East Broad Top Railroad Sold to Foundation

Looking toward the shops in Rockhill Furnace, Pennsylvania, in August 1962. You can see freight and passenger cars, EBT M-1 gas-electric car, two steamers (I believe 12 and 14), and Johnstown Traction 311. (Photograph courtesy of Robert Farkas collection)

The East Broad Top Railroad has been sold to a non-profit group whose backers include Charles “Wick” Moorman, Bennett Levin and Henry Posner III.

The sale was announced on Friday by the EBT Foundation, which will own 27 miles of the EBT 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 said it also acquired the narrow-gauge railroad’s shops, rolling stock, and equipment from the Kovalchick family.

In a news release, the parties noted that the EBT is a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Although events will be held this year, regular operations are not expected to get underway until 2021.

“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 EBT after its coal mines closed in 1956.

The Kovalchick family will continue to own coal-company property that had been jointly owned with the railroad.

Kovalchick said in a statement that his father never intended to scrap the railroad after buying it.

“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,” he said.

Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

Brad Esposito, a 20-year veteran of the Buffalo & Pittsburgh led the effort to purchase the EBT.

He was joined by EBT enthusiasts David Brightbill, Lawrence Biemiller, and Stephen Lane.

Esposito will become the general manager of the railroad.

He said the EBT Foundation is committed to preserving and operating the EBT as a steam railroad that will provide education about the role of railroads in local and national history as well as help to promote local and regional tourism and economic growth.

The EBT closed in 2011 and work needs to be done to rehabilitate its tracks, locomotives and passenger cars.

This work will also include installation of a fire-suppression system in the shops and roundhouse, and stabilization of structures in the Rockhill Furnace complex.

The foundation plans to work with the volunteer group Friends of the East Broad Top, which has sought to preserve the property since 1983.

It will also work with the Rockhill Trolley Museum, a volunteer organization that since 1960 has operated over the former EBT’s Shade Gap Branch.

Also involved in advising the foundation are Linn Moedinger, former president of the Strasburg Rail Road, and Rod Case, a partner at the consulting firm Oliver Wyman who leads its railway practice.

The Allegheny Ridge Corporation, which manages the region’s state-designated Heritage Area, was also listed in a news release as a supporter of the foundation.

The EBT was built between 1872 to 1874 to haul coal to a new iron furnace in the center of the state. At one time it also interchanged coal with the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The 33-mile EBT survived the collapse of the local iron industry at the turn of the 20th century and was purchased in 1956 by the Kovalchick Salvage Company of Indiana, Pennsylvania.

The railroad has a gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches and is the the only original narrow-gauge railroad surviving east of the Rocky Mountains.

Its shops complex dates to the 1880s and was expanded between 1905 and 1907.

Housed in the roundhouse in Rockhill Furnace are six narrow-gauge steam locomotives built for the EBT by Philadelphia’s Baldwin Locomotive Works between 1911 and 1920.

The roundhouse also contains an M-1 gas-electric car built in 1927 with plans and parts from Philadelphia’s J.G. Brill Companyand Westinghouse Electric.

The EBT passenger car fleet is believed to date to the 1890s.

Track remains in place over nearly the entire 33-mile main line between Robertsdale and the former PRR connection in Mount Union.

Norfolk Southern now operates the former PRR mainline between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.

The railroad’s new website is eastbroadtop.com

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