A Somerset County trail organization has begun a fundraising campaign to renovate and reopen the Pinkerton railroad tunnel on the Great Allegheny Passage.
Doing so would create a “spectacular” bridge-tunnel-bridge sequence on a quarter-mile section of the trail, said June Deakins, board member of the Somerset County Rails to Trails Association. “It’s completely isolated with beautiful big rocks and a clear stream. What more could you ask for?”
The 849-foot tunnel, built in 1911 as part of the Western Maryland Railway, is at Pinkerton Horn, a peninsula formed by bends in the Casselman River. The trail currently takes a 1.5-mile looping detour around the closed-off tunnel, which was abandoned in the 1970s.
The tunnel is flanked by two trail bridges over the river, the Pinkerton High Bridge and Pinkerton Low Bridge.
Linda McKenna Boxx, secretary of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, said the view emerging from the tunnel toward the Pinkerton High Bridge would be on a par for grandeur with the view exiting the Fort Pitt Tunnel in Downtown Pittsburgh.
A campaign to raise $100,000 was announced in a letter to the editor written by Ms. Deakins that appeared in the Somerset Daily American on Tuesday. Much of the estimated $1.7 million project cost has been secured, she said.
In an interview, she said the detour loop would be preserved when the tunnel opens. “It’s a lovely part of the trail and it kind of breaks away from the long, straight rail line. Everyone loves that detour,” she said.
CSX Railroad, which operates freight trains on a track parallel to the trail, is completing a massive earth-moving project to “daylight,” or take the top off, its own tunnel at Pinkerton Horn, so that double-stack freight trains can use the track.
According to news reports, when Somerset County approached the railroad three years ago about also daylighting the trail tunnel, it was rebuffed.
As recently as last week, an update on the Allegheny Trail Alliance website said the detour at the Pinkerton Tunnel was permanent and there were no plans to renovate and reopen the tunnel.
Ms. Boxx said any effort to rehabilitate it had to wait until CSX finished its own project, because of fears that blasting would cause further damage or even a collapse. As it is, the CSX project caused removal of 185 acres of forest and the deposit of more than 1 million cubic yards of dirt and rocks on top of the mountain above the trail detour.
She said Somerset County commissioners gave the OK for the trail project last fall. The low bridge will have to be widened so construction equipment can reach the site.
If all goes as planned, the tunnel could be open sometime next year, Ms. Boxx said.
Donations are being accepted at the Somerset County Rails-to-Trails Association, Attn: Pinkerton, P.O. Box 413, Somerset, PA 15501.
Jon Schmitz: email@example.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG’s transportation blog at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic. First Published March 25, 2014 12:14 PM