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Last edited 29 Oct 2021
In the general sense, the term funicular relates to the use of a rope and its tension for different purposes. Funicular comes from the Latin word for rope or string, which is funiculus. The term is associated with several related concepts, including funicular railways and funicular forms.
This type of cable railway system (sometimes simply referred to as a funicular) is a form of transport that is often used at ski slopes or mountainous regions. It combines the concepts of an elevator (where technology uses a cable to move a carriage) with a train (where a carriage is moved along a track) to transport people (or objects) up steep inclines.
A funicular is sometimes referred to as an inclined plane railway or a cliff railway. On the incline, there is typically a single track to support the movement of two carriages. As the carriages approach each other, the track diverges into two separate tracks (or passing loops).
The movement of funiculars is controlled by a system of counter balanced carriages attached to each other with a cable. The haulage cable (or haul rope) is looped through a system of pulleys that reaches to the apex of the incline.
While the initial energy comes from a motor, neither carriage is equipped with an engine or motor (since the carriages counterbalance each other). This means one carriage moves downward safely as the speed of its descent is controlled by the weight of the other carriage moving upward. There is no great demand for new energy and lifting force to perpetuate the motion of the carriages.
Wheels under the carriages served to guide them on the tracks - they do not provide pulling power as they would with other types of railways. If the tracks are not entirely straight, the cable uses unpowered pulleys known as sheaves to guide it in the proper direction (or change direction completely) and the wheels follow the same path.
Funiculars differ from inclined elevators - despite their similar appearance and purpose - because the carriages of inclined elevators operate independently while the movement of one funicular carriage depends on the movement of the other.
There is evidence of early funiculars dating to the 15th century. Some of these early devices used power generated by humans or animals to move the carriages.
While many funiculars are open, some have been built into overground tunnels. Others have been built for the purpose of providing descent into caves or mines below ground or to transport passengers for underground travel.
Funiculars have been used throughout the UK, with a number deployed in coastal areas. On the Isle of Man, funicular railways were used to support tourism in the mid-19th century, but none of these funiculars are still in operation.
Some noteworthy funiculars in the UK include:
Cairngorm Mountain Railway.
This is the Clifton Rocks Railway, lower station, as seen from across the River Avon. The concrete buttressing was added in the late 1950s when the tunnel was being used by the BBC as a transmitting station. At that time it was found that geological faulting was causing the façade to separate from the rock face.
Fisherman's Walk Cliff Railway.
|Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway.|
Although funicular forms and catenary forms look very similar, they are mathematically different. In mathematical representation, the catenary uses a hyperbolic cosine while the parabola is far easier to represent with just a polynomial. Engineers may sometimes use the mathematics for a parabola when considering a catenary.
Both forms are always in tension and may be described as funicular forms, which are the forms assumed by cables (or chains) under any given load. The catenary is funicular because it bears only its own load, while the parabola is funicular because it carries load, as in a suspension bridge.
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