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Blue Line through Castle Shannon has history |

Blue Line through Castle Shannon has history

During his presentation on the “Great Castle Shannon Bank Robbery” last month, the speaker shared a map of Castle Shannon in 1917.

The Pittsburgh and Castle Shannon Railroad was clearly shown, snaking its way through Castle Shannon on the same right-of-way currently used by the Blue Line on Port Authority of Allegheny County’s light-rail transit system, the T.

In the heart of Castle Shannon, the P & CSRR had a wye, permitting engines to be turned around, and shops for engine repair.

Its history provides us with an excellent picture of the early development of this general area in the 19th century. In 1861, the Coal Hill Coal Railroad was chartered to move coal from mines in the Saw Mill Run Valley to Carson Street via a tunnel through an old coal mine and an inclined plane on the Pittsburgh side of Mt. Washington.

On the south face of the mountain, it descended to the Saw Mill Run Valley via a long horseshoe curve.

In 1871 a group of investors, headed by Milton Hayes, formed the Pittsburgh & Castle Shannon Railroad to promote development of communities along Saw Mill Run, including Castle Shannon.

They purchased the Coal Hill railroad and extended it up Saw Mill Run valley, still as a narrow gauge (40 inches) line to Castle Shannon.

As was common in the 19th century, the railroad constructed tourist attractions to build its passenger business. First was the Linden Grove, a destination aimed at German picnickers, and was followed by several other picnic groves. Then came a zoological garden and two camp-meeting grounds.

By 1877 the railroad was running nine passenger trains a day each way.

In 1891 the Mt. Washington Tunnel was replaced by two inclines, one on each side of the mountain.

In 1900 the P & CSRR was sold to the Pittsburgh Coal Company. Five years later Pittsburgh Railways leased the track and added standard gauge rails to permit the use of streetcars. For a few years streetcars and passenger trains used the track during the day, and coal trains operated on it at night.

The coal hauling business ended in 1912, and three years later passenger service using steam locomotives also ceased.

Since then the route has been dedicated to inter-urban trolleys and eventually to the current light-rail system.

I certainly wish we could roll back the calendar and take a ride into South Hills Junction from Castle Shannon, and then up and over Mt. Washington via two inclines.

John Oyler is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. He can be reached at 412-343-1652 or Read more from him at

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