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Passenger Trains > Nonprofit acquires East Broad Top Railroad

Date: 02/14/20 09:35
Nonprofit acquires East Broad Top Railroad
Author: GenePoon

East Broad Top Railroad
P.O. Box 158
Rockhill Furnace, Pa. 17249
814-447-3285 | ​ info@eastbroadtop.com

News Release

Embargoed / Do Not Release before February 14, 2020 at 11 a.m. Eastern

Nonprofit Buys East Broad Top Railroad, Plans to Renovate and Reopen

Pennsylvania’s storied East Broad Top Railroad has a new owner, a
nonprofit foundation organized by a small group of prominent
rail-industry figures and longtime EBT fans. The new organization will
offer several EBT events in 2020 — the 60th anniversary of the start of
tourist service on the railroad — and hopes to resume regular operation
in 2021.

The organization, called the EBT Foundation Inc., will own approximately
27 miles of the line, from the south end of the concrete-arch bridge
over the Aughwick River below Mount Union to the road crossing in Wood
Township. The foundation will also own the narrow-gauge railroad’s
shops, rolling stock, and equipment. The East Broad Top is a National
Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic

“This is the best possible outcome for the railroad, which has been in
my family for two generations,” says Joseph Kovalchick, whose father,
Nick Kovalchick, purchased the East Broad Top Railroad & Coal Company
after its coal mines closed in 1956. “It is with a combination of pride
and relief that we pass the torch in its second reincarnation.” The
Kovalchicks will continue to own coal-company property that had been
jointly owned with the ra ilroad.

“When my father bought the company, it was never his intention to scrap
the railroad. At the time he was the only one to stand for the EBT, and
his role in the history books is assured. My generation has struggled to
balance the need to preserve this national treasure with running it as a
business, and I take pride in our role in its survival. But it is clear
that a for-profit business model is not sustainable. Our faith in the
new model is reflected in both the sale and the Kovalchick family’s
ongoing role on the board of the new non-profit.”

Financial details of the purchase will remain confidential.

Brad Esposito, a 20-year veteran of the Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad, a
Genesee & Wyoming, Inc.company,​ ​ led the effort to purchase the EBT,
along with longtime EBT enthusiasts David Brightbill, Lawrence
Biemiller, and Stephen Lane.

Backers of the new organization include three rail-industry and
rail-preservation heavyweights: Wick Moorman, former chairman and CEO of
Norfolk Southern and former CEO of Amtrak; Henry Posner III, a former
Conrail manager who is chairman of the Iowa Interstate Railroad and the
Railroad Development Corporation, of Pittsburgh; and Bennett Levin, a
retired mechanical and electrical engineer who owns the Juniata Terminal
Company, which operates two Pennsylvania Railroad E8 diesel locomotives
and three private cars.

Esposito will become the general manager of the railroad. He says the
EBT Foundation has a three-part mission. It’s committed, first, to
preserving and operating the East Broad Top as a steam railroad; second,
to educating visitors about the role of railroads in local and national
history; and, third, to promoting local and regional tourism and
economic growth.

Esposito says the new organization will immediately begin work on
several fronts. The EBT has been closed since late 2011, and before
operations can resume, the railroad will need to overhaul track and
equipment, including locomotives and passenger cars. A fire-suppression
system will be installed in the historic machine shops and roundhouse,
and several structural stabilization projects will be undertaken in the
railroad’s Rockhill Furnace complex.

“The East Broad Top is a unique national treasure unmatched anywhere in
the United States,” says Esposito. “It has been impressively preserved
for over 60 years by the Kovalchick family. We are excited to pick up
the torch and ensure that the railroad is preserved for future

“Our close partners will be the volunteers of the Friends of the East
Broad Top,” he says. “They have contributed countless hours of work and
significant amounts of money to help preserve the historic fabric of the
EBT since 1983.”

“Also, we look forward to working with the Rockhill Trolley Museum,”
says Esposito. The all-volunteer trolley museum dates to 1960 and
operates over the former Shade Gap Branch of the EBT. “This will be an
exciting opportunity to promote and further develop tourism in the area.”

“The East Broad Top is a remarkable survivor from the age of steam
railroading,” says Moorman. “I’m delighted to have the chance to be a
part of its revival, both for the preservation of such an important part
of our industrial heritage, and for the economic benefits that it will
provide to an area of Pennsylvania that is so closely linked to the
railroad industry.”

Levin notes that the EBT runs through a bucolic landscape almost
unchanged since the early 1900s. “The railroad’s historic fabric is an
important component of the region’s industrial archaeology, and the
educational possibilities here are almost limitless.”

The new organization’s advisors include Linn Moedinger, former president
of the Strasburg Rail Road — one of the most successful tourist
railroads in the U.S. — and Rod Case, a partner at the consulting firm
Oliver Wyman who leads their railway practice. Among the organizations
providing support is the Allegheny Ridge Corporation, which manages the
region’s state-designated Heritage Area. The corporation “is thrilled to
participate in the rebirth of this great asset,” says Astride McLanahan,
a longtime board member of the organization. “The EBT is a jewel in the
Allegheny Ridge Heritage Area and its revitalization will bring economic
opportunity to this rural community.”

Built from 1872 to 1874 to haul coal to a new iron furnace in the center
of the state, the 33-mile-long East Broad Top survived the collapse of
the local iron industry at the turn of the 20th century because the
top-quality coal it carried had found other markets, thanks in part to
close cooperation with the Pennsylvania Railroad. When the last of the
coal mines closed in 1956, the East Broad Top was purchased by the
Kovalchick Salvage Company of Indiana, Pa. Despite being in the scrap
business, the company left the railroad intact and in 1960 reopened a
portion of the line for steam-powered tourist trains that proved widely

With rails just three feet apart — 4’ 8 1⁄2” is the industry standard —
the EBT is the only original narrow-gauge railroad surviving east of the
Rocky Mountains, and it is well known as one of the world’s finest
preserved railways. The railroad’s shops complex, which dates to the
1880s and was greatly expanded from 1905 to 1907, is among the most
complete early-20th-century industrial facilities anywhere in the U.S.

Still in the railroad’s roundhouse in Rockhill Furnace are six
narrow-gauge steam locomotives built for the EBT by Philadelphia’s
Baldwin Locomotive Works between 1911 and 1920. They share the building
with the unique M-1 gas-electric, constructed at the railroad in 1927
with plans and parts from Philadelphia’s J.G. Brill Company, a leading
streetcar manufacturer, and Westinghouse Electric. Other EBT equipment
includes several passenger cars believed to date to the 1890s and
numerous steel freight cars built in the EBT shops. The East Broad Top
was the only American narrow gauge to convert to an all-steel freight
car fleet.

Remarkably, track remains in place over nearly the entire 33-mile main
line, which connected the coal mines in Robertsdale to the Pennsylvania
Railroad’s Great Broad Way in Mount Union.​ ​ The former PRR main line
is now Norfolk Southern’s core east-west route between Harrisburg and

“The East Broad Top Railroad is a unique historic asset that is a
national treasure representing our area’s rich railroad heritage,” says
Sen. Judy Ward, who represents southern Huntingdon County in the
Pennsylvania Senate. “The sale of this railroad to this group of
longtime EBT enthusiasts who are committed to preserving and operating
it as a steam railroad is very exciting news for the region because it
preserves this irreplaceable treasure for future generations while
opening up significant tourism and economic development opportunities.”

Says Posner: “August 13, 2020, will be the 60th anniversary of the East
Broad Top’s first reopening, which took place during the bicentennial of
the founding of what became the ‘twin boroughs’ of Orbisonia and
Rockhill Furnace. This was an era of revised expectations in the face of
the decline of the railroad industry nationwide. At that time Nick
Kovalchick could not have imagined the possibility of reopening the
entire line, but fortunately our industry’s renaissance has helped
create an environment in which this important and audacious project can
succeed. We are honored to follow in the footsteps of two generations of
the family that hasmade this all possible.”

“This will be a monumental undertaking,” says Esposito, “and I encourage
anyone interested in helping us to join the Friends of the East Broad
Top and come work on buildings, track and equipment.”

The railroad’s new website can be found at eastbroadtop.com.

Date: 02/14/20 10:22
Re: Nonprofit acquires East Broad Top Railroad
Author: mp208

Maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel,,,,,,,,,,,hopefully it will be an oncoming train.
Photos of EBT today

Date: 02/14/20 11:41
Re: Nonprofit acquires East Broad Top Railroad
Author: Kemacprr

Will be great to hear the sound of chain saws and chippers along the row eventually !!  Great to hear something has finally happened to this RR jewel of the east. --- Ken 

Date: 02/14/20 11:45
Re: Nonprofit acquires East Broad Top Railroad
Author: ts1457

Kemacprr Wrote:
> Will be great to hear the sound of chain saws and
> chippers along the row eventually !!  Great to
> hear something has finally happened to this RR
> jewel of the east. --- Ken 

Let's rake some leaves and see what those ties look like. 100% replacement?

I wonder how quickly the track operated will be expanded?

Date: 02/14/20 12:38
Re: Nonprofit acquires East Broad Top Railroad
Author: livesteamer

Bucket list for summer 2021!

Posted from Android

Marty Harrison
Knob Noster, MO

Date: 02/14/20 13:20
Re: Nonprofit acquires East Broad Top Railroad
Author: jcaestecker

Congratulations and gratitude to all involved.  You're doing a fine and noble thing.


Date: 02/14/20 13:43
Re: Nonprofit acquires East Broad Top Railroad
Author: Abqfoamer

So great to see the renaissance of EBT! Was depressing to see it slowly crumbling.
Go for it, serious railroaders!

Date: 02/15/20 08:48
Re: Nonprofit acquires East Broad Top Railroad
Author: MoPac1

Very exciting. Backers appear ideal for long-run success of project.

Charlie Rice

Charles Rice
Saint Louis, MO

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