All Aboard! Don’t Miss The Historic East Broad Top Railroad Experience
Perhaps it’s cliché to say that a ride aboard the historic East Broad Top Railroad Steam Engine train is like “going back in time,” but I don’t know how else to put it.
With a rich history dating back to the late 1800s, this unique narrow-gauge railway once played a vital role in Pennsylvania’s industrial development and our nation’s history.
Today, the railroad helps visitors relive the glory days of rail travel by providing an immersive experience that allows you to hear, smell, feel—and enjoy—the thrill of a vintage steam train ride.
Before you grab your ticket, prepare for your trip by reading this complete guide to the East Broad Top Railroad. That way, you’ll be prepared for a full day of memory-making.
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Table of Contents
The Steam Train Experience At Broad Top
I’ve been wanting to visit East Broad Top (EBT) for almost a year, and finally made the short journey over the mountains from Gettysburg. (It’s a very scenic trip that only takes about 90 minutes).
I wouldn’t consider myself a train enthusiast, but I am so glad I took the time to do this tour. It is an authentic historical experience that provides a glimpse at the Golden Age of railroading and this important industry that helped build America.
The thing that surprised me the most about East Broad Top Railroad is just how historic and intact it all is. For instance, six of the original steam locomotives are on site and the extensive workshop complex looks almost like it did a century ago.
Additionally, a majority of the equipment in the railroad’s machine shop is still belt-driven, a technology that dates back to the 19th century.
EBT is one of the true treasures of American railroading. And while I thought I was going just to enjoy a scenic train ride, I found it is so much more.
As a history lover, it doesn’t get much better than getting to immerse yourself in a National Historic Landmark that is almost completely frozen in time.
Turn up your sound! 👇👇👇
All Aboard This Living Museum
The East Broad Top Railroad property is truly a living museum that provides an opportunity to experience what train travel was like in the 19th and early 20 centuries. It is much more enjoyable and educational than just walking through an exhibit-filled building.
From the train schedule chalk board to the sights and sounds of the steam engine, every minute you spend there is a learning experience.
Unlike many railroad museums, EBT features a wide variety of original railcars, from historic wooden passenger cars to steel freight cars and steam locomotives.
Not only were these railcars built specifically for this railroad (or spent most of their working life there), but they remain today for you to see, enjoy, and even ride in.
Vintage Railroad Cars At EBT
The East Broad Top Railroad has a collection of vintage rolling stock, including coaches, cabooses, and freight cars.
These historic cars have been restored and provide a unique and unforgettable glimpse into the past. Visitors can explore the interiors of the cars and learn about the history of the railway.
But of course the highlight of any visit to East Broad Top Railroad is the opportunity to ride in one of the vintage coaches or even the caboose.
These historic cars have been restored to their original condition and provide a true idea of the craftsmanship of the era.
The coaches offer comfortable seating and large windows, perfect for taking in the views, but you have other options if you’re a little more adventurous.
Train enthusiasts may want to sit in the open car right behind the engine, but be forewarned that you are in the direct line of smoke and ashes.
I chose the car in front of the caboose, which has a roof, but is otherwise open, giving you the opportunity to smell the smoke and hear the sounds, but not be covered in soot at the end of the trip.
The next time, I might try out the historic caboose. It is definitely something to see whether you choose to take the ride in it, or just walk through.
The East Broad Top Caboose
Caboose No. 28 was built in 1920 and was overhauled by the Friends of East Broad Top in the same shop where it was built.
The interior is beautifully restored with green velvet seats and original woodwork.
You can climb up to the observation seats where the train crew would keep an eye out and also see the storage area where supplies were kept.
You can even even see the pot-belly stove that is original to the car. (Left side of photo above).
EBT is a true museum on wheels that lets you experience a ride on the rails in a 100+ year old caboose.
The Steam Engines Of East Broad Top RR
The railway boasts a collection of six historic locomotives, each with its own unique story.
The steam train I rode in was pulled by Engine #16, which is one of East Broad Top’s three large Mikados. These engines (#16, #17, and #18) were able to pull 22 loaded hopper cars from the mines at one time.
Built in 1916, Engine #16 was among the first to have super-heaters and piston valves, but the Baldwin 2-8-2 Mikado steam locomotive had been sitting idle since 1956 .
The 81-tone steam engine underwent almost three years of restoration work, and returned to the rails on February 1, 2023.
The historic steam engines that have not yet been overhauled are sitting in the engine house and can be seen on a tour.
They are truly amazing pieces of equipment that are a testament to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the railway’s early engineers.
The History of the East Broad Top Railroad
East Broad Top was among the earliest railroads in America to try the revolutionary new technology of narrow gauge.
The rails of a standard gauge railroad are 4’ 8.5” apart. Narrow gauge is anything less than that, with the rails of the EBT being only 3’ apart.
Because narrow gauge trains are 3/4 the size of standard gauge trains, they are more cost effective to construct in mountainous terrain.
Construction of the 36-inch gauge East Broad Top (EBT) began in 1873 in the mountains of central Pennsylvania, about halfway between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
The railroad was built to move iron, coal, limestone, and more to the iron furnaces near the village of Rockhill Furnace. When it was complete, the East Broad Top had more than 80 miles of track that crisscrossed the Broad Top Coalfields.
The narrow-gauge railway was a vital part of Pennsylvania’s industrial development, and its success led to the expansion of the railroad throughout the region.
Railroad Runs Out Of Steam
This special Railroad continued to operate until the mid-20th century, when the coal market dwindled.
It was then purchased by the Kovalchick Salvage Company in the 1950s. Thankfully, it was never scrapped, but sat empty until it was saved from abandonment by a group of people who recognized its historical significance.
The railway was purchased by the East Broad Top Railroad Preservation Association and has since been restored to its former glory.
East Broad Top Railroad Tickets
A ticket on the EBT Railroad gives you a steam train experience like no other.
The vintage steam engine train departs from the old-fashioned station in Rockhill Furnace and provides a scenic journey through the rolling hills of Pennsylvania.
EBT opens in May and closes on October 30th, running Friday through Sunday. However, during its peak season of Memorial Day to Labor Day, it runs Wednesday through Sunday.
The train departs at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and travels nine miles round trip through rolling hills, farms, and forests, which takes about one hour.
FAQs About Train Tickets
Do I Need To Purchase My Train Tickets In Advance?
Advance reservations online are recommended. Walk-up reservations are accepted if space is available. You should arrive no later than 1/2 hour prior to the train’s departure.
How Much Are Train Ride Tickets?
Train Rides Ticket Prices:
- Coach: Adults (13+) $20 or Child (2-12) $14
- Open Air: Adults $20 or Child (2-12) $14
- Caboose: Adults $25 or Child $19
Guided Tour Tickets: (see below)
- Shop Tour: Adults (13+) $16
- Shop Tour: Child (2-12) $10
Combo Tickets are also available with $4 off for two eperiences and $9 off for 3 experiences.
Guided Tours At East Broad Top
For those who are looking for a more in-depth experience, the East Broad Top Railroad offers guided tours of the railway’s facilities.
These tours provide a behind-the-scenes look at the railway’s operations and offer a fascinating glimpse into the history of the railway.
The historic shop tour includes viewing the machines and tools that keep the train working just as it did the day it opened.
It’s amazing to walk around machines and through buildings that have gone unchanged since the railroad stopped evolving in the late 1920’s and hasn’t been touched since the 1950s.
The tour includes seeing the six narrow-gauge steam engines housed in the Roundhouse, and an operational belt-driven machine shop.
Even the switches on the railroad tracks are original and rare.
Old-Fashioned Trolley Ride
As if the train rides weren’t enough The East Broad Top Railroad has also partnered with the Rockhill Trolley Museum to allow visitors to include a vintage trolley ride in their EBT itinerary.
You can ride on a real trolley car and hear the ting-ting of the trolley bell, the growl of the gears, and the ticka-ticka-ticka of the air compressor.
The tour in an antique electric streetcar passes historic industrial ruins and steep mountain narrows alongside the picturesque Blacklog Creek.
Where To Stay
East Broad Top Railroad is truly middle in the middle of nowhere, but that is what really adds to fun and adventure of this trip.
If you want to make a weekend of it, there are plenty of opportunities to rent a Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO), and enjoy the rural setting.
Chambersburg is the closest town with numerous hotels and is located about 30 minutes away.
As I said, Gettysburg is about 90 minutes from East Broad Top and is also about 30-40 minutes from Chambersburg. Staying in Chambersburg is less expensive than Gettysburg, and would make a centralized place where you could hit both historic sites over a weekend.
You may not know that Gettysburg has a wide variety of interesting museums including a Lincoln Train Museum that features a collection of vintage toy trains and railroad memorabilia.
Raystown Lake is also close by.
Special Events on Broad Top Railroad
East Broad Top offers a variety of events and special experiences throughout the year.
One of these takes places in September when The East Broad Top Railroad partners with the Central Pennsylvania Ragtime and American Music Festival to bring the sounds of jazz and ragtime to Rockhill Furnace.
There are live performances onboard the trains and on the platform, as well as a dinner train and concert experience at Colgate Grove.
In October they have special Halloween events including the Charlie Brown and Snoopy on the Great Pumpkin Patch Express!
Check the website because they have lots of interesting things planned.
Tips for a Successful Visit to the East Broad Top Railroad
To make the most of your visit to the East Broad Top Railroad and your steam train experience, be sure to arrive early and allow plenty of time to explore.
Don’t forget your camera because the scenery of mountain streams, meadows, rolling hills and country roads are worth capturing. On the day of my ride we passed three different farmers out in the fields making hay.
There is a food truck on the premises, but you may want to bring some sandwiches or a picnic lunch and eat on the grounds.
If it’s hot, make sure you stay hydrated. Bringing extra water or some form of hydration with you is always a good idea.
If you choose to ride on the open car, don’t forget a hat and sunblock.
If you are going to take the tour of the complex, wear footwear that allows you to walk on uneven surfaces, and I wouldn’t recommend wearing anything white. My pink sneakers were pretty black by the end of the day.
In the Spring or Fall, it’s also a good idea to bring a jacket or sweater, as the train can get chilly.
It’s a good idea to purchase tickets in advance, as the trains can fill up quickly, especially during peak season.
Take your time because there are plenty of things to see and do at Broad Top Railroad. Be sure to explore the historic station buildings, visit the gift shop, and check out the museum exhibits.
Dining Near East Broad Top
There are nearby dining options in the area, from casual cafes to fine dining restaurants.
Visitors should keep in mind that people in southern Huntingdon County don’t stay out late, and restaurants often close by 7 p.m.
Jenkies Joint: Breakfast and lunch items, plus it’s a laundrymat.
Pizza Star and Restaurant: Orbisonia’s oldest restaurant, serving pizza, pasta and sandwiches.
Pizza Star II: Similar menu as above and run by two branches of same family.
Here are some other dining options.
Wrap-Up Of The East Broad Top Railroad Steam Train
The East Broad Top Railroad is a must-visit for any history or locomotive enthusiast. With its rich history, vintage rolling stock, and scenic routes, the railway offers a truly unique experience that will interest visitors of all ages.
The most important thing to remember is to allow time to explore.
Whether you’re a seasoned rail enthusiast or simply looking for a fun and educational day trip for your family, the East Broad Top Railroad is a place where you want to take your time and soak it all in.
The East Broad Top Railroad Experience is a true hidden gem in central Pennsylvania. It’s made possible through the efforts of the dedicated Friends of the East Broad Top, so be sure to check out their website and support them.
If you’re going on a road trip, make sure you check out my list of resources.