The Allegheny Portage Railroad, completed in 1834, was a system of tracks on inclined planes that crossed the summit of
© National Park Service
The Allegheny Portage Railroad reduced the travel time from Pittsburgh to
Philadelphia to four days instead of 23.
Charles Dickens took a trip on the line in 1842 and later wrote down his impressions of the experience: "It was pretty traveling thus at a rapid pace along the heights of the mountain and with a keen wind, to look down into a valley full of light and softness and catching glimpses through the treetops...and we riding onward high above them like a whirlwind."
In the early 1800s, steam engines weren't very powerful, so this ingenious railroad system was devised to "walk" cars uphill. Railroad cars were attached by thick hemp ropes to a cable that was pulled from level to level by a stationary steam engine. Despite this new technology, more powerful locomotives and dependable railroads made the portage railroad obsolete, and it was abandoned after 20 years.
Four of the ten original inclined planes are visible at Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site, in addition to excavated engine-house foundations, a bridge that was built without mortar, and the first railroad tunnel in the country. Near the summit is Lemon House, a restored tavern that once served as a rest stop for travelers.
Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site Information
Address: 110 Federal Park Rd., Gallitzin, PA
Hours of Operation: Daily, 9 a.m. - 6:15 p.m. except Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, MLK Jr. Day and President's Day
Admission: Adults $4; Ages 15 and Under are Free
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Eric Peterson is a Denver-based freelance writer who has contributed to numerous guidebooks about the