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.  

The 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 Virginia. 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 Rivesville.

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.

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.

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 management team.

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.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The Baldwin Locomotive Works

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
RF16A1205, 1207, 1209, 1213, 1216 (Ex-NYC)1951-19525

Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
GP71500-1510 (Ex-P&LE)1951-195311

General Electric

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
Super7-23B (B23-S7)2300-2310 (Ex-WP U23Bs)1972/1989-199011

Steam Locomotive Roster

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
H4, H5/saConsolidation2-8-0
L1 Through L3/aMikado2-8-2

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.

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