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To survive, you must tell stories…(“,)

The sad (short) story of the Ortona’s funicolar.

4 min read

Around 1863/1864, with the opening of the Adriatic railway and the creation of the first craft activities followed by a silent urban development, in Ortona there was a need to connect the sea area with the historical center more effectively.

Towards the end of the 19th century, technicians and administrators oriented towards the construction of a mechanism on an hypothetical inclined plane to go up the side of the hill from the bottom (port) to the top (city): the funicular system, already operating in other Italian cities, like Biella, Mondovì, Turin, Bergamo and Orvieto, where the Municipality of Ortona sended a commission of its technicians to undertakes contacts with the most expert Italian technicians in the construction of funiculars.

The engineer Alessandro Ferretti, who in 1888 had already studied the funicular link between the railway station of L’Aquila and its historic center (project then shelved for lack of financial resources and never again realized), took care of the project, convinced the council of Ortona of the feasibility of the idea. So, the works began in 1889: the embankment of the road, the buildings of the mountain and valley stations, the short tunnel near the mountain station and the one near the lower station. So, the tracks were laid, for a length of about 131 meters, with a maximum slope of 50,4%.

Engineer Alessandro Ferretti

The funicular of Ortona was designed to work as a counterweight of water, and for this purpose, a storage tank with a capacity of 35,000 l is prepared in the upstream station, while each vehicle is equipped in the underbody, with a tank with a capacity of about 2500 l. The first trial runs of the new structure were carried out in the second half of 1891, followed by a crowd of enthusiasts and onlookers. In particular, the braking system, the critical point of every funicular system, was tested. On July 31st of the same year there was a race for the press and the authorities, but for the real inaugutation, it will be necessary to wait until September 28th, with great solemnity and with intervention of the prefect and the highest authorities. In the evening, of course, also a banquet at the Town Hall with lights and music.

Unfortunately, already during the first days of operation there was a serious accident, due to the overload of travelers on the ascending vehicle. Fortunately without deaths, but there were numerous injuries and contusions.
But seems that the bad luck looms over the funicular: although the well-designed route allows guests to reach from the station the historical center with runs coinciding with every train that stops there, the counterweight system of water was victim to repeated malfunctions also due the approximation with which the water tanks were filled. These problems brought the funicular to stop within a few years and, in 1894, the service is permanently suspended.

Some nostalgic would have liked the funicular again, perhaps using different systems, but there was a relevant development of new means of transport, including the new railway line between Ortona Marina and Guardiagrele, so over the years no one seems to remember the suppressed funicular. It is because of the progressive urbanization of both the sea area and the overlying village that a need for greater mobility with a direct and frequent service, not limited exclusively to the coincidence with trains, was discussed again. In 1925 the mayor of Ortona accepted the proposal for a new electric-powered funicular project by the engineer Salvatore Rapino. The project was approved on January 13, 1926, and the work was immediately started, and was carried out with great speed. Thanks to the preservation of the original grounds and equipment, the new funicular was completed in just 7 months, with the related legal tests they are carried out on 12 August 1926. The new “funicular Rapino” was inaugurated on August 15th, with the blessing of Archbishop Don Nicola Barone Piccirilli. The new systems and the cars were supplied by the Stigler company in Milan, and the 131 m route, one of the shortest activated in Italy, was carried out by the funicular in 2 minutes, with a speed of ascent equal to that of the old funicular with water system. However, no longer had to empty and fill the tanks of the vehicles, so increasing the number of races. The service lasted from 5am to 10pm in the winter months, while in summer it continues until midnight, and during the bathing season (July and August) the service continues uninterrupted for the entire night.

Second World War puts an end also to the second funicular of Ortona, which was reduced to inactivity in December 1943. After the war nothing more, and the vehicles were demolished.
But what was left today? The owners of the pub ZooArt of ortona found the remains of one of the old funicular track, and created a kind of museum, also writing an interesting article about the history of the funicular (which is also the source of the images and the text I have written). This is the photo.

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