List of steepest gradients on adhesion railways

The inclusion of steep gradients on railways avoids the expensive engineering works required to produce more gentle gradients. However the maximum feasible gradient is limited by how much of a load the locomotive(s) can haul upwards. Braking when travelling downhill is also a limiting factor. There have been various solutions to hauling rail mounted vehicles up or down inclines. These include simple rail adhesion, rack railways and cable inclines (including rail mounted water tanks to carry barges). To help with braking on the descent, a non-load-bearing "brake rail" located between the running rails can be used, similar to the rail used in the Fell system, e.g. by the Snaefell Mountain Railway on the Isle of Man.

Tramways and light railways often have higher gradients than heavier railways. This is because all wheels are usually connected to engine power in order to give better acceleration. Grades of 5% are not uncommon on them. Metros and pure commuter railways often also allow higher gradients, over 4%, for the same reason. High-speed railways commonly allow 2.5% to 4% because the trains must be strong and have many wheels with power to reach very high speeds. For freight trains, gradients should be as gentle as possible, preferably below 1.5%.


The list below is of some of the steepest gradients on adhesion railways, in order of steepness:

Gradient Line Notes
1 in 6.9 (14.5%) Calçada de São Francisco, Lisbon Tramways, Portugal
1 in 8.6 (11.6%) Pöstlingbergbahn, Austria
1 in 9 (11.1%) Cass Scenic Railway, West Virginia, United States Former logging railway
1 in 9 (11%) or 1 in 10 (10%) Estrada de Ferro Campos do Jordão, Brazil
1 in 11 (9.1%) Allentown light rail line, Pittsburgh, United States
Saint-Gervais–Vallorcine railway, France
Roaring Camp railroad, Felton, California, United States
1 in 12.6 (7.9%) Uetliberg railway line, Sihltal Zürich Uetliberg Bahn, Switzerland
1 in 13.1 (7.6%) St. Gallen–Trogen railway line, Appenzeller Bahnen, Switzerland
1 in 13.7 (7.3%) Montreux–Oberland Bernois railway, Switzerland
1 in 14 (7.1%) Hopton Incline, Cromford and High Peak Railway, England This incline has only carried passengers, by adhesion, on enthusiast special trains, but is now completely closed
1 in 14.1 (7.1%) Erzberg Railway (Erzbergbahn), Austria
1 in 14.2 (7.0%) Bernina Railway, Switzerland
Sacramento Light Rail, Sacramento, California, United States
1 in 15.9 (6.3%) Alishan Forest Railway, Taiwan
1 in 16.4 (6.1%) Hunsrückbahn, Germany Built as rack railway
1 in 16.6 (6.0%) Ligne de Cerdagne, France
Arica, Chile to Bolivia With 100 m (328.08 ft) radius curves
1 in 17 (5.88%) Docklands Light Railway, London, England At the entrance to the tunnel from the original London and Blackwall railway viaduct to the tunnel to Bank
1 in 18 (5.5%) Near Alausi, Ecuador on line to Quito
Flåmsbanen, Norway
Höllentalbahn (Black Forest), Germany
1 in 19 (5.3%) Camden Tram, New South Wales, Australia
Foxfield Railway, Staffordshire, England This incline is on a preserved colliery railway which briefly carried passengers over this steep section but does not now do so normally
Kangra Valley Railway, Himachal Pradesh, India
1 in 20 (5.0%) Rapperswil - Samstagern, Südostbahn, Switzerland
1 in 20 (5.0%)/1 in 25 (4.0%) Matheran Hill Railway, India Near Mumbai
1 in 22 (4.5%) Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, India
1 in 22 (4.5%) Big Hill, British Columbia, Canada Operated from 1884 to 1909 when it was replaced by 2 spiral tunnels
1 in 22.5 (4.4%) Thamshavn Line, Norway
1 in 23 (4.3%) Ballochney incline, Ballochney Railway, Scotland The steepest standard gauge inclines used regularly by passenger trains by adhesion in Britain - both closed to passengers from 1 May 1930 by the London & North Eastern Railway and since closed completely)[1]
Causewayend incline, Slamannan Railway, Scotland
1 in 25 (4.0%) Cologne–Frankfurt high-speed rail line, Germany
Chosica - Galera, Central Railway, Peru
Selketalbahn, Germany
Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, Colorado, United States
1 in c25 (4.0%) Batlow branch, New South Wales, Australia
Newnes branch, New South Wales, Australia
Oberon branch, New South Wales, Australia
Dorrigo branch, New South Wales, Australia
1 in 26 (3.85%) Iquique Railway, Chile [2]
1 in 27 (3.7%) Mersey Railway Tunnel, England
Werneth Incline, England Regular passenger service withdrawn 7 January 1963 and since closed completely[3]
Holywell Town branch, Wales Regular passenger service withdrawn 6 September 1954 and since closed completely[4]
Mauritius Railways [5]
1 in 28 (3.6%) LGV Sud-Est high-speed line, France

See also


  1. Railway World, April 1963, p159
  2. Mike's Railway History
  3. Modern Railways, Nov 2009, p10; Railway World, February 1963, p76
  4. Railway World, April 1963, p159

External links

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