B&LE and PRR Western Allegheny, PA track plan HO

  • Size: 12′ x 18′
  • Scale: HO
  • Minimum Mainline Radius: 24″
  • Minimum Aisle Width: 27″
  • Designed by Dan Bourque

B&LE Logo PlainThe Western Allegheny Railroad was incorporated in 1902 to serve the coal fields of Butler and Allegheny Counties in western Pennsylvania. The WA was originally operated by the B&LE until 1908 when the WA gained its independence. It was purchased by the Pennsy in 1926 as part of a plan for a new mainline to bypass Pittsburgh, but these plans fell victim to the Great Depression. Because it had no direct connection with the Pennsy, it was operated as an independent branch and interchanged its coal and limestone traffic to the B&LE at Queen Jct, PA. In 1957, the limestone quarry ceased operations, and over the next decade, coal traffic fell as well, and the PRR sold the line to the B&LE in 1967. Traffic picked up with the coal boom of the 1970s, but the WA maintained its independent charachter (it was considered the Western Allegheny Division of the B&LE) and became known for its almost exclusive use of aging B&LE F-units as power on the branch until 1992.  It was also unique in having the only tunnel on the modern-day B&LE. The branch was abandoned in the mid ’90s.

The Layout

This layout is designed to capture the key elements and operational essence of the WA as a B&LE branch during the coal boom of the ’70s, but it can easily be modified to reflect the feel and operations of the Pennsy era. Because the WA used 4-axle motive power almost exclusively, a 24″ radius can be used to squeeze more into a modest-sized room. The WA of this era was 19 miles long, so the layout focuses on key scenic and operational vignettes to capture the feel of the line in a compressed manner. The use of a split-level design with a helix connecting the three half-decks gives the feel of separation between the scenes. I did not have track charts when designing this layout, so the track arrangement is based on topo maps and limited photographs.  It is possible some of the loaders and tracks are in the wrong orientation, but I believe the plan still captures the feel of the line.

The three modeled areas include Queen Jct., Hooker and Kaylor. Queen Jct. was where the WA interchanged with the B&LE, and was the western end of the railroad after 1939. Queen Jct. (lower deck) consists of two small yards. The empty yard sat alongside the double-track B&LE main and was where B&LE freights dropped empty hoppers for the branch. The load yard was on a tight curve at the beginning of the WA and was where the WA crews left loaded hoppers to be picked up by mainline trains. Hooker (middle deck) was about 1/3 of the way up the branch and was home to two loaders with the longest viaduct on the line just to the east. Kaylor (upper deck) was home to a small engine servicing facility and was the beginning and ending point for the mine crews that worked the line. Just to the west of Kaylor was Blacksburg, home to a couple small loaders and the line’s tunnel. To the east of Kaylor was the end of the line and a handful of small loaders.

The line had a summit about midway, so loads from Kaylor had to be hauled upgrade before coasting downgrade through Hooker and on to Queen Jct., and the track plan basically reflects this grade. The B&LE main to the north of Queen Jct. is represented by a 3-track visible staging yard. An overpass has been conveniently relocated to mark the transition from the modeled area to staging. Likewise, an overpass on the WA has been moved closer to Queen Jct. to provide a convenient transition through the backdrop to the helix. A 2.5-turn helix gets trains up to the middle deck of Hooker. Rather than use the helix again, trains transitioning between the middle and upper deck climb along the wall behind a low backdrop–it is recommended the sky backdrop be placed behind this climb while a lower backdrop of hills be placed in front for easy access.

Because this layout would host multiple trains, DCC is a must. A mid-range DCC system capable of easily MUing during operations and providing sufficient power for 4-6 locomotives simultaneously is recommended. Walk around throttles are a must.

Track plan B&LE PRR Western Allegheny, PA HO scale


Operations on this layout in the B&LE era are more complex than they might first appear. The star of the show is the WA Mine Crew. This train would pick up its engines in Kaylor (the WA rarely ran cabooses) and move railroad north to pull loads from all the loaders east of Kaylor before working back railroad south toward Queen Jct., pulling loads from Blacksburg and Hooker along the way. At Queen Jct., the WA Mine Crew would drop its loads in the small load yard adjacent to the WA main track before picking up a new set of empties from the small yard alongside the B&LE main. The return trip would be the reverse of the first trip with the mine crew dropping empties at the tipples up the branch before tying up the power at Kaylor. Another job would be the B&LE main crews who would leave Greenville staging (crews were based in Greenville, but the hoppers were probably picked up somewhere else along the way–hoppers from the south would be handled out of Butler, but this line is not modeled) and swap their empties for the WA loads at Queen Jct. before returning to staging.

The pace of operations could be easily (and prototypically) adjusted to provide anything from about 1 hour for a single operator to probably 3 hours for two operators. A ’60s era scheme would have most of the loaders idled, and traffic could be handled with a single PRR GP7 or B&LE SW8–staging empties at Queen Jct. instead of running a B&LE mainline train would make for a shorter session. A medium operations scheme for the ’70s would have 2-3 B&LE F units working most of the loaders and one B&LE mainline train swapping hoppers at Queen Jct. A more complex operation for two operators would model the B&LE practice of using F units at both ends of the train. This not only helped get loads from Kaylor past the summit (2.5% grade near the tunnel), but the B&LE crews would often split up and work multiple tipples simultaneously. The challenge here would be navigating the hidden trackage with two operators–this is where being able to MU and split consists on-the-fly using DCC might come in handy. At its most complex, the mine crew would have enough traffic to justify two round trips in one day (prototypical) with a corresponding need for more B&LE mainline trains to swap out the hoppers.

Things I Like About this Plan:

  • Lots of running in a small space
  • Lots of neat operation
  • Self-contained branch including engine facilities
  • Enables prototypical operations
  • Wide variety of operations
  • Captures scenic features as well as tipples
  • Staging is easily accessible

Things I Don’t Like About this Plan:

  • Small minimum radius (24″)
  • Lots of hidden track
  • Narrower aisles than other plans
  • Scenes pretty compressed

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2 Responses to B&LE and PRR Western Allegheny, PA track plan HO

  1. Michael Logar says:

    Dan, I’m thinking about doing this track plan after an impending move to a new house. It would need to be slightly adjusted to a 15 1/2′ x 17 1/2′ room. The doorway is in the end of a long wall and a smaller door to the attic would mandate a modular modification at that area.
    Still the thoughts of the B&LE running strings of hoppers is intriguing. Running F7s are an added bonus.

    • Dan Bourque says:

      Michael, the Western Allegheny is an awesome prototype, and even if you can’t model the whole thing, even small portions of it would make a great layout. Best of luck, and I hope you share some pictures of your progress!

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