The Mahoning River Bridge carries the Niles Greenway over the Mahoning River in Niles, Ohio. The Pratt through truss was constructed for the Erie Railroad’s Niles & Lisbon Branch.
Some of the earliest proposed railroads in eastern Ohio, first referenced in 1827, involved schemes stretching from Lake Erie at Ashtabula Harbor to coal and iron ore mines near New Lisbon (now Lisbon). 1 2 A plan to build an 80-mile railroad between those points by the Ashtabula, Warren & East Liverpool Railroad in 1838 failed as it was not able to raise the necessary capital for the venture.
In 1853, another railroad from Lake Erie southward was proposed on the same route that had been earlier proposed in 1827. 1 It was partially built by the Ashtabula & New Lisbon Railroad (A&NL). 2 In 1864, the uncompleted portion, from Niles south to New Lisbon, a total of 35 miles was leased to the New Lisbon Railway which later became bankrupt in April 1869. 3
The newly formed Niles & New Lisbon Railroad (N&NL) acquired the right-of-way from Niles to New Lisbon while a new company, the Ashtabula, Youngstown & Pittsburgh Rail Road (AY&P), chartered on February 11, 1870, acquired the remaining right-of-way to Ashtabula. 2 The entire route from New Lisbon north to Ashtabula Harbor opened by May 1873.
The AY&P eventually came under the control of the Pittsburgh, Youngstown & Ashtabula Railroad (PY&A) on August 1, 1887, which was leased by the Pennsylvania Company, controlled by the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR). 2 The Niles to Ashtabula Harbor route was often referred to as the PY&A Branch or PY&A Secondary. It later became a part of the PRR Lake Division. In 1968, the PRR merged with the New York Central to form Penn Central (PC). Because the PY&A paralleled the NYC’s former Youngstown branch, which was superior in maintenance and speed, the PC diverted tracks to the NYC’s former track. Through service ceased over the PY&A in 1975 due to deferred maintenance, although local service continued until 1979 when much of the route was abandoned by Conrail. Only 5.2 miles between Niles and Warren was left in place.
The N&NL consolidated with the Liberty & Vienna Railroad in August 1872 to form the Cleveland & Mahoning Valley Railway. 3 By 1900, it had become part of Erie Railroad’s Niles & Lison Branch until 1960. The Erie then merged with the Lackawanna Railroad to form the Erie Lackawanna in 1968, falling under Conrail in 1976. The route from Niles south to Lisbon was soon abandoned.
With much of the Lisbon to Ashtabula railroad corridor abandoned, numerous planning and park groups came together to begin work on a regional greenway and park network. Part of that included the conversion of disused railroad corridors into linear parks for cyclists and pedestrians.
In 2000 and 2001, a 10.6-mile bikeway was constructed and opened to the public on part of the former N&NL alignment in Mahoning County between Mineral Ridge and Marquis. 4 Further north, the 14.6-mile Western Reserve Greenway opened in Trumbull County in 2003 and 2004 along the former PY&A. 5
A 2.6-mile extension of the Western Reserve Greenway south to the Warren Bikeway opened in 2010, followed by the Warren Bikeway through the city of Warren. 5 The Niles Greenway, connecting downtown Niles to the Mill Creek Metroparks Bikeway, opened in 2012. The final connector in the Warren-Niles region, an extension of the Western Reserve Greenway from the Warren Bikeway south of Warren to the Niles Greenway, is in the planning phase.