Ride Through History on Pittsburgh's Monongahela Incline

Catch the views from the steepest incline in the U.S.

View from the Monongahela Incline in Pittsburgh.
Perry Quan/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Funiculars were the 19th century's transit of choice for getting from the bottom of a steep hill to the top. Most people don't know what they are, probably because there are currently less than a dozen that are still operational in the United States. Two of them, including the Monongahela Incline, are located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

This Midwestern city had more of these old-school inclined railways than any state—not just city—back in the day. At one point, there were a whopping 17 running at once. They were so integral to the community that historian Donald Doherty even wrote an entire book about them aptly titled "Pittsburgh's Inclines."

Pittsburgh's record number of funiculars, as they're more commonly known, is a direct result of its coal mining history, according to local radio station WESA. Miners would use these nifty trains to move coal in the 1800s.

Now, however, many of them are gone. More than a dozen inclines in this region have either been torn down or are defunct, but two still remain: the Duquesne Incline and the Monongahela Incline. The latter is the oldest and steepest incline in the United States. 

A Vital Means of Transportation

Owned and operated by Port Authority of Allegheny County, the Monongahela Incline has long played an essential role in Pittsburgh's public transportation system. When the city began expanding rapidly into a booming industrial city in the mid-1800s, workers moved to higher ground. As they relocated to Mt. Washington—known back then as Coal Hill—their footpaths to the places they worked down below became steep and dangerous.

So, the city hired John J. Endres and his team of engineers to build an incline. Because the local workforce was made up primarily of German immigrants, it was modeled after the cable cars in Germany.

Becoming a Popular Tourist Attraction

The Mon Incline, as locals call it, was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1974. it has also been declared a historic structure by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. Over the years, the 635-foot track and its quaint car have undergone a number of renovations.

Now, it operates not only as a practical means of transportation for locals, but also one of the city's top tourist attractions. The Mon Incline continues to carry more than 1,500 commuters per day up and down the 35-degree slope at a speed of 6 mph and has been made wheelchair-accessible, too. It runs seven days a week and 365 days a year from 73 West Carson St. and 5 Grandview Ave., where its stations are located.

The lower station of the Monongahela Incline is conveniently located near the Smithfield Street Bridge, making it easily accessible from Station Square and Pittsburgh's light rail system. 

The ride is 35 minutes long and provides unmatched views of the city from the top.