Sitting on a siding, we see a train descending the line not far from the peak. We got to wave at the other passengers, as they passed by us on our siding.

Last summer, during our Colorado summer vacation, we made a stop in Manitou Springs to ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railroad.  This is an amazing trip to the top of Pikes Peak, at an elevation of 14,110 ft.

As our train ascended the mountain, we saw a beautiful high mountain lake that is used as a reservoir for the city of Colorado Springs.

Along the way, the train passes through four different terrains ranging from high plains to alpine tundra. The route is 8.9 miles long, with very steep grades, and takes a little over three hours to reach the top. In addition to the usual two rails, the cog railroad has a rack mounted in the center of the rails. The locomotives use a cog, or gear to power the train along the track. This allows the cog train to traverse grades far steeper than traditional railroads.

Here you can clearly see the rack in the center of the track that allows the train to traverse its steep grades. This is one of several passing sidings that allow multiple trains to travel to the top each day.

The Pikes Peak railroad was started in 1889 by Zalmon Simmons, founder of the Simmons Beauty Rest Mattress Company. He wanted a more civilized way to reach the top of Pikes Peak that would also allow many more people to experience the gorgeous views from the top.

From an observation platform on the summit, you can see how steep the track is as it approaches the top. The mountain views are simply astounding.

The first trains to run on the railroad were specially designed Baldwin steam locomotives with a Vauclain Compound system (two cylinders, one high pressure and one low).

This is one of the original steam locomotives from the cog railroad, which is located in the collection of the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, Colorado. Of special note, the slant of the locomotive is important so that the water in the boiler will keep the firebox covered and prevent a meltdown.

In the 1930’s, the railroad began running gasoline and diesel-powered locomotives. The current locomotives are diesel-electric locomotives acquired in the 1960’s and 70’s from the Swiss locomotive works.

Our train was beginning to load back up for the return trip to Manitou Springs. These diesel-electric locomotives are both powerful and relatively quiet.

As you ascend the mountain, the train crew does a wonderful job of telling passengers all about the railroad and the amazing sights along the route. They will often tell funny stories as well which help make the trip up a memorable one. Occasionally, you can see wildlife such as deer, bighorn sheep and marmots along the route.

This is an old cabin found along the route. There are a number of cabins and old line shacks along the line.
This is an old hydro-electric power plant that is only accessible by a 2 hour roundabout dirt road to Colorado Springs. It is still operational!

Although there is a road to the top of Pikes Peak, I truly feel that the train is the absolute best way to reach the summit. The slower pace of the ascent, about 9 mph, and the fact that no one has to drive, make it the best way for all to experience the amazing journey.

It is truly an unforgettable train, that I pray will one day be able to live again, and not fade into the history books.

This is a breathtaking alpine meadow. My wife and I imagined Julie Andrews singing in this meadow, as she did in the Sound of Music.
Our train hugged the mountainside as it slowly powered its way up the steep grade and winding track. Here, we have moved above the tree line, where the weather is too harsh for trees to grow.

Sadly, it was announced early this year that the train would not be running in 2018 or the foreseeable future. The reasoning is that the infrastructure and equipment has “run its course.” They do report that they are “action planning” for the future, though if they ever open again is anyone’s guess.

By this point, the temperatures were cold enough that I shot this through the window. We are above 12,000 feet and still heading to the top!

I  hope that they are able to repair and rebuild, so that they can once again carry people to the summit of Pikes Peak. It is truly an unforgettable train, that I pray will one day be able to live again, and not fade into the history books.

Standing at the end of the line, you can see Colorado Springs sprawling out far below. This is an incredible view that I feel blessed to have been able to experience.

Jason StamperPhotographs and text Copyright 2018

2 thoughts on “Last Train to Pikes Peak

  1. Jason, great narrative about the railroad, it is still high on my list of iconic railroads, and hope that it can be returned to service quickly. The beauty that you photographed during your trip is jaw-dropping. Thank you for the photos and the explanation.

  2. Of you are headed north or South along I25 in Southern Colorado,a detour along the road to the summit of Pikes Peak is an exciting and worthwhile interruption. I hope the cog railway is shortly reactivated.

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