The Monongahela Incline will resume carrying riders between Station Square and Mount Washington at 5:30 a.m. Monday after an $8.1 million upgrade that took twice as long as expected due to supply chain problems with materials.
The two-pronged project, which revamped many of the incline’s mechanics and restored the 1870s look of station lobbies on Grandview Avenue and East Carson Street, began in August and was expected to be finished by Light Up Night in November. Delays receiving some of the mechanical items — especially the backup power system needed for emergencies — pushed the project three months beyond the expected completion date.
After missing the initial deadline, operator Pittsburgh Regional Transit expected the funicular to reopen temporarily by the end of the year, then close again after delivery of the backup power system. However, other mechanical work also was delayed, so crews just installed the generator when it arrived and there will be no additional closure, spokesman Adam Brandolph said Friday.
The revamped incline was tested and passed inspection by state officials on Friday. Brandolph said employees who will man the system will receive training on the new equipment over the weekend so it can begin operation smoothly on Monday.
“We are very, very excited for Monday,” Brandolph said. “If you arrive at 5:30 a.m., you can be the first person to ride.”
The project actually was the second phase of work that began in 2015, when contractors rehabilitated the two cars and replaced parallel 630-foot tracks that run up the hillside. In years before the pandemic, the incline carried about 600,000 passengers a year.
In the second phase, general contractor Mosites Construction Co. installed all new computerized controls that add backup systems in case the primary system fails. Crews also replaced 4-foot grooved wheels called sheaves that are used to wind and unwind the cables to pull the cars.
Many of those items hadn’t been updated in 30 or 40 years.
On the aesthetic side, the work included trying to re-create the atmosphere the stations had when they opened in 1870. That involved replacing red floor tiles with a diamond pattern popular at the time, wrought-iron railings instead of brushed aluminum, and period lighting to replace LED lights.
The lower station also had its asphalt shingles and gutters replaced with a standing seam metal roof similar to the upper station, including returning the cupola at the roof’s center to its original copper color.
In a special element that hadn’t been revealed in advance, the agency has installed glass floor panels along the edges of the upper floor to give riders a unique view of the mechanical elements underneath that operate the country’s oldest continuously running incline. Brandolph called that “a little cherry on top” of the improvements.
Another visual change has been in operation for several weeks. Crews changed the solid lights along the tracks to computerized LED lights that can change colors for holidays or special events.
In a news release, CEO Katharine Eagan Kelleman apologized that the project took so long but said the renovations will “help preserve the incline’s historic charm.”
“The Mon Incline has served generations of Pittsburghers for more than 150 years and holds a special place in the hearts of locals and visitors alike,” she said. “… We are tremendously grateful to the residents and businesses of Mount Washington for their patience during this work. We know how important the incline is to our hilltop neighbors.”
Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at email@example.com.