Frackville Grade today

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Frackville Grade today

Postby carajul » Thu Dec 31, 2015 6:06 pm

Did a drive up Rt 61 along the Frackville grade from Pottsville north to Frackville. The area of the new Walmart and strip mall and the new alignment of Rt 61 in that area has obliterated the row as it came out of St Clair yard. However, just past the Walmart area the row is completely intact up to Frackville. Along the side of the row that you can see from Rt 61 there are ties laying everywhere. A telegraph pole here and there. Cement bridges here and there. In Frackville the line was 4 tracks thru the middle of town but the wide row is now built upon in most places and the I-81 interchange has obliterated it in that area. There was one street where the row was a grass field, there were ties around and a silver metal pole coming out of the sidewalk that was probably grade xing related.

One question I have... how the #@&#&@* did heavy coal trains make it up that grade? I was in my buddy's Chevy Volt and we barely made it up Rt 61! That must have been some feat.

I read on this board that the Frack grade was abandoned in 1972 after hurricane agnes caused a major washout.

Also does anyone know what the line was and where it went that took off the grade at Whetherhill Jct? Or was Whetherhill where the PRR line took off east and it was really not a "jct"?

Here is a pic of the grade looking south toward St Clair from central Frackville. Imagine 4 tracks here!
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Here is a pic of the 4 track grade xing. There are ties and telegraph poles in the grass. The gray metal pole to the right of the red car's bumper I'm assuming was grade xing related.
[attachment=0]IMG_0234.JPG[/attachment]
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Re: Frackville Grade today

Postby Nicolai3985 » Wed Jan 27, 2016 7:23 pm

I don't have answers to many of your questions, but a few random notes to add:

The construction of I-81 led to the slight relocation of the Reading line, which was paid for (in part or in full, I cannot remember) by the State. The bridge over Altamont Blvd was originally for the Reading, and I believe present-day Altamont Blvd is on the relocated Reading grade (or is at least immediately beside it). The siding to the building that currently houses the Caterpillar dealership was also rebuilt, and the small bridge carrying the northern driveway to the business is railroad by birth. Further south, where the interchange for the mall was built, the Reading earthwork is pretty much gone.

There are remnants of a trolley line through the valley in several locations. I'm not sure if bridge substructure units are still present, but the Lidar mapping on PASDA shows some grading.

I believe there was talk of making the Reading into a walking trail.

The PRR paralleled the Reading up the valley, and I believe it was their line that took off to the northeast at Whetherhill Jct. Note that there is a point just north of Dark Water (the point being maybe a mile north of the Walmart at St. Clair) where Rt. 61 goes through a quick S-curve and the lanes divide to form a short median maybe 15 feet wide and 500 feet long. When Rt. 61 was rebuilt the last time, there was a large PRR bridge across the valley here, and one of the piers was in that median area. The remaining piers and abutments are still present on the adjacent hillsides.
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Re: Frackville Grade today

Postby carajul » Thu Jan 28, 2016 3:46 pm

I'm comparing 1971 PennPilot images to the current google satalite maps. It appears as though Altmont Blvd is on the RDG grade from the Cat dealership/I-81 interchange for a mile or so northward thru town. In town the row is pretty well built upon so I guess the RDG sold the land when the trackage was abandoned. Also the surface streets thru town were carried over the row on bridges and these are now gone.
The 1971 images show only 1 track left and things looked to be in bad shape.
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Re: Frackville Grade today

Postby pumpers » Sat Jan 30, 2016 5:12 pm

Here's one piece of the Reading that's left . This is looking down on the driveway to Walmart and Home Depot in St. Clair. That bridge over Mill Creek, parallel to 61 and just south of the driveway - that bridge used to carry the Reading Frackville branch I believe. https://www.google.com/maps/place/St+Cl ... 7a!6m1!1e1
Jim S
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Re: Frackville Grade today

Postby carajul » Sun Jan 31, 2016 4:35 am

Yes, that bridge did carry the RDG. However, in 1971 where Walmart is and that strip mall it was just huge coal culm piles. Rt 61 was NOT where it is today in that area... it went through town on the surface streets. It's amazing how things changed in that area. Coal mines to Walmart.

I still can't figure how the RDG got heavy coal trains up that grade. I'd have loved to see that. Alas no photos online at all, probably because the line was so secluded with the river inbetween Rt 61 and the RR.

The PRR was abandoned in 1968.

The Frackville grade was abandoned in 1972 after hurricane washed the track out. The RDG was broke and they never repaired it. The massive St Clair yard was then only connected from the south.
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Re: Frackville Grade today

Postby westernfalls » Mon Feb 01, 2016 10:21 pm

carajul wrote:I still can't figure how the RDG got heavy coal trains up that grade.


Mostly the coal came down that grade or went the long way around. The empties went over the top.
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Re: Frackville Grade today

Postby carajul » Wed Feb 03, 2016 4:35 pm

The topo maps into the 1980s still show the frackville track and st clair yard in place and labled as "conrail".

There were 4-5 tracks thru downtown frackville and up the grade was 2 tracks (on the topomaps) but the 1971 arials show only 1 track. Just before the yard in the grass field just south of Walmart to the right side of Rt 61 was a small yard and there was a small yard in Palo Alto too. Friggin yards were everywhere storing coal cars and this infrastructure lasted into at least 1971. In addition to the RDG bankruptcy I bet Agnes did a number on this trackage in 1972 as it was all along the rivers.
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Re: Frackville Grade today

Postby pumpers » Wed Feb 03, 2016 5:02 pm

westernfalls wrote:
carajul wrote:I still can't figure how the RDG got heavy coal trains up that grade.

Mostly the coal came down that grade or went the long way around. The empties went over the top.

The Mahanoy Plane (on the northside of Frackville) closed in 1932, so nearly all the Reading coal after 1932 must have been going the long way around. Did the Reading even had a line at all from the Mahanoy area up to Frackville (besides the Plane)?

In theory the PRR could have hauled coal down the Mill Creek grade from the mines in the New Boston area, but I think I read most of the coal from the New Boston area went the other way , north/east from the PRR to the LV (or all LV - I don't know where the exact change of ownership was.) Did the PRR haul coal from further down their Schuylkill Branch up the Mill Creek grade (to hand over to the LV to take further north )?.
Jim S
Last edited by pumpers on Wed Feb 03, 2016 5:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Frackville Grade today

Postby pumpers » Wed Feb 03, 2016 5:12 pm

I got lucky with Google and found this website about helper districts on the PRR: http://broadway.pennsyrr.com/Rail/Prr/D ... _dist.html
"Frackville grade, Frackville, Pa. (W/B)
Heavy trains going to the interchange with the Lehigh Valley at New Boston Jct. would get a pusher added at the Pottsville enginehouse and shove west through the St. Clair tunnel, over Darkwater trestle, and up the 3.1% grade to Morea Colliery. Not much traffic was hauled this way, as compared to the flow of coal east from the [Pennsylvania] coal regions, but coal did move off the Minersville Br. headed for northern points, either via the LVRR, or through-routed via the Nescopeck Br. along the East Branch of the Susquehanna River."

(Note: Morea is next to New Boston, high on the hill, north east of Wetherill Junction).
Over a 3% grade - wow. Must have been quite show.
Jim S.
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Re: Frackville Grade today

Postby pumpers » Wed Feb 03, 2016 6:32 pm

Sorry to post so much. Another gem from Google.
A 1932 newspaper article, that the PRR line from Frackville north to Shenandoah, would be used by the Reading to haul coal up to Frackville (instead of the Plane which was shutting down) and then to St. Clair. The junction of that line where it crossed the Reading line from Mahanoy was Bear Run Juct. The line from Frackville to Bear run Juct is on topos up through the 1970's, and answers my question if the Reading had a line north from Frackville. In return the Reading would haul some coal for the PRR , which already used the line from that (and trackage rights from Frackville to Wetherill Jct on the Reading).

All kinds of interesting facts and speculation in the article. Hope the link works,
https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid= ... 6744&hl=en

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Re: Frackville Grade today

Postby carajul » Fri Feb 05, 2016 3:50 am

Interesting news article. Looks like St Clair and the RDG and PRR lines were suffering from traffic loss even as early as 1932 and were trying to cut costs and merge operations. All those rows, especially on the steep grades, must have been an operating expense nightmare.
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Re: Frackville Grade today

Postby pumpers » Fri Feb 05, 2016 8:17 am

Yea, it's deja vu all over again. Coal traffic is down, too much truck competition, and the next article to the right is about unfair competition in the steel industry with dumping of low cost steel by overseas producers on the American market. JS
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Re: Frackville Grade today

Postby carajul » Fri Feb 05, 2016 4:24 pm

Was the Frackville grade, even in the good ole days, not used so much due to the 3% grade? I guess what I'm getting at was its used limited to 'as essentially needed' ??? It was double track and then in Frackville it expanded to 4-5 tracks thru town. I see on the arieals that it connected to the St Nick yard by the breaker. I wish there were some pics, even some taken in Frackville. I'm sure there are some around as the row went right thru the middle of town. It must have been something for those people who lived in the houses to have 4 tracks butted up against their homes. Can you imagine the NIMBYs today!?!
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Re: Frackville Grade today

Postby pumpers » Fri Feb 05, 2016 4:41 pm

I think the Reading line was built to bring coal down, not up, from Frackville to the St. Clair area and then onto the Reading Schuylkill line for movement east. The Mahanoy Plane, on the north side of Frackville, was lifting up 800-900 loads every 24 hours from all the mines down on the north side. That's a lot of traffic running down into St. Clair, and would explain the 4 tracks up in Frackville next to the plane. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahanoy_Plane. It must have been quite a sight.
The PRR used its Shenandoah branch to bring coal from the mines in that area past Bear Run Jct and then up the hill to Frackville, and then down the Mill Creek grade, but I'm sure it was a lot less than the Reading . JIm S
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Re: Frackville Grade today

Postby carajul » Mon Feb 08, 2016 10:25 pm

Would anyone care to guess what the service/train frequency was toward the end for the Frack grade track? I know St Nick was still open and operating in 1971, but the arial shots from that year show it down to 1 track and not in the best of shape. The 5 tracks thru Frack were gone too.

Also why did the PRR abandon their line in 1968? Was traffic down that much?
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