Funicilars: Strange Water-Powered Mountain Transport

When it comes to traveling up a steep slope along a mountain or large hill in modern times, we have plenty of options. Whether that be cars, gondolas, or ski-lifts, they’re all fairly modern inventions. In the late 1800s, there was another way to travel up mountains call funiculars. These train-like vehicles are some of the most energy efficient ways of traveling up and down a slope, and they’re quite mechanically simple.

Funiculars function in a system of two counterbalanced cars attached at the end of a long cable that goes from one car, up the slope, around a pully, and back down to another car. This means that as one car goes up the slope, the other one must go down. Movement is accomplished through the changing of the weight of each car, or through the use of a motor to move one car up.

Image Source: Wikimedia

Focusing in on the more rudimentary power technique of changing a car’s weight, this can be done through the pumping of water. Underneath each car, there will be a tank that can be emptied and filled upon command. At the beginning of any journey, the tanks are usually empty. Passengers will then board onto both cars and once ready to go, the operator at the upper station is informed of the number of passengers that have entered the lower car. This gives him the knowledge he needs to know how much water to pump into his car to allow for a moderate ascent or descent. Once there is an imbalance in car weight, with the upper car being heavier, the brakes on both cars are released, allowing the upper car to descend and the lower car to ascend. At the end, the water is drained and the process starts all over again

Image Source: Wikimedia

While many funiculars were originally powered by this water imbalance system, most of these systems were later fitted with electric motors, which allowed a little more control. However, there are still many funicular systems that operate on the original water technology. The Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway in North Devon is one that’s been in operation since 1890. There’s also the Bom Jesus do Monte Funicular in Braga, Portugal and the Neuveville St. Pierre in Fribourg, Switzerland. The Neuveville funicular is particularly interesting because it uses wastewater from a sewage plant to power the car’s travel up and down.

Image Source: Wikimedia

In most water-powered funiculars, pumps are needed to fill the tanks of the cars. However, the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff funiculars actually work without any pumps. The water is taken from a nearby river, which allows for the cars to travel up and down with the only input being the diversion of water.

If you ever get a chance to travel up a mountain in a funicular utilizing water weight as the propulsion technique, definitely take it. It’s one of the purest examples of simplicity being better than complex mechanics that’s still around today.

Trevor is a civil engineer (B.S.) by trade and an accomplished writer with a passion for inspiring everyone with new and exciting technologies. He is also a published children’s book author and the producer for the YouTube channel Concerning Reality.


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