Incline Railways in the Vernacular of One Particular Spectacular Vehicular Funicular


Ok, so it’s really pronounced as FOON not FUN, but what FUN is that? Even though it is an entertaining ride, the FOON part of the word is from the Latin word for cord.

A FUNICULAR is a cable railway that descends an incline. Two rail cars are connected by a single cable. As one ascends, the other descends. The cable hoist at the top drives the ride with the two cars passing in the middle. By having two cars counterbalanced, the weight was much more manageable for the machinery. Originally used for hauling heavy loads up steep inclines, people quickly discovered the thrill of the ride up the hill and seats were added and a new tourist attraction was born.

In the early twentieth century the cable hauled cars were a tourism fad. Using the mining technology of the day, the rails, wheels, cables and hoist motors were all easily available. Until recently, Colorado had several funiculars but all have since ceased operation.

In Colorado, easily the most well known is the Mount Manitou Incline that was built to haul pipeline to the top. Instead of removing it at the end of construction as planned, the incline was converted to a popular tourist ride. It closed in 1989 after erosion damage to the track bed. The rails were removed and the ties remained. The steep route and railroad ties are now a challenging hike. For those that have taken the challenge, you know that the previous sentence is an understatement. Remnants of the buildings can still be found at the top.

Very nearby in Manitou Springs was the Red Mountain Incline. The foundation for the dancehall and hoist house can still be found on the summit.

The hike to the top of Red Mountain is detailed in our book, Easy Hikes to the Hidden Past – Pikes Peak Edition.

Seven Falls had an incline railway that went to the Eagles Nest viewing platform, directly across the canyon from the falls. Built in 1946, this car ran until 1986 when it was closed due to insurance issues. Technically it was not considered a funicular because it had only one car pulled by the hoist motor. The incline was removed when an elevator was installed inside the mountain. The remnants of the track supports can still be seen to the left of the stairs running up to Eagles Nest. The stairs and platform are still there as well as the ticket booth at the bottom.

The last one to close was at the Royal Gorge. It was damaged in a 2013 fire and was not rebuilt. This incline is the most intact and gives you a good view of their design and appearance as the rails running from the hoist house can still be seen. It carried standing passengers down to the river at the bottom of the gorge. Find the unique flat roofed stone building on your right before reaching the bridge to see the hoist house and the rails reaching the bottom of the gorge. In the photo below, note the dual loading platforms at the bottom for the alternating cars, common to most funiculars.

Before the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison was built, a funicular incline railway ran nearby.

Here’s a fun fact. The Hogwarts Express in Orlando Florida is technically a funicular because they are two trains connected by a single cable running though a hoist. Even though it is on parallel level tracks, it is technically a funicular. The cars are on a loop of cable with a pulley on the opposite end of the hoist motor.

Most shorter inclines had two parallel tracks with a passing area in the middle. Typically there were two loading platforms at each station, two at the top and two at the bottom, depending on which car was at the station. The Mount Manitou Incline was long enough that it had a little different arrangement. It had two platforms at the top but only one at the bottom.

Question: Why did the Manitou Incline have three rails at the top four rails in the middle, back to three rails below that and then two rails at the bottom?

Answer: On the upper half, the cable would be zipping next to your car, sometimes dangerously close. There were rollers on the rail bed for the cable to drop but at times the cable would lift higher that your head. Only one car at a time would be up there so a single center rail could handle the inside wheels of both cars. There were four rails midway as the cars passed. Below that it went back to three rails so the cable would not get too close to the other car in the top half. Near the bottom it went to two rails so that a single loading platform would work for either car.

The author’s first of many rides on Colorado’s inclined railways, illegally and rebelliously standing in the third row.

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