EBT Herald Full Steam Ahead Restoration Proposal Summary

study cover The study, summarized here, was compiled by the EBT Trust, a coalition of groups participating in the preservation effort in September 1995. It elaborates on Alternative 5 as proposed in the NPS "Study of Alternatives" and gives a framework for the preservation effort. This plan will likely be amended and revised as the effort proceeds, but it represents a starting plan.

Individuals may purchase a personal copy of the Development Plan for the East Broad Top Railroad for $12.00 plus $3.00 additional for shipping. Income in excess of printing costs will be directed toward the EBT restoration effort. Make checks payable to the East Broad Top Railroad Development Fund. Send orders to:

Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Preservation Commission
105 Zee Plaza P.O. Box 565
Hollidaysburg, PA 16648-0565

Reprinted from the FEBT Timber Transfer with permission

HOLLIDAYSBURG, PA. The final draft version of the consultant study of the East Broad Top Railroad was released through the Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Preservation Commission in October, 1995. The final draft will serve as an interim edition, pending the release of the final report before the end of the year. The report is essentially a feasibility study to demonstrate that preservation and restoration of the EBT will be a positive asset for the region, both as an historic attraction and as an engine of economic development. Issuing the report is a crucial milestone on the way to release of the $30 million authorized for the EBT by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

A Non-Profit Trust

The key recommendation in the report is to create a non-profit EBT Trust to accept ownership of the railroad. A group of trustees would be appointed by appropriate agencies and officials. These trustees would probably include county government and business representatives, representatives from the Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Preservation Commission, Pennsylvania Heritage Parks Program, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and support groups such as the Friends of the EBT.

The Trustees would have the ultimate authority for deciding what will get done and when, depending on the resources available. An executive committee, served by a full time staff, would be entrusted with the day-to-day operations. This would include general site management and museum functions. Support would also come from a Tourism Authority (to be established by Huntingdon County), the Allegheny Ridge Corporation, and volunteer groups such as the Friends of the EBT and Railways to Yesterday. The county Tourism Authority would be the conduit through which capital funding from the state would be funneled to the EBT Trust.

Phased Approach to Full Restoration

The restoration program for the East Broad Top is proposed to be in two major segments. Beginning in Orbisonia, first to be restored would be the North to Mount Union, followed by the line south into the mountains to Robertsdale.

The first segment of the EBT main line, to be restored from Orbisonia to Mount Union, is designated "the Valley Line". A major new visitors center would be established in the existing EBT yard in Mount Union. This would include an interpretive center, depot, and maintenance facilities. Also included in this program would be stabilization and restoration of the Rockhill shop complex which forms the core of the historic EBT.

The report recommends that the Valley Line operation be leased to a private operator. The trust would provide the capital funds for the restoration work. The operator would do the work, and operate the tourist service on a daily basis during the operating season. The Trust would receive a percentage of the profits, which would be used for further restoration and maintenance work on the balance of the railroad.

It is estimated in the report that the Valley Line operation could draw up to 100,000 visitors per year. By way of comparison, the Strasburg Railroad in Lancaster County draws something over 400,000 per year, while the Durango & Silverton in remote Western Colorado draws about 200,000 per year.

The second portion of the restoration program would be the Orbisonia-Rockhill to Robertsdale segment. This would likely be done in two stages. First to Saltillo, then on to Robertsdale. This segment would be the responsibility of the Trust. It is stated that the operations over this segment, dubbed "the Mountain Line" in the report, would be less frequent than on the Valley Line. The ride would be 4 to 5 hours, meaning that visitors would be most likely to spend a night in the area if they rode the entire railroad. The report assumes that the high cost of the Mountain Line ride would discourage some visitors as well. Restoration of this portion would be as much dependent on volunteer assistance and non-government funding.

Cost of Restoration

The $46 million in costs for the restoration program, that includes the entire length of the EBT, are summarized in the accompanying table. Acquisition cost of the property is not included in these numbers. That will be negotiated with the owners. The report notes that the current ownership could consider offering to donate part of the value of the EBT in the negotiating price for the railroad and associated lands. This could be applied towards the match required for the authorized state funding.


The plan would be to restore the EBT over an approximately 7 to 10 year period. Phase 1 primarily would be the Mount Union segment plus initial stabilization on the Rockhill Complex. Phase 1 does include $1,212,775 for right-of-way clearance and stabilization of critical historic resources, like the Company Store, on the Mountain Line south from Rockhill-Orbisonia to Robertsdale.

Phase 2 would encompass restoration to Saltillo within 6 years, plus more work at Rockhill. Phase 3 would complete the restoration to Robertsdale by year 10 and develop that site for visitors.

Funding Sources

The $30 million in economic redevelopment authorized for the EBT by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania must be matched from other sources. The report sets forth an analysis of potential matching fund sources. These include site improvements provided by the SPHPC, federal mine reclamation of EBT coal lands, and major infrastructure improvements that affect the EBT, such as recent water and sewer projects and improvements and realignment of U.S. 522. Other identified sources include federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) and Economic Development Authority funding. Altogether, almost $50 million in non-state funds have been identified that may be applicable to the required match.

What is not clear from the report is whether or not the potential matching fund sources meet the necessary state criteria to be considered as matching. We should hope that this was examined by the consultants as they were preparing the report. Hopefully this will be made clearer as public discussion of the proposal begins in earnest.

After the EBT Trust is set up and initial capital projects are under way, a three-year, $7-10 million capital campaign, based on philanthropy, is proposed to begin. Part of the yield from this campaign would be earmarked for a permanent endowment to maintain, develop and also to support volunteers.

The campaign would engage corporate, foundation and individuals giving in the effort to restore the EBT. The report assumes that Friends of the EBT will take a major roll in raising this money.

Operating the EBT

The pro formula for the operation of the tourist train rides indicates that, at full restoration, the EBT would be a self-supporting entity. The operating ration for the main tourist ride between Mount Union and Rockhill-Orbisonia would be 20% including lease payments to the trust of $96,000 per year. The Robertsdale operation would be about break-even, with an estimated 2% operating ratio, including lease payments to the trust of $40,000.

However, since the trust would also be the operator of this segment, they would in effect get the entire profit from the operation, which would become a respectable 13% operating ration. Ridership estimates for this pro forma are 95,000 for the Valley Line operation, and 20,000 for the Mountain Line operation.

The EBT and the Community

The restoration proposal is, above all, an economic development plan for Huntingdon County. The restoration program alone is estimated to create 79 jobs, and many of them would continue in maintenance, training efforts, and related activities. There will of course be permanent jobs associated directly with the EBT, which would likely become a year-round attraction. The visitor's center at Mount Union and the shop complex at Rockhill can be attractive visitor destinations, with or without trains running. 100,000 visitors per year will create a demand for additional overnight accommodations, food services, and related tourist services.

Some local people have expressed concern regarding timber lands also owned by the railroad company. Overlooked during the rhetoric of recent local elections is the fact that the business plan includes a fee to be paid to the county in leu of tax revenues that might otherwise be lost due to non-profit ownership. These fees are projected to be over $30,000 per year after full restoration and operation is achieved. This of course does not include the revenues derived from the increased business the visitors will bring into the area. In fact, whether or not these lands (about 15,000 acres) even transfer to the Trust will have to be negotiated with the owners.

A Role for Volunteers

Friends of the East Broad Top and Railways to Yesterday are both expected to play important roles in the restoration and operation of the EBT. A strong volunteer effort can perform services that would otherwise have to be out-sourced with attendant costs. FEBT members will likely be expected to assist in advertizing and promotions, maintenance, act as museum hosts, and perhaps crew the Robertsdale trains. RTY members will likely be expected to continue their current fine work in rolling stock maintenance and assisting in train operations, along with operating the trolley museum. One proposal in the plan is to establish a satellite parking area near the new trolley car barn and shuttle visitors to the depot on the trolleys.

Getting Started

The report demonstrates that the restoration of the EBT is not only practical, but do-able. It can become an outstanding, self-supporting destination attraction and provide positive economic benefits to Huntingdon County and most particularly to the area of the EBT itself.

The next steps will be activation of the county tourism authority, negotiations with the owners, and establishment of the non-profit Trust. It appears that there should be sufficient funding available from various sources to acquire the EBT and complete the first phase restoration to Mount Union.

If things go well, trains could be running to Mount Union within two years. While a number of important actions need to occur, the plan set forth provides a very solid framework for assuring the future of the EBT.

Summary of Projected E.B.T. Restoration Costs

Fixed Plant
  Rockhill to Mt. Union R-O-W development:            $5,433,000
  Mt. Union Site Development                           5,913,250
  Rockhill/Orbisonia Site Development                 12,924,000
  - Includes depot restoration, yard improvements, 
    Shop rehabilitation, new parking, etc.
  Rockhill to Saltillo R-O-W development               5,585,220
  Saltillo to Robertsdale R-O-W development            7,836,705
  Saltillo depot restoration                             150,000
  Robertsdale Company Store restoration                  642,500
  Robertsdale Company Square development                 216,375

Rolling Stock
  Locomotive Restoration                                 650,000
  Car restoration                                        200,000
  New rolling stock acquisition (6 new coaches)        1,600,000

Heritage Development
  Ancillary related facilities -- Down payment         1,000,000

Total Hard Costs                                      42,151,050

Soft Costs:                                            4,004,351
  Includes planning, engineering, architecture, legal, 
  overhead, project management, etc.

TOTAL DEVELOPMENT COSTS                              $46,155,401

Conceptual illustration of Mount Union
Conceptual illustration of Mount Union

Conceptual illustration of Rockhill Furnace
Conceptual illustration of Rockhill Furnace

Conceptual illustration of Robertsdale
Conceptual illustration of Robertsdale

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