Post by Steven Dale
A while back I asked readers to help find information about 9 virtually unknown cable systems around the world. Regarding the Ngong Ping 360 in Hong Kong, Scott Burling contributed this guest post (with pictures):
The Ngong Ping 360 connects Tung Chung MTR (Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway) station with Ngong Ping village, and the nearby Po Lin Monastery and Tian Tan Buddha. The Ngong Ping Gondola completes its 5.7km journey in 25 minutes, a substantial time saving over the hour long road trip that would otherwise be required.
Location & Attraction
Despite being primarily a gondola for sightseeing tourism, the Ngong Ping 360 system is well integrated into the Hong Kong transit system. There is a short walk from the MTR station to the Ngong Ping 360 station. This walk is through a nice square and between an outlet mall and an apartment building near a bus terminal. A pair of escalators then transports passengers to an elevated bridge to the station. An extremely large amount of queueing space is intergrated into this bridge indicating that this system must get very busy at times . As you can see in the photo below the teminals blend into urban mall enviroment. The MTR station can be seen below with a white symbol on a red elliptical background.
(Note: You can find some more photos of the queue area here.)
The top end of the system is positioned adjacent to Ngong Ping Village. The village is clearly very tourist oriented, with tickets to attractions being offered in packages with the gondola passes. The village has been named “Hong Kong’s First ZERO Plastic Shopping Bag Village”.
The Po Lin Monastery and the main attraction the Tian Tan Buddha (world’s largest seated brass Buddha) can be reached via the main street of the village. Both are very impressive and well worth a visit but I won’t dwell on them here.
The Gondola System
The (somewhat incorrectly named) Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car is a Bicable Detachable Gondola (BDG) system. As shown in the diagram below the gondola has two turning stations and two terminals. Each gondola detaches from the haul rope and is slowed significantly within the turning stations. The gondolas do however travel somewhat faster than they did in the terminal stations.
Cabins travel from Tung Chung Island, crossing the bay to Airport Island where they are passed through the first turning station. The cable then carries the cabins across the bay towards the Buddha. At around 1.5 km this is the longest span of the system. Just two giant towers are used in this section. Once over the crest of the mountains the cabins are passed through another angle station allowing them to head down the hill to the terminal.
The bulk of the system was built within a national park, and as such it was important to minimise environmental impact. Only a minimum number of towers were allowed to be built. Of course less towers means a greater load on each, Tower 3 is the largest in the system, designed to carry a loading over over 210 tonnes on each side. It is set 1000 feet up a mountain with access for construction by foot or helicopter only. Like the bulk of the system its construction was a massive engineering feat.
The system is designed to be able to handle 3,500 pphpd. I understand this was the capacity before the addition of several glass-bottomed “crystal cabins” in April 2009. This would have caused a small reduction in capacity. I guess there are about 10 normal cabins to each glass floored one. Each standard cabin has a capacity of 17 (10 seated) and each crystal cabin (premium glass floored cabin) can accommodate 10 seated passengers only. When I visited the system, attendants were only loading cabins to their seated capacity. I’m not sure if this is just because of the relatively short queue that day or it is standard practise. Perhaps somebody could fill me in? If this is standard practise the capacity of the system would reduced to around 2,000 pphpd.
Being a tourist system the Ngong Ping 360 charges premium prices in comparison to other transport. For comparison, a bus ticket to do the same trip costs (one way) HK$17.20 apart from Sundays and public holidays where it is HK$27.00. A single trip on the Ngong Ping 360, meanwhile, costs HK$74 (one way). That price increases to HK$109 should you desire a crystal cabin. Private cabins can also be arranged at a significant cost premium.
For additional comparison a tourist unlimited one day MTR ticket costs HK$50 and the trams on Honk Kong Island cost HK$2 per boarding regardless of distance.
I arrived at the Tung Chung Terminal via the MTR (by the way, Octopus Cards are awesome) and, after lunch at the outlet mall, walked to the Ngong Ping 360 station. It was somewhat worrying how the station was set up for giant queues. I worried there were very long waits on Sundays or special occasions, but experienced no such wait by opting for the crystal cabin. I would fully recommend this. The wait time is much less. There were about 100 people waiting for the standard cabins and just 2 people for the crystal cabin when I boarded.
In New Zealand most of the gondolas and chairlifts are single cabled systems (MDG). I was surprised how smooth the gondola was. Chairlifts seem to accelerate much more aggressively before connecting to the haul rope. In addition it was nice not to experience the bumping motion at each tower which is characteristic of older monocable systems.
Despite it being really hot outside there was enough airflow through the cabin to make it reasonable comfortable. That said, I’m not sure it would be quite enough for a cabin full of 17 people.
The cabins have bench seating along the front and back, for a total of ten seated passengers. This is the capacity limit for the glass floored cabins but the standard cabins can take an additional 7 standees. As mentioned earlier they were not loading more than ten into the standard cabins when we were there. I would like to know what is done on busy days and if any readers of The Gondola Project have witnessed that situation.
One of the main advantages of gondolas for transport is how close they let you get to an environment without disturbing it. Imagine the damage a road or rail line past the scene in the next photo would do. Bet you can’t get a photo like that from a bus or train either. Being elevated is a very nice way to travel.
Of course no tourist attraction would be complete without them trying to sell you overpriced photos as you leave. The Ngong Ping 360 doesn’t disappoint on this front. Between the Village and the Buddha there is the “First-ever Cable Car Gallery” with cabins from some famous overseas systems. They have been refurbished and painted in the colours of the national flag of the country of origin. By comparison to the Ngong Ping 360 cabins all of them look remarkably tiny.
Some final tips for readers who visit Hong Kong:
- Try and find time to go for a ride on the Ngong Ping 360, it’s easy to get to via the MTR from the city or a quick cab ride from the airport and is well worth it.
- Take the Crystal Cabin, the wait is shorter.
- Take an umbrella for shade.
- I assume Sundays are really busy. Probably best to avoid them.
(Thanks so much for this, Scott!)
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