Search and rescue crews help two hikers off Pikes Peak
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A visitor walks into the weathered summit house Saturday morning, June 22, 2013, on the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

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In the wake of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway shutdown, tour bus operator Gray Line plans to begin daily round-trip shuttles to the summit of Pikes Peak on April 15 with 14-passenger vans and 21- and 29-passenger shuttle buses.

The railway, a premier tourist attraction that 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. 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 recently. After that process, it might be rebuilt or never reopen, he said.

Chuck Murphy Jr., managing partner of Gray Line operator Colorado Tour Line LLC, said the company plans to start with two round trips a day at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., leaving from popular Colorado Springs hotels, and could operate up to five daily trips if it can find enough drivers. Gray Line plans to offer the shuttle rides with a $65 fare for adults through Nov. 1, but would consider offering the service year-round if it is successful, he said.

"We had offered these shuttles because there was not enough seats on the train until 10 or 12 years ago, when the Cog Railway expanded" and the shuttles were no longer needed to meet passenger demand, Murphy said. "We decided to do this after hearing that the Cog Railway had canceled plans" to resume its train service to the summit.

Gray Line can transport about 200-250 passengers a day to the summit, a fraction of the nearly 2,400-passenger capacity of the Cog Railway when it operates its peak summer schedule, Murphy said. The company is seeking approval from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, which regulates bus operators, to offer group and nonprofit rates.

Several other tour and shuttle operators also offer rides to the summit, said Jack Glavan, manager of the Pikes Peak Highway, which the city of Colorado Springs owns and operates. All of those operators use vans or shuttle buses with a capacity of 12-15 people, he said.

iLimo, one of the five companies registered with the highway, already has expanded its operation to offer daily trips, while Adventures Out West has plans in the works to expand its fleet. Manitou Jeep Tours is considering an uptick in its fleet, and Aspire Tours, a Denver-based company that only offers Pikes Peak Highway tours to private groups, has no plans for expansion.

Colorado Explorer, the fifth company registered to operate on the highway, did not immediately respond for comment. Gray Line is seeking drivers and tour guides for the Pikes Peak summit service who must apply in person at the company's offices, 2375 Janitell Road, as well as pass a drug test, background check and physical exam, Murphy said.

Colorado Tour Line bought the Gray Line franchise, which had once been owned by The Broadmoor, in 1989 and added a Denver franchise seven years later.

The Anschutz Corporation, owner of The Broadmoor, also owns The Gazette.

Gazette reporter Liz Forster contributed to this story.

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

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