Johnstown and its great floods is the Johnstown
Inclined Plane.Constructed as a
"lifesaver" after the Johnstown Flood
of May 31, 1889, the Incline has more than lived
up to its original lifesaving purpose. Flood
waters again swept through the Conemaugh and
Stonycreek Valleys on March 17, 1936 and July 20,
1977. On both occasions, the Incline carried men,
women, children and vehicles to safety and help.
It is one of the longest and steepest hoists in
the world and one of the few transportation
systems of its kind still in existence.
Construction of the
Inclined Plane was undertaken by the Cambria Iron
Company, a predecessor of Bethlehem Steel
Corporation in 1890 and opened for business on
June 1, 1891. It cost the company an estimated
$133,296 and was intended to provide fixed-rail
transportation up the steep Yoder Hill connecting
the iron works along the valley floor with the
new residential development of Westmont Borough.
The railway was constructed with an 896.5 foot
runway at a 71 percent grade. The wheels, rails
and other Incline parts were from standard
railroad equipment by the Cambria Iron Company.
The lower entrance to the railway, crossing
Stonycreek River, consists of a heavy iron bridge
constructed with the three-foot-thick iron
girders and supported by stone abutments.
Inclined Plane is composed of two sets of tracks
implanted in the side of the hill on which two
cars run simultaneously one from the bottom to
the top and the other from the top to the bottom.
The cars on the Incline are uniquely designed to
provide a level ride for cars, trucks and
pedestrians, originally for horses and wagons.
These cars are duplicates of those which hauled
cargo boats over the Allegheny Mountains via the
Allegheny Portage Railroad. The cars are 15 feet
and 6 inches wide 33 feet and 11 inches long, and
weigh 92 tons each. Each car can hold up to
fifteen tons, and are hauled by strong steel
cables which are controlled by a 400 horsepower
electric motor. The cables, three on each track,
are two inches in diameter, 1,130 feet long, and
are safety tested to 335,000 pounds (167 tons).
The track is 867.1 feet long and the top is
1,693.5 feet above sea level. The skillful
arrangements of the hoisting ropes, the magnitude
of the machinery, the interaction of the
controls, and the dual braking systems are
historic examples of the ingenuity, imagination,
skill, and enterprise of the people who once
settled here and conquered the frustrating
natural obstacles of Johnstown's topography.
40 years it served as a safe and sure link to the
community situated on the rim of the hill
overlooking Johnstown. Because of the convenience
and access to the heart of the business district,
it was directly responsible for Westmont becoming
one of the nation's earliest residential suburbs.
Bethlehem Steel sold the railway to Westmont
Borough for $1.00. It served its purpose well
during the 1936 Flood, when it carried
approximately 4,000 men, women and children to
safety at the top of Yoder Hill when flood waters
again submerged the City.
roads were built in the vicinity of the Incline
following World War II, use of the railway
declined, and it was closed by Westmont due to
the financial burden. Subsequently, in April of
1962, the Borough transferred the operational
responsibility of the Incline, under a lease
arrangement, to the Cambria County Tourist
Council for $10 a year. It was then reopened on
July 1, after an extensive restoration project
was completed under the auspices of the Tourist
Council and the Greater Johnstown Chamber of
Commerce. The restoration improvements included
the replacement of the original steam engine with
a 400 horsepower electric motor.
1962, the Tourist Council has continued the
operating responsibilities of the Incline system.
In over 80 years of operation the Inclined Plane
Railway has carried over 40 million passengers
and countless vehicles. Numerous local businesses
and corporations have contributed manpower and
materials to keep the system functioning. But the
system reached the point where major capital
improvements were needed to assure its continued
in August 1978, Westmont Borough solicited the
assistance of the Cambria County Transit
Authority, requesting that the Authority consider
the acquisition of the Incline into its system.
Subsequently, the Inclined Plane was purchased by
the Transit Authority for $1.00 in 1983. Federal
and State grants were submitted to initiate
extensive capital repairs.
the Johnstown Inclined Plane was completely
rebuilt at a cost of $3.5 million by it's owner,
the Cambria County Transit Authority. In
addition, an expanded observation deck was
constructed in 1990 to make room for a new
Visitors Center provides an extensive orientation
area for visitors to Johnstown, describing the
various tourist attractions available in the
region. A spacious and informative display area
has also been created by Metaform, Inc., the same
company that designed the displays for New York's
Statue of Liberty.
directly beneath the glass-walled Visitors Center
is a 150-seat family restaurant, with each table
affording a panoramic view of the valley below.
adjacent to the Inclined Plane is the James Wolfe
Sculpture Trail, the first such trail in the
United States. Mr. Wolfe, a nationally renowned
sculptor, was commissioned to create eight steel
sculptures from remnants produced by the local
Bethlehem Steel plant. His premier piece is a
majestic 40' sculpture situated directly below
the Incline's observation deck.
hillside above the Inclined Plane is a
magnificent 30' x 60' American flag, flying on a
125' flagpole at the highest point above the
valley. This flag is one of the largest flags in
the United States, and can be seen for miles
around from almost any point in the valley. It is
also illuminated at night, a spectacular sight.
amenities at the Inclined Plane include a gift
shop and the Hillside Ice Cream Shoppe.
The newest addition
to the Inclined Plane is the Laser Light Show.
The Show is a beautiful and
"extraterrestrial" array of laser
lights creating unique and changing light
sculptures in the sky. The laser lights can be
viewed from the Observation Deck or, for a
special treat, can be viewed by riding the
Incline to "feel" the lights change as
the cars move.
of visitors from around the world have visited
the famous Johnstown Inclined Plane, billed by
the Guinness Book of Records as "The
steepest vehicular inclined plane in the