Imagine living in a large city and heading to work or out for a day on the town back in the early 1900’s. You might take the horse and buggy, but more than likely you would walk or take a streetcar. If your travels include a steep incline, you might have a really long ride or an uncomfortably steep walk. If you lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco , Duluth or Cincinnati you might be in luck! A funicular could speed up your commute.
It’s not a common word anymore, but we use the word funicular a lot at Marine Innovations. People use funicular to define the inclined elevators we build. Merriam-Webster defines a funicular as “a cable railway ascending a mountain. Especially: one in which an ascending car counterbalances a descending car.” However you define them, funiculars are evolving.
Do a search for funicular on any search engine and you will find pictures of modern inclined elevators and historic twin car funiculars. To stick to Merriam-Webster’s definition, they should be ascending a mountain to be a true funicular. You can find many that are in the mountains, but probably more that are ascending a much smaller hill and most are only one car, not one car counterbalancing another.
The use of elevator technology to pull the car up the hill with a cable, helps overcome the problem of traction that prevents a train from climbing steep inclines. A true funicular uses the weight of one car descending to help pull the other car up. These mechanical concepts have been helping people effortlessly climb steep hills since the 15th century.¹
The first urban funicular was the Funiculars of Lyon, France, opened in 1862.² This funicular connected Rue Terme and Boulevard de la Crouix-Rousse and was in operation until 1968. The first funicular in the United States was the Granite Funicular in Massachusetts. It was built in 1826 to transport granite to build the Bunker Hill Monument.³
Funiculars on the web
There are hundreds of websites dedicated to the history of current and past funiculars. Let your phone, tablet or computer take you on a funicular journey around the world and back in time to see funiculars big and small, new and old transporting people up the steepest hills. It’s great to see the old photos, carloads of people from the 1930, others hauling horse and buggies or streetcars. These systems were modern miracles of their day. Sometimes they had huge iron support structure. Other systems carried large loads or were built to allow streetcars to drive on and off of the carriage. Some, like the Allegheny Portage Railroad, even transported canal boats.³ Most of these great funiculars are gone, but some still remain. Some, like the Angels Flight in Los Angeles, operate today. If you’re in the area, you can take a ride!
Then and Now
Looking at these older systems, our residential and commercial funiculars have as many similarities as differences. Today, we still use a cable drive, but no counterweight. A Marine Innovations funicular has many safety systems to keep you and your passengers safe. Our galvanized parts keep your system strong and secure for years. The powder-coated trolley and carriage are easy to maintain and stay attractive for the life of the system.
Today most of the funicular systems are private. Although there are still many large public funicular systems, many have been replaced by other modes of public transportation. If you’re lucky, you have a funicular to help you get from your home to your dock or your parking area to your home. Others are used to help people to get to the dock at a public marina or condo association. They can easily accommodate your needs, while blending into the landscaping and quietly transporting you to your beach or dock.