The history of the Pic du Jer funicular

Gare de départ du funiculaire du Pic du Jer

In 1858, the Virgin Mary's apparitions to Bernadette Soubirous led the bishopric of Tarbes to have a basilica built and pilgrims started to come in great number.

The railway arrived in Lourdes on 9 April 1866 and since then the number of pilgrims has kept on growing.

It therefore seemed quite natural to exploit the tourist potential of the region, and the idea of a funicular railway linking the summit of the Pic du Jer to Lourdes at its base was given the go-ahead.

Work started in August 1898 and ended 15 months later, in December 1899. The funicular railway, designed by the engineer Chambrelent, entered into service in May 1900. It was inaugurated in June of the same year.

The speed with which the work was carried out was due to the presence of an overhead cable which, every day, carried up to 50 tons of stones from a quarry situated in the Petit Pic du Jer.

All the rubble from the tunnels and the cutting were removed with wheelbarrows or shovels, then put back into the hillside. The normal load of dynamite was doubled in order to save labour. Rubble could therefore be blasted out with no human effort.

The builder, the Compagnie du Funiculaire du Pic du Jer, benefited from a 75-year concession, which was extended because of the war, but the town of Lourdes reclaimed its property in 1986. Today the funicular railway is exploited by the local council.

Technical specifications

Track length: 1110 m, slopes from 28% to 56% (about 1 in 3.5 to 1 in 2)
Track gauge: 1 m
Altitude of the lower station: 450 m
Altitude of the upper station: 888 m
Difference in altitude: 438 m
Two 70 and 65 m-tunnels cut into compact limestone
The cutting is 400 m long and 10 m deep
The viaduct: 12 arches, 200 m long, 4 m wide, 18 m high.
185 hp electric motor situated in the upper station.
Cable: 1155 m long
Two cabins: 5500 kg tare weight, 80-person capacity
6/10 minutes trip duration, 11 kph (7 mph) max. speed

Did you know ?

The funicular railway, from the Latin "funiculus", meaning "small string", was invented by the engineer, Stephenson, in 1825, to help steam locomotives to climb the steep sides of English hills.