KUTZTOWN — “All aboard!” announced Kutztown Mayor Jim Schlegel, train conductor.
Jan. 10 marked the 150th anniversary of the first passenger train service in Kutztown that ran on Jan. 10, 1870. Allentown & Auburn Railroad offered three rides Jan. 10 and 11 to celebrate.
“The Borough of Kutztown has managed to keep a connection with the national-wide rail system for 150 years and that is a historical significance,” said Schlegel. “It’s important that communities get to keep their connection with the rest of the world on a rail line.”
On Jan. 11, passengers gathered at the Kutztown Borough Train Station, eager to board a 1930 Doodlebug, a self-propelled passenger railcar. Once seated, Schlegel called, “Tickets, please!” Passengers came from near and far to ride the train, hailing from Kutztown, Lancaster, Fogelsville, Hellertown, New Holland, Philadelphia and Willow Grove. As the train passed farms on its way to Topton, Schlegel told jokes and explained points of interest.
“It’s fun,” said Schlegel, who worked for the Blue Mountain Railroad at one time as a conductor. “I’ve been a train nut since I was a little kid and I just find it fascinating.”
Allentown & Auburn Railroad passenger services manager Michael Reitz also served as a conductor for the anniversary event.
“150 years is a very long time for any entity to exist. Even though the rails have gone through several different owners over the years, just the fact that they’ve survived here in Kutztown and are still earning their keep is monumental,” said Reitz.
“Now the fact that we are able to continue to offer passenger services is a wonderful community outreach program. It’s a great way to draw people into the community,” he continued. “Also, operating freight here is a way to keep up with modern technology, keep things operating in the town, a more efficient way to bring things in than truck. It’s good for the entire community for us to be here and this is a wonderful opportunity that needed to be celebrated.”
The two-day event included two train rides and the Doodlebug ride.
“We have our regular traditional passenger trains. Today, we also ran our 1930 Pennsylvania Railroad Doodlebug, which would have been a replacement service for a full freight train or a full passenger train on a branch line just like this,” said Reitz. “That offers the opportunity for different experiences to the passengers. You can actually ride different types of trains on our line and it makes every trip you take a new adventure.”
Ken and Crystal Eigenbrod of Kutztown walked to the train station for the Doodlebug ride.
“I’m a Reading Rail fan so the 150th anniversary of passenger service to town is one of the reasons why we’re here. Another reason is I drove that Doodlebug about 30 years ago so it’s like a reunion in two ways,” said Ken.
“We chase trains,” said Crystal. “We do a lot of train rides. We’re fond of steam so whenever we get the opportunity, we’re hopping a train.”
Crystal said they like the old-time feel. “It’s just neat to enjoy the scenery and go slower than cars. No stress. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.”
Kory and Gabrielle Jackson of Fogelsville brought Kashton, 20 months, out to see the trains.
“He’s really into trains right now so I thought it would be a good experience,” said Gabrielle. “We’ve been waiting for a train ride. It’ll be his first one so it’s going to be really exciting.”
Surprised that trains have been running in Kutztown for 150 years, she said, “That’s amazing. We’re really excited to be a part of it.”
Schlegel also gave a presentation on the history of the Allentown & Auburn Railroad. Highlights include an 1853 charter to Dauphin and Susquehanna Coal Company and Central Railroad of New Jersey for the Allentown Railroad to run from Allentown west to the Reading Railroad mainline between Port Clinton and Auburn.
In 2000, Kutztown Borough purchased the Allentown & Auburn line from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for $150,001 and formed the Kutztown Transportation Authority to own the right of way along the railroad. Kutztown’s electric lines travel along the railroad’s right of way. Also, the Borough’s well heads and water treatment plant are located along the right of way.
After the closing the Kutztown Foundry in 2013, Mike Bast and Pete Cole at Topton Rail Car were contacted about running trains on the line.
“Allentown & Auburn Railroad was reborn,” said Schlegel.
Rail transportation is important even today. Anything from anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere can be shipped to or from Kutztown by train, he said.
“It’s more efficient. It’s green. It takes 75 percent less energy to move a ton a mile on the rail than it does on the highway,” Schlegel said. “You have a train that’s 100 cars long, there’s two men operating that train and each car is equal to approximately 2 ½ truckloads of material. You would have to have three truck drivers per car so you would have 300 truck drivers to move that freight across the highway… Plus, it takes big trucks off of major highways, makes the highways safer.”
Schlegel believes all modes of transportation have their place.
“You just have to use them efficiently for what their main purpose is,” he said.
Since 2015, Allentown & Auburn Railroad has been running trains.
“The response here has been very positive from the community, from the citizens coming out to ride the train to the businesses owners that are enjoying the increase in exposure from people coming to the town,” said Reitz. “Everybody here has been very supportive of us and we are very grateful for that.”
Allentown & Auburn Railroad is entirely funded by ticket sales and a percent goes back to the Borough as a user fee for using the rail line. For more information about Allentown & Auburn Railroad, visit https://allentown-and-auburn-railroad.square.site/.