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.
All images by Steven Dale.
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:
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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