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Union Railroad
Pittsburgh, PA — April 9, 2002

by Bob LeBras with additional text provided by Raye Scott Schaller and Steve Raith

The weatherman predicted that it would be a cloudy, rainy day for our scheduled tour of the Union Railroad (URR) between Monroeville and Clairton, Pennsylvania. Ten men assembled for the event including our host and expert guide, Scott Schaller. No spirit was dampened by the forecast, and anticipations ran high for an informative and productive day-long photo shoot and history lesson.

The tour itself was organized by Schaller as a prelude to the industry railroad SIG that is holding its annual convention in Pittsburgh starting the next day and running through the weekend. In fact, everyone in the tour group was either directly connected to the steel industry, or modeled steel railroading in HO scale on their own layouts. Being an O gauger, I was the outsider, and, it seemed like, somewhat of a novelty as far as trains go. These guys are scale modelers scratch building entire steel mills in miniature. I am a toy trains collector/operator satisfied with some ballast, flock and a tree or two. Although we did not share a common interest in model railroading, we are all railfans, history buffs, and very interested in learning. While many of the attendees came from far-flung destinations like Texas, Florida and Louisiana to see the remnants of the greatest steel making valley in the world along the Monongahela River south of Pittsburgh, I was there because it was my home, and I just didn't know much about the URR.

The main thrust of the tour was to visit the trackage and facilities of the URR. However, as the primary purpose of this railroad is to serve the massive steel mills at Clairton and Hazelwood, one cannot simply look at the URR without also studying the United States Steel (USS) Clairton and Edgar Thompson (ET) Works, the Norfolk Southern (ex-Pennsylvania Railroad, Penn Central, Conrail), CSX (ex-Baltimore & Ohio), and the Bessemer & Lake Erie (BLE). This integrated rail network of crossfeeding trackage is much like arteries and veins feeding raw material to the heart of the mill and circulating finished products out. I have never seen such an amazing amalgam of prototype trains intertwining, crossing, merging and dividing. If God had a layout, this was it, and His was better than everyone else's.

Our tour began with a meet at the Monroeville Holiday Inn at 8:00 a.m. The guys were easy to spot because they were dressed for the outdoors and all had cameras; railfans tend to stick out in a crowd. Of course, I was hardly incognito in my East Broad Top T-Shirt and PRR baseball cap lugging my own baggage.

About a week prior to the tour, Scott sent everyone a packet that included a large folded map of the URR system from 1959 (not much has changed since then), signal locations, driving directions, bibliographic information, and a few interesting photos. He is passionate about the URR recognizing its history and importance to both the region and the nation. During the tour, he provided invaluable insight and I tried to stay close by so as not to miss too much detail. In fact, being an avid listener and learner, I rode the entire day in the passenger seat of his truck absorbing a myriad of descriptive facts.

The tour consisted mainly of visiting various URR physical plant facilities, chasing trains and witnessing the intricate marvel of steel production. While all of our stops were off-property, we were taken to some truly amazing locales to photograph. Like hunters in the bush, we stalked out pray relentlessly. With each passing train, cameras of every brand captured the movements in exquisite detail. Indeed, rolls and rolls of film were used while I stuck with digital imaging to facilitate this online report.

By far, for everyone, the most amazing stop was at a location in North Versailles. Parking the truck and van, we marched down an abandoned roadway for about 1,000 feet coming to an old steel and railroad tie bridge. The bridge spans the NS tracks between the tunnel and bridge at Port Perry affording a spectacular view of ET, river traffic, railroad operations on both banks of the Mon, and how this ballet of men and machines combines seamlessly to serve heavy industry. We were chased away by fast approaching severe weather, but not before taking good advantage of this very special opportunity.

By the end of the day, we wound up at the Universal cement plant. This abandoned factory is a crumbling gothic cathedral in concrete. Scott told us an amazing tale of the interdependence between Universal, the URR, and the steel industry. We saw an abandoned branch of the URR along with a stranded derelict train next to the facility.

I extend my sincere gratitude to Scott Schaller and the railroad industry SIG guys for a terrific day of railfanning and education. As a native Pittsburgher, I hope that all of the out-of-towners enjoy the convention, the city, and that great Primanti Brothers lunch.

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This is HALL, near Monroeville, PA. Home of the Union Railroad (URR). The inspection shops were the first diesel shops built in the United States. Executives from all the major railroads visited the facility using it as a model for building their own.

Lone switcher stands silent at HALL.

A peak inside the roundhouse at HALL.

Building the URR was one of Henry Clay Frick's projects while President of Carnegie Steel. The measure saved the company millions of dollars, tieing together all of Carnegie mills in the Mon Valley. The savings in switching costs more than payed for the construction of the entire URR.

With the camera steadied, a better shot inside the roundhouse at HALL.

First thing in the morning, that lone switcher was the only close train to look at.

Cab detail on No. 26 with URR logo. Decals produced for the cab sides in the early 1980's of Union's logo has a misspelling. The word "Independence" was spelled wrong. This was only caught when the Morning Sun book was being produced in 1999, and was being looked over by US Steel lawyers!

URR tracks divide at the east end of the United States Steel (USS) Edgar Thompson (ET) Works

Smoke, tracks and lots of scrap attest that ET is alive and kicking.

A hotmetal car still sits in the same spot as I had photographed it from a passing Amtrak train two years earlier.

URR switchers begin their move at ET.

These guys live for modeling steel railroading, and they came to the birthplace of modern steel production enthusiastic and well equipped. Their SIG was in town for a convention and I was tagging along for the ride.

According to our guide, Scott Schaller, the train starting up the LOW GRADE bridge is a normal move. What was unusual was that this train had to reverse direction traveling around ET via the "Old Way" to the CINDER bridge to exit the mill. This was due to a work crain preforming tasks on the main line on the Mon River bridge.

We thought the URR might pass us here, but the locos stopped and reversed back into ET.

This cantilever signal reminded me of Lionel's version. The entire scene proved to me that you can never have too many signals on your layout.

This target signal is URR all the way (Norfolk & Western had the same type of targets, as well). These signals are the only remaining ones of their type on the whole URR. Most folks associate this type of signal with the Pennsy.

One of two adjacent Bessemer crummies sits at the URR's CLASS yard in Duquesne, PA. Previously stored in their roundhouse in Greenville, PA, the B&LE stopped using cabooses in the early 1990's and sold them to the URR.

Unmistakeable in green, this is the URR's only repaint. However, this is a preview of things to come. The URR's diesel fleet was originally gray, then green, then blue (because the green paint of the 1960's faded to mint green), and, now, all US Steel owned railroads across the country will be painted this "new" green with yellow trim scheme.

The green pipes followed us everywhere carrying natural gas along the URR.

This pair is moving along to perform some scrap gondola switching moves.

Heading down the track towards the first move.

A great thing on the URR is the ubiquitous use of the caboose.

The switchers prep for their first move at CLASS.

CLASS tower is definitely a classic. Yard Movement is no longer controlled from this three story tower, but is controlled at the Hump office just around the bend. Crews also begin there day there.

The guys wait for the perfect shot on the Route 837 bridge spanning CLASS yard.

Maintenance Of Way (MOW) shops and lots of rollingstock at CLASS.

Switchers with crummy move past the CLASS tower.

Rail crane sits virtually stranded in an abandoned portion of CLASS.

Switcher pair passes an idle center cab diesel.

This ex-USS General Electric center cab was used to shunt cars around and interchange with the URR, but Scott said that someone is working on it probably for display. It is also rumored that the locomotive is up for sale, hence the new coat of paint.

The big picture of CLASS.

Switchers continue to shunt gons.

The Phantom Menace and Pit Fall rides at nearby Kennywood Park.

Another broad shot of CLASS.

Abandoned stuff litters the closed portion of CLASS. Known as Grant Steel, where scrap steel was processed, the equipment seen here may, someday, end up as scrap. This area was leased property, and, until the late 1990's, the scrap dealer that occupied this location was very busy unloading gons with scrap metal.

I have no clue what it is/was, but it is neat.

An old loader sits waiting for a ghost train.

Racing down to West Mifflin, we catch five units pulling 80 hoppers at Grant Street Extension grade crossing, located south of the receiving yard and before Bull Run junction where the Clairton branch and Mifflin branch split.

We had to run up a hill to make this shot. You always know something is afoot when you see a bunch of old guys running with cameras.

Lucky shot of the Blue Union and a prototype #154.

Heading downgrade, these five easily managed the 80 loaded hoppers.

For a relatively small railroad, the URR has a surprising amount of its own rollingstock.

The period at the end of the train.

I saw many old things during the tour, but this beautifully restored vintage Cadillac caught attention from all of us.

Back at CLASS, we begin a race to follow a coil train; no easy task in hilly, urban Western Pennsylvania.

Snapping a few quick pix in succession approaching and crossing at grade.




As the three leaders pass, we jump back into the truck and make our own tracks to the next meet.

Plowing through the brush, we make it just in time to catch our train emerging from this great postwar tunnel (that's World War I; Built 1919).




URR crummy passes some very neat rock formations outside of the tunnel.

Most of the guys on this tour were either directly connected to the steel industry or were steel railroad modelers. I listened to what they were saying, and kept an eye on what they were looking at, often mimicking their photo angles.

Panaromic shots of the massive USS Clairton Works in Clairton, PA.





Gate #1 to the Clairton Works.

Interesting paint job on the roof of this Clairton Works office building.

The URR connects with the Norfolk Southern (NS) at the gate on the left side beneath the bridge. The bridge is the URR's connection to the W&LE.

NS cantilever signal bridge controls the mainline while a string of High Tops wait on the siding.

Hardcore industry. Feel the grit in your teeth.

Ancient cantilever crossbucks guard the NS connection to the W&LE coming off the Mon-Line.

Gases escape from the coke ovens at Clairton Works.

From across the river, the massive scale of the Clairton Works becomes apparent.


A very noisy bucket conveyor scoops coal from a barge slid back and forth by winches.

We caught a glimpse of these old guys while crossing the bridge in the background. We just had to stop and get some shots.

Black as the coal it hauls.

Everyone was excited to see this P&LE work caboose parked in a very unexpected location.

The relentless cycle of feeding the mill and removing the waste is a 24/7 job.

Scott advised that this switcher was former URR.

Not much to do at the moment.

From the paint scheme, this switcher could be ex-P&LE.

Loading a barge, coal pours from the conveyor like black water.

Massive and modern URR clamshell unloader.

As we were coming down the hill of the abandoned road, NS crosses the Monongahela River at Port Perry.

Indeed, this location was industrial rail heaven being surrounded by NS, CSX, URR and ET trains.

Makin'tracks in every direction.

NS coils shot from atop an abandonded bridge spanning the tracks between the tunnel and bridge at Port Perry.


URR winds past more of those green pipes.

A URR pair perform switching in the ET yard.

CSX makes a showing at Port Perry.

Lone URR switcher zips across the bridge.

Being an insulator collector, this was my artistic expression shot.

Our friends in green and blue push a train across the bridge.



In the distance is a red and black ET switcher.

Trio with crummy move out over the water.

Hotmetal cars lined up at ET.

A great lawn ornament, extra clamshell just sitting around.

Another shot of the bottle cars being preheated prior a move to the blast furnace.

Conrail shared assets on the CSX.

CSX roars by ET.

Scott told us ET workers painted the bottle cars black and gold when the Steelers won a Superbowl. Each was given a name and this one is "Mel Blount".

One of the guys on the tour suggested that I have a decal made to name my MTH Hotmetal car after a Steeler.

This is Lock and Dam No. 2 across the CSX from ET on the Mon.

CSX with an eastbound mixed freight.

There is no lack of rail action in and around a steel mill.

Ladles inside held molten steel. Picked up by a huge mechanical pair of hooks, the steel is poured in a spectacular display. Indeed, the sound inside must be deafening and the heat intense.

Historic ladle car on display at front of ET

Included in the display at ET was some historical information about the mill and other artifacts like this ingot car.

A living monument is the ET blast furnace. One of the last in Pittsburgh.

Back at HALL at the end of the day, we stopped to snap some parting shots.

This is the car shop that is slated for demolition.

The last train passes by the turntable at HALL.

The end of the line, so to speak, found us at the end of the day near the badly decaying and bypassed Universal cement plant along the URR alignment.
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