The last time Gray Line of Colorado Springs ran tours up the Pikes Peak Highway was in 2008. In the wake of the closure of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, Gray Line is preparing to hit the road again.
“We’re ready to start daily sightseeing tours on April 14,” President Chuck Murphy Jr. said.
The company plans to run two tours a day and will double that number during the summer season.
The Broadmoor, the railway’s owner, shut down the operation several months ago for repairs. President and CEO Jack Damioli announced March 13 that the railway would not reopen this summer and would remain closed while The Broadmoor determines whether it is feasible to repair or rebuild it.
Damioli said the 126-year-old railroad has undergone extensive maintenance but needs much more work, from the track, cars and engines to the depot.
The railway, one of only two cog operations in the United States, attracted tourists from all over the world and transported some 2,300 passengers to the summit of Pikes Peak and back on peak summer days.
“It is the cornerstone of the tourism industry for Manitou Springs, Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region, the state and the Rocky Mountain West,” Murphy said. “It has to come back, but it is worn out.”
It will take more than two years just to get new equipment, let alone to obtain approvals from city, state and federal agencies, install new tracks and cog wheels, and electrify the railway if that is not prohibitively expensive, Murphy said.
In the meantime, “I feel humbled to be in a position to be some type of substitution for this icon of tourist attractions that has brought untold numbers of visitors to our area,” Murphy said.
Gray Line will be conducting guided tours on the Pikes Peak Highway in 14-, 21- and 29-passenger cutaway minibuses.
“We can’t take big motor coaches up because of the requirement of a 19-foot wheel base,” Murphy said. “We have the equipment already, and we are looking to hire more drivers and tour guides.”
Murphy said the company would open a storefront ticket office at the Old Depot Square on South Sierra Madre Street in April. Tickets, which will cost $65 for adults and $35 for children 15 and under, will also be available through local hotels and motels.
The cog closure came as a shock to several companies that have been running small-group tours to the top of the mountain and now are scrambling to retool their operations before visitors start arriving this spring.
“We’re all sitting here with our mouths open,” said Tini Campbell, owner of Challenge Unlimited – Pikes Peak by Bike. For 28 years, the company has been ferrying cyclists by vehicle to the top of the mountain, where they can then bike down.
“We’re going to be taking people up in our vans, and we’re also working on having them Jeep up with Adventures Out West,” Campbell said. “We’re just in the process of getting our pricing together.”
Manitou Springs Adventures High Country Excursions and Colorado Xplorer also run small-group tours on the mountain.
Manitou Springs officials hope that some of these companies will help make up for the loss of revenue from cog ticket sales.
Excise taxes of 5 percent per ticket and sales taxes generated by the cog’s gift shop and restaurant contributed more than $400,000 to Manitou’s budget last year, Finance Director Rebecca Davis said. That amounted to about 4.6 percent of the city’s general fund revenues.
“It’s a significant impact, and it’s going to be painful,” Davis said. “We will need to cut back somewhere.”
Manitou’s City Council also might consider raising the special city tax on recreational marijuana sales — something councilors discussed at their March 13 work session, Davis said.
Manitou Springs Mayor Ken Jaray said he does not expect the cog closure to have a huge effect on the city’s downtown businesses.
“For the last several weekends, the town’s been packed, and the cog’s not running,” Jaray said. “If the last several weekends are any indication, it should be great this summer. I think we’re really popular, and I hope there will be minimal impact. ”
Besides, he said, there’s plenty more to do in Manitou.
“I’d be surprised if the cog closure kept someone away,” Jaray said.
Randy Hodges, who owns the Avenue Hotel Bed and Breakfast and the Whickerbill, a Manitou gift shop, is worried, however.
“It’s got to make a difference,” Hodges said. “We had people coming in to shop while waiting for their train time, and family members waiting for someone to get back. I think it’s going to make an impact, and we’ll feel any reduction in numbers.”
Manitou will have to deal with other questions related to the cog closure, including what The Broadmoor will decide to do with more than 280 parking spaces near its depot. Street parking is currently blocked off, but the lot that serves Incline users at $5 per car remains open.
Jaray said he anticipates the railway will continue the parking operation. He said he was meeting with cog officials this week about parking and hoped the city and The Broadmoor can work together to align parking policies.
Some visitors will be disappointed about the cog closure, Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce Director Leslie Lewis said, but people can still hike and drive to get to the top of the peak.
“The views from the highway are totally different and absolutely stunning,” she said. “The cog did have some mechanical issues last year, and more people ended up driving — more than 100,000 cars in 2016, and last year they were even busier. We’ll miss the cog, but while they’re down, we’ll be promoting everything else that will be open.”
Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO Doug Price said the region is fortunate to represent dozens of things to see and do.
“From experiencing the majesty of Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain via trail or highway, to the much-anticipated Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame, having such a diversified portfolio ensures business and leisure travelers will find plenty to fill their itineraries,” he said.
Both Lewis and Murphy said they are optimistic that the railway eventually will reopen.
“I will rejoice when the cog resumes,” Murphy said. “I would hope some people would try the train and also would like to ride the road. I hope to be on the first trip.”