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New nonprofit organization to operate East Broad Top Railroad

Published: May 7, 2009
Rockhill Furnace, Pa. - A new nonprofit organization has signed an agreement to operate the East Broad Top Railroad for three years, and the organization hopes to attract enough grant money during that time to buy the Pennsylvania narrow gauge from its longtime owners, Joe and Judy Kovalchick. The railroad, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964, has had a precarious existence in recent decades, with each operating season rumored to be its last.

The new organization, the East Broad Top Railroad Preservation Association, was put together by Larry Salone, who took over as executive director of the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum in 2007. Salone is a restaurant- and engineering-company owner who says he took his first train ride as a kid on the East Broad Top, which the Kovalchick family has operated as a tourist railroad since 1960. Joe Kovalchick's father, Nick, was a salvage dealer who bought the railroad after its last common-carrier runs, in April 1956.

Salone, who scheduled a press conference at the railroad Friday, said during a visit to the EBT last Saturday that the railroad's current employees would remain on the payroll, and that the schedule for the coming year would remain largely unchanged. But he said he hoped that riders would begin to notice small improvements as soon as the EBT opens, on June 6. The railroad will accept credit cards for the first time, he said, and shuttle buses will run between the East Broad Top and the Altoona museum during the museum's annual railfest weekend, June 27-28.

He said he planned to begin seeking money to reopen about six miles of track from the current end of operations into Mount Union, where the railroad transferred coal and other freight to the Pennsylvania Railroad in a dual-gauge yard. Salone also discussed putting a second EBT steam engine back in service - most likely No. 14, a 1912 Baldwin Mikado that is nearly identical to the only engine currently operating, No. 15. In addition, he talked about converting additional freight cars for passenger service so that the line's 19th-century coaches could be reserved for special occasions.

The East Broad Top began operating in 1873 along a main line roughly 33 miles long, of which about five miles are currently in service. The rest of the railroad is almost entirely intact but is badly overgrown. In addition to six narrow-gauge 2-8-2s in three sizes, the EBT has a unique 1927 Brill gas-electric car in operating condition, a standard-gauge 0-6-0 in Mount Union, and a sprawling machine-shop complex that is being restored by a volunteer organization, the Friends of the East Broad Top. The Rockhill Trolley Museum operates on a portion of the railroad's old Shade Gap branch.
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