Alphabet Route Origins

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Alphabet Route Origins

Postby edkyle99 » Sat Dec 04, 2004 4:35 pm

I've been wondering about the famed "Alphabet Route" fast freight
service that battled PRR, NYC, ERIE, etc. for decades. How did all
of those railroad companies (NKP-W&LE-P&WV-WM-RDG, etc)
manage to join forces to establish, market, and maintain this
competitive run-through service? Whose idea was it originally?
When was it first established? Who coined the "Alphabet Route"
phrase, and when?

- Ed Kyle

George Gould and Pittsburgh Capital

Postby Guest » Sun Dec 05, 2004 3:57 am

The key player in the mix was the Pittsburgh and West Virginia; for a detailed explanation, get Howard Worley and William Pellot's Pittsburgh and West Virginia; The Story of the High and Dry.

By the beginnings of the Twentieth Century, George Gould, sone of financier Jay Gould, was assempling a network of lines with true-transcontinental aspirations. This included Rio Grande, Missouri Pacific and Wabash, and extended from Salt Lake City to Toledo.

Coal-hauler Wheeling and Lake Erie brought Gould's network within 50 miles of Pittsburgh, where a number of influentials were anxious to diminish the power of PRR and B&O. Western Pacific was not to enter the picture for another ten years or so.

The P&WV began construction in 1901 as an extension of the Gould empire from an unincorporated point on the W&LE in Harrison County, Ohio, and designated simply "Pittsburgh Junction". Although a general freight and passenger business in Pittsburgh was the first objective, it was not until the late 1920's that plans were finalized for a superbly-engineered line connecting with Western Maryland at the B&O division point of Connellsille.

Reading and Jersey Central then joined forces with WM to provide the final link in an eastern connection. When W&LE was absorbed into the Nickel Plate in the late 1940's, the way was clear for P&WV's inclusion in the "new" N&W merger of 1964.

Postby Guest » Mon Dec 06, 2004 12:39 am

Thanks. I would like to get Worley's book, but it seems pricey. I found
one listed at Amazon for $190-ish.

I do have Rehor's "Nickel Plate Story", which provides only glimpses
of the total Alphabet Route story. The key events seem to have
occured during the 1927-29 period, when Frank Taplin was striving to complete the P&WV Connelsville extension in order to make P&WV
part of a Wabash extension to tidewater as originally envisioned by George Gould. NKP's Van Swerigans, and the Great Depression, intervened. Western Maryland ended up in B&O hands. PRR gained
ownership of a controlling interest in P&WV. NKP ended up with
W&LE. Somehow the railroads owned by these competing interests
still managed to establish a fascinating fast freight service that
competed successfully against the owner's home roads until the
1960 merger era.

Rehor said that NKP-P&WV-WM-RDG established second morning
Chicago-Baltimore service and second evening Chicago-Philadelphia
service before 1949. WLE didn't adopt the AJ "Alpha-Jet" train
symbol until about 1955, when schedules were sped up even more.
At that time, WLE advertised three eastbound and two westbound
Alpha-Jet schedules.

My mid-1950s Official Guide shows only "Fast Freight" advertising
for P&WV, but the phrase "The Alphabet Route for Fast Dependable
Service" appears in my 1962 Guide for P&WV. "Alphabet Route'
ads appeared even after the NKP/N&W merger, in the N&W section
of the Guide, as late as 1977, though by then reduced to only two
westbound and one eastbound advertised schedules.

What I'm most interested in is how the services evolved from the
1930s to become the speedy run-through "Alpha-Jet" services of the

- Ed Kyle

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