First, a preliminary note about Pennsylvania companies. The Pennsylvania legislature (especially in the 1700s and 1800s) decided whether or not a company could be formed or chartered. If a company's purpose was to serve the public, some public funding could be made available, or could be raised. Usually, local communities, which would be positively affected by the chartered company, would financially participate in the venture, typically by buying shares in the company. This, plus the company's private funding, would provide the finances for the company to start its projects. Note that I have underlines all of the railroad company names in this page, as reading that text can get kind of confusing.
The Washington & Pittsburgh Railroad Company was chartered on March 18, 1831 to connect Washington, PA to Pittsburgh, PA. Following the Chartiers creek was deemed to be the easiest route between the two cities. The company wasn't able to collect enough money to build the line. (external reference)
Another Washington & Pittsburgh Railroad Company charter was created, but, again, came up short. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was actively trying to discourage the building of the line, because it already had a nearby track. No work was done on the line up to this point in time. A subsequent effort in 1846 also failed.
The Bridgeville and McDonald Branch was built by the Pittsburgh & Steubenville Railroad Company. (external reference)
The Chartiers Valley Railroad Company was chartered on February 7, 1853, "to construct a railroad from the city of Pittsburgh, in the county of Allegheny, by way of Canonsburg to the borough of Washington, in Washington County", with funding provided by shares sold to the various cities. However, after three years already $250,000 was spent of the $500,000 budget, with an estimated $382,000 still needed to complete the line. The company declared bankruptcy in 1857. In 1866 the assets were sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad for a bit over $45,000! (external reference)
The Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis Railway (PC&StL) was formed by the merger of four railroad companies.
The PRR, via the Chartiers Valley Railway, began construction from Mansfield (now Carnegie) toward Washington, PA. Passenger service to and from Canonsburg started on December 19, 1870.
On May 18, 1871 the entire line from Mansfield to Washington was completed, 40 years after the initial survey. Traffic included passenger service, agricultural products, and coal. At the time, on average the 23-mile branch line carried 4,500 passengers per day, with special events drawing as many as 10,000. On December 8, 1871 the Chartiers Valley Railway was leased to the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis Railway (PC&StL), which officially named the line the "Chartiers Branch".
The Waynesburg & Washington Railroad was organized to build a narrow-gauge (3-foot) railway between Washington and Waynesburg, a stretch of 28 miles. Although not officially a part of the Chartiers Branch, its significance is that, in Washington, it paralleled the Chartiers Branch at the passenger station to allow passengers to transfer between the lines.
The Waynesburg & Washington Railroad was completed in November.
The Pittsburgh, Cincinnati & St. Louis constructed a branch from McDonald to a point on the Chartiers Railway at or near Bridgeville. This branch was opened for operation from Bridgeville to Rend's Mines No. 2. The Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway Company was formed by merging the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati & St. Louis, the Chicago, St. Louis & Pittsburgh, the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis, and the Cincinnati & Richmond companies (in total there were 57 corporations merged into this one company). This new company now continued to lease and operate the Chartiers Railway and the Chartiers Connecting Railroad.
The McDonald branch was extended to Reissing, 6.6 miles from Bridgeville.
The Miller Run Extension of the McDonald branch, from Cecil to Bishop, 1.09 miles, was built by the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis. The Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis and the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie companies bought the entire capital stock of the Pittsburgh, Chartiers & Youghiogheny, with each parent company owning 50% of the total shares.
The most congested part of the line was double-tracked, between Houston and Carnegie, completed in March 1904.
The branch lines to Westland and Palanka, and another to Manifold were built.
The first automobiles started appearing in the area.
Canonsburg's brick passenger station was completed.
Up until January 1, 1918, the Chartiers branch line was owned by the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis, of which the Pennsylvania Railroad owned 77.5% of their stock. On January 1, however, the PRR declared that it took over full ownership (98.3%). As part of this change, the "Panhandle Division" was created which covered the former "Lines West" territory (the PRR already had a "Pittsburgh Division", hence the need for this new name). So, the Chartiers branch was now fully owned by the PRR and was part of the Panhandle Division.
(the year I model)
The PRR tries to establish a bus line alongside the Washington & Waynesburg track route, but the Pennsylvania governor vetoes the idea. The PRR was involved in the founding of the well-known Greyhound bus line.
On January 18, 1935 the PRR petitions for the abandonment of the portion of the Bridgeville & McDonald Branch from Cecil to its terminus in Allegheny County, a distance of 1.87 miles.
The PRR petitions for the abandonment of the portion of the Bridgeville & McDonald Branch between Gladden and its terminus, a distance of 0.57 miles, and the so-called Millers Run Extension extending from Cecil to Bishop, a distance of 1.10 miles.
The Waynesburg & Washington Railroad was upgraded to standard gauge, and was renamed the Waynesburg Secondary.
Reportedly the first diesel engines appeared on the Branch.
July 30, 1952: passenger service to Washington ceased (powered by PRR K4 #3849). Steam engines were still being used for the service and they looked really badly maintained and/or dirty, due to their inevitable replacement. Most double-tracked rail was replaced with single-track. Note, however, that passenger service continued with the Pittsburgh Railways trolley/interurban line that paralleled much of the Chartiers Branch. Today, buses are used to provide passenger service ten times per day on weekdays each way via the "Freedom Transit" (formerly the Washington City Transit), based out of Washington, PA.
The Westland Branch was closed due to the closing of its namesake mine.
The branch had become very profitable for the Pennsylvania Railroad because of coal found in the region and subsequent industries which developed along the line from the late 1800s through World War II. After that, however, due to competing road traffic, the line began to decline. Finally in 1959, the PRR abandoned the connection with the mainline to the Chartiers Branch altogether. The Washington Secondary, the new name of the branch, became a branch off of the Scully Branch.
On February 1, 1968 the bankrupt Pennsylvania Railroad, New York Central, and New Haven railroads were merged into Penn Central.
The Fulton Flood Protection Project was made law in 1965. By 1972 the Chartiers Creek was modified and enhanced to reduce the damage caused by the nearly annual flooding of many communities along the creek. (external reference)
The Penn Central pretty much ignored the line. On April 1, 1976 Conrail was formed from the Penn Central and several other bankrupt railroads.
Conrail ceased operating the branch west of Tylerdale (MP 21.8), and it was renamed the Canonsburg Industrial Track.
The branch was put up for sale.
RailTex, based in San Antonio, Texas, bought the line and renamed it the Pittsburgh Industrial Railroad. RailTex specialized in buying unprofitable short-line railroads, and making the lines profitable. This was primarily done by making sure they only bought lines that were not unionized. The company was started in 1979 and went public in 1993. (external reference)
RailTex was merged into RailAmerica, Inc, which later that year sold the line to the Ohio Central Railroad System. The OCRS, whose purpose it is to connect industries to Class I railroads via previously-existing short-lines, formed the Pittsburgh & Ohio Centrail Railroad (POHC) which then took over ownership of the line. The owner of OCRS is a railfan, and he enjoyed restoring and running older vintage diesel engines on his lines. (external reference #1; external reference #2)
The Ohio Central Railroad System was bought by Genesee & Wyoming, Inc. in 2008. This is where the line stands as of today. The POHC, which remains the operator of the line, owns two SW1500 engines and a GP11 (a 1957-built former GP9), and still runs trains once a day Monday through Friday on the line. (modernday videos)