14
Jan

2010

The Hungerburgbahn (Part 1)

Post by Steven Dale

Image by Steven Dale

Last month I toured the Hungerburgbahn CPT system in Innsbruck, Austria. There is much to say about this system, so I’ve broken the column into 3 parts. This is Part 1.

The importance of the Hungerburgbahn in Innsbruck, Austria cannot be overstated.  Given its unique Hybrid Funicular technology and elegant organic station design by renowned architect Zaha Hadid, one might expect this system to provoke the transit industry’s interest.

One would, however, be wrong: The system is virtually unknown outside this small city nestled in the Austrian Alps. That needs to change, however, because Hybrid Funiculars are a legitimate game-changer in the field of transit planning. Like it’s lone counterpart in Neuchåtel, Switzerland, the Hungerburgbahn deserves attention from the transit and planning industries.

Politicians and policy-makers suffer from what I call the No City Wants To Be First, Every City Wants To Be Second Problem. Traditional transit technologies exploit this problem masterfully because no matter what city you’re in, buses look like buses, subways look like subways and light rail looks like light rail. There are no surpises. Traditional transit technologies are easy to explain and simple to understand which makes life easy for time-deprived politicians and policy-makers.

In the political arena, cable is therefore at a disadvantage. Unless you’re trained to see the similarities, no two CPT systems look the same, at least not in urban environments.

Furthermore, successful implementation of cable in urban settings requires planners to pull component parts from each system and assemble their own. If transit planning were a toy store, buses, streetcars and subways would be the exact replica models, no assembly required. Cable, on the other hand, would be a big box of Lego with no instruction manual. With cable, there’s just no “silver bullet” installation that politicians and policy-makers can point to and say “yes! That’s exactly what we want!”

The Hungerburgbahn might just be that first silver bullet installation, or at least a stepping stone towards it. But before discussing what the Hungerburgbahn is, let’s discuss what it’s not:

  • The Hungerburgbahn is not fully-integrated into the city’s transit grid; an additional fare is required beyond the price of a standard transit ticket and that fare is not cheap: a steep €6.80.
  • The Hungerburgbahn is not a long system. It’s just under two kilometers long, with two stations, two terminals and only two vehicles which shuttle back-and-forth.
  • The Hungerburgbahn has atrociously long wait times of 15 minutes between departing vehicles. As the system caters to recreationalists (let’s pretend that’s a word, okay?), that is not such a problem, but would be in actual public transit usage. This could easily be shortened, however, as the travel time from end-to-end, is only 8 minutes.
  • Dwell times at stations and terminals are similarly long and unnecessary. I witnessed dwell times of up to two minutes at each of the two intermediary stations and cannot fathom a reasonable justification for this. Subways, which move hundreds of people at a time, use dwell times of between 10-20 seconds. Trimming dwell times could cut total travel time by up to 50%.

In other words, the Hungerburgbahn is not quite public transit. It is a stand-alone system that shuttles people from the city centre of Innsbruck to the alpine suburb of Hungerburg. But that is not the fault of the technology itself and none of the problems I just highlighted are specific to the technology. Each flaw the Hungerburgbahn presents is easily fixed.

So why then is the Hungerburgbahn such a revolutionary system? Tune in tomorrow to find out.

Hint: It has to do with the stations.

Continue to Part 2.

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Analysis / Case Studies / Hybrids / Innsbruck / Innsbruck Hungerburgbahn / Installations / Technologies / Urban Planning & Design
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