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Inclined to Ride or Funicular Fun in Pittsburgh, PA

Updated on July 01, 2016
The Duquesne Incline approaches the Mount Washington Station with the downtown Pittsburgh skyline in the background.
The Duquesne Incline approaches the Mount Washington Station with the downtown Pittsburgh skyline in the background. | Source

The Duquesne and Monongahela Inclines are Iconic Features of the Pittsburgh Skyline

For over 130 years the Duquesne and Monongahela Inclines have operated between Mount Washington and the river below. No longer a principle means of transportation, they continue to serve commuters while increasingly delighting visitors from near and far.

Inclined railways, or more commonly known around the world as funiculars, are 18th century forms of mass transit that persist into the 21st century. They are used to move people and goods up or down heights in a relatively short distance.

At one time there were 17 passenger inclines in service in the Pittsburgh area. Today, only 2 remain, the Duquesne and Monongahela Inclines.

Next time you are in Pittsburgh, if you are so inclined, step back in time and ride a funicular just for the fun of it.

Monongahela Incline looking down toward the Station Square Station.
Monongahela Incline looking down toward the Station Square Station. | Source
Motors, drums, and gears in the Duquesne Incline Motor House.
Motors, drums, and gears in the Duquesne Incline Motor House. | Source

How They Work

The inclines are basically 2 passenger cars connected by a cable and on separate tracks that operate to counterbalance each other. Like a see-saw, as one car travels up its track, the other car travels down its own. If it were not for friction and the difference in weight of the passengers in the 2 cars, the motors would not have to generate much force to move the cars up and down.

The rails of each track are 5 feet apart. Initially steam driven and now electric, large motors pull 1.5 inch thick multi-strand cables through and around a collection of pulleys to move the cars up and down their tracks. A second safety cable is also attached.

The operators, like the motors, are located in the upper stations and not the passenger cars.

While the accompanying picture does not accurately depict depth, you can see that one car is moving down its tract toward the lower station while the other car moves up toward the upper station (not in the view). Up and down, down and up, the 2 cars move passing each other at the midpoint of every trip.

Duquesne Incline, Lower Station.
Duquesne Incline, Lower Station. | Source
Duquesne Incline, Upper Station (side-view).
Duquesne Incline, Upper Station (side-view). | Source
View of the inside of a Duquesne Incline Car
View of the inside of a Duquesne Incline Car | Source

Duquesne Incline

Operating since 1877, the Duquesne Incline has ferried passengers and freight between its lower station on West Carson Street to its upper station on Grandview Avenue on Mount Washington (formally known as High Street on Coal Hill). It follows closely the tracks of an old coal hoist. To save real estate, its design is unique in that the hoisting motors are off to the side rather than inline with the track.

Originally owned and operated by The Duquesne Inclined Plane Company, since 1964 it has been owned by the Port Authority of Allegheny County and operated by the non-profit Society for the Preservation of the Duquesne Heights Incline.

Rising 400 feet and traveling approximately 3.6 miles per hour over the almost 800 feet of track, the journey lasts about 2.5 minutes. Each of the 2 cars has a single large passenger compartment that can hold up to 25 passengers. Open in the middle, benches encircle the outer walls. Despite following an almost 60 degree grade up the face of Mount Washington, each car is designed to keep the passenger compartment level.

Situated on the west bank of the Ohio River, the ride provides panoramic views of the North Shore and stadiums, the Allegheny River, The Point with its fountain, the Pittsburgh skyline, and the final portion of the Monongahela River.

Free parking is available at the lower station, but it does require a climb of several levels of stairs to get into the station. At the upper station, parking is limited to metered parking and ramps.

At the Upper Station there is a small gift shop and a self-guided tour (costing 50 cents) of the mechanical areas. Several fine dining establishments surround the Upper Station. The biggest attraction at the Upper Station is the panoramic view from the observation deck.

The Monongahela Incline Upper Station is approximately 1 mile away with several observation platforms interspersed along the way.

Monongahela Incline Passenger Car.
Monongahela Incline Passenger Car. | Source
Monongahela Incline
Monongahela Incline | Source

Monongahela Incline

In operation since 1870, the Monongahela Incline is the oldest continuously operating incline in the United States. As the population expanded beyond the river shore and up on to Coal Hill (now Mount Washington), walking to work involved traveling up and down steep narrow footpaths. With the incline, people could now live up on the hill and be quickly and easily transported to the river shore below. If not employed on the river front, an easy walk across a bridge would put them in downtown Pittsburgh.

As more commonly known in Pittsburgh, the Mon Incline covers its 640 feet of track at a speed of 6 miles per hour and rises up almost 370 feet. A one-way trip takes approximately 75 seconds.

Each Mon Incline passenger car transports up to 23 passengers in 3 stair-stepped compartments; 2 closed and one open. Like the design of the Duquesne Incline cars, these cars also keep their passengers level during their ride.

Since 1964 the Monongahela Incline has been owned and operated by the Port Authority of Allegheny County.

At the Upper Station on Grandview Avenue is the Grand View Scenic Byway Park with several observation platforms. There are also a few retail shops and food outlets (ice cream and coffee) nearby.

The Lower Station is just across Carson Street from Station Square, a shopping, retail and office complex anchored by a grand old train station. A parking ramp is available here.

Monongahela Incline Lower Station, Station Square.
Monongahela Incline Lower Station, Station Square. | Source
Monongahela Incline Upper Station
Monongahela Incline Upper Station | Source

Comparison of the Inclines

 
Monongahela Incline
Duquesne Incline
Completed
1870
1877
Gauge of Track
5 foot
5 foot
Length
640 feet
793 feet
Height
370 feet
400 feet
Degree of Incline Angle
38 degrees
30 degrees
speed
6 mph
4 mph
Type of Car
3 Compartments (1 open)
1 Compartment
Owner
Port Authority of Alleghany County
Port Authority of Alleghany County and leased to the Society for the Preservation of the Duquesne Heights Incline
 
 
 
Reference: Monongahela and Duquesne Inclines, National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmarks, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May 11, 1977, The American Society of Mechanical Engineers

View from the Top

View from the top near the Monongahela Mount Washington Station, Grand View Scenic Byway Park
View from the top near the Monongahela Mount Washington Station, Grand View Scenic Byway Park | Source
Hobashira Cable in Japan
Hobashira Cable in Japan | Source

Other Inclines

There are several funiculars around the world. The closest to Pittsburgh would be the Johnstown Incline Plane in Johnstown, PA. Billed as the "world's steepest vehicular incline plane" it can transport cars in addition to passengers.

The closest foreign incline would be the Falls Incline Railway or Horseshoe Falls Incline in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. It links the Horseshoe Fall's Table Rock Centre to the Fallsview Tourist area above.

Modern funiculars, such as the Hobashira Cable in Japan pictured here, don't have the quaint or quirkiness, let alone the historical significance, of the Pittsburgh inclines.

Coal-fired engine and passenger car at the Mount Washington Base Station
Coal-fired engine and passenger car at the Mount Washington Base Station | Source
View of the Mount Washington Cog Railway track.
View of the Mount Washington Cog Railway track. | Source
Cog Wheel
Cog Wheel | Source

Cog Railways

Similar to inclines, cog railways travel greater distances up and down a mountain. Unlike a funicular, there are no electric motors or cables. A train engine pushes the car up the mountainside and gravity usually brings it down.

In the United States, the Mount Washington Cog Railway in New Hampshire is probably the most recognized. While the Duquesne and Monongahela Inclines scale heights of as much as 400 feet on up to 800 feet of track, the Mount Washington Cog Railway travels along "3 miles trestle and the steepest railroad tracks in North America" to the highest peak (6,288 feet) on the eastern seaboard of the United States.

Compared to the less than 2 minute one-way trips of the Pittsburgh inclines, the one-way trip from the Marshfield Station at the base of Mount Washington to the Mount Washington Observatory on the summit takes approximately 1 hour!

In the first picture to the right, the coal fired locomotive can be seen pushing the passenger car at the start of it's journey up Mount Washington. Since 2009, the coal-fired locomotives are being replaced with biodiesel fueled engines. Notice that, unlike the passengers on the Pittsburgh inclines, the passengers in this rail car would not remain level. They would be tilted with the slope of the land.

In the second picture, between the outside rails for the wheels is a middle rail to accept the cog of the locomotive. With the cog engaging this middle rail and providing traction, the engine can move up the steep incline and propel the passenger car with it. The third picture depicts the cog wheel in between the two wheels. You can imagine a powerful engine turning these wheels and the axle as the locomotive moves up the mountain.

If you ever get the chance, take the Mount Washington Cog Railway. It is an experience; the scenery, the cold weather and wind at the top, the smoke of the engine, all experiences you'll never forget.

© 2012 bankscottage

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    • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

      TIMETRAVELER2 4 years ago

      I grew up in Pittsburgh and remember my Dad taking me on the incline...don't know which one. This was a fun hub and I loved seeing the pix!

    • bankscottage profile image
      Author

      bankscottage 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks for stopping by timetraveler2. Pgh has changed quite a bit over the years, but the inclines are still the same. If you haven't been back in awhile, you may not recognize the city. When you do get back again, be sure to include some funicular fun.

    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Nicely done Hub bankscottage ! Incline's are the best! Have you seen the Rick Sebak special on the inclines? Forget which one! Up and shared!

    • bankscottage profile image
      Author

      bankscottage 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Ajwrites57 thanks for the kind comments and shares. I'll have to look for that special.

    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      bankscottage, here are two links one to Rick s Sebaks 7 minute Youtube on the inclines and another with old images of some the Pittsburgh inclines.

      http://thatschurch.com/2012/12/05/pittsburgh-histo...

      http://thatschurch.com/2012/12/05/pittsburgh-histo...

    • bankscottage profile image
      Author

      bankscottage 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks for the links ajwriter57. I was out of town for a few days. Now that I am back, I'll have to check them out.

      There is a museum at the top of the Mon incline with a lot of old pictures and books on the history of inclines in Pittsburgh.

      Thanks again.

    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Sorry I missed your response. It has been awhile since I was @ the Mon Incline. The last few times I went and took guests it was the Duquesne Incline. My pleasure bankscottage.

    • bankscottage profile image
      Author

      bankscottage 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      ajwrites, you are correct. I was wrong. The Duquesne Incline has the pictures and books. Sorry. Thanks for pointing this out.

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