History of Pikes Peak Railway

In August 1997 we had the pleasure of travelling on the Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which is not only a fun but also breathtaking experience in the true sense of the word as this standard gauge cog railway travels to an elevation of 14110 feet and the amount of oxygene is quite small up there.

Contrary to a conventional railroad which can climb maximum grades of 7 percent (with the help of adhesion from the wheels) a cog railway can managed much higher grades with the help of racks between the rails and cogwheels on the axles of the railcar or locomotive. The Pikes Peak Railway has grades of up to 25 percent and an average grade of 15 percent. It is not only the highest peak reached by a cograilway in the world but has also the highest altitude gain of 7500 feet within little more than 9 miles. The railway features such amazing parts as Windy Point, Son Of a Gun Hill or Slides Cut.

Pikes Peak was first sighted in 1806 by Zebulon Pike. Tourism developed and by the 1880s it was common to ride to the top on mules, which however was quite tedious and tiring. One of those tourists Zalmon Simmons decided to build a railway in order to get to the summit more easily.

In 1889 the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway Corporation was incorporated and by October 1890 the last spike was driven. The first official train was operated on June 30th 1891. By accident the dignitaries who where to be the first officials to reach the summit where held up by a rockslide. So the first passengers to reach the top where the local church choir.

The railway was first operated using steam engines, which meant shoveling a lot of coal and picking up water several times along the route. In 1938 the first gas powered railcar was introduced followed by a diesel electric locomotives from General Electric. This was a huge success, as the locomotives combined with streamliner cars served well into the 1960s.

By 1964 the Pikes Peak railway turned to Switzerland, home of many cog railways and aquired diesel electric railcars, the GE locos retiring in 1965. These cars where again a huge success and where replaced in 1974 by newer higher capacity railcars again built in Switzerland. These cars which closely resemble the electric railcars of the Gornergradbahn in Zermatt seat over 200 people and are in service today.

A ride on the Pikes Peak Railway is possible from late April to late October and the trains run several times a day. In August 1997 the cost for a round trip was 21.50 Dollar. Advance reservations are recommended (Tel.: 303 685 5401).

Even if the weather my look rainy at the station in Manitou Springs the sun may shine on the top as you do climb quite high up. It takes about one and a half hours for the ride up and the same time back down. You will have a stay of approximately 45 minutes at the top - which is long enough considering the fact that you will probably feel a little shaky after about 5 minutes. There is a restaurant and souvenir shop at the top.

The ride itself is enhanced by the very humorous conductors who not only give you all the information you need but also make quite a few jokes along the way. I do not want to give away too much but how about this one:

As we passed an opposite train hour conductor told us: Have a look at those people, this is what you will look like when you come back down in one hour.Needless to say that all these people had been prompted by the conductor of the oncoming train to put on a show as being ill, tired and drenched.

This may not be mainline railroading but it certainly is worth a visit and a ride, not just for railfans but for the entire family.

The Pikes Peak Railway also has a homepage on the net:

Pikes Peak Cog Railway Homepage


Last Update: Mar 1st 2008

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