Friday, January 2, 2009

Niagara Falls Then and Now: the old Clifton Incline Railway

Below: Unseen by many visitors who today walk right by it at the foot of busy Clifton Hill, is a long-forgotten, abandoned attraction, the Clifton Incline Railway. Stretching down the side of the cliff-face overlooking the Falls and the Niagara River, this funicular railway incline had been in use for almost a hundred years, from 1894 to 1990, carrying passengers to and from the Maid of the Mist boat docks. I still remember riding this thing! In the 2009 view below, looking east from Clifton Hill across River Rd., the 1970's-version of the incline entrance is still seen it the mid-right distance.

above: this is the same view, as it was in 1898. This was the old Clifton Incline Railway boarding/ticket building, which carried passengers from the top of the gorge down to the level of the Niagara River so that they could board the Maid of the Mist tour boats. As seen in the previous 2009 photo, a now-boarded-up 'modernized' entrance booth still stands today on the site of the grand former building, tucked at the edge of the gorge, right at one of the most busiest tourist spots.
above: Sept.10, 1932 - this view looks south along River Rd. towards the Clifton Incline ticket building; the Niagara River gorge is to the left. At right, streetcar #682 is seen running on the famous Great Gorge Tour route.
Below: Jan.1, 2009 - lost in the branches, two faded yellow-and-red painted passenger cars, left unprotected from the weather, are still parked halfway up the abandoned incline on rusting tracks, through which mature trees have now grown.
Photos by R. Bobak Click on photos to enlarge!
above: Jan.1, 2009 - trees growing through its tracks practically hide the former Clifton Incline and its abandoned passenger cars from view in the summer.
above: Jan.1, 2009 - this is the dizzying view of the Niagara River which passengers saw to the left, minus trees, of course.
above: Jan.1, 2009 - the lower landing of the Incline can be seen at the bottom-left corner, in relation to the Niagara River and the Falls. Four Maid of the Mist boats are seen drydocked for the winter.
above: Jan.1, 2009 - the old Clifton Incline Railway can be clearly seen, from top to bottom, with the Rainbow Bridge in the background. Two passenger cars are still sitting side-by-side halfway up the tracks. High capacity elevators made the incline obsolete.
See my YOUTUBE video of the abandoned Clifton Incline
The Niagara Parks Commission writes: "The Maid of the Mist Steamboat Company was created in 1884 and is now North America's longest running attraction, providing continuous service on its popular sightseeing boats. In 1894, an incline railway carried Maid of the Mist patrons on the Canadian side of the river between the foot of Clifton Hill and the boat dock. The Niagara Park and River Railway (N.P.R.R.) obtained permission from the nine-year-old Queen Victoria Park Niagara Falls Park Commission (renamed The Niagara Parks Commission in 1927) to build the electrically powered Clifton Incline on Commission property along a 50.3m (165ft) embankment.

The Clifton Incline as well as the Whirlpool Rapids Incline were among the assets of the N.P.R.R. purchased by The International Railway Company in 1902. With the demise of the I.R.C. in 1932, The Niagara Parks Commission assumed ownership of both funiculars.
The Clifton Incline, (renamed "Maid of the Mist Incline" in 1973), with its small 12-passenger cars running on open, separate tracks, carried 395,000 passengers in its last year of operation. At the time it was dismantled, beginning October 18, 1976, the incline had been in service for 83 seasons.
A new Maid of the Mist Incline opened on May 14, 1977, with bright yellow and orange cars designed to resemble trolley cars of earlier days. Each car carried 24 passengers (double the capacity of the cars they replaced) up or down the gorge in just 45 seconds.
A year prior to the new incline's first season, the "Maid of the Mist IV" had entered service, increasing the overall passenger capacity of the sightseeing fleet of four boats, from 350 to 550. Demand for the incline's services increased further with the arrival of the 300 passenger "Maid of the Mist V", which replaced the much smaller Maid II in 1983. The double decking of Maids III and IV before the 1986 season added room for yet another 160 persons per trip to the fleet, but no more could be done to increase the 900 passenger per hour capacity of the incline railway.

In the late 1980s, Niagara Parks redeveloped the site adjacent to the upper station of the Maid of the Mist Incline. The Princess Elizabeth building was replaced by the much larger Maid of the Mist Plaza. This complex, built below ground to give sightseers an unobstructed view of the Falls and gorge, contained four elevators, doubling the hourly capacity of the incline. After 15 seasons the second Maid of the Mist Incline was closed in October 1990."
(Update: the new ferry operator on the Canadian side, Hornblower (which had outbid the former operator Maid of the Mist's franchise to operate boat tours from the Canadian side) had started a complete rebuild of the incline, during the winter of 2017-18, and is intending to reopen the incline. After years of previous neglect, passengers will once again be able to take this alternative, scenic way to access Hornblower's tour boats.)

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