and the Mifflin and Clairton branches. Also, the first two
Fairbanks Morse locomotives arrived. The P&WV also abandoned the Pittsburgh branch from
West Belt Junction to Pittsburgh. 1948 saw the last P&WV train leave downtown Pittsburgh
and the dismantling of the P&WV Monongahela River Bridge. The CTC system was installed
In 1950, the W&LE was leased to the Nickel Plate Road. This provided
a direct connection to the NKP and the midwest for the P&WV. 1951 saw an agressive
advertising campaign by the P&WV. This included painting several box cars with the new
slogan "Symbol of Service". 1952 saw a decrease in tonnage due to a steel strike. 1953
saw more diesels arriving and the fire on all steam locomotives was dropped for the last
time. By February, steam power was only used in yard or helper service. By April, all
steam locomotives were placed in the scrap line, never to be fired again.
1954 saw a major overhaul in the railroad's financial situation with a
new mortgage taken. This lead to many improvements in 1955, including the Parkway Terminal
Buliding near Rook yard. 1956 saw the first timetable (#27) issued since 1941 and had a
variety of fast freight bridge trains (alphabet route trains) to handle the traffic in a
timely manner. 1957-1959 saw increased traffic and profits for the railroad. 1960 saw a
severe drop-off in traffic that caused many cost-cutting policies in 1961. This down turn
continued through 1962 and led to an application to the ICC to lease the P&WV to the
Norfolk and Western Railway by the end of the year. 1963 was spent waiting for the ICC to
rule on this application, which was approved on October 16, 1964. This made the P&WV a
leased line of the N&W and effectively ended the P&WV's history as a distinct railroad.
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Last modified: April 09 2009.
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