The funicular railway
is a kind of cable-based railway
that gives me great joy because of its peculiar shape and its uselessness for doing anything other than what it does. A funicular carriage is generally stairstepped
, so you can't repurpose these cars for other uses. They generally work in a particular way, too, as pairs: one goes up the mountain, one comes down the mountain! Maybe this kind of glee is why they seem to be especially popular in Japan today, where they can be taken to many popular sightseeing areas--but a fair number of funicular railway riders are probably there for the journey, not the destination.
You can go on a pilgrimage to the numinous group of peaks called Kōyasan
(here's a video of the trip there
) via the Kōyasan Cable, which even accepts payment by smart card. You can take the Mitake Tozan Mountain Railway
not too far from Tokyo and do some fine hiking in the Chichibu Tama Kai National Park (video trip
). In the famous sightseeing region of Hakone, you can start your journey on the modern-looking Hakone Tozan Cable Car
, defying the generally old-fashioned vibe (you complete your trip up to Lake Ashi on a ropeway, and once you get to the lake you can hop on a replica of the HMS Victory or 17th-century French warship Soleil Royal no I am not even kidding
). Then there's the Kintetsu Ikoma Cable Line. The dog car, named Bull
, and the cat car, named Mike
, are on the Hōzanji line to the Buddhist temple Hōzanji. (Another Flickr user notes that some people use these trains as part of their normal commute.
) The music-themed Do-Re-Mi car
and the cake-themed Sweet car
go to the amusement park Skyland Ikoma on the Ikoma line. Compared to these four, the two cars
on Hōzanji Line 2 look positively normal. There are probably a couple dozen
funiculars in Japan, so...more where those came from! (They even have cool looking tickets
In the videos above you can see the "passing track" style, where a single track is used for most of the course but there's a kind of "mouth
" area where the two cars pass each other on two tracks
. Other systems may use parallel tracks. For zillions more strangely hypnotic Japanese funicular railway videos, see this Youtube search results page.
(Yes, those katakana spell "cable car", basically. Although they're two somewhat different things in English, they're the same thing in Japanese. There's a note about this on the Japanese Wikipedia entry
, and another link is provided for San Francisco cable car seekers.)
There's not enough space to address funiculars all over the world, but I'll add a few general notes: The name comes from Latin for "rope." Many of the now-closed ones in the US (where they're often called inclines or incline railroads) and elsewhere were used to get into mines, but they've also been used to move ships. The steepest passenger railway in the world, the Katoomba Scenic Railway in Blue Mountains, Australia
, is a funicular railway, as is supposedly-the-shortest and supposedly-soon-to-return-to-operation, Angels Flight
in Los Angeles, USA. There's also a funicular that may be the oldest railway in the world, the Reiszug in Austria
, which dates to the 1500s and is now run by motor--a lot older than this 1920s one from Japan!
They're found in many other places in the world
. There are many in South America (most notably Valparaiso, Chile), some in other parts of Asia (though not Korea for some reason, as far as I can tell), and particularly in Switzerland, Italy, and other hilly and mountainous areas of Europe, where Michel has blogged his photos for you
. Apparently they were pretty popular in the Soviet Union
, too. For details on how they operate, you can read the nitty-gritty of funicular function at the Sweden-based funiculars.net
You may even know a song about funiculars! The 1880 song "Funiculì, Funiculà,"
is about the opening of the funicular on Mount Vesuvius (no, really!) which had to be shut down in 1944 after repeated eruptions caused problems. And yes, that's where the headline on this post comes from. Here, for no apparent reason, is a children's chorus, Luciano Pavarotti, and Aqua (yes, THAT Aqua) performing "Funiculì, Funiculà."