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Johnstown, Pennsylvania:
The Inclined Plane

Description and History

The Johnstown Inclined Plane is a cable-hauled railway that provides transportation between downtown Johnstown, on the floor of the Conemaugh River valley, and the borough of Westmont, on top of the bluff that overlooks the valley from the west. Like the two "inclines" in nearby Pittsburgh, the Inclined Plane is a funicular, which uses two cars that counterbalance each other and always move in opposite directions. The stationary engine at the upper station needs to provide only enough power to overcome friction and the difference in the weights of the two cars. The cars leave the upper and lower stations simultaneously, and always pass at the midpoint of the track. Unlike its cousins in Pittsburgh, the Inclined Plane carries vehicles as well as passengers.

The Inclined Plane is 896.5 feet (273.3 m) long and has a vertical height of 502.5 feet (153 m), which gives it a grade of nearly 72%. Each car can carry a load of fifteen tons. It was originally driven by a steam engine, but now uses a 400-horsepower (aboaut 300 kW) electric motor.

The Inclined Plane was built in response to the Johnstown Flood of 1889, as an emergency escape route during future floods (which function it served in 1936 and 1977) and as a tool for developing Westmont. It began operation on 1 June 1891. At first it was owned and operated by the Cambria Inclined Plane Railway, which was controlled by the Cambria Iron Works and its corporate successors. In the 1930s, it began to run at a financial deficit, which the steel company did not want to bear, so in 1935 the Borough of Westmont took it over.

After World War II, as cars became more common and roads to Westmont became better, traffic on the Inclined Plane decreased and subsidies increased. Finally, the Borough of Westmont decided that it could no longer afford to subsidize the Inclined Plane, and closed it on 31 January 1962. The Cambria County Tourist Council took over operation (while Westmont retained ownership), re-opened it on 4 July 1962, and promoted it as a tourist attraction. In 1982, the Cambria County Transit Authority took over ownership, which allowed it to apply for public transportation grants to rebuild the Inclined Plane during 1983-84. Operation is now in the hands of a corporation with connections to the tourist council and the transit authority.

Reference: Richard A. Burkert and Ellen Mountjoy Cooper, Uphill all the Way: Johnstown and Its Inclined Plane (Cambria County Tourist Council, 1985)

Other Sites


These pictures were taken on 25 July 2003.

[picture] The Inclined Plane can be seen from all over downtown Johnstown, as in this view from the Johnstown Expressway (PA 56).

[picture] The lower station is on the west bank of Stony Creek, which flows into the Conemaugh River a short distance to the north. Its only access is via a wooden-deck truss bridge that spans the creek.

[picture #1] | [picture #2] Two full-length views of the Inclined Plane, from near the lower station. A footbridge provides access across busy Roosevelt Boulevard.

[picture] The automobile entrance leads off Roosevelt Boulevard, on the north side of the bridge.

[picture] Passengers board at the lower station.

[picture] Approaching the upper station, we get a close-up view of the end of the track.

[picture] The platform of the upper station, with a car waiting at the left, the operator's booth in the middle, and the entrance to the gift shop on the far side. The operator is standing at the right.

[picture] Looking through the window of the operator's booth, we can see the control panel.

[picture] Looking out from the upper station, we get a spectacular view of downtown Johnstown and the Conemaugh River valley as a car approaches.

[picture] A view of the upper station from across the street. At the left is the station entrance, at the right is a gift shop. Out of sight further to the right is a visitor center with historical displays about Johnstown and the Inclined Plane.

[picture] Through windows in the gift shop and the visitor center on the other side, we can look down on the machinery that drives the Inclined Plane. The cable coming off the top of the large drum and leaving the picture at lower right is one of the driving cables. The other one comes off the bottom of the drum, below floor level. Both cables have to turn again through 90 degrees to reach the track, an unusual design required by the short front-to-back distance inside the station.

[picture] A side view of the upper station shows the tallness of the cars, caused by the steepness of the incline. The original cars had two levels, with vehicles above and pedestrians below.

[picture] Passengers enjoy the view out the front and sides of a car at the upper station as they wait for their trip downhill to begin. Most of the interior is actually intended for vehicles; the passenger compartment is at the right.

[picture] Most passengers don't use the passenger compartment, but it's a good place to sit down if they don't want to stand. Note this is not the same car shown in the previous picture! The two cars are mirror images of each other in layout.

[picture] The operator lowers the gate behind a car that has just driven on board for a trip down.

[picture] The car drives off at the lower station.

[front] | [back] Round-trip ticket. The operator didn't get around to collecting the stub on the return trip.

This page was last updated on 7 October 2004, and reviewed on 21 May 2005.

Presbyterian College > Academic Web Server > Jon Bell > Transit > (Cities | Types) > Johnstown

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