If you’re a railfan, you’ve probably seen the Denver & Rio Grande Western (D&RGW) in your travels. But if you’re a foreigner, or have never been out west, chances are you’ve never seen this iconic steam-powered train running. The D&RGW is a historic icon of Americana, operating the highest mainline elevation in the country at the Colorado Rocky Mountains. For 130 years, the steam train has been transporting passengers and freight to the remote area known as the San Juan Range for copper, silver, gold and uranium mining.
After taking a little break in 2015, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Railroad is making its return this year. The railroad’s route runs along the Arkansas River in northern Colorado, and, as the train traverses 10,000 feet of altitude, it runs through the Colorado Rocky Mountain region—an area that is home to a significant number of mountains, high altitude lakes, and lush grasslands.
Aimee Schneider Photography/Corbis via Getty Images This week, a rare piece of Colorado history is being resurrected by the people who know it best. The narrow gauge railway that was once used to bring coal and resources to the Leadville mining town of Georgetown is now open for business again.
For the first time in 130 years, a one-of-a-kind railway system that has taken tourists to the summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado has been given a fresh lease of life.
The historic Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway has reopened after a three-year shutdown and a $100 million full-scale restoration that included rebuilding the trains, re-laying the track, redesigning the rail stops, and building a new depot and the Pikes Peak Visitor Center.
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Its mechanisms are specially built to manage its meandering course through the magnificent Rocky Mountains, with slopes as steep as 25%. It is recognized as the world’s highest cog railway (it is really only one of two such railroads in the whole United States).
Pikes Peak, often known as “America’s Mountain,” offers magnificent panoramic views of the wooded landscapes that are believed to have inspired the song “America the Beautiful,” and the hour-long trek to the summit is as breathtaking.
Since its initial construction in 1891, the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway has been transporting people to the summit. It is a significant part of the Western United States’ history, partly because it was such a pioneering project at a period when people were new to the area and local mining communities were still in their infancy.
“We think the Broadmoor is a gateway to the American West,” said Jack Damioli, president and CEO of The Broadmoor hotel in neighboring Colorado Springs, which now owns the railway.
Because of an unique third wheel that connects onto a third rail in the middle of the track, the cog railway’s trains can climb almost 14,000 feet to the top on such steep inclines.
“A cog railway is a railway like any other, except that we receive all of our traction and brakes from a central third rail. The outer rails provide all of the propulsion and braking for a normal railway “Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway assistant general manager Ted Johnston told CBS News.
The Broadmoor Manitou and the Pikes Peak Cog Railway train in Colorado. (picture courtesy of Flickr user pdsphil)
The trains’ systems and rail carriages were updated with 20th-century technology as new decades began, but most of the railway infrastructure remained unaltered for nearly 125 years. That is, until the line was shut down in 2018 to make way for $100 million in repairs.
“When we were working on this project, we looked at everything. We’re now on the track, with trains and a depot facility. We also upgraded some of our older equipment “Johnston said.
The rails were fully rebuilt for the first time since they were put down in the late 19th century, and the business installed three new trains, as well as a snowblower, so they can run in any weather condition.
Because train systems have greatly improved, and cog railroads and related components were uncommon even at the time of construction, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway engineers were forced to seek assistance from a European counterpart firm. Stadler Rail, a Swiss company whose trains cross the Alps, aided with the production and shipment of new rail cars abroad.
“The thrill of riding a train to the top of a 14,000-foot mountain hasn’t altered. Yes, the automobiles are brand new. The song is brand new. However, that awe-inspiring feeling remains the same “According to Johnston.
Visit cograilway.com for additional information.
The Rocky Mountain Scenic Railroad, a scenic rail journey of historic trails and mountain views, has been operating since 1977, but it’s been closed for the last five years. Now the railway is back in business and a historic train ride has returned to the Colorado Rockies.. Read more about where is the highest railway in the us and let us know what you think.
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