This past Saturday I got the chance to visit the “Incline Railway” in Chattanooga, TN. First I’d like to say that if anyone has not been to see the railway then it is a must especially since it is just a two-hour drive up I-75. The structure is simply breathtaking yet can also be quite frightening to those who are uneasy with heights (not me of course). The history of the incline is rich and one that mimicked similar patterns sweeping across the rest of the nation. In City People Barth notes the technological obsession Americans had with cable cars and electric streetcars (Barth, 54). Chattanooga was no exception. In the late 19th Century, a luxury hotel was constructed at the top of Lookout Mountain, TN with unbelievable scenic views of the city below. The railway opened in 1895 to connect the city of Chattanooga to that hotel via a nearly mile long track which runs straight up the side of the mountain. Prior to the construction of the railway, a trip to the top of Lookout Mountain took roughly 4 hours with a horse and carriage (“History of the Incline Railway”). When the line opened, the excursion took a matter of minutes. With a 72.7% angle, the “Incline Railway” is the steepest passenger rail line in the world. The original coal-burning engines were swapped in 1911 with two hundred horsepower engines, which are still in use at present. Today, the line primarily serves as a tourist destination, which draws people from around the globe (“History of the Incline Railway”). You can purchase round-trip tickets at either the station on top of the mountain or at the base. Perhaps most interestingly, the “Incline” is operated by Chattanooga’s mass transit system (CARTA) thus serving as a mode of public transportation in addition to a tourist hot spot. In fact, while riding the train down the mountain I ran into a lady who uses the train daily for easy and quick access to the mountain. For her, the train is public transit. The railway boasts that during times of inclement weather many people including school children rely on the railway to get to their destinations. Again I encourage all to see for themselves what makes the “Incline Railway” so unique.
Barth, Gunter Paul. City People: the Rise of Modern City Culture in Nineteenth-century America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.
“History of the Incline Railway.” Incline Railway. Web. Accessed 8 November 2011. http://ridetheincline.com/pages/history.