The Monongahela Railway, The Biggest Little Coal Carrier
The Monongahela Railway was a coal hauler located in southwestern
Pennsylvania and northeastern West Virginia. The railroad was never an
independent operation having been created by the Pennsylvania and
Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroads to haul coal from the region with
the Baltimore & Ohio eventually owning a share of the MGA to
split the ownership three ways. While the railroad ebbed and flowed
with the demand for coal (being that it made up virtually all of the
railroad’s traffic) during its final years with demand for black diamonds
soaring the railroad was quite profitable. Its end came as
its parent companies began selling off their interests in the Mon.
First, the financially destitute P&LE sold of its interest to then
PRR successor, Conrail followed by CSX Transportation, successor to the
B&O a few years later. And so, full control was handed to Conrail
in 1993 which slowly integrated the railroad into its system.
A pair of B23-7R Super Sevens pulls a string of empty coal hoppers Mather, Pennsylvania headed for Emerald Mine on October 14, 1991.
MGA dates back to 1900 when it was originally created
by the Pennsylvania Railroad and Pittsburgh & Lake Erie as the
Monongahela Railroad to build a line south of Brownsville Junction (just
north of Brownsville where the P&LE and PRR met and the Mon’s main
line headed south), following the east bank of the Monongahela River to
reach Martin, Pennsylvania, where the railroad tapped several coal mines
in the region. Interestingly, this line would be one of the only rail
lines built by the MGA as most of the rest of its system was put
together through mergers and buyouts of small shortlines.
One of the Mon’s first extensions was the leasing of the Connellsville
& Monongahela Railway, which took a more roundabout approach to
connecting Brownsville and a point further south on the railroad’s main
line at Browns Run Jct., just north of Martin. After the railroad
acquired the Buckhannon & Northern in 1915 it changed its
named on July 1st of that year to the MGA. Ten years
later the railroad further expanded when it leased the Scotts Run
Railway between Randall, West Virginia and Brave, PA. By acquiring the B&N the Mon found itself with a connection with PRR
competitor Baltimore & Ohio around Morgantown and Fairmont, West
With this connection the B&O was able to purchase an interest in the
railroad, which it did in 1926. After the B&O entered the mix
the MGA gained rights to serve the B&O’s Paw Paw
Branch and Indian Creek & Northern Railroad, both located near
Also in 1926 the railroad gained several trackage rights from the
Pennsylvania. These included the ability to serve the PRR’s route on
the west bank of the MGA between West Brownsville
Junction and Millsboro (which included the Redstone Branch), Millsboro
to Crucible (the Ten Mile Run Branch), and the Chartiers Southern
Railroad between Crucible and Nemacolin, and between Besco (near
Millsboro) and Mather. Following the connection at Mather the
MGA built an extension on to Waynesburg in 1930. Following World War II the Mon found itself upon hard times as
its mines along the river were being worked out and coal companies were
switching more and more to barges as a means to move their coal.
However, by the 1960s the railroad had an opportunity to turn things
around. South of Waynesburg there were several new mines planned to open
but these mines had no way to transport their coal.
Two former Super 7s have yet to be repainted into Conrail blue as they pull a heavy coal drag with other CR units through California, Pennsylvania on August 15, 1993.
Seeing an opportunity itself parent Pennsylvania created the Waynesburg
Southern Railroad in 1966 (which it then leased to the railroad) to
begin building a railroad in a rough crescent south and east of
Waynesburg tapping the many new mines opening in the region. Eventually
the line swung its way around and connected with the Scotts Run Branch
at Blacksville, with two spurs to Wana and Miracle Run to serve mines
south of the new line. No longer needing the Scotts Run Branch east of
Blacksville that line was abandoned in 1968.
Interestingly the first train to move a loaded coal train on
the Waynesburg Southern was the Penn Central in mid-July of 1968. While
the Monongahela Railway also opened an additional branch in the early
1950s tapping Grant Town and
Fairview located to the northwest of Fairmont the railroad, and then
built another branch in the mid-1980s to serve mines located west of
Waynesburg at Sycamore and Time, Pennsylvania the railroad had all but
reached its final length after the Waynesburg Southern extension.
One of the railroad's GP38s, #2001, lays over at the Brownsville facility awaiting its next assignment on September 20, 1980.
Following the abandonment of its Scotts Run Branch in 1968 the
railroad also began axing other redundant trackage. In 1976 it
abandoned most of the old Connellsville & Monongahela Railway and
lines south of Millsboro on the west bank of the Monongahela River.
Then, in 1979 it also pulled up its trackage south of Prickett Junction.
By this time the railroad was being operated in two divisions; the
East Division, which operated the Mon’s lines along the river and the
West Division, which operated the lines west of Millsboro (i.e., the
Waynesburg Southern Railroad extension). It also should be noted that
while the Monongahela was controlled by three different railroads it
retained some semblance of independence by being operated by its own
A trio of GP7s including #1502, #1500 and #1504 sit at the engine terminal in Brownsville, Pennsylvania on September 20, 1980.
After a rough stretch during the 1970s the Monongahela Railway
was once again becoming a profitable operation by the 1980s,
particularly after its extension to Time and Sycamore in 1984.
Unfortunately, while by the end of the 1980s the railroad was earning
healthier profits its end was nearing. In 1989 the cash-starved
P&LE sold its interest in the Mon to then PRR successor Conrail.
Then, after B&O successor CSX Transportation abandoned its FM&P
Subdivision (which connected with the Monongahela), which operated
between Fairmont, Morgantown, and Connellsville due to a landslide the
railroad also gave up its old B&O share of the Mon to Conrail in
1991. For a collection of historic photographs featuring the Monongahela Railway please click here.
Two Super 7s power a cut of empty hoppers back to the mine as the train travels through Fredericktown, Pennsylvania on October 14, 1991.
Soon after this Conrail, having always wanted the Mon
began integrating the coal hauler into its system and the railroad
officially disappeared on April 31, 1993. Still, things have a funny
way of coming full circle, however. In 1999 Conrail was spilt up
between Norfolk Southern and CSX. In regards to the old Monongahela it
was decided that Norfolk Southern would acquire ownership of the former
railroad but with the stipulation that CSX would have access to any
shippers on the line that it wanted. So, today, you can still catch NS
and CSX trains operating over the Mon (known today as NS’s MGA Mine
District) on a system that is virtually unchanged from the 1985 system.