Photo Essay: Mt. Washington’s Historic Cog Railway

Mount Washington looms over coastal New England. At 6,288 feet, it is visible from the Atlantic Ocean, 80 miles away. The highest windspeed ever recorded was clocked here on April 12th, 1934 at 231 mph. The “home of the worst weather on Earth” is accessible by a winding toll-road, but (for once) I decide to leave the car behind and take the historic cog railway allowing me to sit back and enjoy the ride as it claws its way straight up the mountain.

An old-style watertower stands over the tracks at the base of Mount Washingtons historic cog railway, keeping the locomotives cool on their slow grind to the top.

The narrow tracks go almost straight up the side of the mountain (at one point, over 37% grade) giving the ride an almost vertigo-inducing thrill.
The railway runs both coal-fired steam engines and bio-diesel locomotives. The Autumn landscape of the Presidential Mountain Range opens up beyond the engine.
There’s only one track for most of the ascent. A short wait occurs at set points, so the trains can pass each other.
At the top is the observatory, where weather scientists stay year-round to take readings of the weather and scrape ice off the instruments.
This viewfinder illustrates the unforgiving weather. Balmy, mid-fall temperatures at the base of the mountain are replaced by the frigid wind and ice at the top.
Speed during the four-thousand foot descent is controlled by two huge brakes handled by the engineer inside the train car. The car is de-coupled from the heavy locomotive in case the engine can’t slow its own descent and plunges over the side. The engineer also provides history and humorous stories along the way.
A steam locomotive smokes in the evening glow as it waits at the station at the base of Mount Washington.
Autumn color lights up as the sun sets on the Presidential Mountain Range.

Other photos from the trip can be seen here.


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