aspinwall to east liberty rail line = rail trail?

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mark
Participant
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does anyone know if the rail line that kind of runs along washington blvd is active? it looks like it isn’t from the ground… it has some amazing bridges/viaducts and would be a great connector to the current trail system… just curious how possible it is to make that happen.


dmtroyer
Participant
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oh the beauty of riding north out of town without having to use the HPB.


brian j
Participant
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I believe it may be used occasionally, though it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a train running on it. We used to rock climb on the bridge behind the car wash on Washington Blvd, and would sometimes see maintenance crews on the tracks, but never trains.


mark
Participant
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oh man i want this to happen so bad. i’m going to look into this after work


Swalfoort
Participant
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Between Allegheny River Boulevard and the River, with a bridge that parallels the Highland Park Bridge? Very much active, and likely to become more so, as discussions are underway with the City to add passenger rail to this corridor. This is a big part of the Allegheny Riverfront Green Boulevard project. Fortunately, they plan a trail with the project — maybe. But this gets you along the river. Which connection to East Liberty…?


ejwme
Participant
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the railroad will move cars periodically across lines that are otherwise inactive simply to maintain right of way. there are trees growing out of some tracks, but like the line on the south of the allegheny out near Oakmont, those tracks are mostly dead (I’ve seen cars on both, but not headed anywhere).

I have occasionally seen a cyclist crossing the railroad bridge up there… Ballsy. That is NOT public, NOT maintained well (esp. not for that mode of transport), and rail police can easily write a ticket up while waiting you to get to the other side. But I’m a total goodey two shoes, and totally jealous of such courage.

It would make a wicked rail->trail. It would also make a nice commuter train rout. I’m torn because I want better trail systems, but I want better mass transit also, and often the two are at odds. Luckily the speed of molasses at which these changes tend to move keep me from having to hastily choose sides or feel as though such a choice makes a difference.

Mark, please tell us what you learn?


BradQ
Participant
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I may or may not have ridden my bicycle across that bridge a few times.

It may have been really, really cool. Even if I had done it, I wouldn’t do it again.


Swalfoort
Participant
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The line that parallels Washington Boulevard to the east is the Norfolk Southern Brilliant Branch. My information says they use it sporadically to move heavy electronic equipment. Don’t use it more than a half a dozen times a year. I’ll see if I can dig up anything else.


ejwme
Participant
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swalfoort – you are too fast! – on the south side of the river, that bridge (I believe) connects to tracks that travel over ARB (just east of the intersection with Washington Blvd), and then continues south. It travels across bridges going over… the road leading east from the police station, and then is on a giant trestle above that carwash down there (I think, I’m a little sketch on some of the 3D aspects of that area).

I have never seen trains move across the bridge over the river, though I admit I have not sat there and watched it for long periods of time (other than when stuck in traffic).


Steven
Participant
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This 2006 post says Allegheny Valley Railroad bought and (in 2006) repaired the line so they could provide service to a scrap metal dealer on the north bank of the Allegheny. It looks like it’s the one under the Highland Park Bridge.


wojty
Participant
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AVR owns that whole section (the bit overlooking Washington Blvd) and the Brilliant Branch Bridge, as it is called. They purchased it back in the mid 90s, did some refurb work, and started using it around 2002-4, I believe.

Norfolk Southern owns the rail on the north shore, so my guess they only use it to shuttle freight over to trains to connect there. Seems odd though, as they do most of that on the 33rd street bridge…

That said, I wonder how much they paid for the Brilliant Branch Bridge, or if it was a $1 deal that brought with it all liabilities.

Also, for those wanting a better map of rail in PA, check out this PDF.


AtLeastMyKidsLoveMe
Participant
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On the north side of the Allegheny there, there are two “ramps” running up to the bridge – one from the east and one from the west. My understanding is Norfolk Southern owns and operates the west ramp and maintains track across the bridge. The AVRR apparently owns the east ramp. That ramp does not appear to be functional currently as there are no “sleepers” evident.

Norfolk Southern also maintains a through-line underneath (but at-grade) that carries 17 trains a day, and I have also heard that is not likely to decrease.

There is a lot on interest in that part of the valley right now in the land beneath those ramps and bridge terminus as a local group, working with Friends of the Riverfront, is trying to purchase the existing Aspinwall Marina to be able to control the property and establish a public park and river access.

A bike path through the park would seem a natural amenity, and although it would be enticing to imagine a bike path across the river there on that railroad bridge, I have a hard time seeing that in our lifetimes. Railroads seem to like their bridges.


wojty
Participant
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After reviewing the Aspinwall map, and google satellite view, my hopes that the east/west ownership would allow for a ramp to go up and run parallel to the existing tracks just can’t happen. Not that I think a railroad would ever allow that anyhow…

Come to think of it, are there any bridges like this in the US? Where it used to be two (or more) rail lines across a bridge, one or more were decommissioned, converted to ped/bike use, but the other line stayed active? I find it incredibly unlikely, but if it has happened, what a great precedent.


ejwme
Participant
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it would be quite a rush to be on the bridge as a train was traveling over it beside you… Once the standard liability issues have been addressed (which happen on any shared use path), I figure the only other issue would be maintenance costs?

on the north shore of the river, those trains are constant, several go through every night. I can hear them really clearly from my house, even with the windows shut and despite being a few miles from them – something about the acoustics and the bluff and whatnot. The fact that I can hear them so distinctly and often directly leads to my being too chicken to get to Milvale from Aspinwall via anything other than Cabbage Hill.


mark
Participant
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there is a similar bridge in harpers ferry, wv from the C&O canal

you can mainly see the ped side here but there are two active railroads tracks on the same bridge.


Noah Mustion
Participant
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The bike lane that follows the Red Line in NE DC is not only right next to the Metro but also the railway that follows that same stretch of Red Line…


ejwme
Participant
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there you have it, noah and mark have proved that it is feasible. this will become a wonderful ped/bike path.

I very rarely wish that I had millions of dollars, but when I do it’s usually because something like this comes up with some wonderful pictures of what life *could* be like with strategically spent money.

(Forget scantily clad women and beaches, anybody wanting to sell me beer should show pics of people promenading on pretty paths near their homes and promise the beer will allow me to do the same.)

ouch. I tangented myself. sorry.


dwillen
Participant
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ejwme
Participant
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dude, what ride was that?

(and this makes me think we could pass around a donation hat for BPGH or FOTRF pre/post rides. it could be an easy way for small change to add up.)

(and yes, I’ll be getting my Stepdad some EEB goodness for his birthday thanks to that link, so it DID work)


wojty
Participant
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Thanks Noah and Mark, quite fast too.

The biggest issue I see with this bridge then is that the eastern approach looks to have been two lines in the past, and they kept the western most one, thus crossing over to the western side of the bridge. Would be some pretty tricky ($$$$) engineering to get a ped/bike bridge to the correct side (unless you just used the east approach entirely).

All along wash blvd it looks to maintain the former double rail RoW, so far as frankstown road. Having a trail across that huge stone arch bridge would be pretty awesome!

These are some pretty crazy pipe dreams, eh?


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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@ejwme, I think it’s the 2011 Keg Ride from EEB. It was a drizzly, somewhat chilly, Saturday morning prior to the start of the ride, hence all the ponchos. Then it cleared up, hence the blue skies. All prior Keg Rides were on a Friday afternoon.


dmtroyer
Participant
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All prior Keg Rides were on a Friday afternoon.

Huh? Really?


ejwme
Participant
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I need to work less, bike more, and definitely get to more rides.

(and thank you again dwillen – my stepdad is impossible to shop for, you saved me from a lot of frantic shopping)


abf
Member
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This line may now have a new oppurtunity to become a rail trail.

From what I can gather, Azcon was the only customer being serviced on this line. Now that Riverfront 47 LP has purchased the Azcon land, AVRR (who, by the way, it seems does own the line including the river bridge approaches and therefore probably the actual bridge) has no more business on this line. The line also connects to AVRR’s south-bank-of-Allegheny line, but from what I gather, this is not one of their main connections (they have other connections which they can use to connect to this line). Even if they would decide to keep part of it for the connection, since it is double-tracked, one track can perhaps become a trail, as mentioned previously.

This line would make a wonderful rail-trail, what with its neat bridges etc., and it can connect to Aspinwall Riverfront Park (and from there to the Erie to Pittsburgh trail) by its north end on the north side of the Allegheny, to East Liberty on its south terminus, and potentially to the Allegheny Riverfront Green Boulevard on the south of the river.

Combined with the Frick Park trails, it can make a nearly all off-road (besides for a little gap between the rail-trail and the park) connection between the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, forming, together with the GAP and Montour trails, part of a beltway around Pittsburgh.

See on map at http://umap.openstreetmap.fr/en/map/pittsburgh-bike-connecting_44426#14/40.4725/-79.9030


erok
Keymaster
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it would be amazing. fingers crossed


gg
Member
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I have heard rumors of the bridge being torn down. I was just walking around there today and was looking at that bridge. From Aspinwall it would be fine, but where does it end up? I believe it really ends up in Homewood, correct? I have talked to someone that runs that track on a bike up through there and he said it is a bit rough, meaning a little dangerous according to him as far as that neighborhood. I haven’t tried it yet, so I am only going from what I hear. Will Aspinwall want to connect to Homewood via trail?


AtLeastMyKidsLoveMe
Participant
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That rail line connects essentially to Bakery Square.

Aspinwall Riverfront Park. Riverfront 47. Doorstep of Fox Chapel. $500M investment in East End (Bakery Sq + East Side, etc). Google. Millvale-Freeport Trail (er, I mean Pittsburgh-Erie..). Pittsburgh Greenways Corridor.

Peduto likes the bike infrastructure. Fitzgerald and Vulakovich both said they really want to complete the trail from Millvale at the recent Aspinwall Riverfront Park opening. Public officials increasingly view trails as economic generators, not just recreation.

What do they say in the movies, “follow the money”? “Connect the dots”? Pick your metaphor, but connecting the East End to Aspinwall/Fox Chapel smells like a no-brainer.


abf
Member
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This is a PDF from 2003 where the idea of making the Brilliant Branch (allegheny river) Bridge into a trail is brought up (on PDF page 7; labeled page 5).

Also, this is an interesting read on the construction of the Brilliant Branch from 1905.


abf
Member
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@gg Once it is made into a trail, it seems that its proximity to Homewood shouldn’t be too much of a problem, since it will not be necessary to leave the line prior to its southern end (by the very-active railroad tracks) and cut through Homewood (perhaps this is what the person whom you talked to did); a connection could be made instead by the southern end, right at the main line tracks, onto local streets (near Westinghouse Park or Fifth Avenue), and perhaps even to the railroad track that runs to behind Bakery Square (via the PAT East Liberty Garage land). It seems that south, or even immediately north, of the tracks would be a much better place than some random place in Homewood.

Concerning as problems along the line, most of the time the line is not at the same grade as the surroundings area (see this topography map); where it is at level grade, it mostly runs behind backyards of houses (although one can see in aerial imagery that many houses in the area were demolished, likely indicating a possibly-unpleasant area, so those areas can be problematic).

Maybe a barrier, like a fence, or even thick shrubbery, could be put next to those areas which may be an issue.

Maybe if, or when, Homewood can become a nicer, more pleasant area, connections can be made from there to the trail :-)


Steven
Participant
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Sometimes when trail organizations try to create new trail, there’s opposition by adjacent landowners. They seem to think cyclists and other trail users will bring trouble, since they don’t respect the law. Sometimes trail neighbors want fences to protect their property from lawless trail users, or don’t want a trail near them at all.

Of course, while some trail users are no doubt like that, most are perfectly good neighbors.

Here it seems we have the same situation in reverse.

The fraction of the population who might harm the trail or its other users may well be higher in Homewood than in Shadyside, but it’s still a fraction. It’s unfair to brand an entire neighborhood as “unworthy” based on that.


Ahlir
Participant
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I would agree with Steven.

The part of Homewood that the trail would skirt is pretty benign, and there’s maybe only a few places where it’s easy to get to the trail from the street. I would suggest taking a weekend morning ride along say Larimer, Deary, Lincoln and maybe some side streets along there (though some are pretty steep). It’s just a simple middle-class neighborhood. There’s even churches. Occasionally you might run across a group of youths, but you can just ignore them (they’ll ignore you as well).

On the whole I would be a lot more worried about riding in North Oakland. Also shopping malls.


gg
Member
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Keep in mind, I brought this Homewood issue up because someone I talked to didn’t feel safe. I suspect you would feel quite alone out there riding on that trail and if you ran across some teens, you may feel a little concern, but some folks may not care in the least. Everyone’s comfort level is different. There was a thread going regarding safety and Panther Hollow. I never thought about being unsafe in that area at all. The worst thing I have seen was some drunk peeing out in the open, but whatever.

I would probably love a connection from Aspinwall like suggested. No Highland Park Bridge? Sign me up!


abf
Member
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By the way, did not get around to posting this at an earlier time, before this was expired. Anyway, if anyone saw trains going over this route in the summer or early fall, this is likely the reason:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/05/06/2016-10686/allegheny-valley-railroad-company-temporary-trackage-rights-exemption-norfolk-southern-railway

https://www.stb.gov/Filings/all.nsf/WEBUNID/F3985E9FE65EF45D85257F9C005FE4E3?OpenDocument

Summary: it seems that AVRR was using the route as a detour for a little while in order to do repairs to the 33rd street bridge.


paulheckbert
Keymaster
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There was some discussion of the Brilliant Branch here, also:

Pittsburgh bike infrastructure 2017

On August 31, I was at the NW end of 35th St, close to the river, and ran across major refurbishment work on the AVR trestle, probably connected to what @abf said.

DSC09454


abf
Member
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Via @Vannevar:

There is a write-up here about this proposed link.


Eric
Member
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Again, seems that rail is owned and owners have no plants allow prds/bike conversion. I think person did proposal”just because” or to spur conversation but doesn’t seem to match with reality of access to the bridge.

Unless anyone knows differently.


Eric
Member
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Heard through the grape vine — the bridge is still privately owned. Railroad still controls it. Suggestion was made that with R47 up in the air, there is still potential for R47 parcel in aspinwall/sharpsburg to be industrial. Until it is 100% guaranteed to be non-industrial, most likely the bridge/railroad will still control the property.

So I think R47 needs to unfold before anything happens with the brilliant bridge connector. If R47 or something similar goes through and makes the parcel non-industrial, then this makes the bridge and the RR link useless to the current owner(s) and they’d probably be willing to sell it to someone.

At least that’s what the grapevine says.

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