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Brilliant Branch Railroad Bridge

Brilliant Branch Railroad Bridge

The Brilliant Branch Railroad Bridge carries Allegheny Valley Railroad’s Brilliant Branch across the Allegheny River between Pittsburgh and Aspinwall, Pennsylvania.


The Brilliant Branch, also referred to as the Brilliant Cut Off, was constructed by the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) as a cut-off to avoid the busy Union Station and its yards downtown 1 10 and as the final component of a railroad beltway around Pittsburgh. 11 This was done to permit the more rapid handling of freight from Pittsburgh east, and by the construction of certain cut-offs to enable through freight of the Pittsburg, Fort Wayne & Chicago, and the Cleveland & Pittsburg to be carried around without entering the city. Central to the branch was a 1,200-foot bridge over the Allegheny River to connect the Brilliant Branch with the Allegheny Valley Railroad on the south side of the Allegheny and the West Penn Rail Road on the north side of the Allegheny at Aspinwall.

Sketch of layout of the Brilliant Branch Bridge.
Source: “The Brilliant Cut-Off of the Pennsylvania Railroad at Pittsburg.” Railway Age, 16 Oct. 1903, p. 497.

On February 9, 1903, contracts for the grading of the three-mile Brilliant Branch were let to the Columbia Construction Company, and contracts for the bridge over the Allegheny were let to Drake & Stratton. 1 14 Work began on April 1. 10 The branch, including the $1.5 million river crossing, was completed at the cost of $4 million and opened to traffic on July 15, 1904. 10

Sketch of layout of the Brilliant Branch Bridge.
Source: “The Brilliant Cut-Off of the Pennsylvania Railroad at Pittsburg.” Railway Age, 16 Oct. 1903, p. 498.

In the wake of the collapse of Penn Central, the PRR’s successor company, and in the midst of the U.S. Railway Association’s controversial $7.3 billion railroad revitalization plan, it was proposed to reroute 25 to 35 through freight trains from the Fort Wayne Bridge in downtown to the Brilliant Branch river crossing. But it was feared that it would cause congestion because of the steeper grades and sharper curves at the wye in Aspinwall. 12 13

In 1995, the Brilliant Branch, aside from the southernmost wye, was leased and/or purchased by the Allegheny Valley Railroad (AVRR). The segment south of the Brilliant Branch Railroad Bridge over the Allegheny was used as AVRR’s main link from the Pittsburgh Line to its Allegheny Subdivision along the south shore of the Allegheny River. 2 In 2003, the Brilliant Branch Railroad Bridge was repaired and used by AVRR to access the AZCON scrap yard on the north side of the river. 3 4

In the same year, a segment of the P&W Subdivision was leased by the AVRR, 5 which became their main link between the Pittsburgh Line and the Allegheny Subdivision. The Brilliant Branch was regulated for use by local traffic only. In 2015, the AZCON scrap yard, the last remaining customer on the line, closed. 6

The Brilliant Branch line was used as a detour from AVRR’s usual route over the P&W Subdivision between the Allegheny Subdivision and the Pittsburgh Line during a trestle repair project, 7 8 and again in 2019. 9 As of 2022, there is no regular traffic on the line or bridge, aside from the wye at the southernmost portion of the line which is used to turn around Amtrak’s daily Pennsylvanian trains.


Information

  • State: Pennsylvania
  • Route: Allegheny Valley Railroad
  • Type: Warren Through Truss
  • Status: Active - Railroad
  • Total Length: 1429 feet
  • Main Span Length: 411 feet
  • Spans: 92 feet; 91.6 feet; 152.6 feet; 411 feet; 254.6 feet; 253.6 feet; 88 feet; 86 feet
  • Deck Width: 38.8 feet

Sources

  1. The Pennsylvania Low-Grade Line and Cut-Offs.” The Railway Age, 20 Mar. 1903, pp. 463-464.
  2. Allegheny Valley Railroad Company; Acquisition and Operation Exemption; Certain Lines of Consolidated Rail Corporation.” Interstate Commerce Commission, 16 Nov. 1995.
  3. Lundsten, Carsten S. “Western Pennsylvanian Railroads Allegheny Valley Railroad.” 3 Feb. 2008.
  4. Cridlebaugh, Bruce S. “Brilliant Branch RR Bridge.” pghbridges.com, 2 Apr. 2003.
  5. Allegheny Valley Railroad Company-Lease, Operation and Trackage Rights Exemption-Lines of CSX Transportation, Inc.” Surface Transportation Board, 26 Nov. 2003.
  6. Lang, J. Alex. No title. Railpictures.net, 14 Oct. 2015.
  7. ALLEGHENY VALLEY RAILROAD COMPANY-TEMPORARY TRACKAGE RIGHTS EXEMPTION – NORFOLK SOUTHERN RAILWAY COMPANY.” Surface Transportation Board, 21 Apr. 2016.
  8. Allegheny Valley Railroad Company-Temporary Trackage Rights Exemption-Norfolk Southern Railway Company.” Surface Transportation Board, 6 May 2016.
  9. Allegheny Valley Railroad Company-Temporary Trackage Rights Exemption-Norfolk Southern Railway Company.” Surface Transportation Board, 10 May 2019.
  10. “Gigantic Local Engineering Feat Is Now Almost Completed.” Pittsburgh Press, 12 May 1904, p. 11.
  11. “Fifty-Sixth Annual Report.” Morning Tribune [Altoona], 28 Feb. 1903, p. 2.
  12. “Leherr, Dave. “Plan to Abandon Train Bridges Defended.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1 Mar. 1975, p. 9.
  13. “Plan to Ax RR Span Falters.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 13 Mar. 1975, p. 4.
  14. “The Brilliant Cut-Off of the Pennsylvania Railroad at Pittsburg.” Railway Age, 16 Oct. 1903, pp. 496-500.

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