Post by Nick Chu
This is a guest post by Tomek Magiera.
The new “Elka”. Image by T. Magiera.
If you ask people living in Silesia (a region in the south of Poland) about any chairlift that comes to their mind, most of them will probably say “Elka”. This ropeway is apparently one of the first “lowland” chairlifts built in Europe.
“Elka” is located in Silesia Park in Chorzów and has been in operation since September 1967. After service was halted for seven years between 2006-2013, the old network of 3 chairlift rides was replaced with a single combined lift.
Map of old and new Elka system. Old system drawn in black line and new system in red line.
For the first 39 years of operations, passengers rode on three chairlifts laid in a triangular configuration (all of which were 2-CLF). The stations were located next to the main attractions: the theme park, Silesian Stadium and the Silesian Planetarium. The ride on all chairlifts took approximately 1 hour. With a speed of 1.6 m/s the chairlifts covered a distance of almost 6 kilometers.
Old Elka Chairlift. Image from Fotopolska.eu.
Riding above the flower gardens. Image from Fotopolska.eu
The main highlight of the ride was the nature of Silesia Park: the rosarium (with more than 300 types of roses), parterres (with remarkable shapes that could only be seen from the height) and animals in the zoo. All of that could be admired from a height of 10 meters. The chairlift was also a popular dating spot so it’s likely that the system brings pleasant memories to many people.
The normal hours of operation of the chairlifts were from 10 am till 8 pm. However two times a year during communist holidays, it was extended till 3 am. Special light shows were held in the Park and colorful lights were mounted above every chair. These events made “Elka” so popular that some people would refuse to leave the area at 3am which unfortunately resulted in police intervention from time to time.
Station interiors. Image by T. Magiera.
The name of “Elka” is an acronym of “Elektryczne Koleje Linowe (Electric Ropeways)”. But it is also confused by many locals with the short form of the name Elisabeth, which in Polish is Ela or Elka.
In 2006 the chairlift was shut down due to the system’s deteriorating technical condition (which mostly concerned the towers) and during the next two years the entire system was completely removed. After servicing patrons for nearly 40 years, the chairlift had carried about 15.5 million passengers.
New “Elka” system. Image by T. Magiera.
The new ‘Elka’ is a 4/8 CGD system with 45 carriers – 30 chairs (4 passengers/chair) and 15 gondolas (8 passengers/cabin). Every gondola is named after a great personality of the Silesia region.
In 2006, during the first two months after operations had ceased, a survey was carried out. The respondents were asked about the future of “Elka”. The questions that were asked among others included:
- Should chairlift should be repaired or replaced? – 90% of respondents were in favour of repairs;
- Number of sections? – 98% were in favour of 3 sections;
- Capacity of chairs? – 77% were in favour of two-person chairs;
- If the respondents had sentimental feelings for the old “Elka”? – almost 90% of them said they had.
Unfortunately, because of insufficient funds, only the most popular section (between the theme park and stadium) was replaced. The total cost of the ropeway amounted to 33 million Polish Zloty (approx. US $11.16 million) and the ticket price is currently set at 10 Polish Zloty (US $3.30) for a one way trip and 15 Polish Zloty (US $5.00) for a roundtrip.
Despite some claiming that all three sections should have been rebuilt and that the old “Elka” lines should have been restored, the new combined lift was enthusiastically accepted by locals. The popularity of “Elka” is clearly seen on weekends, when a queue is certain. However during weekdays you can easily pick your own chair or gondola.
Gondolas arriving and departing station. Image by T. Magiera.
In my opinion the combined lift was the best technical ropeway solution for Silesia Park. The chairs are the connection between the old and the new “Elka”, while the gondola cabins give the system a little something extra — improved transport for persons with disabilities and young children (the aerial ride was absolutely exciting for my 1-old daughter).
Lastly, I feel that this kind of ropeway system should be considered more by the professionals who plan and design park areas. As Elka demonstrates, ropeways are often not only a means of transport, but also an attraction in and of itself.
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