West End Branch (P&WV/W&LE) rail trail

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abf
Member
#

As has been discussed on this forum (here, and here) and elsewhere before, there is an unused rail line in the city which could be made into a trail.

This rail segment is known as the P&WV/W&LE West End Branch, and was known in the past as the West Side Belt, and prior to that as the Little Saw Mill Run Railroad. The sections which I know to be currently unused are the ones from the CSX Pittsburgh Sub in the far West End to the western side of West End Circle, and from the eastern side of West End Circle to by the Wabash Tunnel entrance and the historic Wabash Tunnel connection. Perhaps other sections are also disused and can be potentially made into trails (the line or connecting segments run until near the Monongahela by Clairton); if you know this to be the case, please speak up.

In 2012, an important bridge on this railroad branch was demolished, as part of the PennDOT work on West End Circle, since it posed clearance issues to automobile traffic passing under it. While the missing bridge might seem like a disadvantage, it is an advantage in a way, since by demolishing it, the chances that this rail would be reactivated were marginalized (while a trail user can cross the street nearby at just a minor inconvenience, a train cannot easily do so with no bridge, and the only use for a rail line connected to other rails on one side only is to serve local endpoints, of which there seem not to be much/any). At least a portion of the rails was formally abandoned prior to the 2012 demolition.

As far as land ownership goes, according to the Allegheny County parcel infomation (see here), most of the land which the rail traverses is owned by railroads; some other parcels are owned by the city, some near the Wabash Tunnel are owned by Port Authority of Allegheny County, and two, in the area of the bridge over Rt51/SawMillRunBlvd, are owned by “Wabash Properties LLC”.

This route would be useful for commuting and recreation alike, for commuting because it provides an easier route between multiple parts of the city than the current ones, and for recreation since it connects recreation destinations (Emerald View Park, Seldom Seen Greenway, the riverfront trails) to connector routes (the “T”, potentially the Wabash tunnel).

The infrastructure of the railroad is a tremendous asset, since it already has bridges, a subsurface, and a right-of-way provided, and since it bypasses many potential obstructions (traffic lights, automobile traffic, dangerous roads for walking/cycling, streams).

In the future, this right-of-way can be used as a springboard from which to connect to the Montour Trail via the Bethel Park spur, the South Park connector, or Clairton, and to the Panhandle Trail in Carnegie, perhaps via the Clearview Park Trail (a former trolley right-of-way) in Crafton and potential extensions thereof. It can also be used for connecting to many more South Hills destinations.


Daria
Participant
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huh, I was just talking with someone about this the other day. (the section near clairton is supposedly being reactivated, by the way.)


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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I added a cross-reference in the WT thread to this thread. The topics are inextricably related.

While I’m at it, how about a link to the South Hills commuting thread. Separate but related, so let’s make sure we can get from one to the other.


edmonds59
Participant
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Now this is a good idea. It would be a relatively short diversion to get to the foot of this route at the West End and be able to travel up Saw Mill Run to the south. Although it would put one more highlight on how much of a clusterfk the 1/4 mile stretch of West Carson from the Station Square drive to the West End Circle, and how that little crappy piece isolates so much geography to biking.
Penndot.


Swalfoort
Participant
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I think Friends of the Riverfront looked into this a couple of years ago. I don’t know what came of their investigation….


paulheckbert
Moderator
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@abf, can you create a map, or point us to one? Does this 2009 map by @bennyh show all or part of it? https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?ie=UTF8&msa=0&z=14&mid=z87Z5Z_gs084.k64_irwkRjc8


Swalfoort
Participant
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Here’s the WLE Railway on a Google Maps Platform:

https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=z20UYJxR2xnc.kmNRBV5dHFjk

It might help locate some of the areas that abf references.


abf
Member
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@paulheckbert It is the red line on the map from @bennyh except for the segment over west end circle (in the satellite view one can tell that there is no longer a bridge there).


Marko82
Participant
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@abf. Last year a few of us (me, Dino & Adam) met with Natalia Rudiak who is the city council person for Beechview concerning putting a bike trail through Seldom Seen. We also made contact with the folks from Mt. Washington who are putting in the Emerald Park trails (who would also like a trail in this area). While everyone has been very supportive and thinks that this a great idea, nothing concrete has happened yet. We also have brought this to the EDS South Hills bike/ped committee, but unfortunately that committee is going through some change right now (and this was not really part of their original geographic focus). We are currently trying to get some money appropriated through the city capital budget for an initial engineering assessment of the hillside through Seldom Seen, but that’s not a given either.

Hopefully there will be a new South Hills bike/ped committee structure soon, and I would encourage you or anyone else interested to attend.


byogman
Member
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Referring to bennyh’s map, looked at the red line and wow, that would be nice. The little orange spur on bennyh’s map also caught my eye, I didn’t realize there was something already there to bring you over 51 to the seldom seen greenway, that’s huge. It hurts to see so much potential for relief from awfulness, so much seemingly within grasp, but stalled for so long. Hopefully the new committee gets together soon and works this out with the city, with the port authority and with the other stakeholders.


Daria
Participant
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A thing that is forgotten, there was a trolley right of way from McCartney St and Wabash in the West End (in easy connecting distance of this) up and over the hill to Crafton. The route lays fallow. An additional right of way takes you down from Crafton to Idlewood busway station. If you want to build a trail west, here’s a great route to start.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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Is that McCartney St itself? I see a cadastral line extending farther up the hill beyond the end of the street, and what looks like something might have peeled off of Noblestown between Obey and Hartwell Streets. That?

Second possibility, what is that line connecting Kearns Ave with Kearns Ave? Trail? Staircase? I will confess to not knowing beans about this part of town, but it’s little bits and pieces like this that give me hope that the whole thing can be connected to a line along the old railbed.

Separately, what was the cost of building that structure along the Allegheny between 40th and 31st Street bridges? That’s what we need along Saw Mill Run where the railbed is degraded.


Marko82
Participant
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^Wow that McCartney route looks like it would be really easy to put through & it would get you off of cars-go-too-fast Nobles, at least up to the 50/60 split. Of course the folks living down there might not be so agreeable, but has anyone pursued the feasibility this?


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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And then there’s that Clearview Park Trail that starts up, just a couple hundred yards west of that, seemingly atop the same old trolley r.o.w.

Much as I’d like to go on a field trip to explore this, I’m not going to fit it in anytime soon. Can someone who knows this area better please go on a scouting mission?

Back in 2010, when I worked at FedEx in Moon and regularly got a ride from a co-worker through the western ‘burbs and edge of the city, I remember thinking, y’know, I NEVER see a bicycle in this part of town. Maybe a 10-year-old kid scooting around the edge of a playground, but never a commuter or any adult. Maybe things have changed in five years, but I got the strong impression at the time that this part of town doesn’t know what a bicycle is. This was at the exact same time that we formed Flock (April-May 2010), and the East End was already crawling with bikes. Not having anywhere to actually ride a bike? Naw, couldn’t have anything to do with it. [/snark]


Steven
Participant
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Looks like the two parts of Kearns Ave were still connected in 1994. In Streetview, the road was barricaded by 2007, but I didn’t find any newspaper reports of its closure.

That trail bridge near 31st Street cost about $6 million.


paulheckbert
Moderator
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Perhaps of interest: a 1904 map of railroads in the area, shows West Side Belt Railroad and Wabash Railroad
http://www.railsandtrails.com/Maps/Pittsburgh/1904%20Railroad%20District/PittsburghDistrict1904-150l.pdf


edmonds59
Participant
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Thank Geek Jesus for the internet, now I know what a cadastral is.


Steven
Participant
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I think “cadastral” is the adjectival form. The noun is cadastre. (“An official register of the quantity, value, and ownership of real estate used in apportioning taxes”.)


Daria
Participant
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Pretty sure Kearns connects via now-closed street. And McCartney, the tracks were technically beside the street once you started up the hill but in the street by Wabash.


buffalo buffalo
Participant
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I’ve ridden down Kearns a couple times. It still exists, but is barricaded at both ends with jersey barriers (there are gaps just wide enough for a bike), because hillside erosion has undermined or flat out destroyed the eastern third or more of the roadbed. In places it’s as narrow as a bike trail–and the vegetation is attempting to reclaim the uphill side as well.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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Any chance of “Pocusset”-izing this?


Daria
Participant
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Literally just had that discussion with my friend Hart, he points out unlike Pocusset the grade is bad and suspects that makes it less likely to happen since only people like us will make use of it.


Jacob McCrea
Participant
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A few years ago we looked at going up Kearns Street as part of the neighborhood ride. I recall it being extremely steep at the bottom, and the pavement was in horrible shape, so we found another route.

“Hopefully there will be a new South Hills bike/ped committee structure soon, and I would encourage you or anyone else interested to attend.”

John, please resurrect one of the old threads about this when the new committe is up and running. I will try to get involved, or at least attend.


Daria
Participant
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I felt like it was about the same as Greentree Road but it had been months. Hart pointed out the grade was worse. a Quick look at a map says he is right


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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Would a staircase with a runnel help? Would a switchback structure help? Is the grade on this road, apart from the broken part, so steep anyway that there’s no point in trying to make it appealing for cyclists?


Daria
Participant
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Oh, I think there is absolutely a point, but as you can gather I am not the person to ask.


Jacob McCrea
Participant
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No, no and yes. I think the initial grade was like Eleanor Street on the Slopes, but the pavement looked like it was carpet-bombed. Unless you live at the top of the hill, the time and money are better spent elsewhere. If a resident wanted to keep it cleared on their own time and their own dime, more power to them.


Daria
Participant
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Well, given my regular use of Eleanor, I am disqualified from further comment :)


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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How comparable is it to another spot that actually is getting some serious attention, the steps between Joncaire St & Frick Fine Arts? Imagine that as a poorly paved street to start with.


Daria
Participant
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Not the same. You can just bike up Joncaire or the sidewalk on Joncaire if cobbles are too much and it’s not like Greentree Rd in terms of traffic.


buffalo buffalo
Participant
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It’s not as steep as the Joncaire stairs, nor is it directly down the hillside. In steepness (and crossing connections) it’s similar to the McArdle Roadway or Swinburne St in Oakland — it’s a long road descending across, not directly down, the hill face. Only in this case there’s a better-maintained road on each side; Greentree and Noblestown (50/60) are both roughly parallel to Kearns.


edmonds59
Participant
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My own personal broken record, Noblestown is a good road for biking, and could be outstanding with a few very simple moves. You could connect many things with some bike friendly mods, the west, Carnegie, the Panhandle trail, eventually the Montour trail, you could even squiggle through Greentree to get to Mt Lebo without too much effort. You have to get from town to the WEC, tho. :(


Daria
Participant
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<- bikes through West End Circle. And up Noblestown, so I guess I still don't count.


chrishent
Member
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+1 on Noblestown. Gentle grade, mostly wide and with good sightlines, not terribly windy.

As others have said, improving the West End Circle is the key here if you want more cyclists coming to and from the West End. I would guess that there’s been more than a few potential cycling commuters who have taken a single look at that arrangement and said, “fuck that”. A trail along lower Mt. Washington is probably the best way to solve this.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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A trail along lower Mt. Washington is probably the best way to solve this.

…in other words, Wabash Tunnel and that rail bed.


chrishent
Member
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Actually, I was thinking of something shorter but ultimately more complex near the WEC itself. Like a trail that goes along the northern face of Mt Washington and along Carson that allows you to avoid the merging point of West Carson and WEC traffic going inbound. This area, to me, is more troublesome for cycling than the split point for West Carson and the ramp to the bridge going outbound, but I probably feel this way because I’ve never experienced that area with West Carson fully open.


abf
Member
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Recently I have explored out the section from WEC to near Corliss Tunnel (from off-site — that is, checking it out from adjacent roads etc. without actually entering the rail right-of-way), and it seems like it would make a good, useful trail.

Starting from Steuben and heading west (outbound), there is a short section, after where the RR used to cross Steuben (there is still at least one RR XING sign for this in the vicinity!), which seems very overgrown from Steuben and kind of just blends in with the rest of the brush, and you’d likely only see something different about this area if you are looking for it.

The next place the rail right-of-way is visible, is (what must be) a short distance further where one can spot an archway tunnel/bridge in the Norfolk Southern railroad embankment that the right-of-way passes under.

Right after this, the ROW continues onto a bridge which passes over W Carson . This bridge looks to my untrained eye to be in decent shape, although I may well be totally mistaken in that :-).

(It seems like there are no clearance issues which this bridge presents to W Carson below (the West Busway-Downtown buses pass under here, and they require more than) 10 feet of clearance (clearance issues are what caused the bridge over WEC to be demolished, splitting the line in two, and presumably causing the line to be abandoned in the first place), so hopefully PennDOT has no plans to dispose of this bridge.)

Continuing from the bridge, the ROW begins on a slow descent, at first passing over the W Carson Street sidewalk, then continuing next to it, until when one gets to where the handrail starts on the river side of the W Carson sidewalk, the RR grade is around 3 to 4 feet below the sidewalk level.

The takeaway from all this is as follows:
The railroad ROW presents a relatively easy way to leave the WEC, and a very good way to circumvent crossing W Carson at the WEC. It presents a wonderful alternative to PennDOT’s lack of separate planned bicycle infrastructure on W Carson, for part of the W Carson corridor (and perhaps the section with the least space for good alternatives). It can easily connect to the main W Carson either at hte point where the grades of the two are the same, or by a short ramp if it is desired to continue as far as possible to the end of the railroad grade before it merges with the CSX tracks.

Perhaps this can also be an antidote for PennDOT’s lack of reasonable infrastructure in the W Carson project).

Shortly after the end of the ROW, the West Busway flyover begins on the south flank of W Carson; there is no longer a cliff on this side, and perhaps an extension to the ROW can be made using this or other existing old rights-of-way and/or streets on from here, until reaching Chartiers Creek.

All that being said, this may be able to serve as part of the Ohio River Trail, and/or the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, so perhaps those involved in these efforts may be able to help bring this to fruition.


abf
Member
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A few more notes…

There is an empty lot by the southwestern corner of the West End Bridge that is seemingly owned by P&WV/W&LE; perhaps this can be used for trailhead parking.

Also, a tunnel could be ran under the W Carson “viaduct” (it is like a bridge on one side) to the W Busway side of Carson if a trail can be built on/near the Busway property.


abf
Member
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Here is a map illustrating some of what is stated in my above post.


DoubleStraps
Member
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I don’t really have much to add here, but I’d just like to say that, as a West Ender who is a fairly inexperienced cyclist (only 4ish years of riding-in-traffic cycling), thank you so much for your efforts. The route from Downtown to my neck of the woods (Crafton/Ingram) is so intimidating that, although I WANT to be able to commute Downtown, I’ve resorted to rack ‘n rolling only.

Honestly, my biggest concern is that, as a cyclist, I’ll be an unfamiliar sight for motorists. I see VERY few cyclists around these parts, especially headed towards Downtown, and even heading south and west in the very bikeable Crafton-to-Carnegie corridor.

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