In a strip of land between the former Harrisburg and Lancaster Railroad's Columbia branch and the Susquehanna River in modern day Royalton, Pennsylvania lays one of the few remaining clues of another transportation empire that succumbed to the practicality of the railroads. The State owned Mainline of Public Works was completed in 1834 creating a multimodal transportation network to connect Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in direct competition with the Erie Canal. Consisting of over 273 miles of canal and 120 miles of railroad, the system utilized various modes of transport based on geographic necessity. The Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad connected its namesake towns to the Eastern Division of the Pennsylvania Canal. The Eastern Division ran 43 miles north from Columbia along the east bank of the Susquehanna River in Lancaster and Dauphin Counties. The canal made a northern connection to the Juniata Division Canal at Duncan’s Island and intermediate connections to Harrisburg and the Union Canal in Middletown. The Juniata Division paralelled the Juniata River making connection with the Allegheny Portage Railroad in Hollidaysburg where canal boats were then transported by rail over a series of inclined planes to cross the Allegheny ridge at a summit of 2322 feet above sea level. West of the Allegheny summit the Portage Road made connection to the Western Division Canal in the City of Johnstown following the path of the Conemaugh, Kiskiminetas and Allegheny Rivers westward to Pittsburgh and the Ohio River.
The dangerous and slow inclined planes of the Portage Road along with the canals would prove to be the downfall of the Public Works system limited by capacity and the seasonal nature of operations. The vast and diverse infrastructure needed constant work, many cases in remote areas making the system costly to maintain. By the 1840’s some investors began to look to the railroad as a better transportation solution and in 1846 the charter to build the Pennsylvania Railroad, a privately owned rail route from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh would challenge the Public Works System running almost exactly the same route. While the benefit of rail transportation over the Public Works was quickly realized subsequent expansion east to Philadelphia in 1854 would create the first all rail route across the state, dealing the final blow to the canals and Portage Railroad. The PRR eventually purchased most of the bankrupt Public Works system from the state to improve their mainline, often offering favorable routes alongside of towns rather than the early street running alignments of the original 1846 railroad.