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Diagonal elevator at Warbass Way Marina, Friday Harbor. The elevator car is at the center of the photo, while the bottom door is visible to the bottom right of the tree trunk. Photo by Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”).

Perhaps one of the more unique pieces of transportation infrastructure in the Puget Sound region, though little remarked, are what amount to diagonal elevators. They are very small funicular railways designed for completely automatic operation, just as an elevator is. Usually these are located in areas that make them exceptionally difficult to see up close. From a distance they may be observed from the waters of Puget Sound as they are in use as connectors between hill top houses and water level docks for the obligatory boat. Several spectacular ones are visible from the Victoria Clipper route to Friday Harbor, but only at a distance.

One remarkable trait many of the ones in the Puget Sound region seem to have in common is their construction by a company in the region. This isn’t something that must be procured from halfway across the world, or even halfway across the country.

These photos are of the unit at the Warbass Way Marina in Friday Harbor. The public is not allowed to ride their particular device. The top level is a public viewpoint though, which allows a closeup view of the entire machine.

Upper door of the diagonal elevator owned by the Warbass Way Marina in Friday Harbor. The loading zone at the top also serves as a public viewpoint of Mt. Baker. Photo by Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”).

While the viewing provided by the viewpoint is intended to be of Mount Baker, peering downward allows a nice look at the elevator track.

Track System of Outdoor Diagonal Elevator
Track of diagonal elevator at Warbass Way Marina, Friday Harbor. Photo by Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”).

In some areas of the world escalators are used to extend the reach of deep level stations to cover areas beyond what would be possible with simple vertical access. Very shallow stations are convenient, but if a deep level station must be built (such as seen on the Moscow metro) that depth may as well use that depth to some advantage where possible. Escalators, however, are not accessible to everyone so a different solution would be required for stations doing this in the USA.

Small automated funiculars such as shown here could be used alongside escalators to produce stations that reach further than typically accomplished with standard vertical access. A minimum of two would be best at each location as one alone would represent a single point of station failure.

As an example, Husky Stadium Station might benefit from these. The station attempts to serve the University of Washington, a number of bus routes, and the UW Medical Center from beneath a triple direction tangled intersection centered around a private parking garage. The station is reasonably deep due to the underwater tunnel. Depending on the minimum slope possible with these devices, diagonal access towards the UW campus and the bus stop on Stevens Way could help make this station a bit more accessible from the campus itself, and provide somewhat better transfers.

In a city with as many hills as Seattle, the ability to move diagonally between areas is a necessary part of getting from place to place. Short funiculars are certainly impractical in some locations, but in others they might prove a very useful link.


Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is employed by a small company that manufactures electrical equipment for railroad cars. Typical commute: TriMet #10.

18 Replies to “Little Remarked Funiculars of Puget Sound”

  1. I had a hard time pinpointing the location of the very long and steep ones seen from the Clipper. I thought they were along the west side of Camano Island, but I have been unable to locate them on Google Satellite View.

      1. Northbound the Victoria Clipper run to Friday Harbor goes between Whidbey Island and Camano Island, then through Deception Pass right under the bridges. It’s a bit expensive in terms of getting to Friday Harbor compared to transit, but it is a unique tourist trip.

        These were some pretty long and steep inclines on the east side, so they would have been on Camano Island, or on the mainland south of Camano Island.

      2. I wasn’t aware of the route the boat took. Based on your description those funiculars would almost have to be on Camano though they could have been on the bluffs between Seattle and Everett.

  2. Does anyone know if the UW station will connect to the underground parking garage (which connects to the UW Hospital)? It seems to me like that would be the best thing. I’m sure there is a way to get from the garage to the hospital for people in wheelchairs, and they are both underground. So if there is a slope, it wouldn’t be a huge one and something like this would make a lot of sense (alongside an escalator).

    1. Gosh, that would make a lot of sense wouldn’t it? An underground passage from the Link station to the Triangle parking garage under Montlake was rejected for ‘security’ reasons. It doesn’t matter that there’s a pedestrian tunnel under Pacific St.

      1. The UW nixed the idea.

        A wheelchair user has a few choices as there are a few places including right next to the pedestrian bridge to access the garage from the Triangle. However exiting the station at ground level and using the crosswalks is probably more convenient.

  3. Also, Target and Fred Meyer (and I imagine other department stores) have an interesting device that could be considered a funicular, that runs adjacent to the escalator. It is for shopping carts, but I could imagine it being designed to carry people in wheelchairs (on a platform) instead.

    1. There’s a wheelchair climber on the staircase across the street from the lower level main entrance of King Street Station. At least, there used to be. I haven’t used that staircase for a while now that there is a better staircase available directly to Jackson Street.

      That one has a lot of exposed works to it, and strikes me as being something that vandals could put out of service pretty easily.

    1. I’ve seen that article and others like it.

      That article and ones like it is why I made the comment about not having to do business with someone halfway across the country or halfway across the world. Someone is already building something that apparently meets USA elevator regulations – or close enough that they are in regular use.

      It would at least be interesting to see if their current product line meets any sort of specification that could be adopted for use in transit service.

  4. As best as I have been able to tell, there is some yacht service company somewhere in Puget Sound that is building these.

    However, I have also been able to come across a few companies scattered all over the country that build them. There is one in California that claims to have a product line that has been built for “public projects”
    http://www.hillsidetrams.com/product.html

    Another company in Wisconsin has a photo gallery. The first photo in their gallery shows one on a slope that isn’t particularly steep by Puget Sound standards
    http://hillsidetramsllc.com/index.php/photo-gallery
    Something with a shallow slope like that could probably reach pretty far if it reached from the UW station towards the bus stops on Stevens Way.

  5. I’ve been on one in Italy. It was pretty ancient, moved slowly, but was great for going up the steep hill. It require some operators, including one to make sure we were safely on it. It also had exposed gears and mechanical bits. It was at Lake Como, so it also had some great views.

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