Funiculars in Colorado
By Bill Fetcher July 95

Cable railways have been built wherever there are mountains and tourists wanting to ascend
them with no physical exertion to see the view. Colorado, with an abundance of both, had
several scenic cable railways following the turn of the (last) century plus a number that served
mines, quarries and power stations. There are two types, those with a single car raised and
lowered by cable, sometimes assisted by a counterweight, and funiculars with two cars
counterbalancing each other, passing each other midway up the grade like the boat tows I
described in an earlier article.  

Like many other things in this country, cable railways were a European import, most likely from
the Swiss Alps. In the mid 1870’s a funicular was built to the top of Italy’s Mt. Vesuvius. This
one had the good fortune of being celebrated in song, the familiar, jaunty Italian song (see title
above) written for the line’s opening ceremonies.  Subsequent eruptions of Vesuvius have put the
line out of action.

In 1890 a funicular was installed on Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga, Tenn. where it continues
to operate, attesting to their long life providing nature and business economics don’t have their

Colorado’s Lookout Mountain, just west of Golden, sported a funicular. Its two 100-passenger
cars hauled tourists up and down from 1912 to 1916 when the road up Lookout Mountain from
Golden was built. Motorists decided it was less trouble to drive up than ride the funicular and so
they did. The line went out of business. Its right-of-way can be traced though is somewhat

Meanwhile, across the valley on Castle Rock, south of the Coors plant, another cable railway
was built. With the success of the Lookout Mountain funicular and in the spirit of competition,
this one ran from 1913 to 1918. Its removal, for reasons unknown, left an obvious scar on the
northwest corner of Castle Rock. (My source, “Tracking Ghost Railroads in Colorado” is a bit
vague in some areas.)

In 1909 a funicular similar to Lookout Mountain’s with 100-passenger cars was built on Mount
Morrison, just north of Red Rocks and the town of Morrison. It ceased operation in 1914, again
reasons unknown.

The tourist mecca of Colorado Springs, or more precisely Manitou Springs featured two cable
railways. The Red Peak Scenic Railway Company built a line just off Ruxton Avenue to the
summit of Red Peak a half-mile south. It ran from 1919 to 1925 when it was reportedly
damaged by a rockslide and never reopened. It had been built to compete with Colorado’s most
enduring and endearing funicular, the nearby Manitou Incline Railway. This line was originally
built to aid construction of a pipeline supplying water to a hydroelectric plant just up from the
Pikes Peak cog railway station. In 1907 it was taken over as a tourist attraction. Its closure in
1989 is regretted. I’ve heard various stories at to why it was closed; the cog railway needed the
additional parking spaces, rock slide damage (which seems to go with the territory), or maybe
they just weren’t turning a profit.

This leaves only one cable railway in operation in the state, The Royal Gorge Incline Railway. It
was installed in 1931, a few years after the suspension bridge was built. Rather than haul people
up a mountain, this one lowers them into a canyon. This situation possibly reflects the American
people’s obsession with health and fitness. In recent years they’ve taken up a wide variety of
outdoor sports and activities including hiking and mountain climbing. The preference these days
may be to climb a mountain under your own power rather than board a machine that will do it for
* Pictures from the Manitou Springs Incline taken in 1973:
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Pictures thanks to Bill F.