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History of the Incline Railway

Early photo of Chattanoogas Incline Railroad (The Incline)
Following the Civil War, development on Lookout Mountain was minimal. The four-hour trip up Whiteside Pike, a toll road, discouraged many people, and the two-dollar toll discouraged the rest. However, many people were interested at visiting the peak, in part due to the romanticized "Battle Above the Clouds" that occurred on the mountain during The Civil War.

During the railroad boom of the 1880's, speculators decided to develop a hotel on the mountaintop serviced by a narrow gauge railroad that would run up the mountain. A second, broad-gauge line and an earlier incline also competed for passengers with "Incline #2" as the Incline Railway was known in 1895.

On November_16, 1895 the railroad known today simply as "The Incline" opened, rising up the steepest part of Lookout Mountain. One of the conductors was Claude Whiteside, whose father had built the first road to the top of the mountain, Whiteside Pike. In 1898 The Incline ferried visitors to the top of Lookout Mountain for the 25th anniversary of the battles of Chickamauga and

Built by John Crass and the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway Company this technical marvel boasted an incline of 72.7% at one point, making it the steepest passenger Incline in the world. Literally millions of residents and tourists have taken "America's Most Amazing Mile" ride to the top of Lookout Mountain. By 1900 the success of this railway closed down all of its competitors.

Originally the cars were made of wood and powered by huge coal-burning steam engines. Electric power was used after 1911, and it now uses two 100 horsepower motors. One thing that hasn't changed is the grade: 72.7 percent.

Famous Riders

Prince Theodore of Prussia and Teddy Roosevelt were early riders of the Incline, Roosevelt in 1905 while he was still President of the United States. Liz Taylor rode to the top in the 1950's.

History of The Incline Railroad in pictures:

In the upper right hand corner is the palatial Lookout Mountain Hotel. The streetcar in front was one part of an intricate network of transportation that developed to service the needs of the patrons. The hotel burned in 1907. Lower right, The Incline Railroad in the 1940's. Lower center, the modern Incline Railway. Left hand side, preparing to make the ascent up Lookout Mountain.

1949 Description

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, like Chattanooga, Tennessee is home to an Incline. In 1949 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette printed the following description of the Chattanooga Incline Railroad from a post card picturing the upper station: There are two modern cars seating 28 persons operating on a single track with a turnout to pass about half way up. Each car has two two-inch cables winding around an eight-and-a-half-foot drum. They are operated from the house shown in the background." The writer mused that Chattanoogans paid more for their 50 cent ride, but noted that the climb of 4,750 feet was longer. In the 1960's the cars were replaced with larger cars that could carry 40 people each.

Growth, Gas Crisis and Renovation

In the early 70's Chattanooga realized that tourism could replace at least some of the revenue it was losing because of decreased usage of the railroad. A campaign brought the Chattanooga Choo-Choo downtown and invigorated usage of the Incline with more than half-a-million riders per year. The gas crunch in the late 70's decreased ridership by some 20%. Bob Ronka, then general manager of the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority, blamed the decrease on a decrease in tourist traffic to the city. A plan to look for a buyer for the aging railroad was quickly tabled.

In 1986 the city opted to renovate the Incline Railway. Work included replacing some 300 rail ties, some 400 feet of track, a $400,000 renovation to the lower station, new 14-ton cars and the addition of a Westinghouse Control System.

Improvements in the new century

In the winter of 2006 the Incline was closed and the upper station was completely renovated. The new depot opened on April 14, 2008.

Part of Chattanooga's 2009 stimulus package went to improving the Incline Railway in two stages. The first stage saw pressure washing and some painting of rails and windowsills at both the upper and lower stations. The second stage included replacing some columns at the stations and doing some roofing in Fall, 2009. This represented about $300,000 of Chattanooga's 5.6 million dollar stimulus package.


Phone:423.629.1411Address:Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
Upper Station 827 East Brow Road Lookout Mountain, TN 37350
Lower Station 3917 St. Elmo Ave., Chattanooga, TN

Location of the Incline Railway


From I-75 take I-24 to exit 179. Follow the access road to Route 11 (this is tricky. Signs that take you to "Lookout Mountain" are small and frequently missing. You cross two roads before U. S. 11.) Turn left (south) at Highway 11 and continue for 4 miles. At the McDonald's bear left onto Highway 17. The Incline is down this road on the right.

Chattanooga, Tennessee
Chattanooga, Tennessee

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