The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Second GAP: Part 2

with 3 comments


– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in yesterday’s post, one visited the Great Allegheny Passage trail on the south side of the Monongahela River again, but this time from the Duquesne side of things. That’s part of the United States Steel Mon Valley Works pictured above, which is found on the north side of the river in a community called Braddock.

The steel mill is fired up using coke and coal, and what that means is that there’s one heck of lot of railroad activity going on in its vicinity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Union RR Port Perry Bridge pictured above, with multiple locomotive engines working together to haul a series of coal cars to the furnaces. Union Rail Road is a Class 3 switching railroad which is ultimately owned by US Steel.

Port Perry used to be an actual town, on the north side of the river, but it essentially got swallowed by the steel mill as the operations there expanded. Saying all that, it’s not just Union RR that uses these tracks, the big boys play here too.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A second rail bridge is found here, the PRR Port Perry Bridge, which carries Norfolk Southern’s Port Perry branch over the Monongahela River. A Class 1 railroad, Norfolk Southern has been in the news a lot over the last few weeks due to a spectacularly mishandled derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

A friend of mine, who has a trench warrior’s mentality when it comes to his politics, recently spent a bit of time with me on the phone blaming the current President for this. The political partisan bait I was supposed to take would have seen me blaming the last President for this so then we could argue about stolen laptops, party islands, and all that.

Unfortunately for my pal, I actually know a little bit about this subject. Republicans only want to argue about what they’re currently mad about, so he was upset. This week, they’re going after Hershey’s Chocolate for being “woke” because the candy bars are “her” and “she.” I’m not kidding.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First off, there hasn’t been an American President ever who wasn’t on the side of “management” regarding the railroads. That includes FDR, Harry Truman, and the rest. Union shmunion, they’ve all broken strikes for their sponsors in the board room.

Given the number of freight trains moving around the United States at any given time – there’s has to be somewhere between 5 and 10 thousand MILES of trains (deliberate underestimate) speedily moving about as you’re reading this – the East Palestine disaster stands out because it’s actually kind of rare. A statistical anomaly in terms of the total numbers.

You drive a car every day, for instance. You drive that car for ten years, never having a problem, but one day the car doesn’t start. That’s one day out if 3,650. 1/3650th downtime is what you’d call a statistical anomaly, not a pattern. Saying that, if you were to now define the entire ownership period based of that car on a statistical anomaly… that’s sort of where the national discussion is going right now on the subject of trains. Things went horribly wrong in East Palestine, just like in Canada’s Lac-Mégantic, but again – anomalous in terms of the total numbers of trains and miles involved. The fact that trains don’t derail every day, especially given the criminally low amount of money which the regulatory bodies require RR’s like Northern Southern to invest in infrastructure is certainly a testament to something.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I should mention that the train pictured above is not the same unit seen in the prior two shots, instead I got this one early in the afternoon. The shots are out of order for storytelling purposes. I wasn’t in the right spot to capture this shot for the second train pictured coming over the bridge above.

I’ll say this, if your hobby is “rail fanning,” the GAP trail here in the Duquesne area offers excellent opportunities along a fairly comfortable path. I met a couple of blokes who were doing just that, and they filled me in on a few spots elsewhere in Pittsburgh where I’d enjoy waving the camera around. Apparently, Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park and ‘Panther Hollow’ is now on my list.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Norfolk Southern train was hauling empty mineral cars, ones which olfactory and visual inspection revealed as having recently been full of coal. This was a sunny 70 degree day, in Pittsburgh, in February. Hell, this post should’ve been about that – as that’s a statistical anomaly all of its own.

Back tomorrow with something different from the Paris of Appalachia, at your Newtown Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 7, 2023 at 11:00 am

3 Responses

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  1. You are correct. Rail accidents are infrequent. Often ignored is that railroads have a vested interest in avoiding derailments. Yes, maintaining ancient infrastructure is expensive, but they do it as much as is practical. Accidents cost money in damages, lost time, repairs, etc. That’s not to say they “don’t care” about safety and injuries to employees and the public – even if one believes management is completely callous to the human costs of these concerns, such events cost lots of money, ruin careers, bring terrible publicity, and calls for more and more regulation (much of which simply lards up the books, but does little to actually prevent accidents). The last I saw about that particular event is that safety features were triggered, but too late given the extent of the malfunction. It may have been unavoidable. Steps taken in its aftermath are open for debate.


    March 7, 2023 at 12:05 pm

  2. Due to the confluence of all the railroads (then B&O, PRR, Union, P&LE), and the river traffic, Port Perry was alleged to be the busiest place in the world, as measured by freight tonnage.

    Jon H

    March 8, 2023 at 8:25 am

  3. BTW, you’re leaving the key bit out – it isn’t that “they’re going after Hershey’s Chocolate for being “woke” because the candy bars are “her” and “she.” ” – it’s because they’re using a biological male as the spokesman for Woman’s day.
    It also doesn’t hurt that the Daily Wire CEO started ‘Jeremy’s Chocolates’ and sold half a million candy bars, with the joke being that there were two different bars for sale – ‘HeHim’ and ‘SheHer’; one with nuts, and the other without.


    March 9, 2023 at 11:31 am

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