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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:
Incline Railways


One of Pittsburgh's distinctive features is its cable-powered inclines (known elsewhere as funiculars) for transportation between the river valleys and the communities on top of the overlooking bluffs. At one time Pittsburgh had about fifteen inclines. Two of them remain, on the south bank of the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, across from downtown Pittsburgh. They provide service to the Mount Washington residential area.

The cars are not self-powered, and do not even have operators on board. Instead, they are pulled up and down the inclined track by a cable driven by an engine in the upper station, where the operator works. The cars operate in pairs, permanently attached to opposite ends of a single cable, with one going uphill and the other going downhill simultaneously. The cars therefore counterbalance each other, so the engine needs to provide only enough power to overcome friction and the difference in the weight of the passengers in the two cars.

Some of Pittsburgh's former inclines carried vehicles as well as pedestrians. The Inclined Plane in nearby Johnstown still carries vehicles, and is well worth a side trip if you're in the area. For a much longer example of a funicular, see the Lookout Mountain Incline in Chattanooga, Tennesee; for a much shorter one, see the Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque, Iowa.

San Francisco's cable cars are also pulled by a cable powered by an external engine. However, they are different in that they run in the street (with the cable hidden underneath a slot in the pavement), have operators on board, can stop and start en route by releasing and grabbing the cable, and can operate independently in varying numbers depending on traffic.

Note: Pictures marked with [R] have been re-scanned beginning in August 2007.

The Monongahela Incline

The Monongahela Incline (built in 1870) is located near the Smithfield Street bridge, directly across the Monongahela River from downtown Pittsburgh. It has a length of 635 feet (193.5 m), a height of 367.4 feet (112 m), and a grade of 78% (38 degrees). Its lower station is across the street from the Station Square shopping complex, and is easily accessible from the light rail system at the Station Square station. It is operated by the Port Authority of Allegheny County, which operates the rest of Pittsburgh's transit system. Transfers can be made between the incline and the light rail and buses.


[picture] A full-length view of the incline, seen from near the lower station. (August 1999)

[picture] Exterior of the lower station. (August 1999)

[picture] Interior of the lower station, with a car visible through the window at the end of the track. (August 1999)

[picture] The cars have three sets of seats on different levels. Here is a view from the top level looking down onto the other two levels. (August 1999)

[picture] Passengers leave and board a car at the upper station. Each level of the car has its own door. (August 1999)

[picture] Interior of the upper station, with turnstile and station-agent's booth. (August 1999)

[picture] Exterior of the upper station, seen from across Grandview Avenue. (August 1999)

[R] [picture] A side view of a car descending from the upper station, with the Monongahela River valley in the background. (May 1997)

The Duquesne Incline

The Duquesne Incline (built in 1877) is located just west of the Fort Pitt Bridge, and faces the Ohio River. it has a length of 793 feet (242 m), a height of 400 feet (122 m), and a grade of 58% (30 degrees). Its lower station is served by buses on West Carson Street; it is also possible, although perhaps not very pleasant, to walk across the Fort Pitt Bridge from downtown. It is operated by a non-profit preservation society, but transfers can be made to and from Port Authority Transit buses at both stations.


[picture] The lower station and a descending car, as seen from the east along West Carson Street. The pedestrian overpass leads to a parking lot, out of sight to the right. (August 1999)

[picture] The entire length of the incline and both stations, as seen from the parking lot on the other side of the street. (August 1999)

[picture] Interior of the lower station, with the station agent's booth and a pot-bellied stove. (August 1999)

[picture] Interior of the lower station again, looking to the right of the previous picture, towards the entrances to the cars. You can see a bit of one car through an open door. (August 1999)

[picture] Interior of a car. Unlike the Monongahela Incline's cars, these cars have a single "level" of seating. (August 1999)

[picture] Looking out the front window of an ascending car, towards the approaching descending car, with the upper station in the background. (August 1999)

[R] [picture] Looking out the front window of a descending car, toward the lower station and an ascending car. (May 1997)

[picture] Interior of the upper station. (August 1999)

[picture] The upper station, as seen from across Grandview Avenue. (August 1999)

[R] [picture] A descending car, with a view of downtown Pittsburgh and the Allegheny River in the background. (May 1997; scanned August 2007)

This page was last revised on 16 August 2007.

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