Mount Washington Cog Railway

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Mount Washington Cog Railway
File:Marsh rack system of the Mount Washington Cog Railway.jpg
Track with rack
Locale Coos County, New Hampshire, USA
Dates of operation 1868–Present
Track gauge 4 ft 8 in (1,422 mm)
Length 3 miles (4.8 km)[1]
Headquarters Bretton Woods
Mount Washington Cog Railway
Line length 3 mi (4.8 km)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 in (1,422 mm)
Electrification none
Rack system Marsh rack system
Mt. Washington Cog Railway
Mount Washington Summit
Appalachian Trail
Skyline Siding
Waumbek Siding
Marshfield Station
Boston & Maine Railroad to Fabyan (Carroll)

The Mount Washington Cog Railway is the world's first mountain-climbing cog railway (rack-and-pinion railway). The railway is still in operation, climbing Mount Washington in New Hampshire, USA. It uses a Marsh rack system and one or two steam locomotives and five biodiesel powered locomotives to carry tourists to the top of the mountain. Its track is built to 4 ft 8 in (1,422 mm) gauge, which is technically a narrow gauge, as it is a ​12-inch (12.7 mm) less than 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge.

It is the second steepest rack railway in the world after the Pilatus railway,[2] with an average grade of over 25% and a maximum grade of 37.41%. The railway is approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) long and ascends Mt. Washington's western slope beginning at an elevation of approximately 2,700 feet (820 m) above sea level and ending just short of the mountain's summit peak of 6,288 feet (1,917 m). The train ascends the mountain at 2.8 miles per hour (4.5 km/h) and descends at 4.6 mph (7.4 km/h). It takes approximately 65 minutes to ascend and 40 minutes to descend although the diesel can go up in as little as 37 minutes.

Most of the Mount Washington Cog Railway is in Thompson and Meserve's Purchase, with the part of the railway nearest to Mt. Washington's summit being in Sargent's Purchase.


The railway was built by Sylvester Marsh[3] who grew up in Campton. Marsh came up with the idea while climbing the mountain in 1852.[4] His plan was treated as insane. Local tradition says that the state legislature voted permission based on a consensus that harm resulting from operating it was no issue — since the design was attempting the impossible — but benefits were guaranteed. He was putting up $5,000 of his own money, and that (plus whatever else he could raise) would be spent locally, including building the Fabyan House hotel at nearby Fabyan Station to accommodate the expected tourists. The railway is sometimes called "Railway to the Moon" because one state legislator remarked during the proceedings that Marsh should be given a charter—not merely up Mount Washington but also to the moon.

Marsh obtained a charter for the road on June 25, 1858, but the American Civil War prevented any action until May 1866.[4] He developed a prototype locomotive and a short demonstration section of track, then found investors and started construction.

Despite the railroad's incomplete state, the first paying customers started riding on August 14, 1868, and the construction reached the summit in July 1869.[4] The early locomotives all had vertical boilers, like many stationary steam engines of the time; the boilers were mounted on trunnions allowing them to be held vertically no matter what the gradient of the track. Later designs introduced horizontal boilers, slanted so that they remain close to horizontal on the steeply graded track.

Running the Railroad

Sylvester Marsh died in 1884 and control of the Cog passed to the Concord & Montreal Railroad, which ran it until 1889 when the Boston & Maine Railroad took over.[5][6]

Control by the Teagues began in 1931 when Col. Henry N. Teague bought the Cog. He died in 1951, and Arthur S. Teague became general manager, then gained ownership in 1961. (Arthur Teague was the colonel's protégé but no relation.) After he died in 1967, the ownership passed to his wife Ellen Crawford Teague who ran the Cog as the world's first woman president of a railway. In 1983, Mrs. Teague sold the railway to a group of New Hampshire businessmen. Since 1986, the Cog Railway has been controlled and owned by Wayne Presby and Joel Bedor of Littleton, New Hampshire. The Bedor and Presby families also owned the Mount Washington Hotel and Resort in Bretton Woods for the period 1991-2006. In 1995, the railway appointed Charles Kenison the General Manager. These individuals were responsible for a complete revitalization of the railroad, with the assistance of Al LaPrade, a mechanical engineer whose career began at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.[1][5][7] The Cog has been in continuous operation since 1869, with service interruptions only during the World Wars.

In the summer of 2008, the Cog introduced its first diesel locomotive. The Great Recession and the 2000s energy crisis led to fewer passengers, and the Cog sought to cut costs with the diesel, which could make three round trips for the cost of one steam train round trip. In 2014, the railroad carried the most passengers in its history, marking the third record year in a row.[8]

"Devil's shingle" slideboards

File:"Devil's shingle" slideboard.JPG
"Devil's Shingle" slideboard

In the early days of the railway's construction, the workers wanted to minimize time when climbing and descending the ramp, so they invented slideboards fitting over the cog rack and providing enough room for themselves and their tools. These boards – no two were exactly alike – were approximately 90 cm (35 in) long by 25 cm (9.8 in) wide, made of wood with hand-forged iron and with two long hardwood handles usually attached at the down-mountain end. The average time for the descent of the mountain using these boards was about 15 minutes. The record was 2:45, an average speed above 100 km/h (62 mph).[1]

The "Devil's shingles" were banned in 1906 after the accidental death of an employee. Later, the design of the rack was changed so that the old braking mechanism could no longer grip.


The first of two major accidents in the railway's history occurred in 1929, involving locomotive #1 (first named Hero and later Peppersass because of its vertical boiler's resemblance to a pepper sauce bottle). This locomotive was used to build the railway and was lost for many years, as it had been moved about the country and placed on display at numerous exhibitions. The owners of the railway at the time (the Boston & Maine Railroad) decided to restore Peppersass and make a commemorative trip for the railway's 60th anniversary. During the ascent, however, the locomotive's front axle broke and the locomotive began descending the mountain at high speed. All but one of its crew jumped to safety (though some suffered broken bones), but one man did not escape and died. The locomotive broke into pieces but the boiler did not rupture, and the pieces were later reassembled to reconstruct the locomotive for static display. It is now located at the Cog Railway Base Station.[9]

On September 17, 1967, eight passengers were killed and seventy-two injured when Engine #3 derailed at the Skyline switch about a mile below the summit. The engine rolled off the trestle while the uncoupled passenger car slid several hundred feet into a large rock. An investigation revealed that the Skyline switch had not been properly configured for the descending train. The railway nonetheless has a solid safety record, having taken over five million people to the summit during its existence.[10]

Mechanical design

Peppersass, built in 1866 and first known as Hero, displayed at the Base Station in 2006

The cog railway designs and builds all of its locomotives and passenger coaches at the company shops located at the base of Mt. Washington.[11]

Each train consists of a locomotive pushing a single passenger car up the mountain, descending the mountain by going backwards. Both locomotive and car were originally equipped with a ratchet and pawl mechanism engaged during the climb that prevents any roll-back; during descent, both locomotive and car are braked. Recent improvements in design have replaced the ratchet (gear and pawl mechanism) with sprag clutches and disc brake assemblies. Most of the locomotives were made by the Manchester Locomotive Works.[12]

The cog or rack and pinion system that allows the locomotive to climb Mt. Washington. Located in the museum.

The rack rail design used is one of Marsh's own inventions, using a ladder-like rack with open bar rungs engaged by the teeth of the cog wheel. This system allows snow and debris to fall through the rack rather than lodging in it.[13] A similar design called the Riggenbach rack system was invented by engineer Niklaus Riggenbach in Switzerland at about the same time. The Swiss Consul to the United States visited Marsh while constructing the railway up Mount Washington, and his enthusiastic reports persuaded the Swiss government to commission Riggenbach to build the Vitznau-Rigi-Bahn on Rigi Mountain, which opened on May 21, 1871.[14]

Initially, there was no way for two trains to pass one another on the Mount Washington Cog Railway. In 1941, a nine-motion switch was invented, and two spur sidings were added, each long enough to divert two descending trains so that climbing trains could continue to the summit, enabling more round trips per day.

A switch (transfer table) of Mount Washington Cog Railway

In 2004, work was completed replacing the lower Waumbek Switch and Siding with an 1,800-foot (550 m) passing loop equipped with electric and hydraulically powered automated switches. These switches are powered by batteries and recharged by solar panels. One switch is located at each end of the loop, allowing ascending and descending trains to pass one another.[15]

In 2014, work began on another switch and siding at the summit of Mt. Washington. When completed, the new switch will allow trains to pass one another at the summit of the mountain.

In 2008, work began on the first diesel locomotive to be powered with biodiesel, with the assistance of a retired mechanical engineer from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.[16] By 2013, the railway had completed the construction of five of these locomotives. Work is underway on a sixth diesel to be completed by 2016.

Modern operations

The most common trips on the Cog Railway are between the two main stations, one at the summit and the other adjacent to the operators' logistical and repair base.

From 2003 to 2006, "ski trains" ran, stopping at an intermediate station, from which passengers could ski down to the Base Station.

The Cog Railway track crosses a hiking trail a relatively short distance below the summit of Mount Washington, and some hikers wait for the next train in order to moon the passengers. This practice is known as "Mooning the Cog." Several hikers were arrested for performing this ritual in 2008.

File:New England Fall Color Tour Oct. 2012 207.JPG
A Cog locomotive ready to push a passenger car up the Mt. Washington Cog Railway on a foggy day in October, 2012.

Access to the base station by car is by three possible routes, each culminating with the upper portion of the dead-end Cog Base Road. The advertised, roughly eastbound route uses the Base Road's full length from Bretton Woods. An especially scenic route, initially southbound from U.S. Highway 2, follows Jefferson Notch Road, a narrow dirt road with hairpin turns; it rises 1,500 feet (460 m) to the pass, at 3,000 feet (910 m) above sea level, between Mount Jefferson in the Presidential Range and Mount Dartmouth, before descending to its junction with the Base Road. However, the Jefferson Notch Road is closed to wheeled vehicles in winter—and usually before and after—and used primarily by snowmobiles. The initially roughly northbound route from U.S. Highway 302 in Crawford Notch via Mt. Clinton Road is also closed in the winter to vehicular traffic. Operations of trains all winter began in 2004-2005, and the Cog Base Road is now plowed and sanded all winter to allow tourists, skiers, and employees access to the Base Station.

Environmental concerns

The steam locomotives on the railway generate large amounts of smoke, nicknamed Cog Smog.[17] The railway is exempted from the state's air-pollution-control law (RSA 125-C:20),[18] which exempts "any steam locomotives and engines or replacements thereof used in connection with the operation of a railroad or railway which were in operation or on order prior to January 1, 1973, and are located entirely within the state."

Each 3 mi (4.8 km) steam locomotive ride burns 1 short ton (0.91 t) of coal and consumes 1,000 US gallons (3,800 l) of water.[19]

One steam locomotive was converted to oil firing in 2008.[20] The attempt to oil fire the existing steam locomotives failed and in 2008 the railway introduced its first diesel locomotive which was designed and built by the railroad staff. Since 2008, four more diesels were completed (M-2 and M-3 in 2009, M-4 in 2011, and M-5 in 2013). All the new diesel hydraulic locomotives are operated on B20 (20% biodiesel blend) during the summer season. The company declared that the primary reason the new diesels were built was to reduce the visual pollution caused by the coal-fired steam locomotives, to lower emissions, and to increase the length of time that passengers could spend at the summit of Mt. Washington.[12]

Each 3 mi (4.8 km) diesel locomotive ride burns approx. 18 US gallons (68 l) of B20 (20% biodiesel blend) fuel.

The locomotives push passenger cars that have a 70 person capacity.


Number Name Image Builder Type Date Notes
1 Peppersass Mount Washington Cog Railway 2 035.jpg Campbell, Whittier and Company Steam locomotive 1866 World's first cog locomotive, originally named Hero. Last operated in 1929, and is now on display at Marshfield Station.
1 Mt. Washington Manchester Locomotive Works Steam locomotive 1883 Was the first #7 Falcon; renumbered to 1 following rebuilding after the 1895 fire. Renamed Mt. Washington after 1931. Currently stored out of service at the shops.
2 Ammonoosuc 150px Manchester Locomotive Works Steam locomotive 1875 Was second #4 Atlas; renumbered to 2 following rebuilding after the 1895 fire. Named Ammonoosuc after 1931. Still operating.
3 Agiocochook 150px Manchester Locomotive Works Steam locomotive 1883 Originally #2 of the Green Mountain Cog Railway. Was the third #5, not named; became the third #3 in 1934. This was the locomotive in the fatal accident of 1967. Renamed Agiocochook in 1995/96. Currently stored serviceable outside the shops.
4 Summit Manchester Locomotive Works Steam locomotive 1883 Summit (steel cab) / retired as Chocorua (wood cab). Originally #1 of the Green Mountain Cog Railway. Renamed Chocorua in 1999 / 2000. Engine #4 is currently on display in Twin Mountain at the intersection of Routes 3 and 302 using the cab and tender of dismantled engine #8.
6 Kancamagus 150px Manchester Locomotive Works Steam locomotive 1874 Originally built as first #6 Tip-Top with vertical boiler. Rebuilt into second #6 in 1878 with horizontal boiler. Was named Great Gulf. Currently stored serviceable inside the shops.
8 Moosilauke 150px Mt. Washington Cog Railway Shop Steam locomotive 1983 Built in 1983 by Mike Kenly at the Cog Shop. At the time was the world's newest steam locomotive. In 2008 a major boiler overhaul was underway when the project was scrapped in favor of building 2 new diesel locomotives. The cab and tender of #8 Tip-Top/Moosilauke now rides on #4 Summit/Chocourua. Currently stored out of service outside the shops.
8 Moosilauke 150px Manchester Locomotive Works Steam locomotive 1883 Originally #1 of the Green Mountain Cog Railway, then became Mt. Washington Cog Railway #4 Summit. Renamed Chocorua in 1996/97. In 2008 it was renumbered and renamed as #8 Moosilauke, coincident with the retirement of the other locomotive with that name and number. In 2013 the locomotive was donated to the village of Twin Mountain and placed on permanent static display at the intersection of U.S. Route 3 and U.S. Route 302.
9 Waumbek Manchester Locomotive Works Steam locomotive 1908 First horizontal boilered engine to have the cab on the same plane as the boiler. For a short time, this locomotive burned biodiesel, but was reconverted to coal. Still operating.
10 Col. Teague 150px Mt. Washington Cog Railway Shop Steam locomotive 1972 Uses a larger, welded boiler built by Munroe Boiler. Has the cab tilted on the same plane as the boiler. Converted to burn oil for a short time and converted back to coal. Was re-named the KroFlite. Now sits at the intersection of U.S. Route 302 and Base Station Rd. bearing its original name as a sign for the entrance to the railway.
M-1 Wajo Nanatassis 150px Mt. Washington Cog Railway Shop Diesel locomotive 2008 First diesel-hydraulic locomotive. Powered by biodiesel (B20).
M-2 Algonquin 150px Mt. Washington Cog Railway Shop Diesel locomotive 2009 Second diesel-hydraulic locomotive. Powered by biodiesel (B20)
M-3 Abenaki 150px Mt. Washington Cog Railway Shop Diesel locomotive 2009 Third diesel-hydraulic locomotive. Powered by biodiesel (B20)
M-4 Agiocochook 150px Mt. Washington Cog Railway Shop Diesel locomotive 2010 Fourth diesel-hydraulic locomotive, Powered by biodiesel (B20)
M-5 Metallak 150px Mt. Washington Cog Railway Shop Diesel locomotive 2013 Fifth diesel-hydraulic locomotive, Powered by biodiesel (B20)

The Cog Railway also rosters seven wooden coaches.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "History of the Mount Washington Cog Railway -- The Heart of New England". Retrieved 2008-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "#220 Pilatusbahn (1882)". American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Archived from the original on 26 December 2010. Retrieved 13 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Charles Carleton Coffin, "Sylvester Marsh 'The Projector of the Mount Washington Railroad'". The Bay State Monthly. A Massachusetts Magazine. Vol. III, May 1885. No. II.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). [ "Marsh, Sylvester" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 4. New York: D. Appleton. p. 219.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Mount Washington Railway Company - Historical Timeline
  6. See also The Story of Mount Washington, by F. Allen Burt, and Mt. Washington Cog Railway', published by the Mt. Washington Cog Railway in 1964 and again in 1975.
  7. Teague, Ellen Crawford, I Conquered My Mountain: The Autobiography of Ellen Crawford Teague, Caanan, New Hampshire: Phoenix Publishing, 1982
  8. "Top 10 railroad stories of 2008". Trains News Wire. 2008-12-31. Retrieved 2009-01-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Howe, Nicholas (2000). Not Without Peril. Appalachian Mountain Club. pp. 118–124.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "CLIMBING JACOB'S LADDER, SCARED STIFF". New Hampshire Public Television. Retrieved 2015-05-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Presby, Wayne. "The Mount Washington Cog Railway Goes Green" (PDF). The Mount Washington Cog Railway. Retrieved 2014-04-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 While much is made of the ecological significance of the biodiesel-fueled locomotives, it should be noted that -- as is the case with most biodiesel -- the fuel is a blend containing only a small fraction of biodiesel and the rest conventional petroleum-based diesel fuel; 1/5 biodiesel in the case of the Mt. Washington locomotives. Zimmermann, Karl (May 2011). "A New Moon over New Hampshire" (PDF). Trains. Kalmsbach Publishing Co. Retrieved 2014-03-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Bermudes, Robert W., Jr. (2014). "Mount Washington Railway Company". Cog Railway. Retrieved 2014-03-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Jehan, David (2003). Rack Railways of Australia (2nd. ed.). Illawarra Light Railway Museum Society. ISBN 0-9750452-0-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Mount Washington Cog Railway - Technology". Retrieved 2005-11-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "From the Shipyard to the Railyard—Al Laprade Important Cog". Website. Mount Washington Cog Railway. 2008. Retrieved 2014-04-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Kalasky, William (August 31, 2008). "The historic Cog Railway is vanishing". New Hampshire Union Leader. Retrieved September 20, 2010. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Chapter 125-C Air Pollution Control". State of New Hampshire. Retrieved 2008-04-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Cog Railway: Engines". Mount Washington Cog Railway. Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. Retrieved 2008-04-14. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Press, Associated (September 7, 2008). "Cog Railway gets new biodiesel locomotive". Nashua Telegraph. Retrieved September 10, 2008. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |work= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

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