It’s perhaps purely coincidence that the first three letters of the word “funicular” spell “fun.” But then, “funeral” also starts with the same three letters, so maybe it doesn’t always work!
My first experience with a funicular, a short railway built on a steep incline, was in Japan. My son, who lived in Tokyo at the time, hosted us for a couple of weeks and during a long weekend we went to Hakone. The journey, which he had planned carefully, required a train, boat ride across a lake, cable car, a fast water boat ride with a very old but obviously very fit man steering us around boulders and, finally, a funicular. It was quite a trip and took all day.
I don’t remember much about the funicular, except that it was rather old but in true Japanese fashion it worked very smoothly.
Two years ago we took a trip to South America, which I reported on in this column. It was quite varied and ended up in the city of Valparaíso, Chile.
We were in a district called Yugoslavia, named after the miners who came there to mine copper in the 18th century. It was rather nice, perched high above the center of the city and the docks.
Valparaíso is surrounded by hills with very twisted streets. Back in the late 18th century, the residents became tired of walking up all the many slopes and erected 30 funiculars to ease their aching legs.
Today, only seven remain; one went from the area where we were staying to down below. The ticket cost was minimal and the ride was somewhat rickety, but we climbed aboard as we certainly didn’t fancy taking the stairs.
Later that year we visited Paris. It had been some 45 years since I had been in the city and not too much had changed, I was glad to see.
One of the must-visit landmarks in Paris is the famous Sacré-Cœur Basilica. It’s perched high up on a hill overlooking the city, with domes that are immediately recognizable as it looks down over Montmartre.
I still remember my first visit — and also that there were a lot of stairs you needed to climb to reach it. There seems to be some confusion as to whether there are 275 or 225 steps, but there are a lot.
When we arrived it was a pleasant surprise to see that in my absence the city had built a funicular, which was very modern and quite inexpensive to ride. It was the type where the carriages are hoisted up at the rear and the floor is therefore level.
There were two tracks, so the large number of visitors were well accommodated.
We looked at the stairs when we were finished but rejected the idea. I shall not try them again!
Fortunately, you don’t have to go to such far-flung places to ride a funicular. There’s the famous Angels Flight Railway in downtown Los Angeles — and it only costs a dollar to ride each way.
The original Angels Flight location, with tracks connecting Hill and Olive streets, operated from 1901 until it was closed in 1969, when its site was cleared for redevelopment. The second and current location is between Hill Street and California Plaza.
There were some problems with safety back in the day, but Angels Flight reopened in 2018 with state-of-the-art technology. The two famous cars, Olivet and Sinai, are still working after spending years hidden away in storage from 1969 to 1996.
Unlike the French funicular, LA’s Angels Flight is sloped level with the track but the floor inside and the seats are level. The cars also pass each other on a split rail system. It’s a wonderful part of Los Angeles history. Since opening, more than 100 million riders have enjoyed the ride.
“Requital,” a novel by Trevor Summons, is available from amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and other major booksellers. Email Trevor at email@example.com.
Source: Daily Bulletin