Pittsburgh’s two inclines offer touch of history, up-high views of the Steel City

June 20, 2016
          

The Monongahela Incline was built in 1870. It wasd the first passneger-carrying incline in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH — There is really only one way to see Pittsburgh.

That’s to ride its two remaining inclined plane railroads. Each is a fun 2˝-minute ride with some great views of downtown Pittsburgh.

The historic Monongahela and Duquesne inclines, with motorized cables to lift and lower the cars, were initially powered by steam engines when they opened in 1870 and 1877, respectively.

The Monongahela was the first passenger-carrying incline in Pennsylvania.

They are the sole survivors of 17 inclines in Pittsburgh and are the oldest of a few remaining urban inclines or funiculars in the United States.

They carry tourists and Pittsburgh residents to the top of Mount Washington with stunning vistas of downtown Pittsburgh and its three rivers: the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio, which meet at the Golden Triangle at Point State Park.

The inclines are among Pittsburgh’s biggest tourist attractions. The Duquesne gets nearly 642,000 riders a year, the Monongahela about 460,000.

They offer stunning up-high views of the city’s skyline, dominated by the 64-story tower that is home to U.S. Steel Tower and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. From atop the bluff, you can observe many of Pittsburgh’s 446 bridges.

Essential to Pittsburgh’s transportation infrastructure, they are used by residents getting to and from work, shops and home. They have been renovated repeatedly over the years.

Both are on the south side of West Carson Street, about one mile apart near the Station Square area.

The Monongahela Incline is 635 feet in length and travels 367 vertical feet. The grade is 35 degrees. The two cars can carry 24 and 23 passengers.

The Duquesne Incline is 800 feet in length and lifts/lowers passengers 400 feet. The grade is less steep: 30 degrees. Each car carries 17 passengers.

One car goes up as the other goes down on both inclines, on tracks 5 feet apart. The Monongahela travels 6 miles per hour. The Duquesne, 4 miles per hour.

Cars feature hand-carved cherry panels, maple trim, amber glass transoms and original hardware. The stations have been returned to their original looks, although the propulsion and braking systems have been updated over the years.

Both inclines are on the National Register of Historic Places. They have also been named historic structures by the Pittsburgh History and Landmark Foundation. The Duquesne Incline has a small museum and gift shop at the upper level.

The Monongahela Incline was built at a cost of $50,000 and opened up the barely accessible Mount Washington to residential development. It was one of four inclines on Mount Washington.

In early Pittsburgh, industry grew on the flat lands along the rivers. Workers lived nearby and walked to the mills and factories. The hilly parts of town developed later because of limited access.

German immigrants who lived on Coal Hill, as Mount Washington was then known, proposed an incline.

A primitive coal hoist was in place where the incline stands now to lower coal from Mount Washington to the bottom of the bluff.

Engineer Samuel Diescher designed the incline and it was built by John Endres.

Inclines in Pittsburgh became a very popular means of transportation. According to Scientific America in 1880, the Monongahela Incline got 6,000 passengers on Sundays.

A second incline was added in 1884 to carry freight to the top of Mount Washington. It even carried horses and wagons and later automobiles.

It was dismantled in 1935 after roads were built to Mount Washington and the use of trucks had grown.

In 1935, the Monongahela Incline was improved, the cars rebuilt and the steam engine that had pulled the cables replaced with electric motors.

In the early days, the fare for foot passengers in Pittsburgh ranged from 1 cent to 5 cents on different inclines.

The Duquesne Incline opened in 1877. It offered access to downtown Pittsburgh via the Point Bridge for Duquesne Heights residents. It was built of wood and iron. The wood was replaced by iron in 1888.

It was not located as well as the Monongahela Incline and got less use. Streetcars and automobiles drew traffic away.

In 1962, it was shut down due to low ridership and need for costly repairs. It was rescued by a nonprofit group that began day-to-day operations in 1963.

The Monongahela Incline operates from 5:30 a.m. to 12:45 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 8:45 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. Sundays and holidays. A round-trip adult fare is $3.50 via a vending machine. For more information, call 412-442-2000 or go to www.portauthority/paac.

The Duquesne Incline operates from 5:30 a.m. to 12:45 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 12:45 a.m. Sundays and holidays. A round-trip fare for an adult is $5. Staffers will sell you tickets.

Groups can arrange for tours of the equipment: the motor, drive gear and giant cast-iron drum that pull two steel cables that move the cars. The cables are 1.12 inches in diameter and 900 feet long. There are backup safety cables and a hand-operated brake.

For information, call 412-381-1665 or go to www.duquesneincline.org.

The busiest times for both inclines are Saturday and Sunday afternoons. You may wait to go up or come back down.

For Pittsburgh tourist information, call 412-281-7711 or go to www.visitpittsburgh.com.

 

 





 


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