Saturday, March 8, 2014

Derry-Donohoe-Jeannette Branch of The Pennsylvania Railroad

I have walked or biked many abandoned railroads and branches. This is the first time I walked one that realistically never existed. The Derry-Donohoe-Jeannette (DDJ) Branch was planned out prior to 1903 for the most part. The plan was to eliminate the twin dips at Latrobe and Greensburg on the main line, while avoiding Greensburg. The DDJ sits north of, and runs almost parallel to the main line. As late as 1943 they were still conducting studies to see if the project should be completed.

One of the underlying reasons for this line was to reduce helper service for freight trains. By 1943 the branch was graded from Derry to the Loyalhanna Creek. Another reason was the PRR was running out of space to waste slag, mill refuse, cinders and other industrial waste. The entire grade from Derry to the creek is built of this, thus solving two problems at once. 

By 1920 the project was well under way and in 1923 the Board okayed the new line. The volume of waste then fell and the project began dragging. With the dawning of the Great Depression in the 1930's the project just stalled. Finally in 1955 the PRR wrote off its investment in the DDJ for a tax credit.

The fill on this grade is absolutely enormous. This mountain is huge. It was meant to carry two tracks but between Bradenville and Pandora Road it could easily carry four. Bridge abutments can still be seen along Pandora Road and massive piers still sit along Rt. 982. Anyone using a Tomtom GPS knows that old railroad tracks show up on it. This shows up on it as well. 

The only thing missing on the stretch are the rails and bridges and from the look of the abutments and piers there could very well have been bridges.  Today a high tension power line runs where the railroad should have been. Dirt bikers also enjoy the stretch. In the ruts left from the bikes, I found old stamped bricks, a lot of slag and even a piece of railroad hardware.

I started at Rt. 982 near Bradenville and walked to Rt. 981.

The blue line is underneath the DDJ branch. This is the area I followed.

The massive bridge piers near Bradenville.

A wooden bridge abutment is still visible of the east side of 982.

The west pier.

A close up of the wooden abutment.

This is looking down at the pier from the grade. Compare the truck passing between the piers to the hill to see the enormity of this grade.

The top of the piers. This is what leads me to believe there may have been a bridge here. If not, it's certainly bridge ready.

Right off the bat I found some railroad hardware.

Heading west toward Pandora Road.

Looking east toward Bradenville.

Looking north from the grade.

The bridge abutments at Pandora Road.

Looking north up Pandora Road from the eastern abutment.

At Uschak Road. If there were abutments here they are gone now.

Heading west from Uschak Road toward 981.

A black cat in the woods that wanted nothing to do with me.

These are huge boulders of slag or cinders that are all over the place as you near 981.

I saw this from the grade and had to go down and check it out.

It's a huge old pipe.

An old stone wall near the pipe. This is all located in a deep pit off the railroad grade. I thinking possibly a reservoir at one time. I'll have to remember to look into it more.

Looking through the pipe. It runs under the grade.

A big roll of barbed wire.

Looking east toward Chestnut Ridge.

This is the end at 981. There was a guy burning trash up ahead to the right. He was eyeballing me so I just ended my journey here.


 The following information was given to me by Ray Washlaski and was accumulated from his extensive research  on the mines and coke works in Derry Township. 


Ray Washlaski Casey Dump – Bradenville- New Alexandria Cut-Off
Bradenville Branch Line, High Fill Branch
Derry-Donojoe-Jeannette Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad ?
[This branch line according to a book on the Pennsylvania Railroad was known as the Derry-Donohoe-Jeannette bypass, begun ca.1920’s. The actual Pennsy name for the branch was the “Bradenville – New Alerxandria Cut-off.” According to Peter Starry, Jr., this branch was used to transport the coal from the Superior No. 1 Mine (today the location of the Elks Golf Course) directly to the Derry railroad yards without going on the PRR mainline.] 

[from the “Latrobe Bulletin,” Latrobe, PA, Sept. 18, 1923.]
Bradenville – New Alexandria Cut-Off Provides Work For Hundreds Of Men
Over-Head Cross-Over Is Being Rushed.
The immensity of the work being carried on by the John F. Casey Construction company for the Pennsylvania Railroad, at Bradenville, again has been brought to the attention of the public by reason of the advertisement for 150 additional laborers and 25 carpenters and handy men, now being run by the contracting concern.
The additional men are wanted for the Bradenville-New Alexandria four track cut-off which is now in course of contrructuion, and which, it is estimated, will take at least four years to build.
Work now is being concentrated, largely, upon the over-head across the main line, at Bradenville. This overhead is to have a clearance of 22 feet, and is to carry 6-foot girders, so that its total height above the main line tracks wil be 28 feet. The fill which carries the incline to it, from the eastbound side has been built, and with the construction of the overhead bridge trains will be able to pass from the east-bound tracks without interfering in any way with thye mine line traffic.
There also has been built the incline which is to carry the rails from the west-bound traqcks to the new cut-off, and everything is in readiness for the building of the overhead.
Work also is being rushed upon the over-head across the Derry street car track which lies to the north of the main line.
As soon as the overheads are in readiness, the work of constructing the branch railroad to New Alexandria will be started in earnest. Thousands of carloads of fill will be required, as some of the fills will be so high as 150 feet.
Between the main line and the Derry street car track the cross-over wills will be two tracks in width, one for east bound and one for west bound traffic.
From the street car line to New Alexandria, the right of way will be constructed to hold four tracks. Work is to be pursued with all the haste possible, throughout the winter months, as rapidly as fill can be secured.
The plans call for a refuse dump, upon which will be burned refuse gathered up around the Pittsburgh terminals, while all the slag and other materials for filling, possible of being secured at mills, etc., along the main line, will be used.
At the present time the contractors are using from 40 to 50 cars of fill every day, most of it going into the construction of the fill for the new yards lying to the south of the mine line. These yards, it is expected, will have been completed within another year. Work on them has been in progress for the past four or five years.
Hundreds of men are being employed on the workj, and it is expected that the job will furnish employment for small army of men, for at least four years, with the headquaters of the contractors, together with the “camps” being maintained at Bradenville.
From 50 to 75 cars of coal are still being handled dailty, in the Bradenville yards, being dumped there as a reserve supply for the railroad. The coal already stored between Bradenville and Derry is sufficient to form a pile 50 feet wide at the base, from 16 to 18 feet in height, and more than two miles long, the total tonnage running into the hundreds of thousands and there stiil appears to be no led-up.
[from the “Latrobe Bulletin,” Latrobe, PA, Sept. 18, 1923.]

[Editors Note: Bradenville – New Alexandria Cut-Off. 
There were railroad bridges across Pa Rt 982 and Panadora Road, a mile or so further north and over Uschak Road. The bridge abutments at Uschak Road have been removed. These railroad bridges were in place in the mid 1950. The bridges were removed sometime after the mid 1950’s. West of Pa Rt 981, for some years there were narrow gauge rails embedded in the pavement of Rt. 981, crossing the road in line with the right-of-way for the Bradenville-New Alexandria Cut Off line. 
In the 1920’s the track on the big fill at Bradenville was parked full of dead steam locomotives. Later the locomotives were taken away. In the early 1950s there tended to be a string of rusty hopper cars stored there.
Several large abutments, possibly for a bridge over Loyalhanna Creek are located in the creek flat, inline with were the branch line would have cime over the hill from Pa Rt.981. These are now hidden in large brush along the creek.

The Bradenville – New Alexandria Cut-Off branch was intended to connect with the New Alexandria Branch , possibly to tap the coal reserves on the New Alexandria Branch, and give the coal tracks a direct route to the Derry Yards, without going on the PRR Main Line.]


  1. Hi, Nice pictures and story about this. This grade divides our farm in half. The farm is on the 981 side of Uschak Road. The path is a fun one to walk.

    1. Thanks Jim. That is fun to walk. That's a really high grade!

  2. Mike, there are traces of the roadbed west of Rt.981. You can see them now the leaves are down.

  3. My grandparents live almost next to the abutments on 982 and I pass them every time I go to their house (they own Kelly village). Local legend has it that there's a buried steam locomotive around there somewhere.

    1. Thanks Josh! That would be nuts wouldn't it?

    2. Found this post again and wanted to add something to what I said last year. My grandpa had said something about "Casey's dump". I don't know where that is exactly but I'm guessing that is where the train would be buried.

  4. get some sonar/x ray equipment and find it!

  5. I used to live in Oaklawn and walked over the rail line above 982 and drop down onto the piers as a hang out with my cousin and freinds. This was around 1955. Hobos used to camp out along the line. The PRR stored old RR cars on this line up to the pillars and we used to climb into them. I also have walked this line and was amazed at the amount of material needed to keep the grade so shallow.

  6. This rail line was occasionally used from the main line back to route 982. My father was an engineer, and I recall him backing up and storing old rail cars from the main line between Bradenville and Burds Crossing back to this overpass, I used to crawl under the railroad tracks through a pipeline that connected Oaklawn to Bradenville. The pipeline is still there.

  7. Hello this is an awesome story & pics I grew up beside those pillars in Bradenville spent many days exploring the ( dump) as we called it, picking berries, catching crayfish in the tunnel & walking through the tunnel, great childhood memories. Thanks

    1. Sandy, Is Schissler your married name? Isn't familiar to me. I grew up in Bradenville also. I really only went to the 'frog pond' once or twice and did walk through the pipe tunnel but not often. Scared me to death. My brother played in that area all the time though. My maiden name was Krinock.

  8. What was the proposed route through the Greensburg area? I'm thinking that many wealthy landowners north of town stopped the project. John W. George