East Broad Top Railroad Modern Era
This gallery contains pictures of the East Broad Top Railroad taken in the modern era after the 2020 takeover by the non-profit EBT Foundation. The Foundation’s goal is the eventual complete restoration of the old narrow gauge coal hauling railroad to serve as a historic turn-of-the-last-century industrial artifact and moreover, a tourist destination for all.
The East Broad Top is unusual in that it is the entire railroad left over from the Victorian era industrial period long ago. After closing as a commercial hauler in 1956, all the track, steam engines, and rolling stock remain, including the extensive shops and heavy machines that allowed the railroad to make most of what it needed to run.
All in all, it’s a big job to reclaim this little narrow gauge railroad back from the sands of time. With a non-profit status, significant grant money has begun to come in to work with in meeting that full restoration goal and some good orderly plans have been put into place by the EBT Foundation caretakers. It’s going to take quite a while, but there’s no lack of interest in making things happen and the willpower to do so.
One major achievement in the restoration so far has been the full rebuilding of locomotive #16, seen in many of the modern gallery pictures below. The work was done in-house over three years by steam engine experts who are part of the full-time staff. The next locomotive to be restored will be #15 and work has already begun. All six of the original on-site locomotives will eventually be running again.
The original passenger cars the railroad had used for years were feeling their age and looked it, so in order to preserve those historical artifacts, four brand new passenger cars for the anticipated tourist trade were procured. Made of steel with a wooden interior, they have a PVC plastic exterior made to look like the wood planking of the original passenger cars. They have toilets and coal stoves too.
The trackwork of the four-and-a-half miles of the original tourist operation has been redone with many new ties and rock ballast. The work was completed by FEBT volunteers alongside the four-man railroad track crew. A narrow gauge ballast regulator and ballast spreader were procured for track maintenance as well.
Restoration of the railroad track three miles southward toward Saltillo has already begun with the right of way cleared of standing timber that had grown up between the rails over time. New ties and ballast are being laid with the old rails respiked to it. The high bridge at Pogue on the way to Saltillo has been inspected and cleared to be refurbished with funds set aside for the project.
In Saltillo itself, the water tank that was destroyed by fire is set to be remade along with the station that is set to be reconstructed too. The turnaround wye at Saltillo will also be rebuilt. Soon, excursion trains of tourists will be riding there and back to the station at Rockhill Furnace.
As mentioned before, the East Broad Top Railroad is a complete railroad from back in the day. That also includes all the records from its inception back in the 1870s. Orbisionia station is actually built over two large concrete fireproof vaults holding all the railroad’s archives including operation papers, blueprints for everything, all titles and deeds, purchase orders, ledgers, maps, expansion proposals, and more. It’s an extensive and very deep archive that fills a surprising 5000 linear feet of shelf space. A professional archivist has been added to the staff and she is assisted by interns from the nearby college as they go through everything.
In the later commercial hauling days of the East Broad Top RR, its main job was to haul coal from the mines at Robertsdale to the Pennsylvania Railroad connection at Mt Union. Eventually, it is hoped the restoration effort will continue through Saltillo and the entire way to Robertsdale. But to do that, two tunnels will need to be restored and feasibility studies have been done to see how to approach that significant project. One tunnel roof has fallen partway and the other is open, but the tunnels will be a daunting project.
However, at Robertsdale, the FEBT has cleared trackage and bought rail bikes to give rides at that end of the railroad. The idea is to clear and rebuild the tracks to the blocked tunnels to allow those new railbikes to go that far.
In a clear example of old meeting new, another significant change for the railroad is through a modern digital presence online with the staff to promote it digitally. On their website, www.eastbroadtop.com, and through social media pages on Facebook, www.facebook.com/ebtrr, the railroad is now truly out there online for the world to see. People can book a ride or guided tours directly through the website and read more about the history of the railroad. Website visitors can also see all the promotional events available there, such as Santa trains, Pumpkin Patch Rides, and other special events.
After all the time the East Broad Top has been dormant over most of its original length, with all the rails still in place since 1956, the little narrow gauge line has been waiting for rebirth. Now with the EBT Foundation effort, that rebirth has finally begun.