A relatively rare sight in the United States, funiculars have all but disappeared from the global landscape. Dating back to the 15th century, these inclined railways were once a common way to transport workers and goods in urban landscapes with challenging topography.
True funiculars consist of a pair of equally sized cars connected by a cable looped over pulleys and a drive wheel. The cars are counterbalanced; while one car ascends the incline on parallel tracks, the other descends. Once driven by coal-powered steam engines, most remaining funiculars are now electric.
Here’s where you can find five of the world’s best funiculars to take you to new heights.
Once home to 17 funiculars in the late 19th century, only two have survived in the Steel City. The Monongahela Incline (or “Mon”), built in 1870, is the oldest continuously operating funicular in the U.S. Both it and the Duquesne Incline, built in 1877, are owned by the Port Authority of Allegheny County. The two funiculars offer great views of the Pittsburgh skyline via Mount Washington, but only the Duquesne Incline includes a small museum, gift shop, and observation deck.
The Old Quebec Funicular (Funiculaire du Vieux Quebec) began operating in 1879 with a water ballast propulsion system until it was converted to electric power in 1907. This unique funicular connects historic sites in Quebec City (about two hours from Maine and three hours from Montreal). The entrance can be found in House Louis Jolliet, the former residence the famous Québécois trader and cartographer from the 1600s.
Located near Lake Como in Northern Italy within the Lombardy region, the Como-Brunate Funicular (Funicolare Como-Brunate) takes residents and tourists alike between the city of Como and the lofty village of Brunate in just seven minutes. Situated approximately 2,300 feet above sea level, the vista from Brunate include an ancient Roman castrum, the historic city center, and the spectacular Alps.
Opened in 1888, The Peak Tram holds the distinction as being the first cable funicular in Asia. More than 17,000 people ride the incline daily up The Peak, a popular Hong Kong destination that features The Peak Tower shopping center and the Sky Terrace 428 deck with its panoramic views of Hong Kong.
With dozens of incline rides throughout the country, Switzerland definitely puts the “fun” in funicular. Th oldest was built in 1879, the steepest has a maximum gradient of 106 percent, and the longest spans a total of more than 2 miles.