Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Allegheny Portage Railroad

For the past two weeks we were on vacation in the East, visiting my daughter in Boston, which is why I haven't posted anything recently.  But now it's time for more trip reports.  We'll start with something unique.

In  the early 1800's, when railroads were first developed, most engineers expected that wherever it was available, water transport would always be cheaper and more useful than rail, and most early railroads were designed as feeders to the local seaport or riverside.  Whereas the state of New York could be crossed with a nearly water-level route canal, Pennsylvania's mountain ranges posed huge challenges to the desire to compete for trade between the Atlantic and the Midwest.  The state's original solution to this problem was a series of canals connected by inclined ramps and short sections of railroad on which canal boats would be transported.  This did not work very well and was soon replaced by what became the Pennsylvania Railroad, but the remnants of this portage system are quite interesting.

The Allegheny Portage Railroad Museum, an NPS property located near Horseshoe Curve, as it happens, has a large collection of artifacts, models, and replicas to demonstrate how the portage system worked.  This is a replica of one of the locomotives used to haul trains on the more level sections of the route; on the inclined planes, ropes were used in cable-car fashion.

Special canal boats were developed with hinged sections, so that a boat could be loaded and unloaded at the transfer points between water and rail with relative ease. 

Many parts of the right-of-way are still in evidence.

Down the hill from the museum are the remains of one of the power houses.  This modern building is slightly larger than the original, so that it covers what's left of the old foundation.  Inside is a full-size replica of the winding machinery and the tracks.   The tracks run right through the power house, which is located at the top of the incline on both sides.  There are examples of both strap rail and later iron rail supported by chairs set on stone blocks.

The boilers were located inside this brick structure. 

By modern standards, of course, travel was agonizingly slow.  Let's stop at this hotel next to the power house, which is still standing and has been nicely restored.

I'll take a pint of porter and a leg of mutton.  I sure hope they have wi-fi in the rooms.

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