Future in doubt for Pikes Peak Cog Railway, a Colorado Springs legacy tourist attraction
After more than a century as one of the area's premier tourist attractions, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway's future is in doubt.
The railway, which has shuttled generations of visitors on breathtaking, 8.9-mile trips to the summit of Pikes Peak and back, won't reopen this spring after several months of maintenance, and it could remain closed for up to three years while its owner, The Broadmoor hotel, studies its fate, hotel President and CEO Jack Damioli said Tuesday.
After that process, it might be rebuilt or might never reopen, he said.
"We want to run a five-star, five-diamond operation, including the railroad," Damioli said of the hotel and amenities. "We need to take a look at the next step."
The railway, whose system of cog wheels mesh with a special center "rack" rail that allows the train to climb much steeper grades than traditional trains, has operated safely since it opened in 1891, Damioli said.
But hotel officials have determined the railroad - including its aging infrastructure and equipment - "has run its useful life," he said.
As a result, and because relatively few such railways exist in the world, hotel officials have launched a review of the Cog Railway that could take two to three years.
"We are looking at either a complete closure or a complete rebuild and replacement of the engines, cars, track and even potentially the depot," Damioli said. "I hope something in between is where we arrive. But first we have to explore the opportunity and get feedback from all of the stakeholders."
Manitou Springs - the railway's starting point - and its businesses, Colorado Springs and El Paso County, the U.S. Forest Service and area tourist attractions are among those stakeholders, he said.
The Cog Railway is one of only two in the country; the other is in New Hampshire.
"We are the tallest in the world, and there are only 40 in the world," Damioli said. "All of the people with expertise in this don't live in this country. They're from Switzerland, Europe and India. We need to gather the facts and do our due diligence."
During mid-summer, the railway runs eight daily departures of up to 12 trains on round-trips to Pikes Peak.
As part of routine maintenance, personnel measure the wear on cog wheels on each rail car every year; when the wear is too great, wheels are rotated or changed, the railway website says.
The railway also spent millions in recent years to replace the transmissions, brake systems and other rail car equipment, according to the website. Exact maintenance schedules weren't shown.
"This has been a situation that has evolved," Damioli said. "We will continue to investigate and look at it. Spring is coming, and we have to be open and honest with all. We have to move forward with what the new cog will look like and whether it is viable."
A closure or rebuild could have wide-ranging effects.
The internationally known Broadmoor on Colorado Springs' southwest side is one of the world's most successful hotel and resort properties and marks its 100th anniversary in June. Rebuilding the Cog Railway likely would mean an investment of "tens of millions of dollars," Damioli said.
Whether that price tag would be paid by the hotel or if community stakeholders would be asked to chip in isn't known.
Though the Broadmoor is exploring all options, Damioli said, “This is our project. If it’s going to be rebuilt, we’ll pay for it.”
Other than hiking, there are two ways to reach Pikes Peak: a drive up the winding, paved Pikes Peak Highway and the Cog Railway.
For the Pikes Peak region, the railway's closure would take a bite out of the tourism industry, where visitors spent $2.3 billion in hotel stays, meals and the like in 2016, the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau says.
At its peak times during the summer, the railway carries 2,300 passengers a day, according to Gazette archives. The cost for an approximate three-hour trip up and down Pikes Peak is $40 for adults and $5 for parking.
The Cog Railway's potential closure comes as the city is preparing to build a new Summit House on the top of Pikes Peak. The hotel's railway decision, however, is "totally independent" of that project, Damioli said.
Still, a new Summit House and Cog Railway would be special, he said.
"We first have to determine: Do we have a project, and is it feasible? Can we get support? Those questions have to be answered before we go down the road of a new Summit House and railway."
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said Tuesday he'd love to see The Broadmoor rebuild the railway.
"It's a legacy tourist attraction in Colorado Springs," he said. "It gives another dimension to a visit to Pikes Peak that you can't get any other way."
The city, however, shouldn't use general fund tax dollars to support tourist attractions, Suthers said.
"I'm just hoping that the numbers work out and it's something that they're able to do," he said.