The Kriens Funicular

Post by Steven Dale

New real estate development in Horw, Switzerland. Nothing interesting here. Image by Steven Dale.

In the Swiss suburb of Horw there exists one of the more fascinating applications of cable transit systems – this time in the form of a funicular.

The private funicular is used to service a new development of low-rise apartment buildings that crawl up the side of a mountain. So new is this development you can’t even find it on Google Earth or Google Maps. The use of the funicular is inspired as it all but eliminates the need for additional road services, thereby making the development more compact and efficient.

Take a look:

A private entrance funicular services the various hillside apartments, thereby eliminating the need for additional road infrastructure. Image by Steven Dale.

Centralized and communal parking facilities are located at the base of the development. Image by Steven Dale.

Note how a secondary funicular (on the right) allows road access to pre-existing farmhouses. Image by Steven Dale.

Image by Steven Dale.

The implications for such a technique are pretty far reaching. In essence, this development combines single family and apartment dwellings while using a portion of land that would typically be a) unusable for residential development or; b) would be carved up by a series of underutilized curvilinear roads.

Theoretically, there’s no reason such a system couldn’t be used purely for single-family homes as a way to increase density in suburban settings by reducing road infrastructure and placing some percentage of residential uses below ground. There is, of course, the question of cost, but if a single family in Toronto can afford their own private funicular one can reasonably assume this to be a cost-effective solution that would likely be cheaper than additional roads.

Remixing and adapting the concept to other situations could lead to the compromise between single family homes and urban density that home-owners, urbanists and developers have been looking for but not yet able to realize.

This technique is worthy of far more research and exploration.

(Sadly these photos were taken with an iPhone. Hopefully we can get some closer images in the future.)

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Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.


  1. Matt the Engineer
    Funiclars can be very cheap and simple. It's very common to use them for a house on a hill or to get down to a private boat launch. I wouldn't be surprised if these are cheaper than elevators.
  2. I like this idea and have often thougt homes built similar to the old cities in Italy -- little hilltop hamlets -- with centralized parking could be a great dense and enjoyable way of building subdivisions. One question - what would the fire department say about such a design in the US? Firetruck access? The ability of a resident to exit rapidly if the funicular wasn't working (such as in a wild fire scenario)?
  3. If you'll notice in the pictures, there are stairwells in the development adjacent to the funicular. It's no difference than a highrise. I'm guessing you'd need to have fire hydrants strategically placed throughout the development to allow firefighters to fight the problem from within the development.
  4. That's what I'm thinking, too. I'd love to see a development like this in North America because I think it could be a perfect middle ground between suburban north america and urban, small-town europe. Granted, you'd need a hill to make it work.
  5. Looks pretty slick, and it raises some interesting questions: Does the system run scheduled, like a typical funicular, or on-demand like an elevator? In the later case it might be simpler to regard this as an inclined elevator rather then a funicular. Your comparison to a high-rise is apt. It's exactly like one but laid down on a hill, with the funicular in place of an elevator. Why two cars? It looks like the units in the development can only be accessed from the left car, except perhaps the top units. The right one seems like it only serves those four, older houses to the right. It may have been a condition of getting the new development built since it seems to block all other access to those houses. I wounder if there used to be an access road that was removed to build this? In any case, it seems like those four houses don't really need a whole car and track to themselves. If one car can serve that whole development surely also serving four more houses wouldn't have overburdened it. Perhaps a silly thought, but do you really need a hill to make this work? Granted, if this small development were flat walking would be no burden, but what about a larger development?
  6. The second line is a little confusing. I'm with you in assuming its to service the older houses, but again, there's no reason one funicular shouldn't have been able to do the same. As for the rest of the development, I'm also thinking the same thing about not needing a hill to make this work. What if we imagine transit as a series of public sector hubs connected to a series of private sector spokes? It would expand the coverage of the hubs and if the spokes were fully automated (elevator, gondola, funicular, whatever), then wait times would be virtually non-existent.

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