The Koblenz Rheinseilbahn, Part 2: The Vehicles

Post by Steven Dale

This past summer I brought attention to the Rheinseilbahn in Koblenz, Germany. In a past post I suggested it was likely a strong example of an Urban Gondola given its innovative design. That opinion, however, was based upon second and third hand knowledge, not first-hand experience. Last month, however, I had the opportunity to visit Koblenz and tour the Rheinseilbahn myself.

This is Part 2 of a 5 part photo essay, resulting from that journey. Click here to read Part 1. Click here to read Part 3. Click here to read Part 4. Click here to read Part 5.

All images by Steven Dale.

The Rheinseilbahn's Urban Concept Vehicle.

In my personal and professional opinion, one thing that has always held back the idea of Cable Propelled Transit and Urban Gondolas have been the design of vehicles. In the past, vehicles were nothing more than utilitarian boxes shuttling skiers and snowboarders from resorts to chalets. Comfort, attractiveness and amenities were never a prime consideration.

That’s changed somewhat lately, but the vast majority of cable systems (even those in urban environments) still tend towards spartan, bare-bones style. In my own work this has always presented a challenge. Planners, politicians and decision-makers have a very hard time wrapping their mind around the concept of CPT because (among other things), the vehicles simply do not look like transit.

There is a dramatic void of understanding here.

For someone to consider a technology as mass urban transit it must – to some degree – look like something they’re familiar with as mass urban transit. As I’ve argued before, its a question of translating gondolas into urban gondolas, a tactic the cable industry hasn’t readily adopted in the past.

Into this void, however, steps the Rheinseilbahn’s “urban concept” vehicles, a lucidly clear indication of the industry’s interest in the urban market:

The Urban Concept Vehicle.

Upon encountering the Rheinseilbahn’s cabins you quite clearly see what the system’s Austrian manufacturer is up to. Rather than just install a gondola system as they’d done in the past, the Doppelmayr-Garaventa Group have pushed gondola design in a direction that no manufacturer has ever done.

Labels indicating the Rheinseilbahn's accessibility are placed prominently on each and every vehicle.

For example: In the past, standing on a gondola was discouraged due to concerns about cabin sway. Due to the 3S technology used here, that sway is largely eliminated. As such, standing is actively encouraged. Vertical and horizontal poles familiar to any bus, streetcar or subway rider are strategically placed throughout the cabin, allowing standing riders to hold onto. Flexible, plastic loops, meanwhile, dangle from the horizontals conjuring images of New York straphangers in their daily commute.

(Speaking of standees; the urban concept vehicle has only 16 seats, negating one of the benefits of cable systems over standard transit technologies.)

The entire vehicle practically screams transit! The entire thing just feels different than any other gondola you’ve ever been on; like the love-child between a streetcar and an aerial tram.

Wisely, the manufacturers have embellished on labeling and design considerations. Vehicles are adorned with video monitors, accessibility-friendly decals, closed-circuit cameras and voice intercom systems. All are conspicuous and easily interpreted. It’s clear they want you to know this is a “transit system” not a “ski lift.”

The interior of the urban concept vehicle.

Bucket seats reinforce the transit impression.

Each vehicle is equipped with an SOS alarm and intercom.

Slots in the central column allow for easy storage of bicycles inside the gondola vehicles.

It’s important to note that of the Rheinseilbahn’s 18 total vehicles, only 3 are “urban concept.” The others are designed in a more traditional manner, each with their own stylistic flourish.

A few have space for luggage and bags in central cages while others have a window located in the center of the vehicle’s central seating banquette. It might seem an odd choice to have such a variety of vehicles on a single system, but it’s a strong idea; by showing people a variety of designs on a single system it demonstrates the flexibility of vehicle design.

It also suggests the opportunity for different transit business models. VIP cabins anyone?

A glass-floored cabin.

A gondola equipped with a luggage cage in place of the glass floor.

Three differently designed vehicles pass through the Rheinseilbahn's upper terminal.

To the casual rider, all this might seem like a whole big waste of time and money. Do I really need a video monitor and luggage rack when I’m traveling five minutes to a garden show? They’re likely to ask while missing the point.

This is as much demonstration piece as anything else. For that reason, the vehicle design is a success. The Rheinseilbahn vehicles allow people to see what they previously had to imagine. The urban concept vehicles in particular make a clear and exact statement:

You can use gondolas as mass urban transit and here’s what it might look like.


Click here to read Part 1.

Click here to read Part 3.

Click here to read Part 4.

Click here to read Part 5.

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  1. Steven can you write the cabin dimensions? The seem to be quite large. The wooden interior is quite nice though. To demonstrate the full capability for transit they just need to run the system at a higher speed. 40km/h should be possible for a 3S system.
  2. Matthias, I don't have the exact measurements, but the cabins themselves can hold a maximum of 35 people. Theoretically, yes, a 3S should be able to do 40 km/hr. I say that knowing that the DCC Cable Liners can travel at 45 km/hr. It seems it's more of a bureaucratic issue with ropeway licensing standards than with technological issues.
  3. For me it seems the cabins are wider than European Streetcars. I guess the cabins they are more than 3m x 3m. So one advantage of gondolas are also that the vehicles can be quite wide while street running or underground system have narrower vehicles. So even the vehicle s not that big there is still a feeling of generous space. BTW the fasted Aerial Tramway reaches 50km/h
  4. Matthias, That's a great point and one I hadn't considered. In terms of the fastest Aerial Tramway, which one and where is the documentation for this? That would be incredibly valuable to know.
  5. Found the dimensions in a CWA brochure: Zeta35: 3250 mm on 4244 mm with a height of 2400 mm. But I don't think further speed than 26 km/h is possible due to the length of the system for braking and acceleration. There would be too much dangling. And: the capacity of this 1 km system is almost reached by cabins as you can see, because there would hardly fit in a few more (see the distance in the stations between those cabins). Don't know if mentioned yet, but those stations are also used as garages. During night and storm they are all parked equally in both stations. PS: I really WANT to see 35 people in ONE cabin!!! ;) @matthias -> BTW the fasted Aerial Tramway reaches 50km/h But its an aerial tramway. No corners, simple and there are even people like "drivers". In order to reach those speeds the slides/bows on the tower have to be large. Otherwise every tower would make the people inside feel like speeding with a buggy cross country and the ropes would suffer a lot too.
  6. Those cabins are beautiful. Check out CWA http://www.cwa.ch/en/home.html for more info on them...the 3S dimensions are roughly 3.6 m x 3.3 m and 4.3 m x 3.3 m for the Zeta 28/30 passenger and Zeta 35 passenger cabins respectively Another consideration regarding speed is the size of the terminal...if you want a small footprint your lift won't travel as fast. This is because the faster you want to go the longer the acceleration section of the terminal. This will likely be a constant for a long time since you can only accelerate at a certain limit given the cargo you're carrying...especially so with standees.
  7. BC, Yes and no. One thing that's interesting about the stations are how short they are. The builders came up with a new way to configure things such that they could reduce station length by 5-10 meters without sacrificing speed. As station size becomes less of an issue, I think station length (I know that's kind of the same thing as size) as it relates to system speed is going to become one of the major issues the industry tackles in the near future.
  8. LX, 35 people in one cabin . . . I believe that's called "crush load" isn't it?
  9. LX, Also: What Aerial Tramway goes 50 km/hr?
  10. Steven, that 50km/h quotation isn't mine. But I'm pretty sure there is an aerial tram on our planet that could reach this speed. The Dachsteinseilbahn does 43 km/h on its first section towards the Schönbergalm. But generally once both cabins have passed the towers in general every speed is possible - the only important thing is to brake down until the next tower comes again. Just take a look at the huge towers of the Roosevelt Island Tramway. Imagine how a smaller 3S cabin would look like under it. Yes, 35 people in one of those cabins would be REALLY full. But again: buses use the same numbers for calculation: x(sitting)+x(standing). Regarding your 12:37 posting: As far as I know the asynchronity has nothing to do with a shorter station. The station is pretty common but due to local situation issues and to make it less feel like a 1to1 adaption of an alpine CPT-System it's not synchronal. But one thing is a little different: a little downgrade is in the station between the starting and almost the end of acceleration. So when the cabin arrives it goes a little up, so the motor has to do less work and when the cabin is prepared to leave it goes just a little down again - due to gravity you're getting acceleration for free. But I don't believe it's that much of an energy-saver. Another interesting fact might be the actual direction of the system. Once again the reasons for that can be found in the local situation (and sometimes cultural background - like traffic in GB or Hong Kong).
  11. Did the urban concept vehicles or any of the other cabins have heat/air conditioning?
  12. La Plagne in France uses 45 km/h for operation. Technically more is possible. For testing the speed needs to be higher than operational speed to allow for a safety margin. Actually using more but smaller cabins as a 3S in comparisons for an Aerial tramway leads to lower moving loads and more even distribution of forces on the cables. If we double the speed we need to quadruple the length of the acceleration run if we use the same acceleration rate. Thus i think more than 40km/h are not feasible unless tricks like for the Rittnerbahn in Bozen are used. Lets assume a speed of 12m/s =43.2km/h and a maximal acceleration of 1.2m/s^2 (legal limit for public transit in EU) and a continuous acceleration of 1m/s^2. Then we need a 72m long acceleration run, which can extend outside of the station building. There is at least one system in Japan which uses Linear induction motors instead of tires to accelerate the gondolas. If gondola wants its market share the need to use state of the art technology to push the performance.
  13. "Technically more is possible." Yes and "Then we need a 72m long acceleration run" Yes. Only thing: it's overground - you have to see it and it is huge. It is shocking when you get information about the actual sizes and dimensions of stopovers and stations. Since it is underground it seems quite right though. So one chance is to integrate a large system into a structure but most of the time urbanity was there first, so you have to deal with the given situation - and the corridor for solutions is pretty small. I think one of the best options of aerial cable cars is the small footprint they are able to leave (and aditionally the possibility of integration - when it comes to planning and development also a disadvantage). The actual speed is not really what I'm worried about in CPT - it's more the fact that it takes about 90 seconds from entering a station until leaving - that makes a trip feel long. My dream: I would like to see a system as flexible as Spiderman when he is swinging between high rise buildings in the city. Like pushing the button and the cabin takes you wherever you want to.
  14. LX, From what I'm being told by the industry, station dwell time doesn't have to be as long as it currently is. Apparently, this is still a hold-over from "winter market thinking" (ski lift thinking) whereby designers are accustomed to having people wearing ski boots that are difficult to move in and needing time to store skis/snowboards in racks outside of the gondolas. I've been told (though I have no confirmation of this yet) that dwell times in stations (from entrance to exit) can be as low as 20 seconds. One of the main challenges we face then is overcoming "winter market thinking" in the industry.
  15. "low as 20 seconds" implies doing the same distance in a shorter time... which reflects again in the comfort of accessing. Right now it is about 27 m of acceleration and braking-distance and a minimum of about 3 cabins length for the accessing part. I believe the situation is based on the fact that for now almost all "stations" are terminals. So the cabins HAS to make the round in the end. But if you would use stopovers or straight stations it is possible to stop them totally. The fact cabins are hanging and swinging is even an advantage: so while the running gear on top is pushed forward by the motorized wheels inertia impacts the horizontal position of the cabin and that leads to more comfort during acceleration and braking actions.
  16. I still think acceleration is possible. A long acceleration run doesn't need to be inside the station. It can extend out of the station. Sure the structure is larger than a three cables but still smaller than every other elevated transit system. Also a system with multiple station can have sections with different speeds. Instead of two supporting cables, rails could be used to implement curves without curve stations. Gondolas can come to a full stop in station and stations can be equipped with platform screen doors. A system with crawling speed in station is just cheaper to realize than a system which brings gondolas to a full stop. Those concepts already exist and just wait to be implemented. But for now the Rheinseilbahn is a good start. Basically a traditional system with only small changes to adapt it to an urban environment.
  17. I have to correct myself. Just took a look at the pictures of the Whistler 3S CPT and the one in Koblenz and recognized the acceleration/braking part of the Rheinseilbahn is about 30% shorter - which of course reflects in speed. So, while the german 3S does a max of 4.5 m/s the canadian one is able to run up to 7.5 m/s. @matthias: Well, extending the acceleration part out of the station is an idea. Thought about that too and figured out, that might be the idea how stopovers could look like. We now solved the speed-issue ;) but capacity of cabins would remain the same. So how about this: double the length of a cabin, so you can double capacity. All you can't do is have the same radius in the terminal - it has to be bigger. But if you would see the line as a paternoster lift, then you let the people just get off before the final semi-circle (like the one station of the Maokong Gondola). As for corners: I see two problems. 1. The tension of the wire. A corner would have to face the same forces into the ground as a corner station would have to. That would also need a lot of space. 2. Depending on the angle of the corner (and I'm thinking about more than 5°) the haul cable couldn't lay inside the gap between the tracking cables anymore because it also got tension and is also in motion - and it has the cabin connected during the whole process. Also the speed could probably not be the same as the whole time so the cabins would be under massive influence of the centrifugal force. Ergo like trains and cars in corners depending on the degree they would have to speed down. Right now I see a corner more like a complete station (thinking of the constructional needs) just without the platforms. I would love to read more suggestions and corrections of proposals.
  18. It is interesting that the maximum allowed acceleration rate is so low, the 70m long acceleration area sound expensive and ugly. I think gondoas have a strong case for allowing higher rates of acceleration. Firstly the gondola is suspended, so as it accelerates it swings so that the resulting force felt by riders is through the floor, similar to an elevator, rather than the lateral acceleration felt in bus or rail modes. Secondly I believe for typical operation of busses and rail, it is less the acceleration rate that causes passenger discomfort, but the rate of change of accelleration. This is most noticable, as during steady acceleration standing passengers are quite well balanced, but people are always caught off guard when a vehicle finally comes to rest and the rate of accelleration instantly drops to 0. In this respect gondolas have a significant advantage in that they are mechanically/electronically controlled, so it should be possible to make them follow a specific acceleration profile, and additionaly as they are suspended from above and free to swing they natuarally soften the rate of change of acceleration. Another situation that the problem of rate of change of acceleration manifests itself is sudden sideways jolts, this is particularly prevelent on rail systems with poorly maintained rails (try the London Underground). It is interesting to see that the maximum allowable acceleration of transit in the EU is 1.2m/s^2. If that is compared to cars, it is a 0-60 time of 22seconds. Even an acceleration of 3m/s^2 is equivalent to a 0-60 time of 9 seconds quite modest by car standards. Obviously you do not have the gaurentee that public transit passengers are in a supportive seat, but I think it would be an interesting experiment to see if the rate of change of acceleration was carefully managed what rate of acceleration could be achieved while maintaining a comfortable ride. If we were able to achieve an acceleration rate of 3m/s^2 while maintaining passenger comfort, the acceleration distance for a gondola speed of 12m/s (43 kmh) would be reduced from 60m (assuming acceleration of 1.2m/s^2) to 24.5m, making for far less imposing stations. I would view the ability to achieve higher speeds important to the ability of gondolas to compete with other modes of transit (even if it is just from a marketing perspective).
  19. Standing is very normal in all but the smallest cabins in ski areas. Typically you have the seating-only 4/6/8 person EUBs, and everything larger than that is large enough to allow standing passengers. And that standing is required during the main season.
  20. Yes, but in this case everybody is 1. sporty and 2. the riding times are short.