List of steepest gradients on adhesion railways

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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 steeper 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 steeper 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 7.2 (13.8%) Calçada de São Francisco, Lisbon Tramways, Portugal [1]
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 10 (10%) Sheffield Supertram, Sheffield, United Kingdom [2]
1 in 11 (9.1%) Allentown light rail line, Pittsburgh, United States
Saint-Gervais–Vallorcine railway, France
J Church line, San Francisco [3]
1 in 12.5 (8%) Hakone Tozan Line, Japan
1 in 12.5 (8.0%) Appenzell–St. Gallen–Trogen railway, Appenzeller Bahnen, Switzerland
1 in 12.6 (7.9%) Uetliberg railway line, Sihltal Zürich Uetliberg Bahn, Switzerland [4][5]
1 in 13.7 (7.3%) Montreux–Oberland Bernois railway, Switzerland
1 in 14 (7.1%) Driving Creek Railway, Coromandel, New Zealand, New Zealand
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 Built as a rack railway, adhesion operation only by passenger railbuses, now only museum operation on part of the line
1 in 14 (7.0%) Red Marble Grade

Topton N.C.

A 2015 survey[6] lists the 3 1/2 mile stretch between MP 87 and MP 90.5 at a 4% average grade and says there are isolated stretches approaching 7%. When originally built the ruling grade was 4.2% as listed by southern railway. But due to the fills settling it has drastically changed.[6] This segment of track has always been worked by adhesion. This line is owned by GSMR and in 2019 is out of service.
1 in 14.2 (7.0%) Bernina Railway, Switzerland
Sacramento Light Rail, Sacramento, California, United States
1 in 15 (6.67%) Usui Pass, former Shin'etsu Main Line, Japan
Former Keihan Keishin Line
Toden Arakawa Line (Tokyo Sakura Tram), Japan
1 in 15.9 (6.3%) Alishan Forest Railway, Taiwan
1 in 16.4 (6.1%) Hunsrückbahn, Germany Built as rack railway
Keihan Keishin Line
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 (5.89%) Madison Incline, Madison, Indiana, United States Steepest standard gauge, line haul railroad in North America.[7] Worked as a rack railway until 1868 when the Reuben Wells was built to work the hill by adhesion.
1 in 17.1 (5.88%) Docklands Light Railway, London, England On the ramp from the original London and Blackwall railway viaduct to the tunnel leading 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 This line has been closed for over 50 years.
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
Kurobe Gorge Railway, Japan
Eizan Electric Railway Kurama Line, Japan
Nankai Electric Railway Koya Line, Japan
Kobe Electric Railway (Shintetsu) Ao Line and Arima Line, Japan
Tateyama Erosion Control Train, Japan [8]
1 in 20 (5.0%)/1 in 25 (4.0%) Matheran Hill Railway, India Near Mumbai
1 in 21 (4.7%) Saluda Grade, Saluda, North Carolina, United States The steepest standard gauge mainline railroad grade in the United States.[9] Worked by adhesion between 1878 and 2001, currently out of service.
1 in 22


Balsam Mountain Grade

Balsam N.C.

Balsam Mountain, home of highest railroad station east of the Rockies; average grade about 4.0%, max 4.5%.

1 of 2 grades on southern railways former murphy branch that are +4% grade. Balsam mountain has been home to many runaways. It is still in service operated by blue ridge southern (WATCO).

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)[10]
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/New Mexico, United States
Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Colorado, United States
Sawando to Akagi, Iida Line, Japan
Fujikyuko Line, Fuji Kyuko Railway, Japan
Batlow branch, New South Wales, Australia This line has been closed for many years
Newnes branch, New South Wales, Australia This line has been closed for many decades. a tunnel on its former route is a popular tourist attraction - the "Glow worm tunnel"
Oberon branch, New South Wales, Australia This line has been closed for decades
Dorrigo branch, New South Wales, Australia This line has been closed for decades. There have been several attempts to reinstate part of it as a historic/ tourist rail line.
Luxembourg to St Michel-Notre Dame, RER Line B, Paris, France
1 in 26 (3.85%) Iquique Railway, Chile [11]
Ōu Main Line (Yamagata Shinkansen), Japan
1 in 27 (3.7%) Mersey Railway Tunnel, England
Werneth Incline, England Regular passenger service withdrawn 7 January 1963 and since closed completely[12]
Holywell Town branch, Wales Regular passenger service withdrawn 6 September 1954 and since closed completely[13]
Mauritius Railways [14]
1 in 28 (3.6%) LGV Sud-Est high-speed line, France
1 in 28.5 (3.5%) Kyushu Shinkansen, Japan

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Record Railroad Routes: Highest, Steepest & Longest". Retrieved 2019-02-10.
  2. ^ The potential introduction of trams to Bath (PDF), atkins, January 2018
  3. ^ "General Information". San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
  4. ^ "79-Promille-Rampe" (in German). Retrieved 2017-08-24.
  5. ^ "Bahn S4/S10 - Sihltal Zürich Uetliberg Bahn SZU" (in German). Retrieved 2017-08-24.
  6. ^ a b "Andrews to Murphy (A2M) Rail Reactivation Study" (PDF). NCDOT Rail Division. February 2015. p. 28.
  7. ^ "The Madison Incline: Steepest Railroad Grade in North America". Delay In Block Productions. Retrieved May 7, 2018.
  8. ^ "Tateyama Sabo's Erosion Control Works Service Train". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016.
  9. ^ Trains, November 1984, p26
  10. ^ Railway World, April 1963, p159
  11. ^ Mike's Railway History
  12. ^ Modern Railways, Nov 2009, p10; Railway World, February 1963, p76
  13. ^ Railway World, April 1963, p159
  14. ^

External links[edit]