AskDefine | Define funicular

Dictionary Definition

funicular adj : relating to or operated by a cable; "funicular railway" n : a railway up the side of a mountain pulled by a moving cable and having counterbalancing ascending and descending cars [syn: cable railway, funicular railway]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Of, pertaining to, resembling, or powered by a rope or cable
  2. Having a fleshy covering of the seed formed from the funiculus, the attachment point of the seed.


  1. A particular type of rail transit system which ascends a steep urban or mountain incline, having usually two cars sharing a single track, with the cars linked by a cable and an arrangement of pulleys such that the descending car assists in the hoisting of the ascending car, i.e. the two cars serve as counterweights for each other.


Extensive Definition

A funicular, also known as a funicular railway, incline, inclined railway, inclined plane, or cliff railway, is a type of self-contained cable railway in which a cable attached to a pair of tram-like vehicles on rails moves them up and down a very steep slope, the ascending and descending vehicles counterbalancing each other.
The word is from the Latin funiculus, a diminutive of funis, "rope".


The basic principle of funicular operation is that two cars are attached to each other by a cable, which runs through a pulley at the top of the incline. Counterbalancing of the two cars, with one ascending and one descending the slope — especially when transporting similar loads, such as passengers — minimizes the energy needed to lift the ascending car.
The usual engineering practice is to splice the cable ends together thereby creating a continuous cable loop. The cars are attached equidistantly on the cable loop. The cable is driven by any means of winching at one end of the run, and held taut by a tensioning wheel at the other. Other sheave wheels are employed to guide the cable to and from the drive mechanism and the incline cars. Locomotion is created by alternately reversing the direction of the drive mechanism so that the cars switch positions on the incline, that is, one up and one down.
In many cases, such as on the Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and most cliff railways in the UK, two parallel straight tracks are used. Separate platforms are provided for each vehicle, and there is sufficient space for the two cars to pass at the mid-point. The wheels of the cars are usually single-flanged, resembling those on standard railway vehicles.
Up until the 1890s, this four-railed parallel-track funicular was the normal configuration. The originator of the passing track was Prof. Thaddeus Lowe with his Mount Lowe Railway in Altadena, California (1893-1938). In an attempt to negotiate the steep climb of Mount Echo, Lowe was informed by his chief engineer David Macpherson that the grading required to accommodate the usual four rails would be extensive and costly. Most of the concern was caused by a large granite chasm that would require extensive backfilling and shoring. Overnight, Lowe came up with a configuration that employed three rails (now often just two), with four rails only at the dead center or passing section of the funicular.
Cars used with a two- or three-rail configuration have flanges on both sides of the outboard wheels, which keeps them aligned with the outer rail, thus holding each car in position. The inboard wheels are unflanged and ride on top of the opposite rail, thereby easily crossing over the rails at the passing track, and avoiding the need for switches and crossings.
The Angels Flight funicular in Los Angeles employs the three-rail configuration. Angels Flight uses separate cables for each car powered from a geared mechanism, rather than using a single cable attached at each end to the cars.
The Wellington Cable Car in New Zealand (which is a funicular) uses the two-rail configuration. Originally the system had two separate parallel tracks.
Some funiculars have four rails, with the upper and lower sections interlaced and a passing section in the middle. These usually have a single platform at each station. The Hill Train at Legoland, Windsor is an example of this configuration.


The earliest such railways were water-driven, allowing barge traffic of canals to ascend and descend steep hills. An early example were the three inclined planes on the Tyrone Canal in County Tyrone that was in use as early as 1777. They were used primarily in the early 19th century, especially during the height of the canal-building era in the 1830s in the United States.
Such railways operated by allowing water in feeder canals at the top of the plane to drive a turbine, raising or lowering a canal barge along a steep slope. Along level sections, the railroads essentially operated as standard towpath canals, with the barges typically drawn by horse or mule.
Examples of hydropower inclined plane railroads in the United States included the Allegheny Portage Railroad, part of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal, built in 1834 with ten planes as the first railroad across the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. Similarly, the Morris Canal in New Jersey connected the Delaware River with the Passaic River using 23 planes, as well as a series of locks along the gentler gradients.
One of the most famous funiculars of its time was the Great Incline of the Mount Lowe Railway in Altadena, California, designed by Andrew Smith Hallidie of San Francisco cable car fame. The Mount Lowe Railway combined its funicular, for raising passengers 2,800 feet (859 m) up the steep side of Mount Echo (elevation 3500 ft or 1067 m), with electric narrow-gauge trolley systems at each end. The Incline had three grade changes, starting with the lower end at 62% and easing to a 48% grade at the top. The cars were designed to adjust to the grade changes for the comfort of their passengers. A particular feature of the Great Incline was the use of only the three rails borne out of the need to reduce the width of the grading on the incline. An added advantage was the reduction of materials even though a complicated cable routing system was needed at the passing track.
The funicular on Mount Vesuvius inspired the song Funiculì Funiculà written in 1880. That funicular was wrecked repeatedly by volcanic eruptions and finally abandoned after the eruption of 1944.


The city of Valparaiso, Chile, uses them as an integral part of the urban transport service. There are more than 15, the oldest dating from 1883. Some of them are inside the historic quarter declared World Heritage by Unesco.
The Great Incline of the Mount Lowe Railway (above right) had multiple grades with cars that adjusted to the variations. The gentlest grade was 48%. The steepest was 62%.
The Niesenbahn in the Swiss Kandertal is the longest continuous-cable funicular in Europe.
Water-powered funiculars include the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway in North Devon, England; the CAT Funicular at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Gwynedd, Wales; the Nerobergbahn in Wiesbaden, Germany; and Bom Jesus funicular in Braga, Portugal (the oldest, still working, in the world).
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has two funiculars that travel between the top of the Mount Washington hillside to Station Square at the base of the mountain along the Monongahela River. It serves as a tourist attraction and mass transit system.
The Johnstown Inclined Plane (built 1890), located in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in the United States, claims to be the world's steepest passenger funicular. Chattanooga, Tennessee is home to the funicular Lookout Mountain Incline Railway (built 1895) that travels from the base to the top of Lookout Mountain, which also claims to be the steepest funicular in the world also with a maximum grade of 72 degrees.
There is one in Katoomba in Australia. Its center supports multiple tourist attractions such as the sky rail and cable car. The railway is on the old mining track and is 52% at its steepest point.
Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California has a funicular which takes guests up the Mountain from an area near the park entrance to a station near the Ninja coaster entrance. It was simply called "Funicular" for many years, introducing thousands of people to the peculiar word, but is now known as the "Orient Express" to fit in with the Far Eastern theming at the top of the Mountain.
Niagara Falls, Canada also makes use of funiculars that enable easy access to hotels above the falls. It is known as the Falls Incline Railway, originally known as the Horseshoe Falls Incline.

Private funiculars

Private funiculars are installed on steep sections for easier access from the street to a house than by steep paths or steps. They are common in hilly cities like Wellington, New Zealand. They are often called cable cars or even lifts (elevators), but have a small car for 2 to 4 people permanently attached to a cable from a winch, hence fall under the definition of funicular. The car runs on an inclined pair of rails (beams) or a single rail, at a slow speed (0.3 to 1.0 metres/second). Larger and faster models may give access to commercial buildings. Examples are: USA, NZ.


funicular in Catalan: Funicular
funicular in Czech: Pozemní lanová dráha
funicular in Danish: Kabelbane
funicular in German: Standseilbahn
funicular in Spanish: Funicular
funicular in Esperanto: Funikularo
funicular in Basque: Funikular
funicular in French: Funiculaire
funicular in Hindi: रज्जुरेल
funicular in Croatian: Uspinjača
funicular in Icelandic: Fjallatoglest
funicular in Italian: Funicolare
funicular in Hebrew: פוניקולר
funicular in Lithuanian: Keltuvas
funicular in Hungarian: Siklóvasút
funicular in Dutch: Kabelspoorweg
funicular in Japanese: ケーブルカー
funicular in Polish: Kolej linowo-terenowa
funicular in Portuguese: Funicular
funicular in Russian: Фуникулёр
funicular in Slovak: Pozemná lanovka
funicular in Finnish: Funikulaari
funicular in Swedish: Bergbana
funicular in Ukrainian: Фунікулер
funicular in Contenese: 纜車
funicular in Samogitian: Funikulierios
funicular in Chinese: 纜索鐵路

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Amtrak, baggage train, cable railroad, cable railway, cableway, capillary, choo-choo, cirrose, cirrous, cog railroad, cog railway, el, electric, electric train, elevated, express, express train, fibered, fibroid, fibrous, flagelliform, flier, flossy, freight, freight train, freighter, funicular railway, goods train, gossamery, hairlike, hairy, interurban, ligamental, lightning express, limited, local, metro, milk train, monorail, parliamentary, parliamentary train, passenger train, rack-and-pinion railroad, railroad train, rattler, rolling stock, rope railway, ropy, shuttle, shuttle train, silky, ski lift, special, streamliner, stringy, subway, taeniate, taeniform, telpher, telpher line, telpher ropeway, telpherway, threadlike, thready, train, tube, underground, way train, wire ropeway, wireway, wiry
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