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Dawson Rd Tunnel
Ghost Tunnel

West Deer Twp

USGS 7.5" Topo Quad - UTM Coordinates:
Curtisville - Zone 17; 0599 4482
Dawson Rd

-- Saxonburg Blvd
-- Quarry Rd

Bessemer & Lake Erie RR

vertical wall horseshoe profile, filled concrete arch, through filled embankment

250 ft est

13 ft posted clearance (older sign: 14 ft)
24 ft est wide
14 ft est to top of arch rise

The Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad is a route which connected the iron ore and coal docks at Conneaut on Lake Erie to the Mon Valley steel works owned by Andrew Carnegie.

This portion of the railroad was opened in 1897 with the completion of the high bridge over the Allegheny River in Harmar (replaced 1918). Once the main line had been established many of the original structures were replaced in the twenty years which followed.

In Harmar Twp and Indiana Twp (about 5.5 miles south of Dawson Rd), three other tunnels through embankments share similar design. Each are concrete shells with impressions of the plank formwork still showing in the ceiling vaults. The basic shape of the roof is a gable outer surface with an inner circular arch. The portal were then squared to retain the embankment. Stepped wing walls extend from the portals.

In West Deer Twp at Dawson Rd, however, the portals are not squared; the gable remains visible. And the wing walls are merely short stubs. This tunnel provides passage for Dawson Rd through the 140 ft high embankment which carries the railroad. This tunnel is much longer than those to the south. The topography suggests there had been a yard in the area of Red Hot along Saxonburg Blvd; the Dawson Tunnel passes below.

Some local residents refer to this site as the "Ghost Tunnel." They report sitting in their car in the middle of the tunnel for about 10 minutes then seeing a strange blue light at the portal.

Within Allegheny County, there are two tunnels (North Bessemer and Bettis) associated with the Bessemer & Lake Erie line through which the trains pass, albeit both are on tracks owned by the Union Railroad. (The B&LE and URR were both part of the same company until 2001.) At Culmerville (About 1.5 miles south of Dawson Rd), Bakerstown Rd crosses the B&LE on a 1921 truss deck span; the site appears to be a daylighted tunnel.

The embankment above Dawson Rd is approximately one mile long at a depth of about 140 feet above Rocky Run, a tributary of Bull Creek. Some of the fill appears to be slag and industrial by-products; some may have been from the cut at Culmerville.

The 1906 USGS topo quad map New Kensington East shows the B&LE as double-tracked from a grade crossing about one-half mile of Culmerville. North of the crossing the railroad follows the present day route of Saxonburg Rd through Red Hot to a straight-line trestle approximately one-quarter mile long where Bull Creek crosses the Allegheny-Butler county line. Saxonburg Blvd in 1906 is shown following a creek -- a route which is now private driveways.

At Culmerville, the road crosses the railroad at an unhindered angle which seems to indicate that it was not a grade crossing -- possibly a tunnel; and the long fill over present day Dawson Road had not been built. More evidence of an excavation or daylighting between 1906 and 1921.

Carnegie had been discussing rail transport with other lines, but determined the best way to protect his interests was to control the rail line himself. Several smaller companies had constructed sections of the route. "Bear Creek Railroad (name changed to Shenango and Allegheny Railroad Co.) was incorporated in March 1865 for the purpose of moving coal 21 miles from Pardoe to Shenango for delivery to other railroads and the Erie Extension Canal. By 1883, Shenango and Allegheny had extended north to Greenville, PA and south to Butler, PA. By 1892, the line had extended north to reach the port of Conneaut, OH. The extensions carried their own descriptive corporate names and survived a series of corporate reorganizations to become the Pittsburgh, Shenango and Lake Erie." The rail line had been completed as far as Butler, still 40 miles distant from the Mon Valley.

"The first ore boat arrived in Conneaut in 1892 stimulating the interest of Andrew Carnegie. In April 1896, a tri-party agreement between PS&LE, Union Railroad Company and Carnegie Steel Company called for construction of a line from Butler to East Pittsburgh. The Butler and Pittsburgh Railroad Company incorporated April 8, 1896 and completed, spectacularly, by October 27, 1897 including a long, single track bridge across the Allegheny River. Also in 1897, PS&LE and B&P were consolidated into the Pittsburgh, Bessemer & Lake Erie under majority ownership of Carnegie." "Four years later, Carnegie formed the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad under this exclusive ownership and arranged to lease PS&LE for 999 years. This arrangement stayed in place with the formation of U. S. Steel in 1901, which bought out Carnegie interests." "In 1906, B&LE leased, and later sold, to Union Railroad the portion of line between North Bessemer and East Pittsburgh." "In 1988, the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad became part of Transtar, Inc. Transtar is a privately-held transportation holding company with principal operations in railroad freight transportation, dock operations, Great Lakes shipping, and inland river barging. The Transtar subsidiary companies formed over the years to meet the transportation needs of various steel making facilities that were the predecessors of today's USX Corporation. Prior to 1989, the Transtar companies were wholly owned transportation subsidiaries of USX (formerly United States Steel Corporation). In December 1988, these transportation companies were acquired by a new holding company, Transtar, Inc."

"In 2001, the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad became part of Great Lakes Transportation, a privately-held transportation holding company with principal operations in railroad freight transportation, dock operations and Great Lakes shipping."



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Introduction -- Nearby Structures

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Last modified: 25-Sep-2001

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