A century ago, an Upper Turkeyfoot Township rail tunnel carried steam-powered locomotives from Maryland toward Connellsville’s coal fields.
Today, it’s crumbling and barricaded. And it’s the lone tunnel left from the era named after the Pinkerton farming family who owned the land, according to Pittsburgh rail historian Earl Bugaile.
The group that maintains the Great Allegheny Passage’s Somerset County territory, Somerset County Rails-to-Trails Association, hopes to give the old, concrete-lined tunnel life again soon, this time for hikers and bikers, Rails-to-Trails board member June Deakins said.
The project’s price tag is $1.7 million, she said. But it has gained the Allegheny Trail Alliance’s valuable support – and with it, a pledge to give the group $17 for every $1 it raises.
“Reopening that tunnel is just going to be spectacular,” she said, noting it will serve as a connector for two bridges along the trail that are now linked by a more than mile-long detour.
Bugaile, a rail historian and Pittsburgh broadcaster, said the tunnel was originally built in 1912 by the Western Maryland Railway.
“The line was really a coal hauler,” he said.
It was one of four on the line’s path toward Connellsville.
The tunnel hasn’t been used since 1975, he said.
With the passage of time – and major freezes – the tunnel has fallen into disrepair, much like an older Baltimore & Ohio Railroad-built Pinkerton, just a stone’s throw away, Bugaile said.
That tunnel was bulldozed in recent years for CSX rail work, he said. The 1912 tunnel, meanwhile, was tagged for possible preservation as a Great Allegheny Passage trail component.
Pieces of the 849-foot tunnel ceiling are crumbling onto the floor below, Deakins said.
Plans call for a steel insert to be added to the tunnel portal to stabilize its damaged roof sections, Deakins said. The middle of the tunnel is still intact.
“At this point, we just want to make it safe, and get it reopened for trail users,” she said. “It’s close to halfway between Rockwood and Confluence, so it’s going to be a great addition for hikers and bikers.”
An existing loop that directs trail users around the tunnel would be maintained as a Passage add-on, she said.
Access improvements at the site need to occur before construction vehicles will able to start working on the tunnel, Deakins said.
But if all goes well and donations continue, work could begin on the tunnel in spring 2015, she said.
“We’re optimistic,” she said. “But we need help.”
David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/tddavidhurst