Manitou & Pike's Peak Railway number 25 built by Swiss Locomotive Works (SLM) in Winterthur, Switzerland, rests at the summit of Pike's Peak - 3 Oct 2014 William Slim.
Pike's Peak is a mountain that lies in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains about 10 miles (16 kilometres) west of Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA. It is named after Zebulon Pike Junior, an explorer who led an expedition to the southern Colorado area in 1806. The summit lies at 14,115 feet elevation (4,302 metres) with the mountain designated as a National Historic Landmark but only above 14,000 feet... that's strange.
Construction of the Manitou & Pike's Peak Railway reached the summit in 1891 and has been operating ever since along its 8.9 mile route. The track is standard gauge, 4 feet 8 1/2 inches, utilizing the Swiss Abt rack system at a maximum gradient of 25 percent. A trip takes 3 hours and 10 minutes from the base station at Manitou Springs to the summit and return at 10 miles per hour travelling up and 8 miles per hour coming down.
A rack railway (also known a cog railway) is a steep gradient railway with a toothed rack rail, usually between the running rails. The trains are fitted with one or more cog wheels or pinions that mesh with this rack rail. This allows the trains to operate on steep grades above 7-10 percent, which is the maximum for friction-based rail. Most rack railways are mountain railways, although a few are transit railways or tramways built to overcome a steep gradient in an urban environment.
A number of different rack systems have been developed. Here you will find more information about the most common Rack Railway Systems.
A Brief History
Do you watch television? Ever hear of the Simmons Beautyrest Mattress? Zalmon Simmons was the inventor and founder of the Simmons Beautyrest Mattress Company, among other things. Late in the 1880's Mr. Simmons rode to the summit of Pike's Peak via mule making the journey in two days. Uncomfortable as that was, he later came up with the idea of building a railway to the summit so he financed the construction of the original right-of-way.
In 1889 construction started when the Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway was incorporated. By 1890 three steam locomotives named "Pikes Peak", "Manitou", and "John Hulbert" and constructed by the Baldwin Locomotive Works were delivered with service beginning to the Halfway House Hotel. Over time six locomotives were purchased but only one remains today, number 4, which is still operational.
In 1891 the first passenger train reached the summit. It had cost the lives of six workers who died in blasting and construction accidents.
1925 saw the railway ownership transferred to Spencer Penrose, the owner of the Broadmoor Hotel. Steam locomotives were expensive to operate during the slow seasons so in 1930 development began on a gas-powered rail car with 23 seats which ran for the first time in 1938. It is believed to be the first rack rail car constructed in the world.
This first car, number 7, was superseded by number 8, a diesel-electric cog locomotive built by General Electric followed by additional numbers 9, 10,11, and 12. Each unit pulled a "Streamliner" coach seating 56 forming the backbone of the fleet from 1940 to 1965.
1960 saw an increase in tourism so the railway needed to upgrade its equipment. General Electric turned down the chance to produce new rail cars. The railway then turned to the Swiss Locomotive Works (SLM) in Winterthur, Switzerland, for new rail cars. By 1962 two new units, numbers 14 and 15 were in service. So successful were they two more, numbers 16 and 17 were ordered. These cars are diesel-electric powered by two Cummins diesel engines mounted beneath the floor. Equipped with dynamic braking the motor-generators produce electricity consumed by resistors on the roof where the heat is dissipated during a descent.
In 1970 tourism continued to increase so still larger rail cars were required. This time SLM obliged with two articulated rail cars, numbers 18 and 19. Its possible to walk between the two units but this is discouraged for safety reasons during a trip on the mountain. Passengers are requested to remain seated at all times. Unlike the earlier SLM units these are diesel-hydraulic utilizing a transmission/retarder made by Voith Turbo of Germany. All the strain from the ascent and descent is carried through the cog wheels to the rack sections. There is no direct braking of the wheels. Two additional cars, numbers 24 and 25 were added during 1984 and 1989.
In 1976 new sidings were constructed at Minnehaha and Windy Point which permit up to eight trains per day to use the line during the summer months operating between 08:00 and 17:20 daily.
There is only one steam locomotive still operational and that's Locomotive Number 4 which is only used on special occasions along with a heritage coach, and then, is run just part way up the mountain.
Locomotive Number 2 is also exposed to the weather resting next to the main street in Manitou Springs.
A Trip on the Line
Hint: Reserved seating is assigned but I booked 3 months in advance and received a front row seat next to the driver with a large picture window looking forward.
Exploring the Manitou & Pike's Peak Railway starts at the base station in Manitou Springs. The first thing one notices upon arrival is the quaint depot nestled between the railway and road in a narrow valley. You'll have to pay US$5 for parking as the railway has all the available land sewed up for parking. The base station contains a ticket office, two gift shops, and a small snack bar. You are encouraged to purchase food for the trip at the snack bar as bringing food onboard a train from other locations is not permitted. Assigned seating is used on the rail cars and reservations are a good idea.
There are several structures located here, mostly long buildings to store the rail cars when not in use. All are squeezed along the route up the narrow valley. One building located across from the depot, which may have been a residence at one time, appears to now be an office. There are several switches amongst the track work for accessing various sheds. The tracks do not appear to be in the best shape. Apparently most of the light running rails are the original rails from the 1890s. They wear well due to the limited stress imposed by the rail cars. Abt rack sections and cog wheels bear the brunt of the wear and tear and are replaced periodically.
Never mind purchasing any oxygen, suck it up Buttercup, take a chance without it, board the train. The trains are manned by a conductor and driver. Beside collecting tickets the conductor gives a running commentary over a public address system as the train climbs up the mountain side. The conductor points out landmarks, historical facts, and interesting features interspersed with amusing information such as: "Due to the current recession in Colorado the state governor has imposed a "Wildlife Viewing Tax". For each deer that you may sight there is a charge of 25 cents, if the deer has antlers, it's a buck.". Groan...
The majority of the trip uphill lies in the Pike National Forest composed of Aspen and pine trees. The conductor point out various geographical features such as a tiny waterfall and large boulders on the verge of falling on the right-of-way should an earthquake occur. Not this trip. Above the tree line the bare rock of the mountain is exposed. Unlike the Rocky Mountains in Canada, Pike's Peak is more like a heap of gravel, jagged rocks, and boulders, from tree line to the summit. Erosion? Was that the cause?
Shortly after leaving the tree line the Windy Point siding is reached. Here the "up" train waits for the "down" train to pass. "Wave at the passengers as they go by", says the conductor, "you'll never see them again." While waiting she continues her schpeel: "Riders frequently ask if the train is safe. What are the safety devices used to stop the train if it breaks away? Well... if you look below the car you'll see two springs that will stop it in an emergency... Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs." Groan...
Nearing the summit one of the hairpin turns on the toll road is visible from the rail car. Each year they hold a car race called by the presumptuous name "Pikes Peak International Hill Climb" up to the summit at incredibly stupid speeds. What normally takes one hour to drive the best winning race driver took only 8 minutes and 14 seconds to complete. What stupid speed is that? You do the math.
Once on the summit the trains stop for about 20 to 30 minutes while their passengers explore the cafeteria and gift shop or go walk about in the cold air (On 3 Oct 2014 - 21 degrees F or -7 degrees F with the wind chill factor). The Garden of the Gods and the city of Colorado Springs are visible far below to the east while the Victor open pit gold mine may be seen to the west. In fact, it's so large it can be seen from orbiting space vehicles. There is a sign declaring the elevation and current temperature which three women pose beside while the wind whips their long hair sideways... quickly now, retreat to the warm summit building.
The ride down was uneventful at the maximum speed of 8 miles per hour, thankfully, after that safety device briefing, while passing two up trains and a section car, one at Windy Point and the other two at Minnehaha Siding. The old General Electric (e.g. number 9) built rail cars are only used now for track workers to commute up and down the line, their revenue paying passengers are long gone.
A total of 32 photos were taken during a ride to the summit and back on 3 Oct 2014. The railway's route is virtually inaccessible by vehicle (there's a 19 mile paved toll road to the summit, US$12 per person) as it climbs up through the Aspen and pine forest to bare rock above the tree line. There are various hiking trails on the mountain that might offer access for railway right-of-way photos but not being inclined, and too lazy to hoof it at those high altitudes, most photos with this article were taken during the train ride in comfortable rail car number twenty-five. Click on the camera to view the photos.
A Word About the Manitou Incline
Driving to Manitou Springs the visible line of a vertical cut through the trees may be seen on Mount Manitou. This is the Manitou Incline, a former 3 foot narrow gauge funicular railway beginning at 6,500 feet elevation and climbing to 8,590 feet with a maximum grade of 68 percent in places. The funicular opened in 1907 but was abandoned in 1990 due to a rock slide destroying the trackage. Since its closure as a railway in 1990, the right-of-way has grown in popularity as a hiking trail and fitness challenge. The current record for climbing the Manitou Incline is 16 minutes and 42 seconds by professional tri-athlete Mark Fretta.