Relax and watch in wonder as you climb to 14,115 feet above sea level to the summit of America's favorite mountain - Pikes Peak.

History of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway

First off...

What is a "Cog" Railway?

Conventional railroads use the friction of wheels upon the rails, called "adhesion", to provide locomotive power. A cog, or rack, railroad uses a gear, "cog wheel", meshing into a special rack rail (mounted in the middle between the outer rails) to climb much steeper grades than those possible with a standard adhesion railroad. An adhesion railroad can only climb grades of 4 to 6%, with very short sections of up to 9%. A "rack" railroad can climb grades of up to 48%, depending upon the type of rack system employed. Some Swiss trains use a combination of "rack" and "adhesion". This enables the trains to reach much higher speeds on the adhesion sections (rack railroads can not go much faster than 25 miles per hour or they run the risk of dislodgement from the rack rail- M & PP Ry.'s top speed is about 9 MPH).

The first cog (or "rack") railway was built in New Hampshire in 1869,
but the Swiss were quick to make use of this technology, and numerous rack railways were built there. Indeed, Switzerland is still the country where most rack railways are located. The Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway is, however, the highest rack railway in the world as well as the highest railway in North America and the Northern Hemisphere. The M&PP Ry. has a perfect safety record!

The Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway uses the Abt rack system. The maximum grades are 25%, which is about the upper limit for the Abt system. Many rack railroads use the Riggenbach system, also called "ladder rack". The steepest cog railway in the world is the Mt. Pilatus Railway in Lucerne, Switzerland. It uses the Locher rack system to climb grades of 48% !

(P.S. Thanks to Mr. Frick, former Pres. and General Manager of the M & PP Ry. for pointing out the correct grade of the Pilatusbahn and proofing the technical and historical sections of this site.)

Photo courtesy Tom Jamison & Family


One of the tourists who visited the Pikes Peak region in the late-1880's was Zalmon Simmons, inventor and founder of the Simmons Beautyrest Mattress Company. Mr. Simmons rode to the summit of Pike's Peak on a mule, partly to enjoy the view and partly to check upon one of his inventions: an insulator for the telegraph wires which ran to the Army Signal Station on the summit. The arduous, two day trip on a mule was the only way to reach the top in those days. Mr. Simmons was awed by the scenery but determined that the views should be experienced in a more civilized and comfortable manner. He was relaxing in one of Manitou Springs' mineral baths after his return, when the owner of his Hotel mentioned the idea of a railway to the top. Mr. Simmons agreed with the concept and set about providing the capital needed to fund such a venture.

In 1889, the Manitou & Pike's Peak Railway Company was founded and track construction began in earnest. Top wages were 25 cents per hour. Six workers died in blasting and construction accidents. The Age of Steam predominated the late 1800’s, and from Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, three engines were delivered in 1890. Limited service was initiated in that year to the Halfway House Hotel . These locomotives were eventually converted to operate upon the Vauclain Compound principle, and a total of six were in service during the "steam" era. The original three were named "Pike’s Peak," "Manitou" and "John Hulbert," but they soon were assigned numbers. Of the original six, only #4 is still in operation and along with a restored coach makes infrequent trips short distances up the track.

The spring of 1891 was a snowy one, and the opening of the line was delayed until late June. On the afternoon of June 30th, 1891, the first passenger train, carrying a church choir from Denver, made it to the summit. A scheduled group of dignitaries had been turned back earlier by a rock slide around 12,000 feet. The railway was now operating.


A new era began in the late 1930’s with the introduction of gasoline and diesel powered locomotives. Spencer Penrose, owner of The Broadmoor Hotel, had acquired the Railway in 1925 and efforts were begun to build a compact, self-contained railcar, which could carry fewer passengers during the slow parts of the season. These efforts culminated in No. 7; a gas-powered, 23-passenger unit, which made its first run on June 16, 1938. It is believed that No. 7 is the first rack railcar ever built in the world.
The experiment was a huge success, and within a year of No. 7’s introduction, No. 8, the world’s first diesel-electric cog locomotive, was delivered from the General Electric Company. Coupled with "Streamliner" coaches, No.s 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 formed the backbone of the Railway’s fleet in the period from 1940 through 1965. The coaches could carry 56 passengers in comfort and style, and the diesel locomotives eliminated the time-consuming water stops as well as the back-breaking job of shoveling coal.