The MPPR is a standard gauge cog railway in Colorado, which runs from the base station in Manitou Springs (2,000 m above sea-level) to the summit of Pikes Peak (4,300 m) on a line with a 250‰ gradient. The highest cog railway in the world, the MPPR opened in 1891 to carry passengers to the summit of Pikes Peak, which is located in the Rocky Mountains to the west of Colorado Springs. In 2018 the decision was taken for a full refurbishment of the MPPR, including replacement of the rail infrastructure and conversion of the cog system from Abt to Strub. The existing SLM Bhm 4/8 twin-unit railcars built in the 1970s and 80s have also been adapted for use with the Strub system. The operating company additionally decided to purchase three new trainsets (each comprising a diesel locomotive and three cars) and an unpropelled snow-clearing vehicle from the Stadler Rail Group. The latter was designed and built by the famous Swiss company Zaugg AG of Eggiwil.
3,800 t/h snow-clearing capacity
The snow blower on this Zaugg snow-clearing vehicle is powered by a diesel-hydraulic unit and can handle snow drifts up to three meters high and six meters wide. With a clearing capacity of around 3,800 metric tons/h and a throw of 15 m to 30 m, the unit quickly clears the rail tracks even where there is extensive snow drifting. One of the new Stadler Hm 4/4 locomotives is used to push the two-axle snow clearing vehicle. In snow clearing mode, the locomotive is operated from the driver’s cab in the snow blower via a remote control unit. All the components and subsystems are designed for operation at 4300 m altitude.
Highest standards of “Swissness”
The calculations and execution of this challenging project, worth around USD 100 million, for the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway (MPPR) were largely undertaken by Swiss railway engineers. Swiss know-how was involved in the original construction of this cog railway back in 1889. And for this major project, too, the railway and its infrastructure are being refurbished entirely in accordance with the Swiss regulations. In addition to the Zaugg snow blower, Stadler Rail Group has also supplied three new trainsets, each comprising a diesel-electric cog railway locomotive, two cars and a driving trailer. Particular attention had to be paid to the drop-down windows, which have to withstand the decrease in atmospheric pressure at 4,300 m above sea level. A specialist company from Canton Ticino in Switzerland supplied the tracks for the Strub rack system, including switches, steel sleepers and tie plates, making a total of around 3,000 t of material. Another challenge was the need to convert the units of measurement from metric to the American system, a hurdle that was overcome with the help of local specialists. The line of the railway, with the upper section located in the permafrost zone, was used to transport all the necessary materials up the mountain.
There is also a road leading to the top, which is famous in its own right, but it is located on the other side of the mountain. Car races are regularly held on it including, since 1916, the legendary Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The Swiss “Automobil Revue” reported on 10 February of this year that a Swiss team is preparing to make a bid in 2022 to break the current record for the course, and the author added: “For a cyclist, Pikes Peak in the US state of Colorado is what Mount Everest is for a mountaineer. You don’t go there for a bit of exercise. The challenging course with its 156 bends is 19.9 km long for over 1,440 meters of vertical at an average gradient of 7% and finishes at an altitude of 4,300 meters.”
Employees from Stadler Rail Group and Zaugg AG of Eggiwil performed the final inspections at the Zaugg plant in Switzerland at the end of November 2020. The new snow clearing vehicle was shipped to the USA together with the trainsets from Stadler Rail Group in spring 2021. Commissioning was in April, and on Friday, April 9 the new Zaugg snow blower made its successful debut on the refurbished cog railway. Following completion of the full refurbishment, the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway (MPPR) in Colorado is set to reopen this May on the 14.5 km (9 miles) track from Manitou Springs to the summit of Pikes Peak. On June 30, 2021, by the way, the world’s highest cog railway will be celebrating its 130th anniversary.