Principe-Granarolo Funicular Railway - Atlas Obscura

Principe-Granarolo Funicular Railway

Although called a funicular by both its owner and the locals this historic railroad is actually a rack and pinion system. 


Although described as a funicular, this historic railroad that runs from the old town of Genoa, Italy, to the village of Granarolo, way up in the hills, is technically based on an entirely different principle. Rather than using a cable and the mass balance of two cars to traverse the steep track, the electrically powered railcars use a simple rack and pinion system down the center of the track to drive the cars up and down.

Originally built around 1898 and refurbished in 1923, the antique cars run from an overhead power line. Before about 1970 they used a trolley pole, like you’d see on an old-fashioned electric tram or streetcar. The pole is still present on the car, but it is tied down away from potential electrical contact.

Like all the true funiculars in this very hilly city, this railroad is free to use. The views from the top, down towards the harbor and the old town are spectacular. Traveling on the historic railcar feels like stepping back in time. The track is just over a thousand yards long, over which is rises 636 feet in elevation. There are nine stops including the two terminus stations.

Two cars would normally operate on this line but in 2023 one was being refurbished. When two cars operate they pass, midway, at a passing loop. Each car has double-flanged wheels on one side and unflanged wheels on the other—the two cars are a mirror image of one other. This means that at the passing loop, each car is automatically directed to its own side of the loop, whether it is traveling up or down.

In 2023 the station building at the top was being renovated and trains discharged and loaded passengers at a halt a few yards short of the old station. It may be that this halt will become the final stop permanently. If you walk towards Granarolo village you get even better views down to the port and the old town.

At the first right-hand bend, on an old wall with a rusty radio mast behind it, is a white marble plaque. This commemorates the fact that it was from the Granarolo radio station in April 1945 that the announcement was made about the liberation of the city of Genoa from German occupation and Fascist control.

Know Before You Go

To find it, stand with your back to the sea at the exit of the Principe Metro station and look up the steep hillside for a building with BINGO written on the side in big letters. Head towards it and you will find the tiny station next door to that building. Direction signs are very poor and Google Maps does not really help here.

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November 17, 2023

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