Maximum Travel Speed for a Cable Car

Post by Nick Chu

We recently received a great question from reader Roberto:

I was wondering what is the maximum speed now registered in the world for a cable car. So far I know, reversible cable cars (43 kph, Portland, USA) go faster than the well known loop cable cars (27 kph, Val d’Isère, France), which is not clear to me why. If you could also explain this issue, that would be great. Thank you in advance.

By the way, what can we expect in the near future for maximum speeds?

These are great questions Roberto. To start, it’s important to remember that Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) can be broken down into top-supported and bottom-supported systems. For bottom-supported systems, the fastest cable technology are funiculars which can travel at maximum speeds of 14 m/s (50km/h).

For top-supported systems such as the Aerial Tram and Gondola, maximum speeds are 12.5m/s (45km/h) and 8.5m/s (30km/h) respectively. Maximum gondola speeds as high as 9 m/s are rumoured but not confirmed.

Why detachable gondolas (“loop cable cars”) travel at lower maximum speeds is partially related to issues of design and economics. For a detachable gondola to reach higher speeds, it would require enormous stations to accelerate and decelerate cabins.

For most gondola systems — which travel in relatively short distances — the increase in speeds would only result in marginal time savings but result in much greater station costs, energy demands, system wear and tear, and etc etc. Aerial trams in comparison, are fixed-grip systems. They simply come to a full stop in a station which enables them to travel at higher maximum speeds. Also, aerial trams typically use larger cabins which are able to provide greater comfort and stability during high speed operations.

As for the future, high speed cable test facilities have reportedly designed ropeways operating at speeds of 18m/s (65km/h). While this is exciting, it’s important to note that before maximum speeds change, it must meet a series of stringent technical and legal requirements to ensure maximum passenger safety.


Got a technical question about ropeways you want answered? Send your questions to 
gondola (at) creativeurbanprojects (dot) com in the subject heading and we’ll try to answer it.



MAP UPDATE: Two New Urban Cable Cars Added

Post by Nick Chu

Songhua River Cableway (left) and Telemaco Borda (right).

Songhua River Cableway (left) and Telêmaco Borba Aerial Tram (right). Images by Baidu and Alexandre Camargo.

Perhaps this site should be our Gondola Projects, in the plural. One of our ongoing missions is to  track and compile the world’s urban gondola (map here). We’ve recently had a little help from cable car connoisseur A Maine Ski Lift Enthusiast.

He pointed out two utterly awe-inspiring if somewhat obscure and even bizarre urban cable cars (at least from our North American perspective).

Songhua River Cableway (松花江索道)

The Songhua River Cableway is located in Harbin, the very cold capital city of China’s northeast province of Heilongjiang. (How cold can it get there? Remember this blog is written by Canadians and the research for this entry was passed on by a reader from Maine!) From various online sources, we’ve gathered it was built in 1997 by Doppelmayr to cross the Songhua River and connect riders to the marvelously named major attractions in the city: Sun Island Scenic Area and Stalin Park/Flood Control Monument/Central Avenue – main pedestrian boulevard.

A roundtrip of USD$12.75 provides views from up to 70m high. A quick image search reveals this system’s coolest feature (or tackiest, depending on your taste, though you cannot argue its impact). The cable car is housed in two castles! They may appear somewhat strange and un-Chinese at first but Harbin has had significant influence from Russian culture throughout its history.

And for those unwilling to spend the money to board the cable car during winter, visitors can actually walk across the frozen Songhua river!

Songhua River Cableway (松花江索道) Stations

Sun Island station (left); City side station (right). Image from Baidu.

Telêmaco Borba Aerial Tram

While the Songhua River Cableway is purely a toys for tourist system, the Telêmaco Borba Aerial Tram is a true hybrid urban cable car. In other words, it not only serves a tourist function, but also a commuter purpose. The 1.3km system, located in Brazil’s Paraná state, was first opened in 1959 to transport workers to a pulp and paper mill. However, as you can see in the video below it naturally turned into a must-see and beloved attraction in the city.

Today, after more than 50 years in operation, the system is still estimated to attract 1,500 riders per day and approximately 500 tourists a week.




Urban Ropeway Highlights From the Latest WIR Magazine

Post by Steven Bochenek

Emirates Air Line, featured in the latest WIR magazine, crosses London's River Thames.

Emirates Air Line, featured in the latest WIR magazine, crosses London’s River Thames.

Recently, Doppelmayr released the 197th issue of its WIR magazine, a review of the company’s worldwide scope of business. A good deal of the content examines the phenomenon of Doppelmayr’s products as urban transport. If you don’t have the time to read the magazine just now, here are some highlights and summaries of the urban ropeway stories there. You can always read them later.

Statistics Summary of London’s Emirates Air Line

Titled “An attraction in its own right” this short section on page 4 serves up the important numbers about London’s ropeway, built for the 2012 Olympics, bridging the River Thames. Highlights include 93% customer satisfaction out of 1.8 million customers per year and a recently renewed contract with DCC UK Ltd to continue service until June 2017.

A Review of the Benefits of Urban Ropeways on Page 6

Titled “One ropeway instead of the 2,000 car journeys”, this feature article equates 2,000 cars transporting 10,000 people in an hour with 100 buses — and 1 ropeway. The ropeway, it says, offers other unique advantages though, including minimal environmental damage, virtual noiselessness, cost-effectiveness, dedicated and predictable routes that can’t be clogged, easy linking to other urban transportation, excellent safety profiles and availability. Moreover, the article says ropeways can easily blend with the environment, traversing nearly any obstacles. Finally, it talks of how they are flexible enough to accommodate bicycles and wheelchairs, with constant access and no need to consult timetables.

Working Examples of Doppelmayr Urban Ropeways

Portland Aerial Tram.

Portland Aerial Tram.

The bottom section of page 8 features the 3S lift in Koblenz, Germany, which crosses the Rhine River, and the 10-passenger gondola lifts in the cities of La Paz and El Alto in Bolivia. Extending almost 10km they form the world’s biggest urban ropeway network. Next page over in the same spot, there’s a small blurb on the environmental advantages of Marquam Hill’s aerial tramway in Portland, Oregon. (Above this section is an easy-to-follow graphic plotting the major benefits of urban ropeways.)


Interview with a Transport for London Senior Manager

On page 10, WIR discusses London’s Emirates Air Line, England’s first urban ropeway, with Jeremy Manning, Engineering and Assurance Manager at Transport for London. The article’s title could be the theme of the whole magazine: “A ropeway is a means of transport and an attraction.” Manning talks up the ropeway’s environmental benefits in terms of eased traffic, minimal footprint on the ground and quick construction. Despite its occasional closing, Manning quotes an impressive technical availability of 99.9%. The interview closes with praise for the tourism the ropeway draws and the unique 360-degree views it offers.

Doppelmayr Cable Car (DCC) in the Urban Environment

Finally, on page 20, WIR reviews DCC’s “specialist areas” in cities, including ropeway construction, which the article says are “awakening interest worldwide.” Using its “requisite know-how,” the company is not only building Cable Liners but also winning contracts to operate ropeways in urban surroundings, on behalf of its client cities.

You can download the magazine here.


Materials in this article and the associated links are paid advertisements. The Gondola Project (including its parent companies and its team of writers and contributors) does not explicitly or implicitly endorse third parties in exchange for advertising. Advertising does not influence editorial content, products, or services offered on The Gondola Project.





Photo of the Week: Telecabine Lisboa

Post by Nick Chu

#lisbon #portugal #telecabine #memoriesofsummer

A photo posted by Magnar Helleren (@helmag999) on



First Look: Teleférico de Puebla

Post by Nick Chu

A new video of the Teleférico de Puebla undergoing its testing phase has surfaced online.

According to local newspapers, the ropeway will finally open for passenger use in mid-December after a lengthy delay. If I’m reading Google Translate accurately, it appears that the project faced a number of substantial setbacks when it was first announced back in 2011.

The alignment was redrawn in 2013 because the initial route was appealed to the the federal government by heritage groups. As a result, the ropeway was truncated to 600m from 2000m. The current alignment has two stations and transports riders from Zaragoza to the Exhibition Center.

BMF is the company responsible for manufacturing this aerial tram system (two 35-person cabins).

Though the system has been reduced in size, its station designs are still eye-catching. The terminals are located in what appear to be ~15-storey buildings and we’re excited to learn whether they add architectural value to the city, upon completion. The design is reminiscent of Barcelona’s Port Vell Aerial Tramway.

We’ll continue to update you on the system. However, if you find any other interesting photos, videos or stats of the aerial tram, please comment below, on facebook.com/gondolaproject or @CUPgondola.





Bumblebees Can’t Fly

Post by Steven Dale

Above: A bumblebee not flying. Image by flickr user cuellar.

There exists an almost century-old anecdote about a German aerodynamicist and a bumblebee.

Over dinner, the aerodynamicist remarked to a biologist that – according to his calculations and the accepted theory of the day – a bumblebee was incapable of flight.

This, of course, wasn’t true. Bumblebees could fly (still do, I believe) and it didn’t matter that the aerodynamicist and his calculations said otherwise. Delighted by the absurdity of the situation, the biologist spread the story far and wide.

Is the story true? Who cares. It’s a good story and that’s all that matters.

Whether the story is true or not is irrelevant because as a fable and piece of folklore it resonates with us as human beings (check out The Straight Dope for their take on the tale).

For better or for worse, it’s a story that feeds people’s willful distrust of experts, specialists and trained professionals.

Most of the time, I think, we should listen to the experts, specialists and trained professionals. The reason they’re experts is because they know more about something than the general population does.

But the same mechanism that makes an expert an expert can also blind him to anecdotal reality. Nine times out of ten the aerodynamicist will be right with his calculations. But because he knows nothing about bumblebees and their biology, his calculations were worthless in the above situation because no matter what his equations foretold, we’ve actually seen bumblebees fly.

It’s in those moments where it’s incumbent upon the non-expert to point out the error – and incumbent upon the expert to admit his shortcomings.

According to the accepted theory of the day you probably can’t use gondolas as public transit. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t doing it.

A good rule to live by for non-experts: Defer to the experts until they’ve demonstrated themselves no longer worthy of the name.

A good rule to live by for experts: You’re ability to remain an expert is dependent upon your willingness to admit what you don’t know and defer to those that do.




Are Gondolas and Cable Cars Safe?

Post by Steven Dale

Perhaps the most common question we’re asked about Urban Gondolas and Cable Propelled Transit is the safety question. Namely, are they safe?

And while anecdotally we’ve always known them to be a remarkably safe technology, gathering clear statistical proof has been very difficult. Most countries don’t have readily available access to numbers on this and those that do make the mistake of combining ski hill chairlifts and gondolas within the same statistical category despite the two having fundamental differences in their safety statistics.

Nevertheless, the Switzerland’s Office fédéral de la statistique OFS recently put out some new statistics that help shed some light on the safety issue. While by no means definitive, we’ve compiled some of the important numbers in the tables below and our preliminary investigations suggest Cable Propelled Transit technologies such as Funiculars, Gondolas and Aerial Trams are amongst the safest public transit technologies around.

Take a look:

Compiled by CUP; Based Upon Numbers Gathered By Office fédéral de la statistique OFS.

You’ll note that during 2008 and 2009 Funiculars and Gondolas/Aerial Tram technologies consistently experienced the fewest number of accidents, injuries and deaths per 1,000 passengers. Rail-based technologies consistently experienced the most.

These numbers are important for a couple of reasons:

  • Switzerland has the largest number of cable transit systems in the world with a well-used and highly-developed multi-modal transit network across the country. If cable is to be compared to other travel modes, this is the place to make the comparisons.
  • These numbers necessarily did not include small, private gondola systems nor ski hill chairlift systems. This lack of inclusion makes the comparisons far more apt.

Notwithstanding the above, these numbers do come with a few caveats:

  • It would have been preferred to see numbers across a wider time period. Unfortunately the data series used did not include accidents, injuries and deaths for Tram, Trolleybus and Autobus technologies prior to 2008.
  • Owing to Switzerland’s almost complete lack of Subway/Metro technology, no statistics were available for those technologies.
  • While complete accident, injury and death statistics were available for 2010, passenger volumes were not available.
  • An additional comparison between modes by Passenger Kilometers Travelled would’ve been preferred as the distance travelled by cable is likely to be shorter than the distance travelled by the other modes. Such figures, however, were not present in the datasets for Gondola systems. Instead, gondola values were given in Hours of Operation.
  • All information was given in French. And while as Canadians we have a base understanding of the language, there is clear potential for error. Anyone with a greater grasp of the French language is invited to double-check our work.

Having said that, this is still a step in the right direction and more than a little bit eye-opening.

As always, additional information, corrections or amendments can be posted in the comments and we’ll be sure to correct any errors or omissions.

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