Editor's note: This is part of an occasional summer series focused on budget-minded day trips for our Vermont readers.
MT. WASHINGTON, N.H. - Budget-minded Vermont travelers don't have far to drive to experience the thrill of reaching the top of New England. The Mount Washington Cog Railway, the world's first mountain cog railway in the world, is 142 years old this summer. You can't get much higher than Mt. Washington-the peak is the tallest mountain east of Colorado and north of Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina.
"The railway ascends the mountain beginning at an elevation of approximately 2,700 feet above sea level and stops at the summit of Mt. Washington at an elevation of 6,288 feet," according to railway publicist Jayme H. Sim es. "It is the second steepest rack railway in the world with an average grade of over 25 percent. Built in 1869, the railway is still in operation; it uses seven steam locomotives and one biodiesel powered locomotive. It takes approximately 65 minutes to ascend and 40 minutes to descend. The railway is about 3 miles long."
As you can see, the train climbs the mountain slowly, at 2.8 mph, but it descends to the valley floor a tad faster-at 4.6 mph. If the biodiesel engine is used, it can make the trip in 30 minutes.
Sim es said the idea of a railway to the sky was considered to be crazy idea during the mid 1800s.
"The steam railway was built by Sylvester Marsh who came up with the idea while climbing the mountain in 1857," he said.
"Local tradition says the state legislature voted permission based on a consensus that harm resulting from operating it was no issue, since the design was attempting the impossible, but benefits were guaranteed: the $5,000 of his own money Marsh put up, and whatever else he could raise, would be spent largely locally, including building the Fabyan House Hotel at nearby Fabyan Station to accommodate the expected tourists," he said.
There have been only two accidents on the railway-to-the-sky since thew 1860s.
In 1929, an 1860s-era steam locomotive named Hero-which toppled off the rails during the railway's construction apparently killing an operator-was found rusting amid rocks and trees in a gulch after its exact location was lost for over 50 years. Then in 1967, eight passengers were killed and 72 injured when Engine 3 derailed a mile below the summit. Considering the Cog has carried 5 million passengers to the summit of New England, these two incidents should be put in perspective.
Today, 142 years after its grand opening, the railway is offering departure times at 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., just like to good old days.
"The early morning departures allows passengers about an hour of time to check out the summit, as well as free admission to the Mount Washington Observatory Museum," according to Sim es.
The train ride and summit observatory tour will run on the 2:30 p.m. train July 12, Aug. 23, Sept. 13, and Oct. 11.
There are special deals on tickets for the last trains of the day most of the summer and fall.
A family of two adults and two children save $43 by purchasing a family pass and adults can save $9 per ticket.
If you've never been a passenger on the Cog, you should plan a special day trip to Mt. Washington-if so, you're in for the thrill of a lifetime.
Check It Out: Tickets for train rides on the Cog Railway can be purchased at www.TheCog.com. It is recommended tickets be purchased in advance as they are quite popular. For more information including details for specials, contact the Cog at 1-800-922-8825 or in New Hampshire at 603-278-5404.