Could a High Speed Test Installation Result In 65 km/hr Gondolas?

Post by Steven Dale

CC-image via Wikipedia.

Fatzer AG is an 175 year old Swiss manufacturer and supplier of wire ropes and steel cables who’ve provided ropes for thousands of cable transit systems worldwide. They know a thing or two about this stuff.

So it should cause all of us a moment of pause when a company like Fatzer decides to build a high speed cable test installation to test and explore the “effects of speed, brake force, tension of the rope, disk and rope diameter on the durability and wear of the ropes . . . under realistic conditions.”

According to Fatzer, this is the fastest cable car system in the world operating at a top speed of 18 m/s (~ 65 km/hr). That’s fast. Light Rail fast.

Now this comes with a few caveats:

  • The images and video (see below) we’ve witnessed do not suggest this installation has any vehicles in operation – which is strange considering they’ve called this the fastest “cable car” system in the world.
  • The system loop is only 232 meters long with a line length of just 110 meters.
  • This is a test installation for experienmentation and field testing only.

The first caveat is the most important. The cable industry knows they can operate systems at speeds like these, but have yet to address the rider experience issues speeds like these cause.

Issues of rider comfort, speed-over-towers, deceleration, acceleration, boarding and alighting, station size, and spacing all become major issues when we move from a test installation with no cabins and passengers to a real-world example moving tens of thousands of people per day.

Having said that, it is a big development and one that could ultimately open up new markets for the technology in the future.

So let’s just assume just for a moment that 10 years in the future the issues discussed above are addressed. What does that mean for the technology?


  • System capacity and throughput would be increased dramatically. We’re talking about a pphpd increase on the order of 200-300%. This suddenly makes the technology competitive with heavily-trafficked light rail lines and even moderate subway/metro lines.
  • Long distance “commuting” lines become feasible. The current maximum speed of the technology makes it excellent in circulator/feeder situations, but a non-starter in all but the most specific of long-distance installations. Being able to operate at 65 km/hr allows proposals like City Councillor Brian Tucknott’s Victoria gondola to cross the bridge from misinformed fantasy to realizable possibility.
Check out Fatzer splicing together the cable for this installation (itself an impressive feat) and running it at full speed:

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  1. if proven safe, this has huge implications for urban transit. that cable was flying! i imagine you'd need extremely long stations for this to work just for decelerating and accelerating. and if the costs turn out to be competitive with LRTs, the transit world might just be turned upside down and might you say, "propelled" into a new age EDIT: this is assuming google's automated cars haven't come out yet ;) and by that time, all transit agencies will likely be obsolete.
  2. Do these higher speeds actually increase capacity all that much? The limiting factor in ropeway capacity is how many people you can board per unit of time, and that's more a function of the design of the terminal and the contour speed than it is of the line speed. A fact that surprises some skiers is that detachable-grip chairlifts don't actually have intrinsically higher uphill capacity than fixed-grip lifts, despite running twice as fast, because neither type can safely load and unload skiers at a faster interval than six seconds. The chairs on a detachable lift are simply further apart on the line. Indeed, all other things being equal, a detachable lift serving a given set of trails will have a longer line when operating at capacity than a fixed-grip in the same place, as the latter has more of the skiers hanging in the air rather than waiting in line.
  3. Probabily the cabins or chairs will be added later - for testing it makes sense to start with the most simple situation to evaluate and have a basis . The capacity limit on actual lines is mostly due to ski slopes / costs, the economical purpose of a lift is carrying people - when single chairlift became too crowded -> technology offered the double chairlift, and the 2 places gondola ...etc etc. When capacity needs will rise, like in an urban environment, technology will do the necessary leaps (some of them already disponible) Better don't forget that here we 're talking about a technology that born, bred and developed TOTALLY in the private sector, so without the aids (but also the constrains) of military/state , and thus we may be sure that if this technology survives its because it works and make money. (not a thing that could be easily affirmed about other urban transit systems)
  4. One of the lesser known reasons for limiting the speeds of urban cable systems is actually the maintenance/parts replacement requirements. More speed = more wear and tear. That is why the Medellin Metrocables only operate at 17km/h, not 22.5km/h (the top MDG speed). Cables and other components only last so long and replacing them is no easy task when you're trying to operate to the demands of the public transport timetable. That is a big consideration when setting line speed. The systems are not yet optimized to allow for efficient maintenance in this environment, this is one area the industry needs to focus on. Longer lasting, more robust cables would certainly be a factor in allowing maximum system speeds to become the norm.
  5. Very interesting. Every 30 seconds a 3S-ropeway starts to the next intermedian station at the distance of 500 m. No support towers are necessary. (18 m/s => 28 seconds for 500 m). The problem at this speed could be the supports, but with a 2S or 3S you don't need supports. you could construct a safe carriage with sheaves over and under the rope (with towers not possible). A detachable 2S or 3S accelerated like an aerial tramway. Very fascinating. Why not?