The Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway, The Hi-Line

The Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway was another of the western Pennsylvania/northern Ohio regional railroad systems to serve Pittsburgh and the steel mills located in the area (thus it moved large amounts of coal, coke, and iron ore). However, the railroad is perhaps best remembered for being a link in the chain of the famous “Alphabet Route”, a system of smaller railroads, which competed with the large eastern trunk lines (the Pennsylvania Railroad, New York Central, and Baltimore & Ohio) to move traffic between the major cities in the Northeast to Chicago and St. Louis in the Midwest (which include aside from the P&WV, the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad [Nickel Plate]; Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway; Western Maryland Railway; Reading Railroad; Central Railroad of New Jersey; New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad; and Lehigh & Hudson River Railway). Today, virtually the entire P&WV survives as a key route for the reborn Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway.  

The Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway dates back to 1904 as the Wabash-Pittsburgh Terminal Railway, which was created by tycoon George Gould (son of legendary baron Jay Gould) as a holding company for several smaller systems he had taken control of. These railroads included the Pittsburgh & Mansfield Railroad; Pittsburgh, Toledo & Western Railroad; Cross Creek Railroad; and the Pittsburgh, Carnegie & Western Railroad, all three of which extended from near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh Junction, Ohio and a connection with the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway.

The purpose of Gould’s ownership of the Wabash-Pittsburgh Terminal Railway, and several other eastern and western systems was to create a gigantic, true transcontinental system that spanned the country. Unfortunately the Panic of 1907 played havoc on several of the railroads Gould owned, the Wabash-Pittsburgh Terminal one of those, which declared bankruptcy in 1907.  The railroad emerged in 1916 as the Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railway, an independent company that would remain so for another 48 years. In 1931 the P&WV reached its final length when it opened its extension to Connellsville, Pennsylvania, which allowed it to connect with the Western Maryland Railway. This connection also allowed the P&WV to become part of the “Alphabet Route” and ferry traffic westward to the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad in Ohio, which carried it on to Toledo.

In 1964 the P&WV again lost its independence when it was leased by the Norfolk & Western Railway. Then, three years later the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railroad was set up by the N&W as a real estate trust to acquire ownership of the P&WV property, effectively relegating the railroad to the history books.  As for the P&WV’s motive power, it owned an interesting collection of steam locomotives from Mikados to Pacifics, including the massive 2-6-6-4 articulated. However, perhaps its diesel locomotive fleet was the most exotic. Even though it never maintained a large roster (mostly because of its takeover in the 1960s), the P&WV owned only rare Baldwins and Fairbanks-Morse models (notably the latter)!  

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The Baldwin Locomotive Works

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity

Fairbanks Morse

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity

Steam Locomotive Roster

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
1000, 1010Mikado2-8-2
J-1, J-2Articulated2-6-6-4
K-1, K-2Pacific4-6-2

Still, in an interesting twist of fate the P&WV still lives on today. The N&W retained virtually all of the railroad’s routes upon purchasing it and when the N&W’s successor, Norfolk Southern, spun-off the P&WV’s lines in 1990 to the new Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway they have since become a very important corridor under the W&LE. And, since the owners of the W&LE themselves have stated they have no plans to ever sell their railroad it appears that in many ways, the former P&WV will continue to live on throughout the foreseeable future. It should also be noted that the W&LE has paid tribute to its roots and given GP35 #101 the classic P&WV logo.

(A deep thanks goes out to the P&WV Hi-Line Historical Society for allowing these images to be featured here.)

Today the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway is going as strong as ever, with a traffic base in coal, iron ore, steel, aggregates, plastics, chemicals, forest products, and grain! The Conrail breakup has also allowed the W&LE to dabble into the profitable intermodal business. Because of this, coupled with a strong management team extremely dedicated to not only the railroad’s success but also its future growth, things are looking as bright as ever on the W&LE. If you are interested in visiting the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway its east-west main line runs between Bellevue, Ohio and Pittsburgh, PA. However, the “hub” of the railroad’s operations continues to remain in Brewster, OH, as it has when since the railroad began in 1871. So, you may want to stop by and ask them for a quick tour of the railroad, as I am sure they would be happy to do so! 

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