The History of BHRS
Written by Mr. Vince P. Smith
Edited by Dr. Dirk Grupe
Bellefonte Historical Railroad Society (BHRS) was chartered in 1984 with the intent of offering excursion service on Nittany & Bald Eagle Railroad (NBER). At that time, the NBER was a newly-formed shortline. At about the same time, BHRS acquired its first major piece of rolling stock in the form of RDC–1 #9167. This car was retired by SEPTA after a long career that began on the New York, New Haven & Hartford (NYNH&H) in 1953 as their #40. It was loaned to BHRS in 1984 and rehabilitated in June 1985. It has been in service for BHRS ever since and now belongs to BHRS after the title of the car was transfered to us in April 2008.
n 1992, BHRS acquired their second RDC–1, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's (MBTA) #9153. This car was built in 1962 for The Reading Company. The balance of the BHRS fleet was initially made up of two track cars, a snowplow, and a caboose. The caboose and snowplow are former Bellefonte Central pieces that reside as static displays adjacent to the Bellefonte station, but are now owned by Borough of Bellefonte. One of the two track cars is a large, ex–Bellefonte Central car. The other is a former Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) Fairmont M–9 that is used for special occasions.
Over the years, NBER grew to a system consisting of approximately 70 miles of track, with lines stretching from Tyrone to Lock Haven and from Milesburg to Dale Summit (State College at the Nittany Mall) and Pleasant Gap via Bellefonte. BHRS had operating rights on the entire NBER.
The only trackage owned by the BHRS is a half mile beginning at Dale Summit and leading into the village of Lemont, just outside of State College.
Major changes came to the NBER and the BHRS in 1996. Conrail began operating coal trains on trackage rights via the NBER main line between Tyrone and Lock Haven. This brought a track upgrade, increased traffic, and Conrail dispatching.
Since Norfolk Southern took over 58% of the former Conrail system in 1998, run–through traffic has increased again due to additional coal trains and merchandise freights operating between Pittsburgh and Buffalo. Another track upgrade, started in the fall of 1999, has brought welded rail to the NBER main.
BHRS is thought to be the only volunteer operation in the country that used to run in conjunction with a Class I railroad (Norfork Southern). However, we are not currently operating our Budd Rail Diesel Cars. Since February 2005, they have been static due to new safety requirements by Federal Railroad Administration, such as replacing some of our windows with emergency windows. In RDC–1 #9167, we comply with the FRA safety standards. The plan is to resume operations with that RDC in the near future.
For the time being, however, BHRS provides train rides approximately 2 times a year. Past trips with Jeff Pontius' beautifully restored trains have included runs from Bellefonte to Pleasant Gap and Bellefonte to either Tyrone or Lock Haven in October and the very popular Santa express in December. These trips are a collaborative effort with the SEDA–GOC Joint Rail Authority, North Shore Railroad Systems, and the Penn Valley Railroad. Current schedules will be posted as soon as they are finalized.