2012-05-24 / Local & State

East Broad Top Trains Won’t Run In 2012

Rockhill Trolley Museum stays open; historic streetcars still operating
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz
STAFF WRITER

To the dismay of train enthusiasts and local residents, officials at the East Broad Top Railroad and Coal Co. announced Friday morning they will be ceasing operation of their steam-powered trains for the 2012 season.

In a letter posted online to fans and friends through the EBTR Web site, the company stated a three-year lease penned with the East Broad Top Preservation Association to operate the railroad ended retroactive to April 1. The lease contained an option for the Preservation Association to purchase the operation from the Kovalchick family, who hails from Indiana, Pa.

According to reports, Nick Kovalchick purchased the historical railroad operation in 1956 and within four years had reopened the five-mile stretch of rails. Throughout the years Nick Kovalchick and later his son, Joe, have kept the popular tourist destination functioning.

Recently, with the help of volunteers from the Friends of the East Broad Top, the blacksmith shop has seen some major renovations. Joe Kovalchick reportedly paid for half of the endeavor, while the Friends were responsible for covering the remaining portion of expenses.

Friends Vice President Lawrence Biemiller told the “News” Joe Kovalchick and the nonprofit Preservation Association headed by Larry Salone came to a lease agreement three years ago. Biemiller said Salone remained hopeful even in these hard economic times that money could be generated to finalize the purchase with governmental grants and assistance from legislators.

“After painstaking talks and options were evaluated and discussed, no arrangement could be made between the East Broad Top Railroad and Coal Co. and the East Broad Top Preservation Association,” the letter from the company stated. “At this time there are no certainties beyond 2012. We can’t say this is the end of the line, nor can we say this is just temporary ... .”

“The decision to close this season was a difficult one ... If it was not for the kind support of our visitors over the past 51 years, we would have never made it this far,” the company added.

Biemiller said the Friends of the East Broad Top certainly have a “strong interest” in keeping the operation alive, but do not have any control in the issue. The Friends vice president said they are continuing to maintain a “positive attitude” and even moved forward with conducting their annual spring work week. Over the weekend the group of Friends volunteers tarred the roof of the boiler shop and replaced the lower wall on the south, east and north sides of the blacksmith shop.

Biemiller noted that individuals involved are likely looking at whatever options are available to keep the railroad alive, and quoted that famous line, “It’s not over until the fat lady sings!”

The news of the closure came as a surprise to many individuals who actively follow the railroad’s goings on at Rockhill, located in southern Huntingdon County. The East Broad Top Railroad has continued to make headlines in recent years from the special appearance of Thomas the Tank Engine and the popular Polar Express in 2012, which drew in riders that rivaled attendance numbers for the first time since the 1970s.

The EBTR also made news in February 2011 when it was announced it would receive a $2 million grant to acquire land as well as a right-of-way, rehabilitate existing track, construct a new track and build a shipping facility as the initial phase of a project.

Even though steam-powered excursions will not be available in 2012, operations manager Daniel Gilliland posted on the East Broad Top Railroad’s Facebook page Friday the railroad will continue to offer tours of the shops and roundhouse for groups numbering 20 or more. Arrangements must be made through the station.

“This does not mean that the railroad will not open back up next year; we will be looking at all the possibilities to try and reopen in 2013,” said Gilliland in his post.

However, the on-site Rockhill Trolley Museum, which is separate from the railroad, is slated to continue with its normal operations, which typically features special ice cream events and even a fall visit to the pumpkin patch compliments of a historic streetcar. This weekend included a pre-season Member’s Day filled with streetcar runs and training sessions.

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