The Monongahela Inclined Plane
Acquired by PAT on May 15,
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
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
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.