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Cog Railway Breaks the Mold of Traditional Train Design

The Cog Railway is known as the world’s shortest - and steepest - railroad.

Thu July 02, 2015 - Northeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

A cog is defined as “one of a series of teeth, as on the rim of a wheel or gear, whose engagement transmits successive motive force to a corresponding wheel or gear.” The Cog Railway travels 2 .75 miles up to the 6,288 ft. (1,916 m) summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire on just such a system. From this peak on a clear day, the view includes the valleys of New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont, north into Canada and east to the Atlantic Ocean.

The Cog Railway was the dream of Sylvester Marsh who, in 1852, became lost trying to climb to the summit of Mount Washington. He knew that there had to be a better way for people to reach the peak of the highest mountain in the northeast. When he returned from his adventure, he started working on his plan to build the world’s first mountain climbing railway.

A Unique Design

The grade that the train travels up the tracks is extraordinary. On average, the train is traveling a 25 percent grade, and at times as much as a 37 percent grade, thus the need for engines to be designed that can operate at that severe of a grade.

The Cog Railway is not powered by the steam engine turning its wheels on the track like conventional trains. With the slope of the mountain and the degree of incline, traditional train design would never work.

On this train in the center of its axis there is a large cog, which is turned by the power from the train’s engine. The train travels up the mountain on what initially looks like a traditional railroad track, except that in the center of the track lies what looks like a giant bicycle chain that is broken and stretched out dead center the entire length of the track. It is this giant bicycle chain that the cog in the center of the axle of the train actually makes contact with and climbs up the mountain

A Momentous Task

To build the railway, equipment and materials had to be hauled by hand and by oxen nearly 30 miles, at times through thick woods. Despite all of the obstacles, on July 3, 1869, a uniquely designed engine called “Old Peppersass” pulled the first cog driven train up the summit of Mount Washington. People flocked from across the eastern United States to enjoy this unique tourist attraction.

Throughout the years the Cog Railway has remained one of New Hampshire’s largest tourist attractions; Last year 92,000 people took the train.

Mount Washington’s Cog Railway has a deep-rooted history of innovation and fabrication. The earliest engines, with their unique design, including the cog drive system and a steam engine that needed to be designed at a dramatic angle in order to function properly during the ascent and descent of the mountain, were engineered and fabricated by Cog Railway employees.

Ever sensitive to the environment that it operates in, the Cog Railway has made every effort to leave the smallest environmental footprint it can on Mount Washington. Over the years the employees have incorporated biodiesel engines and solar power along with onboard computing, making the Cog Railway a leader in cutting edge technology and environmental sensitivity.

Facing Challenges

To accommodate the increased demand for passenger capacity design, improvements are constantly being added, including a fourth new rail switch, which is currently being built at the summit (this switch will be powered off the grid.)

Working at the summit of Mount Washington brings with it its own unique challenges.

Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288 ft (1,917 m) and the most prominent mountain east of the Mississippi River. It is famous for dangerously erratic weather, which at the top of the mountain is so extreme that the frost never leaves much more than the first foot of the ground surface; the next several feet are frozen year-round.

Mount Washington is consistently one of the coldest, windiest areas in the northeast. Temperatures are well below zero on a daily basis for six months out of the year and winds from 70 to 110 mph are not unusual.

Heavy snowfall is the expected from October through April and it is not unusual for some amount of snow to fall in the dead of summer.

To learn how to construct in such inclement weather one of the cog’s engineers visited the Alaska DOT for advice. The landscape surface is covered with rocks 2- to 20-ft. (.6 to 6 m) diameter. To clear an area for the construction of the new switch it was decided that bringing an excavator to the top of the mountain equipped with a hydraulic hammer, bucket and thumb would be the best way to clear the rocky terrain.

But, how do you get an excavator to the peak of the highest mountain in the northeast? By train, of course.

In shopping for an excavator, the size of machine was dictated by the pulling capacity of the train engine. A 30,000 lb. (13,608 kg) Doosan DX140LCR fit the bill.

A special flat was constructed to haul the excavator by Cog Railway 1.2 mi. above sea level. Because of the limited sized excavator that could be hauled to the summit, a thumb and a breaker would not be able to handle the moving of the large rocks so the Doosan is being equipped with a 5,000 ft. lb. hammer in addition to the Geith coupler and bucket.

According to Gareth Slattery, operations manager of Cog Railway, “When we have construction challenges here at the railway they are always a little more complicated than they may at first seem. Over the years I have found that my best bet is to make the first phone call to Jim Mullen at Equipment East in Dracut, Massachusetts. We have used Jim for a long time. He understands the demands of our business and when we purchase or rent equipment from him and Equipment East we know that we will get the service we are looking for. Jim was able to size up our needs, recommend the best machine that he would have available for the job, and the idea of servicing a piece of equipment at the top of Mount Washington did not intimidate him.”

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