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The locomotive situation at the EBT has become harried in the past two years. Most EBT fans have heard that #12 did not make its yearly appearance at the 2001 Fall Spectacular as planned. During the tourist season, the railroad elected to remove all of #12's flues for an internal inspection. Inside they found problems with the boiler sufficient for the Pennsylvania state boiler inspector to (to whom the EBT was subject at that time) 'red flag' #12 until the boiler could be repaired. #12 has been parked since.
#14, #15 and #17 performed for the 2001 Fall Spectacular and all performed as expected. However, a week later #17 was running for a James Gunning photo excursion with a string of hoppers. Working harder than usual to perform for the photographers, #17 started leaking in the flues. She has had leaky flues in the past, but this time it was severe enough that the rest of the charter had to be cancelled and #17 was blown down. #17 has been parked since.
As such, the remainder of the season, including a Carl Franz excursion and NMRA excursions were run with #14 and #15.
Periodically over the years the question has surfaced whether the Federal Railroad Administration, which oversees all rail carriers within its defined jurisdiction, had authority over the East Broad Top. The FRA's mandate is based on the concept of the regulation of interstate commerce, which by the definitions laid out for the FRA includes all railroads that are part of the general rail system. Clearly during its coal hauling days the EBT fit this definition, but since the 1956 shutdown it has been less clear. The railroad filed for abandonment with the ICC which was granted, but Kovalchick Salvage filed a stay of the abandonment which remains in effect to this day. In recent years the EBT has maintained that it is insular and thus not subject to the FRA rules but rather Pennsylvania state boiler laws.
According to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) an insular railroad is one that does not connect with or pass within 30 feet of railroad that is part of the general railroad system, does not cross a public highway at grade, or cross a navigable waterway. Clearly the EBT is insular by the third criteria, but the other two are less clear. The line from Shirleysburg to Mount Union has been out of service since 1956 and impassable by rail vehicles since the early 1960s. However the track is still in place. Until 1999 the EBT main has been physically severed from the old PRR spur, though by less than 30 feet. Still these two facts taken together (or the intentional removal of some rail) would clear the EBT of the first criteria. To maintain this the MTC has been careful to remain a distinct organization from the EBT and with the reconnection of the EBT main to the general rail system the plan was to remove 30 feet of rail between the MTC operation and the EBT's.
It is the second criteria where the real controversy ensues. The EBT does indeed cross public highway (any public road). It crosses PA 994 and Enyeart Road, both public crossings. However, according to the letter of the deed, the EBT still owns the crossings, not the local or state government, unlike most railroad crossings. Therefore they are privately held crossings that the EBT permits public to cross at their discression. So is it a public highway crossing or not? Hard to tell. However the EBT had shown the FRA the door at its previous visits to the railroad on the basis of being insular. The FRA chose not to take the EBT to issue.
Enter the 'new' FRA. An Incident occurred at the Gettysburg Railroad several years ago where an improperly operated steam locomotive suffered a crown sheet failure. There were no deaths or a catastrophe, but there were severe injuries and only luck prevented a full boiler explosion. Under pressure the FRA drafted, with representatives from esteemed steam organizations, a new set of boiler regulations generally known as CFR Part 230. The revised regulations reflected the changed role of the steam locomotive from daily heavy hauler to periodic tourist attraction. The old rules required a boiler inspection after a certain number of operating months, no matter how many days operated in that month. For weekend only or occasional use locomotives this was detrimental. Boiler inspections required stripping the boiler to its shell and are very expensive especially for margional tourist haulers. The new rules counted by operating days, which was much fairer to the periodic users. However it added the caveat that the duration between inspections not exceed 15 years. More importantly the new regs required a recalculation of the strength of the boiler and the maximum pressure it can operate under. It also requires complete replacement of all the flues in the boiler. The old rules allowed the as-built working pressure to continue to be used so long as any defects found were repaired to original specs. Deteriorations of the boiler that were not extensive enough to require repair under the regs did not require adjusting the maximum working pressure of the boiler. Furthermore, all steam locomotives had to be certified under the new rules by the end of 2002. Some locomotives still covered by the old regs needed boiler work as their time before overhaul expired. The FRA stopped issuing flue extensions (a permitted delay in performing boiler work) in 2000 to force locomotives to be brought into compliance with the new regs as their time under the old regs ran out. This was supposed to set up a transition period between 2000 and 2002 where railroads were weaned into the new rules as the time expired on each locomotive. Work was done according to the new regs and the locomotive was then covered by the new regs. That was the theory. In practice many smaller operators were faced with a locomotive that would have usually gotten flue extensions for several years, instead having to be torn down for inspection and the inability to raise the funds in time to get the work done.
Back to the EBT, they were in the pseudo insular state during this transition period. In addition to the new regs, another result from the Gettysburg incident was significant governmental pressure on the FRA to assert itself over tourist haulers. Being insular does not exempt a railroad from the rules, but as it is stated in the FRA's own regs, the FRA does not generally choose to extend its authority to insular roads unless there is a clear and present danger to the public. This pressure has changed that practice.
The debate of the EBT's insular status became academic in November 2001 when the FRA arrived with a court order for the EBT to comply. The motivations of this move on the FRA's part are cloudy and controversial. According to sources the FRA received a letter stating that unsafe practices were occuring at the EBT and requesting intervention. It was apparently this letter in conjuction with the pressure to administrate the steam tourist lines that prompted the action. The FRA concluded in a memorandum after its initial inspection that it found no indication of the (unnamed) safety violations. But they had in the process extended their authority over the railraod and that could not be undone.
The end result is that the EBT is now under FRA boiler and other regulations and must work to comply.
With CFR part 230 coming to the EBT after the transition period, the FRA has been flexible and accomodating in the methods to bring the EBT into compliance. The EBT for its part has been cooperative.
Of the two operable locomotives on the EBT at the end of 2001, #15 has not had a complete overhaul since being brought into tourist service. #14 on the other hand had a substantial overhaul in 1986-87 which returned her to service after some down time. This included boiler and running gear work. That work was done to state boiler code. Still, #14 was determined to be in the better condition and the FRA permitted the EBT to continue running her during a grace period during which another locomotive would have to be brought into CFR part 230 specs and assume regular operations. So, in spring 2002 the process of overhauling #15 began while #14 started the excursion season solo.
The work on #15 proceeded as it does on most others being prepared for part 230. The appliances, piping, and lagging were removed to uncover the boiler shell, the tubes (flues) were removed from the inside of the boiler and a grid was drawn on the boiler for the nondestructive testing of the boiler. The boiler was surveyed and issues were found that had to be addressed. Initial hopes that #15 would be done for the 2002 Fall Spectacular did not pan out. Next it was hoped that she would be out for opening day 2003. Right now that does not seem likely either. So, what exactly has to be done to the boiler? Good question and few are talking about the work in detail. In 2002 word was that a patch had to be put in the rear of the firebox. In 2003 there is talk of fabricating a new flue sheet as well.
As with the #14 overhaul in 1987, the Strasburg Railroad is working with the EBT crews to complete the work on #15. On a visit there in March our tour guide confirmed that they were fabricating parts for #15 but did not comment on the progress. Word on the street is for #15 to be out in September of 2003. Work on boilers must proceed carefully and the Strasburg has a lot of other projects they are working on as well. Doubtless the work is not cheap either. Boiler work on other locomotives has run ten to a hundred thousand dollars.
In addition to #15, M-7 has also received some work this past year. As #14 was the only available steam for the 2002 Fall Event (called Event instead of Spectacular due to the limited steam) M-7 was called into service to pull the Shade Gap Picnic Train. In preparation for the event, M-7 was fitted with full train brakes and safety railing. She also received a loaner of a three chime air horn, which apparently was for show not safety.
Meanwhile, #12 and #17 are cold awaiting their turn for overhaul. #12 reportedly has wasting in the side firebox sheets and #17 needs a new rear flue sheet. The future for these two is unclear and decisions on how to proceed after #15 are still being mulled over by EBT management. One plan is for #14 to follow #15. Another is for #14 to remain in 'reserve' status to be used only if #15 fails while #12 is put in the shop next.
In any event, the spector of the FRA that has long hung over the railroad is now a ghost of the past and the railroad has, so far, weathered the transition into compliance with federal regulations.