Funicular Railroad

A funicular railroad, sometimes called a cliff railway or an elevator, is a railroad that is usually used to climb steep grades, bluffs or mountains. A funicular usually features two cars, connected by cable, that counterbalance the weight of each other. The weight of the descending cars helps overcome the weight of the ascending car, allowing a tug to pull passengers up the steep incline.

A funicular railroad can use two, three or four rails. In a common three-rail configuration (Dubuque, Iowa) the center rail is common for both cars with a passing area in the middle of the run. In a two-rail configuration, a similar passing area in the center of the run allows the cars to pass one another. In a four-rail configuration (Johnstown, Pennsylvania) no passing area is required.

Funicular Track Layouts
Drawing courtesy of Cmglee at en.wikipedia
used with permission under the
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

A tug, usually electric and usually located at the top of the incline, pulls the ascending car while controlling the gravitational pull of the descending car, all connected on one cable. (There is usually a backup cable.)

At one time, funicular railroads were quite common in the United States and around the world. Although there aren't so many now, in several places, a funicular railway remains the best way to get to the top of the hill.


Angels Flight Railway (Los Angeles County, California)
Funicular railroad up Bunker Hill
Duquesne Incline (Allegheny County, Pennsylvania)
Fenelon Place Elevator (Dubuque County, Iowa)
Johnstown Inclined Railway (Cambria County, Pennsylvania)
Monongahela Incline (Allegheny County, Pennsylvania)