What-I-Wonder-Wednesday – What’s a funicular railway, anyway?

I was going through some raw video the other night when I found a two minute slice-of-life as we rode the Peak Tram in Hong Kong back in 2010 – and I remembered being told that it was a funicular railway, rather than a cable car.

Cable Car - Market and Powell

Cable Car – Market and Powell, San Francisco

I asked Shirley  if she knew the difference – and she made a joking reference to singing on one.

Obviously, her mind had gone to Meet Me In St Louis – whereas I started singing ‘Funiculi, Funicula’

But apart from being the cause of bad musical puns, there is a significant difference between cable cars and funicular railways .. and it involves the cable, or rope (funis in Latin)

With cable cars like those in San Francisco, the cable cars grab hold of a cable that is being drawn along underground by a whopping great reel in a central location.

But in the case of a funicular railway like the Peak Tram, two cars are attached by a rope – and as one tramcar goes down the slope, it pulls the other up (and vice versa).

It’s a single-track system, so the two cars can only pass each other at the half-way point (where a second bit of track has been laid).

There are two other ‘request’ stops .. and they, of course, have to be an equal distance from the middle.

In the case of the Peak Tram, the gradient can be very steep – as you’ll see from the video below.


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