A Brief History of the Trail
Much of the Great Allegheny Passage is built on the abandoned grades of the Western Maryland Railway (WM) and the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad (P&LE). They join at Connellsville and make up the majority of the trail between Cumberland and Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh and Lake Erie was built west from Pittsburgh to Youngstown, Ohio in 1875 to serve the growing iron and steel industry. It built the Youghiogheny Branch in 1883 to tap the enormous coal and coke resources on the west bank of the Youghiogheny River. In 1912 the Western Maryland was built from Cumberland to join it at Connellsville. Together, the WM and P&LE carried freight traffic from Pittsburgh and the Midwest that was bound for Baltimore and the east coast.
The Western Maryland was a small railroad that originally ran from Baltimore to near Williamsport, MD, until it was purchased in 1906 by George Gould, son of the financier Jay Gould. The younger Gould envisioned the WM as part of his grand scheme of a transcontinental railroad from San Francisco to Baltimore. While this was never achieved, which was never achieved, but Gould and his successors did extend the line to Cumberland and then Connellsville.
The first railroad between Cumberland and Pittsburgh was built by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O). In 1828, the B&O became the first long distance railroad to be chartered in the United States, beginning in Baltimore to be built 300 miles to the Ohio River. This was at a time when there were only three other railroads in the country and none more than a dozen miles long. The B&O It reached Wheeling, its original destination, in 1852 and built the branch to Pittsburgh between 1855 and 1871. Today it's the CSX Corporation's Keystone Division.
The B&O paralleled the WM and P&LE all the way from Cumberland to Pittsburgh; at times the two railroads were little more than a stone's throw apart. After World War I, the B&O gained control of the Western Maryland, but due to federal regulations, still had to operate the WM as a separate - and competitive - line.
Western Maryland's management ran a fine railroad, but by the late 1960s forecasts for the line were ominous. Costs were rising and income was declining. WM's managers petitioned the owners to throw in the towel and merger. Merger proceedings were begun.
In 1975, the Western Maryland, by now part of the Chessie System, successor to the B&O, was formally abandoned as a through route, although short sections were retained to serve local coal mines well into the 1980s. The Chessie System is now CSX.
After the P&LE Yough Branch lost its connection with the WM in 1975 and the last big coal mine on the line closed in 1982, there was little traffic left and in 1991, it too was abandoned.
In addition to the bridges and tunnels, some of the railroad artifacts you'll encounter are old railroad stations at Cumberland, Frostburg, Meyersdale, Ohiopyle, and Connellsville; numerous telegraph poles, mileposts, foundations for signals and abandoned grades that led to long-closed industries. All along the way you'll see and hear trains on the busy CSX line which is almost always across the river from the trail.
Did You Know?
The Chessie System was probably the only railroad ever named for a cat. It was the result of a merger between the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad and the Western Maryland Railway. The company name came from Chessie, the fictitious cat used by the C&O to promote its passenger trains: "You can sleep like a kitten on the C&O". Chessie, of course, is short for Chesapeake.
In addition to the bridges and tunnels, some of the railroad artifacts you'll encounter are old railroad stations at Cumberland, Frostburg, Meyersdale, Ohiopyle, and Connellsville; numerous telegraph poles, mileposts, foundations for signals and abandoned grades that led to long-closed industries. All along the way you'll see and hear trains on the busy CSX line.
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