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How one of the oldest trains in the country is keeping jobs in rural America

rural workforce
Posted at 12:05 PM, Nov 03, 2021

CONWAY, N.H. — Mother Nature is rarely kind to Mt. Washington. On a recent fall morning, the New Hampshire's tallest peak was bathed in blue skies as tourists from all over the world flocked here to catch one final glimpse of foliage.

This mountain is home to the highest recorded man-measured wind speed in the world and it is also home to the world’s first mountain-climbing train, The Cog Railway.

The operation is about as small-business as they come. Each diesel-powered engine is custom built in a warehouse at the base of Mt. Washington. Like many businesses across the country though, The Cog is being faced with a shortage of mechanics and engineers needed to keep this place going.

"New Hampshire has had a hard time with keeping skilled workers. They always tend to leave out of state," said Rob Arey, who works for the railway.

But the old Cog Railway first constructed in 1868 is about to offer new opportunities to a whole new generation of the workforce.

The idea is simple, connect students at nearby White Mountains Community College with job training opportunities working on those diesel engines which power The Cog Railway. Not only will the program help get graduating students into a job pipeline that desperately needs them, the concept is also being deployed in hopes of keeping students from leaving rural communities like this one once they graduate.

A term typically referred to as “rural flight.”

"This is the first step in us keeping our kids here in the local schools, learning here, falling in love with us as a place to work," Rob Arey added.

Marc Poulit is an instructor at nearby White Mountains Community College. He has about 30 students in his program, all of whom are now eligible to apply for the new internship program.

"We are really planting that seed and thinking about, 'I don’t need to move out of state to get a good-paying job,'" Poulit said.

Perhaps the biggest challenge when it comes to keeping students in rural communities after they graduate is pay. On average, new graduates can earn 15% more on their first job if they move to a big city. That is often a gamechanger for new graduates especially if they have student loans to pay off.

Back at the Cog, they are anxiously awaiting the arrival of new students. While this railway may be old the technology, what they’re using here is more complex than most Amtrak trains, providing a perfect opportunity for the next generation of engineers and mechanics to train on.

"The way this facility was built is for the future. It’s all technology they may not even get at the community college. It’s exciting they get to come in here and learn it first hand," said Rob Arey with The Cog.

Like the trains here themselves, the hope is the whole idea will keep students careers climbing in the communities they call home.