“At age 147, the only cog railway in America east of the Rocky Mountains is getting a makeover.” That statement was made in January 2017 based on news we received about one of our favorite tourist attractions, the Mount Washington Cog Railway in New Hampshire. Since then, we received comments from Chris Magness representing a non-profit environmental group, Keep the Whites Wild, which dispute many of the ‘facts’ we sighted. So, in the interest of dispelling fake news, we present both sides of this story to our readers, with Mr. Magness’ comments in italics.
When it opened a few decades after the first railroads did, one of the most interesting technological innovations in America was The Mount Washington Cog Railway, which exists to ride today.
I stated that the little steam engines of yesteryear have been largely replaced by bio-fueled diesels that run up and down the mountain.
Mr. Magness reports that “The Cog’s steam engines have been replaced with engines that use a mix of 20% bio-diesel and 80% diesel.”
The operation itself exists largely as it had when opened in 1869: utilizing a rack and pinion system of gearing, climbing the mountain is an everyday feat, despite the steep pitch of up to 1 foot every three feet.
A few years after opening the line to the top of Mt. Washington at 6,288 feet, a hotel, The Summit House, was opened to enable guests to stay overnight in the midst of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Visitors, who came to take in the brisk mountain air and endless vista of The Presidential Range and surroundings, were able to view the Atlantic Ocean on clear days.
The Summit House went through many changes during its first 140 years: it burned down in 1908; the smaller replacement hotel that took its place was torn down; and two subsequent Visitor’s Centers did not provide any hotel-like accommodations. Today, the nearby Appalachian Mountain Club and Mt. Washington Observatory offer bunk room style accommodations, although not to the general public.
Mr. Magness says, “The AMC huts are accommodations for the general public. That is who they serve. Club members receive a slight discount. MWOBS facilities are open to the public as well and are available for overnights through edu-trips.”
Fortunately for fans of history, trains and hiking, with 300,000 yearly Cog Railway riders (Mr. Magness says that number is closer to 100,000), demand for a special place to stay at the summit of Mt. Washington has risen.
Mr. Magness disputes this assertion, saying, “There has been no study to suggest increased public interest in overnight accommodation. This statement is based ONLY on hearsay. Pedestrian summit visits have remained steady through the years, the auto road summit visits peaked in the early 1970s. Cog summit visits have increased in recent years because of the addition of another engine.”
To meet the need forecast by the railway and hotel developers, a new facility has been proposed that would be built a mile from the top of the cog railway, which would enable trains to pass through the new hotel and unload in any weather, keeping patrons dry and comfortable as they enter the new facility. Engineered for the extremes of Mt. Washington weather, the new hotel plans to offer 35 rooms, a full service restaurant, and other non-rustic conveniences.
Mr. Magness wrote us that this development is not necessary. “Also,” he writes, “the public strongly opposed a hut construction in the 1960’s and another one last year. Those proposals were withdrawn.”
The Cog Railway would like to open the new hotel on July 3, 2019, the Cog Railway’s Sesquicentennial; you can see updates at TheCog.com. Meanwhile, the Keep the Whites Wild non-profit has launched another campaign Protect Mount Washington, to stop the construction of the lodge in order to protect the mountain’s alpine tundra environment.
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