ROCKHILL FURNACE - The East Broad Top Railroad will not be operating the usual excursions on the steam powered trains for the 2012 season.
On April 1, the East Broad Top Preservation
Association's three-year lease to operate the East Broad Top Railroad with an option to buy, ended.
Submitted photo by ROBERT?CLIPPENGER
The East Broad Top Railroad near Rockhill Furnace will be closed this summer.
After many options were evaluated and discussed, no arrangement could be made between the East Broad Top Railroad and Coal Company and the East Broad Top Preservation Association. At this time, there are no certainties beyond 2012. Owner, Joe Kovalchick, and President of the East Broad Top Preservation Association, Larry Salone, could not be reached for comments.
The president of Friends of the East Broad Top, Lee Rainey, commented, "It appears to me that after a lot of effort from all of the folks involved, we have not been able to find a business model that allows the railroad to operate in a financially successful way this summer. Right now, we can't insure the railroad's long-term future and need to focus on a more permanent solution."
Rainey also noted how fortunate Friends of the East Broad Top have been to have the trust and cooperation of both the owners and the preservation association over the past 10 years. They were able to complete a whole series of projects ranging from track improvements, to buildings, to the cars themselves.
"Even with the railroad closing we've been asked personally to continue our work this year, which is a very strong indication of the desire of everyone to get the railroad running again," said Rainey.
Recently they undertook a project requiring major repairs to the blacksmith shop which has been leaning for about 70 years. The shop now stands straight and is structurally sound, having previously been leaning more than 30 inches down on the east side. Everyone is working to ensure the longevity of the railroad and all of the historical buildings associated with it.
Operations manager, Daniel Gilliland reflects, "I was born and raised in Rockhill and began working for the railroad when I was 16. That was 37 years ago. My great-grandfather worked at the railroad and now that my son does as well, we have had five generations of our family involved with the EBT."
Gilliland added, "Most people don't realize everything that goes into running the railroad. It's not just a matter of doing the tours all summer. There are miles off track that must be maintained as well as all of the outbuildings, the shop, and the station itself. For over 50 years the Kovalchick family has put so much into the train and have never made anything out of it."
The 33 mile long East Broad Top is America's oldest operating narrow gauge steam railroad having been chartered in 1856. The railroad, once used for hauling Broad Top Mountain coal from the mines of Robertsdale to Mount Union, closed in 1956 and was reopened in 1960 when the Kovalchick family purchased it. The Kovalchicks transformed the train into a tourist attraction, running the steam-powered passenger trains for visitors. In 1964 it was designated a National Historic Landmark.
The EBT attracted visitors from across the state and was a memorable experience for those of all ages. Events such as A Day with Thomas was always a hit with children. They also ran a Polar Express train between Thanksgiving and Christmas in which families could ride through the country covered in snow and get a chance to see Santa Claus. Fall trains offered spectacular views of the changing leaves.
Even though the trains will remain stationary for the time being, tours of the shops and the round house will still be available throughout the summer. You must call in advance to schedule a tour and can reach the station at 814-447-3011.