Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Essen Tunnel - Pittsburgh, Chartiers and Youghiogheny Railroad

 This is a tunnel I just happened to stumble across while driving through the south hills of Pittsburgh. Right along the side of Bower Hill Road near the intersection with Painters Run Road sat this tunnel:

The west portal of the Essen Tunnel

It looked a little small for a railroad tunnel but a lot of is buried. It's much larger when you get up close to it. I located the tunnel on the USGS 1904 Carnegie quadrangle map and sure enough it was a railroad tunnel.

The tunnel circled on the 1904 USGS map.

This tunnel dates back to 1881-82 and this section of the railroad, Junction 2, from Woodville to Essen was opened on January 1, 1883. Eventually it made it to Beadling and was known as the Beadling Branch. It served the coal mines at Essen and Beadling until it was dismantled during WWII to use for scrap metal to feed the war effort.

An abutment remains from what would have been a bridge carrying the railroad over Painters Run.

A close up of the stone and brick work.

After this I went looking for the east portal. It was pretty easy to find but not very easy to get to. It sits on the hillside behind a pizza shop along Painters Run Road. Between the tunnel and the pizza shop is Painters Run. I got a photo from behind the pizza shop and that's what I'm using. Maybe someday I'll get over there. Today I was working and not dressed for creek fording.

The east portal.

What's interesting about this is the sign that sits in front of it. The sign reads "Caution Mine Opening".

Zoomed in on the previous photo.

It's obvious that this is the east portal of the railroad tunnel. I started looking into the sign after noticing the west portal looked completely different from the east. The east portal definitely looks like it was redone. Then I found this in the 1886 Geological Survey of Pennsylvania:

"At the west end of the railroad tunnel (which is driven entirely through coal) the Pittsburgh bed is at 865' A. T., and the bed rises through tunnel (half face, half end) to 870' A. T."


What stood out was that the tunnel was "driven entirely through coal". It's very possible this tunnel could have been used as a coal mine entrance after the railroad abandoned it. I have found two other examples of this. One being the Negro Mountain Tunnel, although the tunnel was never completed for use by the railroad there is a coal mine inside of it.  The second is the Radebaugh Tunnel east of Greensburg. The Radebaugh tunnel is completely buried now but after the tunnel was abandoned by the railroad, it too was used for an entrance to the Radebaugh Mine.

Just a theory.


  1. This is a neat little find. I live in the area and have driven by it a good number of times. I have photographed the west portal but have not done such with the east portal. Some nice stonework on the west portal and the pier. The old right-of-way can be seen along Painters Run Road going west and bends towards Bower Hill and Carnegie just as the map shows.
    Mentioning the coal seam, just east of the pizza shop is a good size coal seam exposed along Painters Run Road. From memory, it is at least 5 feet thick and maybe more where it disappears into the earth along the road.
    Also of interest, at the Upper St. Clair Post Office, on display, is the old post office box unit from the Beadling Post Office. Today there really is nothing left of the coal mining "town" of Beadling.

    Eric Johnson

  2. I drive past this near daily! So happy to know more info about it. I figured it was a railroad tunnel, but the fact it was driven through coal is super interesting.