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A Lasting Stink: Fribourg’s Sewage-Powered Funicular

A Swiss funicular that has run on waste water for over a century shows no signs of slowing down.
Fribourg's funicular makes its descent to Basse-Ville.
Fribourg's funicular makes its descent to Basse-Ville. Benediktv / Flickr

It almost seems paradoxical that the pristine, picturesque town of Fribourg, Switzerland, has a means of public transport powered by human sewage. The Fribourg funicular connects the city’s center, located at the top of a steep hill, with Basse-Ville (“lower town”). It’s been somewhat stinkily carting people to and fro since 1899 with barely a break.

Nearly all funiculars built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries used water to move cars up and down. An employee at the upper station would fill the descending car’s tank with water. “From the moment the descending car became heavier than the ascending car, the brakes were loosened and both cars were set in motion powered solely by gravity,” writes Kris De Decker for Low Tech Magazine. When the car reached the bottom of the hill, the tank was emptied and the process started again.