‘We really wanted to be part of this’

Colorado quarry provides material for historic railroad rebuild

By the time the journey peaks, you’re scraping the sky at more than 14,000 feet. Millions have taken the ride since the first trek in 1891. Now, ballast from Parkdale Quarry will help ensure millions more have the same opportunity.

Completing the overhaul of the cog railway will require 40,000 tons of ballast from Martin Marietta’s Parkdale Quarry.

“We really wanted to be part of this,” says West Division Aggregates District General Manager Mike Sheahan. “This is a great way to promote Parkdale as a viable source of railroad ballast, but more than that, it’s a great project for the community. This railroad has been around since the 1890s and it’s a destination that draws people to Colorado from all over the country.”

Sheahan and others in the southern Front Range are working to provide 40,000 tons of ballast as part of a complete overhaul of the Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway, a 9-mile stretch to the summit of Pikes Peak billed as “one of the most unique experiences in the world.”

Known as “America’s Mountain,” Pikes Peak served as the inspiration for Katharine Lee Bates’ “America the Beautiful.” The cog railway – the highest railway in the country – allowed visitors scenic and easy passage to the top of the peak for 126 years, but was shuttered three years ago after engineers found its infrastructure deficient.

The Broadmoor Hotel, which owns the railway, then pledged $100 million for repairs. Sheahan says the project’s timing and location couldn’t have been more perfect.

“There are only two cog railroads in the United States, so when they first started planning this project, the owners were thinking about importing everything from Europe, which would have been very expensive,” he says. “They began sourcing materials from much closer to home, but what was missing was railroad ballast. There were no sites in southern Colorado that could provide it until Parkdale became certified about two years ago. Because of its location and product offerings, Parkdale is helping keep the project’s cost reasonable.”

In May, crews with Stacy and Witbeck Inc., the project’s lead contractors, began laying the first tracks on the new railway. Today, Sheahan says, about 500 tons of ballast are being moved daily from Parkdale to its new home on the mountain.

While working with the contractors has been enjoyable and the high-profile project is helping establish Parkdale across the region as a great source of certified railroad ballast, Sheahan

says the most rewarding part of the project will be when the railroad resumes operation in May 2021.

“Taking the cog railroad is an entirely different way to see the mountain,” he says. “It’s historical. It’s a part of this area’s lore and adventure. That we’re helping to rebuild it safely for the long-term is a major contribution to Colorado Springs.”