Sunday, September 6, 2015

Colorado's Pike's Peak Cog Railway

The Pike's Peak Cog Railway is located just out of Colorado Springs in Manitou Springs (elevation 6571 feet.) The Swiss-made trains travel 46,158 linear feet to the top of 14,110 foot high Pike's Peak, making it the highest railway in the country by a huge margin! It makes the round trip in 3 hours and ten minutes, including a short time at the Summit House which has restrooms, a concession counter, an information desk, and a curio shop. The 7539 feet of elevation gain averages out to 847 feet up per mile, or an average incline of 16% though it reaches 25% at times. Only a cog railway system could climb such an incline. 

This is not only the highest railroad in America, but also the highest cog railroad in the world, as it ascends to 14,110 foot high Pike's Peak. This is near the start in town.

The railway was started by Zalon Simmons of Simmons Beautyrest Mattress Company in 1889. In 1964, the railway contracted with Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works to supply two bright red cog railcars, thus eliminating the need for a locomotive to push the cars up. Below is one of the six steam engines used before the railway's conversion to gasoline in 1938 and diesel fuel in 1939.

Here's a place for trains going up and trains going down to pass one another. This photo below is obviously below the 11,578 foot level, because that is the altitude at which the tundra begins, at which you are above timberline.

Now we are getting near tree line as we ascend to the peak...


Regardless of how warm and pleasant the weather might be when you leave the Colorado Springs area, you are best served if you wear warm clothing and carry a jacket. If you have a history of severe cardiac or respiratory problems, you are warned against making the trip because of the altitude.

Along the entire 9 mile trip, a breathtaking panorama unfolds as you pass through aspen and evergreen forests, and then suddenly around a bend you are treated to a vista where you can seemingly see forever.

At the peak, the views are spectacular. A cog railway is also called a rack-and-pinion railway and has a toothed rack rail in the center. Trails are equipped with one or more cog heels or pinions which allow the train to operate on steep grades. You can get a good look at the cogs in the center of the tracks in the photos above and below.

They claim that on a clear day, you can see Denver 75 miles to the north and New Mexico 100+ miles to the south. It is from here, atop Pikes Peak, that Katherine Lee Bates wrote the stirring lyrics, "O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain."

The train better stop! Now, after seeing these photos, would you rather take the cog railway or drive your car up the dirt road to the top? The rail trip is one I highly suggest, to save wear and tear on your vehicle and yourself!

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