The Wye Bridge crosses the Allegheny River in Oil City, Pennsylvania and carried the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Pittsburgh to Buffalo mainline. It is still in limited use by the Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad.
The discovery of vast amounts of oil in Venango County, Pennsylvania in 1859 led to the first oil boom in the United States. Central to that was Oil City along the banks of the Allegheny River.
The first railroad to extend north from Pittsburgh along the Allegheny was the Pittsburgh, Kittanning & Warren Railroad (PK&W), incorporated in April 1837. 7 The line was never very profitable and fell by the wayside. After the discovery of oil in Venango County, Pittsburgh refiners were anxious to tap into the newfound reserves while bypassing the Atlantic & Great Western Railroad (AG&W) and the Pennsylvania Railroad’s (PRR) Western Pennsylvania Railroad (WP).
The PK&W was revived in April 1852 when investors secured an amendment to the original charter so that the renamed railroad, the Allegheny Valley (AV), could construct a line that connected Pittsburgh to the New York & Erie Railroad at Olean, New York, with access from there to Buffalo. 7 Construction began on the extension in March 1854 and by January 1856, tracks were laid as far north as Kittanning, 44 miles north of Pittsburgh.
By the early 1860’s, oil producers in the Oil City and Franklin areas were transporting over two million barrels of oil per year to oil refineries in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, slamming the A&GW and the WP with significant traffic. 6 Flush with new capital, work resumed on the AV in 1863, and by January 1865, the company authorized the completion of the line to Oil City. 7 The AV had reached Venango City on the east bank of the Allegheny River, opposite Oil City, in December 1867.
A pipeline was laid across the river to enable the AV to capture a sizable share of the oil traffic, providing Pittsburgh with direct rail access to the oil fields. 7 A bridge was not completed across the Allegheny River to access the refineries until February 2, 1870. 5
The AV was eventually taken over by the PRR in 1913 for use as part of their Buffalo & Allegheny Valley Division, connecting Pittsburgh to Buffalo. 8
Planning for a new Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) bridge over the Allegheny River began in 1927. 3 The goal was to replace the aging crossing with one that could accommodate heaviest freight locomotives and alleviate the problem of backing passenger trains into the Oil City depot. 5
The proposed bridge was to include a 200-foot channel span with a minimum clear height of 27.5 feet above low water with the ability to include a lift span to allow for a minimum clear height of 47 feet. 4 A public hearing for the proposed crossing was held on November 3, 1928. 1 A revised plan, submitted in January 1929, included a 250-foot channel span. 2
Construction of the new Allegheny River bridge was completed on September 29, 1930. 5
In 1968, the PRR merged with the New York Central to form Penn Central (PC). The Pittsburgh to Buffalo mainline eventually fell to Conrail in 1976 who operated it as their Allegheny Secondary. In 1984, Conrail abandoned much of the route north of Emlenton and south of Emlenton 8 after an oil refinery closed. A small segment in Oil City, including the Allegheny River bridge, was left in place to serve a factory.
In 1998, Norfolk Southern (NS) acquired the route from Conrail, leasing it out to the Western New York & Pennsylvania in 2007. 6