An engineering feat: Rebuilding the Pikes Peak Cog Railway

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MANITOU SPRINGS, Colo. — An age-old journey that has delighted visitors for 130 years is once again up and running, but bringing the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway back to life was no easy task.

The train shut down in 2018 for a total renovation that would take three years and millions of dollars, not to mention knowledge from around the world and sheer determination.

Stretching nine miles from the depot in Manitou Springs to the top of Pikes Peak, the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway is an engineering feat today, and when it was first built in 1889.

“I think they did most everything with carts and donkeys and thank goodness we have equipment,” said Brian Nelson, Project Manager with Stacy and Witbeck.

The Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway opened in 1891 under Zalmon G. Simmons, the inventor of Simmon’s Beautyrest Mattress. After years of losing money, he sold it to Spencer Penrose, the owner of the Broadmoor Hotel, for a reported $50,000.

The cog would pay for itself in no time, drawing tourists from all over, but more than a century later, the track required a more-than-$100-million overhaul to bring it up to current technology standards.

California-based company Stacy and Witbeck was ready for the challenge, but the project would be their most challenging to date.

“We are a contractor that specializes in railroad and railroad-related projects,” said Nelson. “Every project has a challenge, but this one had multiple challenges. Just figuring out the logistics of how to get people up to where they’re working, to get materials up to where they’re working, how to stage materials.”

The track is a combination of a rack rail in the middle and running rails on the side. Each piece of rail is 40 feet long and weighs between 800 and 1,200 pounds. And every piece had to be hauled up the mountain before it could be installed.

“We use a combination of trailers and tracked trucks to get this material up the hill,” said Nelson.

And the haul up the hill is just as hard on the trucks as it is the workers.

“Every piece of equipment that you take up the hill is going up the hill for nine miles with no break,” said Nelson. “It was a challenge with all the equipment we had. We’ve burned out and blown through transmissions, turbos, just a lot of lessons learned.”

Nelson said as the track got longer, the challenges got bigger.

“It’s completely different every couple thousand feet you go up, from how the equipment runs to how much effort it takes to move a tie, just doing anything–getting out and measuring, the wind, freak weather storms, lightning. It just exponentially increases the higher you get,” he said.

There were wildlife woes too.

Engineers crossed paths with a lot of different wildlife while working on the Broadmoor Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway.


“Lots of wildlife,” said Nelson. “Lots of bear, moose, lots of deer, fox, bobcat, lots of marmots, lots of issues with marmots getting into equipment, damaging wires, stealing people’s lunches.”

But the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway is as unique as its challenges. It’s one of only two cog railways in the United States and the highest one in the world.

“The difference between a cog and an adhesion rail is the cog rail uses the center cog rail to drive the train versus having friction with the wheels on the running rails for a standard adhesion train,” said Nelson.

At its steepest, the train clicks up a 25% grade.

Three new trains were ordered from Switzerland and four of the old ones have been refurbished. The track has also been converted from a double offset rail to a single rail or Strub system.

“It should be a lot smoother than the old one,” said Nelson. “It will be a lot smoother than the old one.”

The cog travels 12 miles per hour up the mountain and about eight miles per hour back down for a round trip of about two-and-a-half hours. More information and tickets can be found at cograilway.com.

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