Synonymous with 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 on June 1, 1891 and cost an estimated $133,296. The railway was constructed with an 896.5 foot runway at a 71 percent grade and is is composed of two sets of tracks. Implanted in the side of the hill, 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, and originally for horses and wagons. Each car can hold up to fifteen tons, and are now hauled by strong steel cables which are controlled by a 400 horsepower electric motor.
As better 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.
On the 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. Thousands 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 world.”
Update as of September 2021: The incline is closed for refurbishments set to be completed in Spring 2023.