Long after most narrow gauge railroads east of the Mississippi River had been abandoned in favor of highways, Pennsylvania’s East Broad Top Railroad soldiered on into the 1950s. The 36-inch gauge railroad was one of dozens of its type that once crisscrossed the nation, popular because their smaller size made them cheaper to build or because they could travel through more challenging topography.
After the last train ran in the 1950s, everything was sold to a scrapper, but then a funny thing happened. The scrapper didn’t scrap the railroad. Instead, he kept it, and a few years later started offering rides to locals and tourists. The East Broad Top would keep running for more than 50 years before maintenance costs caught up with the owners and they put the tiny trains in storage.
In 2020, the entire railroad—all of the track, buildings, and locomotives—was sold to a non-profit organization that is presently reopening the railroad and offering rides during the summer and fall. In 2022, the railroad is getting ready to finish restoring a steam locomotive that will soon lead excursions through the Pennsylvania countryside, as well as stabilizing many historic buildings on the property at its yard in Rockhill Furnace.
The yard and other facilities are perhaps the most amazing part of the East Broad Top: While there are many historic railroads around the country, few are as intact as this one with many of the original buildings still standing. “Nowhere in North America does such a complete and original industrial historic site exist,” officials with the National Park Service wrote about the site during a review in the 1990s. The non-profit, called the EBT Foundation, is also rebuilding track that hasn’t seen trains since the 1950s, meaning an even longer train ride will soon be offered.
Know Before You Go
The East Board Top is open Wednesday through Sunday in the summer and fall and offers train rides aboard vintage passenger cars and cabooses. It also offers tours of its rail yard and shop complex where visitors can watch workers restore the old trains.