News & Reviews News Wire After 18 years, rail group resumes RDC runs in Bellefonte, Pa.

After 18 years, rail group resumes RDC runs in Bellefonte, Pa.

By Dan Cupper | October 17, 2023

With mechanical issues fixed, car 9167 will debut on Oct. 28-29

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RDC with puffs of white smoke in countryside.
Bellefonte Historical Railroad Society’s RDC-1 No. 9167 rolls through some shakedown runs at Howard, Pa., on the Nittany & Bald Eagle Railroad main line, the former Pennsylvania Railroad Bald Eagle Branch. The society will resume RDC public excursions on Oct. 28 after an absence of 18 years. Tracey Lee Besemer

BELLEFONTE, Pa. – After an absence of 18 years, the Bellefonte Historical Railroad Society will resume Rail Diesel Car public excursions over a branch of the Nittany & Bald Eagle Railroad on Oct. 28-29.

This was made possible by the return from Rail Mechanical Services of Columbia, Pa., of the group’s repaired RDC-1 car No. 9167. It also follows agreements reached with NBER and the Susquehanna Economic Development Authority-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG) Joint Rail Authority, which owns the former Pennsylvania Railroad track on which NBER operates.

Events will kick off with a VIP run aboard No. 9167 on Oct. 27, followed by seven half-hour trips on Oct. 28 and four 90-minute trips on Oct. 29, according to Cody Martin,  the railroad society’s recording secretary. He’s also a qualified engineer and conductor for NBER — one of the North Shore family of short lines –—who expects to run the car during the reopening weekend.

Since 2005, “mechanical, regulatory and operational issues forced BHRS to suspend [regularly scheduled] service” with the RDCs, according to the group’s website. In the interim, the group relied on periodic speeder runs and, from 2009 to 2019, seasonal runs with leased coaches from car owner Jeff Pontius of Sunbury, Pa., and NBER power.

Some trips, both with RDC and leased equipment, ran for extended mileage to Tyrone and Lock Haven, Pa. Early on, a few even ran in conjunction with the Railroaders Memorial Museum’s PRR K4s-class 4-6-2 steam engine, based in Altoona, Pa.

The society ran no trains or speeders in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID pandemic, but operated speeder trips last Christmas and for several special events this year.

The schedules

The public trips on Oct. 28, Martin said, will alternate between running from the former PRR station in Bellefonte to Milesburg, the junction with the former PRR Bald Eagle Valley Branch (10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., and 4 p.m.), and to Axemann, on the former PRR Bellefonte Branch (11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m.). Fare is $10 and all sales are walk-up.

The longer Oct. 29 public trips will run from Bellefonte to Dale Summit near Rockview, also on the former PRR Bellefonte Branch, at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. Fare is $20 and Martin said the group will offer walk-up sales, but also advised prospective passengers to watch the society’s Facebook page for possible pre-sale information. On both days, children ages 2 and under ride free.

The group is still working out details for November and December, he said, and again referred patrons to the Facebook page. “We don’t have any firm plans for next year but perhaps dinner trains, pumpkin-patch trains, themed trains,” he said.

Society owns two RDCs

No. 9167 is one of two RDC-1s owned by the 75-member BHRS. It was built by the Budd Co. in 1953 for the New Haven Railroad, and also ran for Penn Central, Chessie System, and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority before coming to Bellefonte, where it ran from 1985 to 2005.

Front-on view from above of RDC
The RDC will operate a series of short excursions on Oct. 28 and longer trips on Oct. 29. Tracey Lee Besemer

It was shipped to Rail Mechanical Services,  situated on the Columbia & Reading Railway, for mechanical work, beginning in 2014. That process was well along when vandals entered the car and released its handbrake.

“It rolled away, hit other cars, and damaged one of the vestibule ends,” Martin said. That delayed the return, but, he said, RMS “did a really good job” on repairing the collision damage. It left Columbia a few weeks ago, traveling on Norfolk Southern via Lancaster, Enola, and Tyrone.

Mechanical work to get the car back in service, he said, was funded with a state grant of $295,000 toward an overall project cost of $350,000. BHRS paid its share from funds raised in earlier years.

The other car, No. 9153, was built in 1962 for the Reading Co. It subsequently ran for SEPTA and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority before BHRS bought it in 1991. It ran until 2005 and remains out of service.

A family connection

For Martin, 25, who qualified on the 9167’s recent shakedown runs, this is a homecoming of sorts. He recalls riding an RDC Christmas trip here with his great-grandparents, grandparents and parents when he was 5 or 6 years old, never imagining that someday he’d have the chance to operate one. He’s been an NBER employee for seven years and a member of the group since 2013. With no regular train operations during his adult life, Martin helped the society with grants, inspections, and press contacts.

He commented on the society’s perseverance despite losing its ability to conduct regular train operations for nearly two decades.

“The group stuck together because they realized there’s a need to have some sort of train ride in Bellefonte,” he said. “Everyone involved is determined to see it through to completion, the group is committed to seeing it happen.

“With COVID, there were some tourist railroads that didn’t even open back up. We’re blessed with the opportunity to come back, and think we’re going to do well.

“The RDC isn’t necessarily the end goal,” he said. “The society owns a mile of track in Lemont, and we actively use that for speeder rides at a strawberry festival in June.” BHRS, he said, would like to build an indoor storage facility, but that is years away.

Wearing two hats, with the railroad and the society, can require boundaries and understandings. Martin said he’s grateful that his employer allows him to work with the preservation group. Speaking for the society, he said, the Nittany & Bald Eagle/North Shore staff — Jeb Stotter, Todd Hunter, Shane Smith, and Josh Miller — is “always great to deal with; [they’ve] always been supportive of everything we try to do.”

4 thoughts on “After 18 years, rail group resumes RDC runs in Bellefonte, Pa.

  1. RDC 9153 was part of a 12-car order bought by the City of Philadelphia for service on Reading Lines as RDG 9151-9162.

    1. Even though it’s 61 years old, dear RDC 9153 still looks like a healthy runner.

      Dr. Güntürk Üstün

    2. Actually that’s 9167 in the photos. It’s even older, built in 1953 for the New Haven. It was bought by PENNDot to work a Valley Forge-Philadelphia shuttle for the US Bicentennial in 1976. After that it went to SEPTA, then RRMPA which already had RDC-1 LV 40/RDG/SEPTA 9163. From there it went to Bellefonte.

      It’s a solid 70 years old. Kudos to the mechanics that got it running again.

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