Wednesday, May 16, 2012


In the Spring 1999 of a periodical called THE KEYSTONE published by the Pennsylvania Railroad Historical and Technical Society an article appeared describing the "Samuel Rea Line." Samuel Rea retired from being the President of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1925. His most famous engineering achievement was the construction of the Penn Station and tunnels at New York City completed in 1910. The article indicated that preliminary surveys for a railroad capable of 90 mph were supervised by Samuel Rea for the PRR Board in 1926. The dedicated passenger line was to leave the existing 90 mph mainline at Fort Wayne, Indiana and be built across Ohio and Pennsylvania connecting with the PRR mainline at Lewistown, Pennsylvania. It would have lessened the PRR distance from Chicago to New York City by 100 miles.

In an attempt to learn more about the basis for the article, an attempt was made to contact its author without success. Contact with the Hagley Museum at Wilmington, Delaware, and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Strasburg, Pennsylvania; major repositories for Pennsylvania Railroad archives, came up empty. The absence of more information about the basis for the article is probably due to a a fire at Philadelphia's Broad Street Station in 1943. Substantial volumes of PRR records stored there were destroyed in the fire.

The route across Pennsylvania would have required 22 tunnels. The longest tunnel would have been north of Altoona and south of Tyrone. That west to east tunnel would have been 29,400 feet or 5.57 miles long. Steam locomotives would have had their fires banked and the passenger trains hauled through the long tunnel by electric locomotives. It would have taken a civil engineer of the caliber of the Samuel Rea to have have supervised such a preliminary survey.

The yellow line represents the proposed Samuel Rea Line noted as SRL. The PRR mainline is shown in blue. The Conemaugh line from the Northside of Pittsburgh to Bolivar, Pennsylvania is shown in dark red / brown. Northwest of Pittsburgh, near Rochester, Pennsylvania a dotted line shows a new connection from the mainline to a place called Ogle for a connection with the Samuel Rea Line. Northeast of Pittsburgh near Kiski Junction across the Allegheny River from Freeport a dotted line shows where a proposed connection with the Connemaugh Division would have been made at a place called Godfrey, Pennsylvania. All tunnel locations have their length in feet indicated.

Was the equipment operated by the PRR in 1926 capable of 90 mph operation? Yes. Was their larger passenger locomotive, the K4 type, capable of sustained 90 mph operation? Yes. Was the smaller PRR passenger locomotive, the E6 type, capable of faster operation? Yes - 115 mph.

The Samuel Rea Line is shown in yellow.  The Allegheny summit would have been attained to the west of a large 14,750 foot tunnel that would have been built between Alburn and St. Lawrence, Pennsylvania. The mainline is in blue. The Conemaugh division is in dark red / brown.
The west portal of the 5.57 mile tunnel proposed for the Samuel Rea Line in yellow would have been near Frugality, Pennsylvania. Connection with the PRR mainline would have been made at the west portal of the 9200 foot tunnel through Brush mountain between Tyrone to the north and Altoona to the south. Other connections to the PRR mainline would have been made in the vicinity of Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania.

Had the Samuel Rea Line been built, it would not have had a grade exceeding 0.6 per cent. It would likely have been easily upgraded for 125 mph operation either by diesel locomotives or electric locomotives. 

The proposed Samuel Rea line demonstrates that an actual High Speed Rail HSR across the Alleghenies would and require a substantial number of tunnels.



  1. One point to note is that a corridor with a ruling gradient of 2.5% might not have quite so many tunnels as a corridor with a ruling gradient of 0.6%. A section with a gradient of 2.5% that has a top speed of 160mph, rather than 220mph may be justified on a bang per buck basis if it allows a viaduct and cut to replace a bored tunnel.

  2. The Samuel Rea Line was designed to maximize the utility of steam locomotive tractive effort capability.

    An electrified railroad can have heavier grades

    In 1926 long distance mainline electrification was still to be developed.


  3. The "Sam Rea Line" was largely an armchair exercises of Rea's retirement. Rea was the first PRR president to retire in reasonably good health and on good terms with the company. The status and duties of an ex-president were anomalous, not having been considered before. Rea seemed to want to prove that he could design a super-railroad on paper. There would have been absolutely no chance of building it in real life. For one thing, after 1920, all new construction had to be approved by the ICC, and the competing railroads would have shouted it down. The PRR and others did the same thing to a contemporary proposal of L. F. Loree to build a new trunk line across the middle of Pennsylvania from Easton to Pittsburgh. Furthermore, Rea had no power, and President W.W. Atterbury had a completely different agenda.

    I wrote a rejoinder in a subsequent issue of the Keystone in which I attacked just about every proposition in the original article, citing this and other evidence.

    As to getting no answer from Hagley, you must have written a long time ago. It is true that we have nothing. Because this was a private exercise of Rea's it would not be found in the Engineering Department records, but only his own files, which are at the State Archives in Harrisburg. Perhaps they did not search carefully or at all. The file might also have been part of Rea's personal files, which he would have taken with him and not sent into the company's records storage system. There are copies of some letters dealing with the Rea Line that were subpoenaed and printed as exhibits in the investigation of railroad consolidation undertaken by a Senate Subcommittee headed by Burton K. Wheeler and Harry Truman in the late 1930s.

    It was the 1923 Broad Street Station fire that caused a lot of records destruction, because old records were stored underneath the tracks of the train shed. After 1925, such records were moved to 4901 Merion Avenue in West Philadelphia and so were not affected by the 1943 fire.

    Chris Baer
    Hagley Museum and Library

  4. Not the route I'd take these days.

    One wants to stop at the the major population centers, which means stopping at Pittsburgh. The only large population center between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg is State College, so one would want to stop there too.


  5. The Sam Rea Line (SRL) has recently been commented on here regarding when or if it should have been built. I would like to add a few comments.

    A case can be made that the SRL should have been built instead of New York's Penn Station. The SRL would have been a better choice for several reasons. First, the SRL would have reduced New York to Chicago travel time by three hours for passenger trains, with similar time reductions to other Midwest cities. Penn Station only saved about thirty minutes by eliminating the slow ferry boat ride across the Hudson. However, the H&M rapid transit line (completed in 1909 from the PRR's Jersey City terminal to downtown Manhattan) made the trip far faster than the ferry and did not cost the PRR anything. Next, the SRL would have benefited traffic between the Midwest (Chicago, etc.)and all of the PRR's East Coast cities (New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, etc.). Penn Station only benefited New York. Furthermore, the SRL would have benefited all traffic (passenger and freight). Penn Station only benefited the passenger and mail business. Finally, the distance, grade, and curve reduction provided by the SRL would have reduced capital, operating, and maintenance costs (fewer locomotives and crews required, less fuel consumed, less track to maintain, and less ware and tare on track and rolling stock). Penn Station provided no such savings.

    Built between 1904 and 1910, the Penn Station project cost $160 million (including the Long Island Railroad which was integral to its operation). Other projects made unnecessary by the SRL totaled an additional $8 million (e.g. four-tracking the Pittswburgh Division). The crucial part of the SRL (from Petersburg, Pa. to near Crestline, Ohio that bypassed the main line's grade and curve problems) would have cost $88 million during this period.

    The ICC could not have stopped the SRL because it did not get authority over new railroad construction until 1920, long after the SRL should have been built. If the PRR had not been obsessed with getting onto Manhattan, things might have turned out a lot differently.

  6. Interesting analysis. You are right that the PRR was bent upon a physical station in Manhattan. Samuel Rea's line might have been a better concept. But, in the early 1900's such a line was not in the PRR imagination. Rea, of course, was the key engineer during design and construction of Penn Station. His son, also a civil engineer, lost his life in the construction of Penn Station.