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The Monongahela Inclined Plane Company

Acquired by PAT on May 15, 1964

Pittsburgh is home to many unique and notable transit related items and this includes the Monongahela Incline which is the first and oldest, continually operating passenger inclined plane in the United States. Now owned and operated by the Port Authority of Allegheny County, the Mon Incline still plays a very important role in the daily life of many people who live on top of Mount Washington. Although there were inclines in existence prior to the Mon Incline in Pittsburgh, those were freight inclines used to haul coal from the various mines down to the rivers.

The Mon Incline evolved from a plan developed in 1854. The Mount Washington Inclined Plane Company was formed to build a passenger incline from the southern end of the Smithfield Street Bridge to the top of what was then commonly known as "Coal Hill". The plan became stalled due to various lawsuits and legal delays and the plan was tabled for a number of years.

In the late 1860's the plan resurfaced, with a new company, the Monongahela Inclined Plane Company (MIPC) being formed to build the much needed incline. Work started shortly afterwards on building the incline with all of the legal wrangling being taken care of during the years the plan was shelved.

Designed by John G. Endres and Sam Diescher, the Mon Incline opened for operation on May 28, 1870. As originally built, the incline was a steam powered wooden incline. The original wooden super-structure was replaced in 1882 with iron but remained with steam power. A second freight incline addition for the Mon Incline was added in 1883 and was directly next to the passenger incline on the east side. The freight incline lasted until 1935 when it was dismantled due to lack of business.

The passenger side almost closed at the same time as the freight side and for the same reason. The MIPC made a decision that was to quite literally save the passenger incline forever and that was to upgrade the incline from steam power to electric power. This decision, when made, was not to preserve the incline but to help improve it and attract ridership back from the newly opened roads that opened up Mount Washington.

The Mon Incline was built with a 71 1/2% grade and is 635 feet long and travels 367.39 feet up Mount Washington. The cars travel approximately 6 mph along the length of the incline.

The MIPC was taken over by the Port Authority on May 15, 1964. The incline, although in need of repairs, was planned to be kept due to its strategic location and importance to commuters of the Mount Washington neighborhood. The Mon Incline received basic repairs to keep it running and that, along with good maintenance, allowed the Mon Incline to continue operations until 1982.

Other inclines acquired by PAT were not deemed as important and were closed down after PAT smoothed out its new operations. The Castle Shannon Incline was closed down shortly after it was acquired and the Duquesne Incline, which was to be closed, was leased to The Society for the Preservation of the Duquesne Heights Incline. The group fought to get the Duquesne Incline back in operation in 1963 and again after it was acquired by PAT. PAT wanted to abandon the Duquesne Incline in 1966 and the lease deal allowed that incline to remain in service.

Age had taken its toll on the Mon Incline by 1978 and service was restricted in cold weather. The steel beam super structure had become brittle and there was a definite possibility that the structure could fail in freezing weather. The Incline would be closed when the temperature reached 0 degrees and reopen once the temperature went over 15 degrees. PAT installed a red light at the stations to inform passengers from a distance if the incline was running or not during the winter months. The incline did lose ridership, especially in the winter months, from the intermittent safety related closings.

In 1982, the Mon Incline was closed for 8 months for a complete rebuilding. During the 8 months that it was closed, the Mon Incline received everything from new steel girders to new cars. Both the upper and lower stations were restored to their 1870 appearance. The incline undercar frames were one of the few things that were retained and they were completely refurbished and upgraded to current standards. The incline car bodies were completely replaced with new bodies that retained the ambiance of the originals.

Today the Mon Incline continues to operate daily and is not only one of Pittsburgh's must see tourist attractions, it also remains as a vital means of transportation for many people that live on top of Mount Washington. It is registered as a National Historic Landmark and has been designated a historic structure by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. The Incline has also been recognized by other groups, world-wide, for its significance in both history as well as engineering.

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