Mount Washington, NH -- The Mount Washington Cog Railway recently dedicated a $3.3 mil. maintenance facility designed to bring cutting-edge technology to the historic railroad, in operation since 1869. Named in honor of Johnny Suitor, the Railway’s longtime shop foreman, the facility was built for “The Cog’s” team of master mechanics, welders and fabricators to maintain and grow their fleet of nine biodiesel locomotives. With its new state-of-the-art facility, tools, and technologies, The Cog plans to attract the future workforce needed to continue delivering generations of tourists to the summit of Mount Washington.
Wayne Presby, owner of Mount Washington Cog Railway, saw the project as a means of continuing to build on the significant growth The Cog has seen over the last decade. He stated, “The former maintenance facility was built in 1890. It was a very inefficient building to work in. Since 2009, we grew our ridership 118%. In order to get talented people to work on the trains, you need the right facility. Who would want to work in a 130-year-old building?”
From that premise, The Cog has filled the new 34,000 sf building with the most modern equipment available, including a plasma cutting table ($160,000); a robotic welding station ($150,000); a pair of overhead bridge cranes ($150,000); an air caster system for pushing locomotives around the shop floor by hand, ($34,000), and the typical assortment of tools, machinery and software found in a modern maintenance facility.
Presby explained that The Cog is not just a tourist attraction, it’s heavy industry. Each locomotive is custom designed and built in-house to meet the unique requirements of a mountain climbing railway operating in a harsh environment.
“There’s only one other company in the world that builds these locomotives - that’s Statler in Germany. Statler bought up a lot of companies that manufacture locomotives, so now they are the only one.”
“But our line is different. We need to do extensive engineering because the grades are interesting, the cars are different, the tracks are different. (Statler) would have to engineer it from scratch, so we decided we might as well do it ourselves. The Cog was the first one in the world. All of the companies operating these mountain climbing train systems throughout the world took our original technology and improved it. But it started with our technology. The shoe is now on the other foot. I’ve gone to those facilities. I’ve looked at what they’ve done and added their improvements to our own.”
To utilize all this technology, a highly-trained workforce is needed. The Cog has committed to ongoing professional development and training for their staff, and the new facility incorporates a training room to allow for continuing education on-site.
To attract the next generation of professionals, The Cog has partnered with White Mountains Community College to serve as a future internship site and expose students to a new facility with state of the art technology.
Presby explained, “White Mountains Community College offers a Diesel Heavy Equipment Technology program in Berlin and will be moving it to their new campus in Littleton, NH. We will be offering internships. The college is building a smaller facility for the students on campus, but they wanted to see our plans. We have also sent a number of our employees there for their welding school so this builds on that relationship.”
“We’ve got our own industrial plasma cutting table. We can cut our own steel, aluminum, and stainless steel up to 6 inches thick. We are also investing in a robotic welding system, and a computerized maintenance and control system. We’ve gone high-tech in this building. These are things the Community College wouldn’t have. It functions as an adjunct to their learning center.”
Presby sees it not just as a means of recruitment but also a way to keep local youth from leaving the region after college. As New Hampshire businesses struggle to attract and retain workers, The Cog sees it as a long-term strategy.
“These students will come in for an internship and possibly choose to stay and work here. We turn out a lot of very talented kids in this area. But they don’t believe they can find good employment so they leave the area looking in other places. By offering them a commensurate salary and benefits and a good facility with the most modern equipment, we can attract the kids to stay here and become permanent residents on their own.”
White Mountains Community College President Charles Lloyd sees the collaboration with The Cog as an opportunity to expose students to another form of diesel equipment technology. “We’ve done a lot with on road trucks and off road heavy equipment. Trains are another animal. It’s a great learning experience for our students while understanding there is another whole career path here. It’s unique to New Hampshire. It’s one more way to keep our students in the North Country and have them gainfully employed.”
The school’s diesel program typically attracts 30-35 students per year. Their goal is to formalize an internship program with The Cog for summer 2022. Lloyd continued, “Students are interested in the new facility and the technology and learning a different aspect you can’t learn anywhere else. It’s another learning lab in the North Country. There is a lot of excitement. We are bringing students in from southern New Hampshire - Hudson, Nashua, Concord and Rochester. We are recruiting to the North Country, not exporting kids out. They are getting to know the culture and it’s keeping them in the area. The Cog is another opportunity - another place to go as they graduate.”
With Presby on the college’s diesel program advisory committee, helping out with grants and defining specs and materials for the college’s new training facility, Lloyd sees him as a visionary who is setting the standard for the program. “It’s great seeing how he uses tech to track inventory and lean processes. He’s always looking at efficiencies and what’s best for his employees. He’s looking at sustainability long term for his workforce. You have to. He’s a smart businessman."
With the new Suitor Maintenance Facility complete and a new generation of master mechanics, welders and fabricators ready to come aboard, The Cog is ready for the next 150 years of operations.