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Cog plans $500,000 upgrade over 2 years, ridership soars



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A new automatic solar-powered hydraulic switch similar to this one, also designed by Al LaPrade of Jefferson, will be installed as part of a two-year half-million-dollar upgrade of the Mount Washington Cog Railway's end-of-the line tracks atop the 6,288-foot summit of Mount Washington, according to Cog president-co-owner Wayne Presby of Littleton. File photo. (click for larger version)
March 26, 2014
SARGENT'S PURCHASE — As soon as the weather will allow it, members of the Mount Washington Cog Railway track-and-construction crew will start work ripping out the old trestle and then replacing the old track northeast of the Sherman Adams Building just below the 6,288-foot Rock Pile's summit.

The existing high trestle will be permanently removed along any aging ties that must replaced, and a stretch of track, parallel to the existing one and on its east side, will be installed, designed to more closely hug the cone's terrain, explained Cog Railway president-co-owner Wayne Presby of Littleton.

An automatic hydraulic switch will be installed, likely in 2015, allowing up to four trains to be at the summit at one time, stopped alongside a reconfigured and more efficiently laid-out platform on the half-acre parcel that's the Cog owns. Handicapped-accessibility is also being upgraded at both the Base and the summit platform.

When the project is completed, Presby said, as soon as one or two trains arrive at summit, one or two trains can immediately leave for the Marshfield Base Station, approximately three miles away.

The time-consuming process of temporarily chaining the locomotive to the passenger car will also be eliminated, thanks to the change being made in the track's slope.

"These changes could potentially increase our ridership by 30 to 40 percent; trains will be able to leave the Base Station every 45 minutes — not every hour, as now," Presby explained.

The trip only takes 37 minutes.

"When our new computer system is in place, our customers will be able to separately book their trip up the mountain and down the mountain, allowing them the flexibility of staying an hour, two hours, four hours or whatever on the summit, possibly even taking short hikes to experience the alpine zone. They'll be able to book online or from their iPhones. Cog personnel will use handheld scanners to check the tickets of riders who getting onto trains."

Remnants of an old water tower will be removed, in keeping with the Cog's ongoing project of hauling away debris and old ties from alongside the tracks.

The Cog Shop crew recently built a new low-profile heavy-equipment carrier, and the Cog will now be able to haul up its own front-end loaders and the like up to the summit, rather than using the Auto Road.

Five bio-diesel locomotives with John Deere have already been built in the Cog Shops, and it is likely that a sixth one will be constructed on-site over the winter of 2014-15.

Passenger coaches are being upgraded this winter, by being outfitted with the new "air-ride" system, eliminating the bone-rattling "bumps and jumps" for which the Cog was so well known.

"The new system, which we installed in a passenger coach before in 2013, provides a smoother, quieter ride — one that doesn't make our riders feel anxious or scared," Presby said.

The introduction of bio-diesel locomotives, plus automated hydraulic switches, has combined to greatly increase ticket sales, producing back-to-back record-breaking years in 2012 and 2013, he said.

His wife, Susan Presby, has had great success with group sales to operators of sightseeing motor coaches.

The Cog's use of clean bio-diesel fuel — B-20 — has drawn a lot of customers and a lot of attention, Presby pointed out.

"MotorWeek," a half-hour show regularly produced by Maryland Public Television that is seen nationally on PBS, the Discovery Network, and Velocity, will feature the Cog and its "green" makeover this year.

Nonetheless, the Mount Washington Railway still values its roots and traditions and will continue to run "steamers" up the mountain as long as customers want to enjoy the nostalgia and sense of adventure, Presby said.

He recalled that when he and Joel Bedor, both of Littleton, bought the Cog in 1983, only some 25,000 people a year bought tickets.

Now that figure stands at about 90,000, with the great leap in ridership coming in the last decade. The first bio-diesel locomotive went into service six years ago in 2008.

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