Montour Rail-Trail —Westland Branch
Washington County, Pennsylvania
Designed 2011–2012, constructed 2012–2013, official opening planned 2013.
The Westland Branch rail-trail joins the main line of the 55-mile Montour Trail
which circles the western and southern regions of Pittsburgh, Pa. The new four-mile section of active
rail-with-trail traverses the three municipalities of Cecil, Mt. Pleasant, and Chartiers Townships in
Washington County in southwestern Pennsylvania.
In the 1990s the Montour Trail Council (MTC) purchased the single track right-of-way of the
Westland Branch as part of the property of the Montour Railroad, intending to construct the
branch trail after the main segment of the Montour Trail was complete. However, the development
of the Marcellus Shale gas industry in southwestern Pennsylvania presented MTC with an oppor-
tunity to develop the branch trail sooner than originally anticipated. In 2010, after two years of
negotiations, MarkWest Liberty Midstream & Resources of Denver, Colo. agreed to a 30-year lease
with the Montour Trail Council. MarkWest was to design and build five miles of active railroad
track, along with four miles of parallel non-motorized trail.
The new railroad comes off the main east-west line of the Wheeling and Lake Erie (W&LE) Rail-
way in Southview, Pa., parallels the Montour Trail mainline for just under a mile, then swings south
for four miles to a large rail yard near Westland, Pa., not far from the MarkWest plant. W&LE
Railway operates the trains for MarkWest, moving tanker cars of propane and other natural gas
liquids. Since the original corridor owned by the Montour Trail Council was only a single width,
MarkWest had to negotiate additional easements and acquisitions to safely accommodate both the
rail and trail. MarkWest completed extensive engineering along the six-mile corridor in order to
accommodate new rail traffic.
When open, the new Westland Branch Trail segment will come off the Montour Trail mainline at
Gilmore Junction, MP 21.6, cross Pennsylvania State Route 50 via a “Cross Alert” signal system,
and then cross the tracks once. Paralleling the railroad southbound, the trail climbs a 1.5 percent
grade to a deep rock cut and gently descends to a trailhead just off SR 519 in Westland. After the
first mile, the surrounding landscape is mostly rural farmland. The nearest mainline Montour Trail
parking area is at the Galati Road trailhead, MP 21.2.
The trail has a crushed stone surface, with a four-foot-high chain link fence separating the rail
and trail. Rail traffic consists of tanker loads that are pulled along an uphill grade at less than 15 mph.
The Montour Trail was designed and built in phases over the past 20-plus years. More
than 55 of its planned 60 miles are currently developed, including the Airport and Bethel branches.
The Montour system connects with the Great Allegheny Passage trail to Washington, D.C. Speaking
for the Montour Trail Council in 2010, Ned Williams, then president of the Montour Trail Council,
said the 30-year lease agreement with MarkWest will bring major financial and recreational benefits.
Not only will MarkWest’s participation develop this recreational branch trail sooner than we
could have done,” Williams said, “but the company’s lease payments will help us cover the trail’s
ever-increasing operating and maintenance costs. Even more important to the region, we see the
proposed rail development as a good thing for our neighboring communities, since rail transport is
so much safer than having many extra tank trucks on our local roads.” For more information about
the Montour Trail system, visit
Not only will
branch trail sooner
than we could have
said, “but the
payments will help
us cover the trail’s
John M. Breitigan)