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Development & Transportation

Historic Tunnel to be Added to Bike Path

Pennsylvania’s cyclists will soon be able to enjoy some century-old history as part of their biking scenery.

After decades of being boarded up and blocked off, the Pinkerton Tunnel near Markleton in Somerset County is set to be renovated and made part of the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail sometime next year.

Constructed in 1911, the tunnel has been abandoned since the 1970s. According to Somerset County Trail Manager Brett Hollern, the Somerset County Rails-to-Trails Association has wanted to re-open the tunnel to bicyclers since the mid-1990s, but lacked funding to do repairs. Instead, a 1.2 mile bypass was created that followed the Casselman River around the tunnel.

“I think there was always a desire to reestablish the trail on the original Western Maryland [Railroad] Right-of-Way but since there was a bypass, there were other projects and bigger fish to fry at the time,” said Hollern.

CSX began modifications on another nearby tunnel in 2012, which inspired Rails to Trials to consider renovating the Pinkerton tunnel.

As part of its modifications, CSX removed the top of its tunnel, in a procedure known as daylighting, to allow double-stacked rail cars to pass through. The company purchased 170 acres of land, some from Somerset County, to act as a receptacle for the dirt and stone that was removed. As part of the deal with the county, CSX gave Rails to Trails full ownership of the Pinkerton Horn bypass and a promise to return the acres to the county after all environmental clean-up responsibilities were met.

“We were able to find out through CSX and their work that actually there’s a pretty solid 80 ft. layer of sandstone that they had a real difficult time getting through that ran across the top of our tunnel as well. So through their work we found out that our tunnel’s actually in pretty good shape,” said Hollern.

That solid sandstone layer will allow Rails to Trails, with funding and support from the Allegheny Trail Alliance (ATA), to repair instead of remove the roof of the Pinkerton tunnel, which they had feared would be necessary.

The Great Allegheny Passage currently crosses the Casselman River over the Pinkerton High Bridge, follows the river around the Pinkerton Horn, then crosses the river again and continues east.

Hollern says the Pinkerton bypass will remain open even after the tunnel is fixed, because of its scenic and practical value. According to Hollern, cyclists will be able to loop around the horn and through the tunnel for a nice ride, and kayakers and canoers could paddle down the Casselman around the horn and then carry their boats back through the tunnel.

The ATA has already raised 1.6 million towards the project. If an additional $100,000 is donated over the summer, Hollern expects that repairs will begin this fall and be completed by early summer of 2015.