The rails are silent now, but from 1902 to 1978 they hummed under the weight of two sturdy cars making thousands of passenger runs annually. Traveling 2,200 feet of sheer mountainside trackway to 1,540 feet above sea-level, this was the Mount Beacon Incline Railway, the world's steepest passenger funicular.
The incline was the vision of several Manchester, New Hampshire entrepreneurs who were charmed by Mount Beacon's incredible history, natural beauty, and panoramic vistas. Partnering with prosperous local businessmen, by 1901 they had raised enough capital to begin building. The Otis Elevator Company engineered the railway and supervised its construction by several subcontractors. These included the Mohawk Construction Co. of Mohawk, New York and the Ramapo Iron Works of Hillburn, New York (which manufactured the railway cars)
The railway was built by hard men in the dead of winter, requiring every bit of their grit, endurance and ingenuity. When their strength failed, pack mules picked up the slack. As spring approached, the work gangs could marvel at their handiwork: a "classic" funicular with an upper powerhouse; an average grade of almost 65 percent; two trestles; and for 800 feet of its length, a maximum grade of 74 percent, greater than that of its contemporaries. In fact, when restored to operation, this engineering marvel will again be the steepest incline railway of its length in the United States.
Otis Elevator, then of Yonkers, NY, had an impressive track record when it came to mountain railways. They had installed several in the Northeast prior to the Beacon Incline, to include the Otis Elevating Railway in the Catskills and the Prospect Mountain Railway at Lake George, New York. The Mount Beacon Incline Railway bore several similarities to these, as they were all designed by the same Otis engineer, Mr. Thomas E. Brown. For example, each track bed was standard cut and fill, 3-foot gauge, with stone ballast along its length, and each railway had an upper powerhouse.
With every new railway, however, Otis improved upon previous designs, and the funicular on Mount Beacon enjoyed several technological advancements over its predecessors. It was the first with an electrically driven powerplant, the others having been steam-driven (and then later upgraded to electric drive). Its cars were also equipped with electric lighting and signalling systems, much like the Prospect Mountain Railway, but unlike that railway, the copper signalling cables were strung overhead rather than beside the trackbed, a much more reliable method. For the railway's full specifications,click HERE.