One of the region's top tourist attractions is on track to return in exactly one year.
Construction crews this week laid the first rail for the new Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which has started to take shape at the top of Pikes Peak and will stretch 8.9 miles as it descends nearly 8,000 feet down the mountain to its depot in Manitou Springs.
The new Cog Railway, whose $100 million price tag includes a refurbished depot, three new engines and nine new train cars, is on pace to meet a previously announced reopening in May 2021, said Ted Johnston, the railway's assistant general manager.
"We've been building up to this and just wanted to get going," Johnston said of the initial track installation. "Now that we are, it's kind of like a little relief. But at the same time, it's very exciting."
The laying of the first new rail marks a milestone in the return of the Cog Railway, whose scenic treks to the summit of Pikes Peak began in 1891 and which became one of the area's premier tourist draws over several decades, carrying upward of 2,300 passengers a day during peak times in the summer.
But its future was in doubt after the Cog closed in late 2017 for winter maintenance. Citing the railroad's aging infrastructure and equipment, its owner, The Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs, could not guarantee it would reopen while studying the cost of a rebuild.
Eventually, hotel officials decided to pursue a new Cog Railway, and struck a tax-incentive deal with the city of Manitou Springs to help finance the reconstruction.
The rail line installation has been in the works for more than a year.
From March to September of 2019, the old track was demolished and removed. Last month, snow removal was completed to make way for the new track, while railway general contractor Stacy and Witbeck, based outside San Francisco, began staging steel ties, rails and ballast — stones and rocks that will make up the road bed upon which tracks and ties are laid and attached.
About 30 Stacy and Witbeck workers, equipment operators and project managers, aided by heavy construction vehicles, now are installing tracks over the next several months, Johnston said.
The rails being laid come in 40-foot-long sections and weigh nearly 870 pounds — heavier, but more modern than the old rails and a better fit for the new Cog Railway, he said. As part of the project, crews also will replace nearly 23,000 rail ties.
The Cog Railway uses a special center "rack" rail with interlocking gears and teeth that help propel the train up Pikes Peak's steep inclines. As part of its reconstruction, the railway is converting from an older system that uses a double set of teeth to one with a single set.
The single set system is heavier, thicker and will wear almost twice as long as the old system while reducing maintenance costs, Johnston said.
The three new engines and nine train cars that are part of the project are being manufactured by Stadler Bussnang, a Swiss company. The first engine and three cars, along with snow plow equipment, are expected to arrive in January, Johnston said.
In addition to the start of track installation, the renovation of the railway's Manitou Springs depot is poised to begin in the next week or two, Johnston said. Among the depot's upgrades: a new gift shop, restrooms and a replacement of the building's exterior materials that will preserve its look, feel and historical character, he said.
A second track will be added at the depot to make it easier to load and unload trains. A new platform also will be constructed on the depot's south side to accommodate the second track, which will be accessed by a new pedestrian bridge.
"The whole goal of the depot improvements is to improve the flow of people inside the facility," Johnston said. "As it is, it's a very tight facility."
The Broadmoor hotel is owned by the Denver-based Anschutz Corp., whose Clarity Media Group owns The Gazette.