Cog Railway Media Resources
NEW SWITCHING SYSTEM INSTALLED
BRETTON WOODS, NH – More than 60 years have passed since a switching system was installed at The Mount Washington Cog Railway. Four years ago, an automatic prototype was created and installed at the Marshfield Base Station. The base switch, and two others along the track leading to the summit of the northeast’s highest peak, route trains between the main line and a supplemental track, or siding, allowing trains to pass each other.
The new automatic hydraulic switch replaced a manually operated nine-piece system. Railway Engineer Al LaPrade designed the prototype and constructed it using steel from Isaacson Steel of Berlin, NH. It was such a success, a new switch was installed at the Waumbek siding in 2003.
“The switches we designed were inspired by several European designs we investigated over the last several years. Our new switches are intended to replace ones installed in the line in 1941,” says LaPrade. “We’re applying the same innovative thinking that Sylvester Marsh used when he built the Cog Railway. We think he would embrace the enhancements to the operation these new switches afford.”
Completed in 1869, The Mount Washington Cog railway was the world’s first of its kind. After a harrowing hike to the summit of Mount Washington, Sylvester Marsh, a native of Campton, NH, renowned for patents he held in the grain and meatpacking industries, started work on a plan to allow visitors easier access by way of a mountain climbing railway. In the spring lf 1858, Marsh applied to the New Hampshire State Legislature for a charter to build his railroad. Legend has it, the response was a universal burst of laughter throughout the chamber, and the idea was thought to be so ludicrous, one member suggested an amendment that would allow Mr. Marsh to extend his railroad to the moon! Marsh remained steadfast and since he did not ask for an appropriation of money, his charter was approved. Eleven years later, Marsh’s dream became a reality.
The original cog railway had no railway sidings. Trains could not pass on another and the engines held very small amounts of water and wood, which they used to stoke the boilers. This made the trip very slow because numerous stops were made to take on water and wood. The first trains took five hours to make the round trip to the summit. In the 1930s, owner Colonel Henry Teague conceived of a shuttle system. One set of trains traveled between the Base Station and Waumbek, another between Waumbek, and Skyline, and a third between Skyline and the summit. Each time they met, both upward and downward bound passengers were exchanged. This allowed passengers to depart every hour from the Base Station.
The early 1990's witnessed a number of remarkable improvements to engines, passenger cars and equipment. The Cog’s general manager Arthur Teague (no relation the Henry) offered the most crucial and visible improvements – track switches, which were needed to accommodate more passengers and eliminate the awkward shuttling. Designing a track switch for this railroad was no ordinary task, and Teague sought the help of Lawrence Richardson, a mechanical engineer for the Boston and Maine Railroad. Not only did the cog gears have to turn with the train’s wheels while remaining firmly engaged in the rack, there could be no interference with the driving gears and brake mechanism. After fabricating the various parts, an elaborate hand-operated switch and siding track were installed at Waumbek about a third way up the mountain in 1941, and another at Skyline, two-thirds up the mountain, the following year. These same switch designs are still in use today. Each time trains pass, the switches are thrown by hand four times: before entering a siding, to let the other train pass, to exit the siding and again to keep the main line clear.
Recent surveys of visitors to the Mount Washington Cog Railway indicated that riders wanted more time at the summit and less travel time. In the future, new automatic switches and a 1,000-foot “passing track” will be constructed between the Waumbek water tank and the Half Way House. This will allow upward and downward bound trains to pass one another by using the track loop with one automated switch at either end of the loop. This will shorten the round trip excursion time by a third without increasing the speed of the locomotives and it will increase rider capacity by 50 percent to give passengers more flexibility in the length of stay at the summit.
“When we became the stewards of this historic landmark in 1983, nearly 25 years ago, we had a dream that we could restore and upgrade the operation of The Cog Railway without changing the truly unique experience that attracts so many visitors, “says Cog Railway President Wayne Presby. “We began by restoring several of the engines, upgrading the track, and building new passenger coaches. These new switches are one more step to ensuring that future generations will enjoy this engineering marvel.”
For more information about The Cog Railway, please call 1-800-922-8825 or visit
Meet a Cogger
Media Photo Gallery
For more information, contact The Cog at 1-800-922-8825
or in New Hampshire at 603-278-5404.