Let's Talk About: Western Pennsylvania railroads

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For all of us who live in Western Pennsylvania trains are a familiar sight. Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh region are steeped in a rich railroading history. The trains you see on the rails today can trace their roots back to the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad.

In 1846, The Pennsylvania Railroad Co. was chartered, and it soon became the biggest and wealthiest railroad in the country. By 1900, the company had expanded so much and moved so much freight and so many people that it called itself "The Standard Railroad of the World." Indeed, it had become the largest corporation and railroad in the world. The PRR, or "Pennsy," as it was called, started as a rail line to connect Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The Pennsy grew to eventually cross 13 states with 7,000 locomotives, 250,000 cars, 30,000 miles of track and 250,000 employees in its heyday.

The Pennsylvania Railroad ran powerful steam locomotives that needed regular servicing every 100-150 miles, so engine houses were a common site. These engine houses, also called roundhouses, were like big garages designed specifically for the upkeep of the locomotives and cars. They could service nearly 100 locomotives daily.

After the locomotives are serviced, the trains are assembled in what are called rail yards. The different types of cars that make up a train are called rolling stock. Pittsburgh was a huge center of activity for the Pennsylvania Railroad. We had 12 rail yards and eight lines moving in and around the city forming a network of tracks. In the Monongahela River valley, where four railroads met, the Pennsylvania Railroad's Pitcairn Yard was one of the busiest rail yards in the world, employing more than 10,000 people.

Everything moved by rail and still does: coal, grain, machinery, automobiles and materials for industry and, of course, people. Today, American railroads transport more freight that any other rail system in the world, on more than 140,000 miles of track.


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