The Burning of Rome.... The crew of MWRC #9 "Waumbek" does the honors, performing the hourly re-enactment of the Burning of Rome, as they take the 2PM Labor Day excursion up Cold Spring Hill, en route to the summit of Mt. Washington. With their small fireboxes and exceptionally strong draft, the Mt. Washington steam engines had a voracious appetite for soft coal. On the steeper stretches of the line, the Fireman was typically adding a fresh scoop of coal every 10-15 seconds. The result was generally a most impressive exhaust plume that could be seen from many miles away.
Whenever the ownership of the Mt. Washington Cog Railway is questioned about the decision to dieselize the line, the most common reason they cite is an environmental one. For many years, the hikers and tree-huggers complained about the so-called "Cog Smog" produced by the coal-burning locomotives. Given the gusty winds that typically exist on the mountain, and the fact that most of the cog tracks are not in particularly close proximity to the hiking trails, it is difficult to believe that anyone was in any particular danger of having their health harmed by these little, 18-ton steam engines. A much better argument for dieselization would have been the effect of the coal firing on the train's passengers, who typically got pretty well dusted on warm days when the coach windows were open. Although this was part of the "historic experience", I suspect that on the customer satisfaction surveys, the railway likely did hear some squawks, particularly from the moms with little kids. I know that back in the day, my mom would have been one of them.
In all honesty, I strongly believe that the driving force behind the dieselization of this iconic railway was not related to the environment, or passenger comfort. It was all about money. The new diesel-hydraulics could make the run to the top in just over 40 minutes (vs. over an hour for a steam engine). They could do it burning 13 gallons of B20 biodiesel (vs. a ton of coal) and they didn't have to stop for water. The new locomotives required only one crew member (vs. two for steam), and that crew member didn't need to spend years learning any long-lost arts. The diesels also relieved the Brakemen from having to operate manual brakes on the descent, and pretty much limiting their jobs to that of tour guides. Last but not least, the owner of the railway is in the biodiesel fuel business, so there was little incentive to continue to purchase large truckloads of coal. Unfortunately, the cost savings generated by dieselization were not passed on to the traveling public. The ticket to ride this line is just as expensive as it ever has been.