The East Broad Top is many things — a delightful family destination, a National Historic Landmark, a great volunteer opportunity, an unparalleled preservation undertaking, and more. Built beginning in 1872, The railroad is the only surviving three-foot gauge common carrier railroad east of the Rocky Mountains. And its shops, parts of which date to the 1880s, are among the best-preserved examples in the U.S. of a late-19th-century/early-20th-century industrial complex — in this case, powered by an overhead belt system driven by a stationary steam engine.
The railroad was completed in 1874 to service the iron furnaces and coal mines along a 33-mile corridor in Huntingdon County PA. The railroad was sold in 1956 to the Kovalchick family who reopened the train in the 1960s. The EBT Foundation, Inc. acquired the railroad in 2020 and immediately began an extensive restoration effort with the goal of returning to regular service in the near future.
Currently, all track work at the East Broad Top is conducted by a passionate and dedicated group of EBT Foundation employees and Friends of the East Broad Top volunteers.
Our immediate goal is to restore approximately nine miles of track south of Rockhill Furnace to the town of Saltillo. Trains last operated over this portion of the railroad in 1956, and a massive amount of work lies ahead to clear brush, repair bridges, and rebuild track. There are too many variables to offer an exact timeline for the completion of this work. However, we hope to be back in Saltillo within several years. We move at the speed of labor and funding!
Because the EBT was never abandoned, all public grade crossings remain in place. EBT Foundation staff have been working closely with local representatives and state officials to create a plan for repair, detours, and operational safety as our restoration effort progresses.
EBTF Leadership have been in close contact with neighbors and adjacent landowners since taking ownership of the railroad in 2020. In general, very little encroachment on the EBT’s active right-of-way has taken place since 1956, thanks to the stewardship of the Kovalchick Family. As the East Broad Top was never abandoned, all right-of-way remains in place. EBTF Leadership has also been meeting with representatives from each municipality that will be impacted on a regular basis to share updates and engage in community planning in preparation for the arrival of the railroad.
Saltillo was home to a small wye that will be returned to service once restoration reaches that point. The Foundation owns the property on which the wye is located.
In 2023, The Friends of the East Broad Top raised funds to complete the engineering work necessary to rebuild the Saltillo Station. In 2024, fundraising is expected to continue to begin rebuilding the structure in its original location in anticipation of trains arriving in the near future! There are no immediate plans for a station building in Three Springs.
Our current excursion trains still traverse the “tourist-era” segment of the EBT mainline between Rockhill Furnace and Colgate Grove. Plans for resuming train service south are contingent on restoration progress. If any trips are made south for the public once the track is considered “in-service,” they’ll be announced on our website and social media!
Returning train service to Robertsdale remains a long-term goal for the EBT Foundation. Our immediate objective is to return train service to Saltillo, which is ambitious but achievable within the next several years. Beyond Saltillo, the railroad begins a steep climb up Broad Top Mountain to the coal region. It traverses two tunnels and several miles of very remote terrain. While preliminary studies have been completed to understand the scope of work necessary to bring trains back to Robertsdale, including evaluating bridges and tunnels, our current strategic plan ends in Saltillo.
The EBT Foundation does not own the upper four miles of the railroad. We are not affiliated with the East Broad Top Railroad Preservation Association. There are no plans for track restoration to extend beyond Shirleysburg.
Industry experts have evaluated the Sidling Hill and Wrays Hill Tunnels to ascertain their current condition and the scope of work necessary to return them to service. While their condition was determined to be better than expected, returning them to service remains a long-term goal dependent on planning and fundraising.
The EBT Foundation has entertained a variety of options in our pursuit to restore as much of the historic East Broad Top Railroad as possible. Any track restoration beyond Saltillo remains in the long-term planning phase.
There are a few ways to get involved with our restoration effort! If you live a great distance away, you can always contribute to the Friends of the East Broad Top’s annual campaign. This helps us purchase ties, on-track-material, and pay for contractors to clear brush! If you live close enough, or are able to make the trip, we encourage you to join the FEBT and participate in a monthly work session! Learn more here.
The EBT Foundation still owns the last narrow-gauge six steam locomotives built for the East Broad Top between 1911 and 1920. These are No. 12, No. 14, No. 15, No. 16, No. 17, and No. 18. The EBT also owns several original gas motors and speeders.
On February 1st of 2023, No. 16 was returned to operation for the first time in 67 years following a two-and-a-half-year-long restoration effort. This was the first steam engine brought back to life by the EBT Foundation and the first steam engine to operate at the EBT in 11 years. No. 16 remains the only active steam engine at the East Broad Top while restoration continues on other locomotives.
Locomotive No. 15 is next in line for restoration, most likely followed by No. 14. We have yet to release any further information beyond those two locomotives.
Our policy is never to release any estimated completion date for a restoration project, especially in our steam program. The amount of variables in restoring vintage equipment makes it impossible to estimate a timeline accurately, and we want to ensure that our staff can focus on completing the job safely and efficiently. Be sure to follow our social media for periodic updates and announcements!
In general the restoration and maintenance of steam locomotives and excursion train rolling stock is completed by EBT Foundation staff, though FEBT volunteers do assist in specialty projects like carpentry and painting.
It is a long-term goal of the EBT Foundation to restore as many of the railroad’s six locomotives as possible. For now, we have the resources and labor to work on one locomotive at a time.