News & Reviews News Wire East Broad Top starts rebuilding track south of Rockhill Furnace

East Broad Top starts rebuilding track south of Rockhill Furnace

By Dan Cupper | March 14, 2024

Dormant since 1956, segment is first step in reopening rugged main line

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Men working to rebuild railroad track
Work has begun to rebuild East Broad Top’s long-dormant main line between Rockhill Furnace and Pogue, Pa. Dan Cupper

ROCKHILL FURNACE, Pa. — A track crew began restoring East Broad Top Railroad’s main line south of here this week, a first step toward reopening the narrow-gauge steam tourist line’s 20-mile route to Robertsdale, Pa., a former mountain mining center that produced the semi-bituminous coal that was EBT’s revenue-freight lifeblood for more than 80 years.

About three dozen people gathered for informal remarks at the State Route 475 rural grade crossing about a mile south of EBT’s headquarters, yard, and shop complex. They represented a combination of EBT Foundation, Inc., employees and volunteer track-crew members of the Friends of the East Broad Top Railroad, a nonprofit auxiliary group that counts 2,100 members.

“This is a big deal,” said Brad Esposito, EBT general manager. “It’s a big deal for East Broad Top, a big deal for the Friends, and a big deal for the community. This is not happening anywhere else in the U.S., bringing a monster back to life.”

This is the first segment to be restored that has not seen trains of any kind since 1956. The railroad had previously restored the mile of track from the shops to the crossing, but only for speeders and light work trains.

Esposito announced that the Friends group has already reached its 2024 fund-raising goal of $220,000, of which $40,000 is earmarked to purchase track supplies, and that the Friends will direct any further amount collected toward additional trackwork. In addition, EBT has won state funding to aid the extension.

Piece of heavy equipment on weed-covered right-of-way
Looking south from the Route 475 grade crossing near Rockhill Furnace, Pa., in May 2023. Dan Cupper

In a prepared statement, FEBT President Andy Van Scyoc said, “The partnership between the EBTF and the FEBT continues to strengthen and bear more fruit each year. Our members are unified in ensuring continued progress on rebuilding the EBT mainline.”

The 33-mile railroad, a National Historic Landmark, carried coal, ore, and timber until shutting down in 1956. The Kovalchick family bought it and revived a 4½-mile segment for steam tourist service from 1960 to 2011, and a non-profit, the Foundation, bought most of the property in 2020 for restoration and historical and educational purposes.

An EBT boom truck lifts a crosstie from the truck bed to the roadbed south of the Route 475 grade crossing on March 12, 2024. Dan Cupper

The foundation’s first task was to reopen the tourist portion of the route north of Rockhill Furnace, which it accomplished in 2021. It achieved another milestone by restoring one of its six Baldwin 2-8-2 Mikado steam locomotives in February 2023. The engine made history in October by running to the then south end of operable track at the Odd Fellows Cemetery crossing, the first use of steam power that far on the main line since 1956 [See “EBT No. 16 rolls onto newly reopened track,” Trains News Wire, Oct. 10, 2023].

All track work is carried out by a combination of two full-time foundation staff members and by volunteers from the Friends, who show up in varying numbers two or three days each week. The Friends group is led by Gene Tucker [see “‘Friar Tuck’ and the East Broad Top,” News Wire, Oct. 13, 2022], a retired Episcopalian minister with experience in track building that he gained working for a nearby railroad while in the military.

Two guys posed on railroad track
Galen Covert, left, and Henry G. Long, Jr., EBT Foundation ‘s full-time track crew, pose with newly restored track near Rockhill Furnace, Pa., on March 12, 2024. Dan Cupper

For EBT Foundation employee Henry G. Long Jr., one of the two full-time track-crew members, the extension represents the fulfillment of hopes for him and thousands of other EBT admirers. “It feels good to see something that was hoped for, for so many years,” he said. “Now it’s happening. It if it hadn’t been for employees [and Friends] of the last 40 to 50 years, this place wouldn’t be here.”

Long worked in heavy equipment for Metro East Industries, Rail Mechanical Services, and Pennsy Supply before coming on board with the Foundation in 2021. But he’s been around EBT and the adjacent Rockhill Trolley Museum since the mid-1990s. When he told the late EBT general manager Stanley Hall that he wanted to learn railroading skills, Hall directed him to the trolley museum to start picking up the basics.

From there, he learned how to fire an EBT steam engine and served as a brakeman on the passenger train from 2000 to the closing of the first tourist-railroad era in 2011. He’s been the museum’s track supervisor since 2005, and just before hiring on with EBT, he oversaw construction of a 3-foot-gauge park railroad in Dayton, Ohio.

The roadbed has been cleared of brush for about 2 miles to a point south of the village of Pogue, location of a 268-foot-long steel bridge over the Aughwick Creek. Of that distance, Long said, “6,000 to 7,000 feet are graded and ready for track.” Depending on weather and the number of volunteers who show up at each work session, he said, a crew can lay 200 to 300 feet of track per day.

Map of East Broad Top Railroad
The status of and plans for track restoration on the East Broad Top. EBT Foundation

Beyond Pogue, EBT plans to continue working 3 miles to Three Springs and another 2 miles to Saltillo. The Friends are raising funds to rebuild the Saltillo station and nearby water tank, both razed.

Former logger Galen Covert, the other EBT track employee, grew up nearby and was hired last summer. With no railroad background, he says, “It’s been a learning experience.”

Jonathan Smith, EBT’s director of sales and marketing, said, “One day in a few years, people are going to be riding over this [section] and not even give it a thought. But today is a really important milestone that nobody thought would happen. This is important. This is unique.”

2 thoughts on “East Broad Top starts rebuilding track south of Rockhill Furnace

  1. Fellow enthusiasts, we can make this happen, and make it happen more quickly, by donating to the Friends of the East Broad Top. Any amount, small, medium or large, can work wonders. I have said before, if each Trains subscriber gave $5.00, the track would be flying in.

    Just my two cents.

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