ASME-Landmark:Lookout Mountain Incline Railway


More than 75,000 tourists a year were visiting Lookout Mountain when the Civil War interceded. Tourism was not enthusiastically revived again until the 1880s when, in bitter competition for the tourist trade, a narrow-gage incline was built in 1886 to reach the site of a new luxury hotel. In competition with this incline, another incline was built, called the Broad Gauge Railroad, by June 1889, which covered 15 miles from the downtown Union Railroad up to the top of the mountain, a trip of over an hour. But financial problems plagued the Broad Gauge—and, in 1895, John T. Crass formed the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway Company, which built a short, fast incline up the steepest part of the mountain. Its success closed down the competitors by 1900, and continues uninterrupted today.

The incline, 1,972 feet long and rising 1,450 feet, is one of the steepest passenger railways in the world. It makes use of a variable grade, ranging up to 72.7 percent near the top, to compensate for the changing weight of the cables as its cars move. One of the cars has flanges on the inside of its wheels, the other on the outside, allowing the cars to pass midway with no moving parts in the track turnouts. Both cars have self-contained emergency brakes. Originally powered by steam, the incline was changed to two 100-horsepower motors in 1911, but has otherwise changed very little in its more than 100 years of operation. See ASME website for more information