Since the Industrial Revolution, the East Broad Top Railroad has proudly witnessed American History as the nation’s oldest narrow-gauge railroad. Named a National Historic Landmark in 1964, the East Broad Top is an immersive historical site with exceptional preservation. After sitting dormant for 70 years, the railroad is returning to life.
The American historical experience has awakened after years of hibernation. The East Broad Top Railroad (EBT), located in Orbisonia and nestled in the rolling hills and farmlands in central Pennsylvania, started its historic train rides and immersive railroad-shop tours in May.
What Is East Broad Top Railroad?
The Smithsonian considers the 150-year-old railroad to be one of the best-preserved examples of 19th-century American narrow-gauge railroads and industrial complexes in the country. It is the only surviving 3-foot gauge, common-carrier railroad east of the Rocky Mountains. The East Broad Top Railroad is a monument to our industrial heritage and early railroading.
The East Broad Top was one of the first railroads in America to try a revolutionary new technology: narrow gauge. Most railroads use a 4-foot gauge, and the narrow gauge is only 3 feet.
Famous for being an authentic antique all-steam engine railroad, when it ended service in 1956, the crews went home, and the buildings and equipment were left sitting like a time capsule. The Kovalchick family purchased the railroad and equipment and saved it from scrapping. It has been watched over, protected, and preserved by railfans, the community, and “friends” to ensure this historical treasure stayed safe for 70 years.
The Non-profit EBT Foundation was formed in 2020 and formulated a plan to restore a majority of the line as well as allocated project funding and resources into the mountain pass communities.
Reasons To Visit East Broad Top Railroad
Historic Scenic Train Rides
Running through the end of the year, the renaissance of the East Broad Top can be experienced on a 1-hour train ride in a vintage caboose, passenger car, or an open-air car. (We rode in a passenger car.) While the rail line is over 30 miles long, trains in 2022 will travel on a 9-mile round-trip ride from the historic roundhouse and shops in Orbisonia to Colgate Grove and back.
The EBT still has six narrow-gauge Baldwin-built steam locomotives that tell the story of bygone railroading. Each is awaiting its turn for restoration, one of which is expected in the near future.
Used to move equipment and occasionally pull passenger trains, the diesel locomotives were not original to the railroad but have become part of its legacy.
Dating as far back as the 1880s, the fleet of passenger cars includes coaches, open-air cars, and cabooses. There is a wheelchair-accessible car available.
Cars used to haul coal, ganister rock, general merchandise, and lumber are a testament to the railroad’s industrial history.
These “speeders” showcase the evolution of track maintenance technology. Railroad track crews used these to reach remote parts of the line for maintenance. They provided dependable transportation in various sizes, styles, and propulsion methods.
Beginning at the original Freight Office for the East Broad Top Railroad, your guide will lead you through the roundhouse, the heart of a steam-powered railroad. The roundhouse is where locomotives were maintained, stored, and prepared for use. Today, the roundhouse is the hub of restoration efforts and houses six steam locomotives.
Next, you will move on to the machine shop complex that kept the railroad rolling. A stationary steam engine powered all the machines in the shop through overhead belts and line shafts. There are only a few remaining intact facilities in the country.
Rockhill Trolley Museum
Adjacent to the East Broad Top is the Rockhill Trolley Museum offering a significant collection of operating streetcars and trolleys from around the U.S. and the world.
How To Experience
There are three unique Vintage Experiences to enjoy at the East Broad Top. Partnering with the Rockhill Trolley Museum, they offer historic train excursions, vintage trolley rides, and immersive shop tours. I’ve done all three tours and found each enjoyable and informative.
Historic Train Excursions
The train takes passengers on a scenic round-trip ride through central Pennsylvania’s rolling hills, forests, and farms. The ride lasts approximately 45 minutes to an hour and travels 9 miles.
Immersive Shop Tour Experience
Learn more about the railroad’s historic machine shop complex. Take a tour of the facilities and machinery that kept the East Broad Top rolling back in its heyday. Your guide will provide an overview of the railroad’s history and how it survived for us to enjoy today. This is a rare preservation marvel you won’t want to miss. The guided tour lasts approximately an hour and is suggested for those ages 8 and above.
Vintage Trolley Rides
Operated by the Rockhill Trolley Museum, the Vintage Trolley Rides run throughout the day and last 45 minutes traveling 3 miles.
The EBT hosts various events in conjunction with the Rockhill Trolley Museum. Some of the events include:
- Train & Trolley PumpkinFest
- Christmas in Coal Country
- Easter on the Rails
- The Winter Spectacular
So, if you want to discover a true treasure, a historical experience in a landscape less touched by the hectic world, take a short train ride that is known for its history and discovery on the East Broad Top Railroad, offering visitors the opportunity to experience America’s industrial past. Reservations are suggested.
Pro Tip: Wear closed-toe shoes if taking the shop tour. It isn’t a requirement but in your best interest.
Check out these articles on other things to do in the Central Pennsylvania Area: