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Harmony Trail

by admin last modified Dec 14, 2009 11:04 PM

A planned hiking, biking, and walking trail in Pittsburgh's North Hills


From 1908 to 1931, the Harmony interurban trolley line ran between Pittsburgh, Evans City, Butler and New Castle. Along a wooded valley that parallels today's Route 19, the single-track rail bed followed the only level right of way available through the North Hills' otherwise steep terrain. Today, more than 70 years after service was abandoned, its tracks are gone. Much of its old alignment has given way to pavement, housing developments, and other forms of progress.

Between Ingomar and Warrendale, however, a scenic stretch of the old Harmony right of way remains largely intact. As with many rails-to-trails projects throughout the country, its wide, flat corridor is ideal for a trail. This 4.3-mile section is where the Conservancy is initially focusing its resources.


This new trail will:

  • Offer a safe and attractive opportunity for running, strolling, relaxing, and exercising.
  • Encourage non-motorized travel by allowing safe routes connecting neighborhoods to schools, parks and other nearby neighborhoods.
  • Offer recreation opportunities for the elderly, disabled, and those who may be wheelchair bound.
  • Provide winter recreation opportunities such as cross country skiing and snowshoeing.


  • Walking is the most popular activity in the United States. One million people walk two to three times a week for recreational purposes, yet we have removed the visual cues in our communities that provide us with a constant reminder to walk.
  • More bicycles are sold than cars. In 1998 approximately 19.6 million bicycles were sold in the United States compared with about 15 million automobiles.
  • New development does not promote pedestrian friendly environments, nor community oriented environments. Sidewalks have been eliminated as a requirement for land and subdivision development because developers have convinced communities that it is too expensive to construct sidewalks. However, it has been proven that it is no more expensive to build ten foot wide travel lanes with five foot wide sidewalks than it is to build twelve foot travel lanes without sidewalks. A Time magazine article on fitness reported, "there's a simple way for more Americans to get the activity their bodies need, and it doesn't require gym memberships or fancy equipment. The answer ... is walking. Unfortunately, most American communities were designed in the age of the automobile and aren't built for bipeds."
  • Pedestrians and bicyclists are using roadways which provide no accommodation for them. One pedestrian is injured every seven seconds and one dies every one hundred and twelve minutes. One bicyclist dies every one hundred and fifteen minutes.
  • During the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States. The prevalence of overweight U.S. adults increased by 61% from 1991 to 2000 alone.
  • At present, more than half of all U.S. adults are considered overweight.
  • A study conducted in 1996 by the U.S Surgeon General indicated the number one public health problem in the United States is the lack of physical activity among adults.
  • Nearly one half of American youths aged 12-21 years are not vigorously active on a regular basis.
  • More than 60 percent of adults do not engage in the recommended amount of activity.
  • Through a modest increase in daily activity, most Americans can improve their health and quality of life.
  • Additional health benefits can be gained through greater amounts of physical activity. People who can maintain a regular regimen of activity that is of longer duration or of more vigorous intensity are likely to derive greater benefit.
  • Physical activity reduces the risk of premature mortality in general, and of coronary heart disease, hypertension, colon cancer, and diabetes mellitus in particular. Physical activity also improves mental health and is important for overall health.
  • Communities can provide environmental inducements to physical activity, such as safe, accessible, and attractive trails for walking and bicycling.


Before there were cars there were trains. Between 1908 and 1931, two companies ran interurban trolleys between Pittsburgh and points north. The Pittsburgh and Butler Street Railway operated the Butler Short Line between Pittsburgh and Butler, and the Pittsburgh, Harmony, Butler & New Castle Railway Company operated the Harmony Short Line from Pittsburgh to Evans City where it split and then continued on to Butler and New Castle. The two companies merged in 1917 and became the Pittsburgh, Mars and Butler Railway.

The trolley carried both passengers and freight and was powered by electricity delivered from overhead cables. The cars made frequent stops, although there was a "limited" car that made few stops, and a "party" car for charters.

The rise of the automobile, in particular the bus, and the Great Depression conspired against the trolley. It ceased operating in 1931, and the land was sold and put to other uses. The section that followed Girty's Run out of Millvale was acquired by the county and became Babcock Boulevard.

The Pittsburgh City Paper (dead, now links to noted, somewhat wryly, that plans for a similar regional transport system are being promoted today, yet it existed over 75 years ago, and was accomplished without magnetic levitation.

More historical details can be found on this rail enthusiast's site (dead, now links to, or at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum site.

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