Here’s our guide and brakeman on the Mount Washington cog railway ride. On the way up, the brakeman (or brake gal in our case) doesn’t have much to do; gravity keeps the car from moving very fast, with the tons of steel and coal pushing behind it. But on the way down, she didn’t have much time for chatter; she was constantly at the two big wheels that controlled the braking system to check our descent. The trip down was a lot faster than the trip up . . .
One bit of Mount Washington lore that she didn’t tell us (and that I don’t recall seeing in the museum at the base of the mountain) was the 1967 train crash that killed eight passengers and injured seventy. There’s only one line up and down, so there are a series of complex switches that allow one train to sit on a siding while another train passes; apparently a switch was set improperly, causing the descending engine to derail and sending the passenger car hurtling down the track (the engine itself being the most effective brake).
It’s the brakeman’s task to inspect the switches after they’re set to avoid another tragedy; and for forty years they’ve done a fine job, though I’m sure there’s a fair amount of pressure on the brakeman’s mind during the inspection.