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 1949.

   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.