Capabilities & Competencies



Quick Dwell Times Demonstrated Again – Steinbergbahn

The topic of dwell times has always been a gripping issue on the Gondola Project (see here and here). Arguably, this talking point is now increasingly important as more urban cable cars are built. And let’s be honest, in today’s fast-paced city centers, no one wants to spend a few minutes sitting in a station.

We previously witnessed 40 second dwell times on the gondola lift in Hasliberg, Switzerland but never had video evidence.

Luckily, thanks to reader Tommy W, he sent us a clip of the new Steinbergbahn in Saalbach, Austria which provides evidence that mid-station dwell times can indeed be 40 seconds. Take a look (starts at 1:43).




Meet Wolfgang Laas, Koblenz Cable Car Engineer

Image from Haberler.

Ever wonder what it takes to manage and operate an urban cable car? Well DW recently toured the Koblenz Rheinseilbahn and was able to speak to the man in charge, Wolfgang Laas.

Wolfgang takes you thru the system and discusses some important points as to why gondolas can actually function better in cities than in alpine environments. Click here to see video or click the image above.


Capabilities & Competencies / Koblenz Rheinseilbahn
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Dwell Times

Image by Steven Dale.

True story:

While I was touring the Caracas Metrocable earlier this year, myself and my guide were joined by an elderly gentleman in our gondola. Via my guide, I asked the man how he felt about the system. Did he like it? Any complaints?

He said he loved it – except for all the time the gondolas spend in the stations.

When I looked back at my records, it appears that the man had a point. During my tour of the system, I recorded end-to-end travel times of apx. 14 minutes. 5 of those minutes were spent in the three intermediary stations, meaning more than a third of the trip is spent in stations. Dwell times were roughly 1.5 minutes at each station.

Dwell times are something the cable industry isn’t adept at handling yet and that needs to change. Based upon conversations I’ve had with cable engineers, the consensus is that dwell times can be reduced down to 20-30 seconds. Given that such dwell times have been observed in large detachable chairlifts around the world, there’s no reason to believe this isn’t true.

But for whatever reason, the industry tends to install systems with station dwell times of a minute or more.

This wasn’t something unique to Caracas, either. I witnessed similar dwell times with both the Medellin and Caracas Metrocables, suggesting this issue isn’t company specific (Poma built the Medellin system, Doppelmayr the Caracas system).

My guess is that dwell times are not something the cable industry has really actively dealt with in the past. After all, most ski lifts are point-to-point installations. Dwell times simply don’t factor into the equation on most ski hills.

Furthermore, in a ski lift situation, you probably would want dwell times of 1-2 minutes. Given all the equipment, gear and clothing skiers require, more time is needed to board and alight – especially when you consider how slow people move in ski boots.

But we’re not talking about ski hills here. We’re talking about transit and most commuters don’t wear ski boots.



The Pace Of Innovation

Let’s consider the innovations the Cable Propelled Transit industry has developed, proven and/or popularized in the last 15 years:

  1. The 3S
  2. Corner turning
  3. Intermediary stations
  4. Full integration with other transit modes
  5. The Reintroduction of bottom-supported Cable Cars and Mini-Metros
  6. The Hybrid Funicular
  7. Heated Gondolas
  8. Air-Conditioned Gondolas
  9. Operability in winds above 100 km/hr (the Funitel)
  10. The Urban Concept vehicle

The Light Rail Industry? Well they’re still touting their “low floor” innovation and not much else.

Is that comparison fair? Probably not. After all, things like heating, a/c, intermediary stops and corner turning are all standard for LRT. The point, however is this:  Cable’s caught up. Cable may not be there yet, but they’re very, very, very close.

I think it important for everyone to realize that the urban market is very new for the cable industry. It’s easy to say things like “how hard could it be to fix that problem!?” I do it all the time. But a degree of “forgiveness” needs to occur. We’ve thought all these things through from an urban perspective, but the industry hasn’t – yet. That’s changing rapidly and I’m certain we’ll being to see major innovations occurring over the next decade.

That’s not to let the cable industry off the hook. They’ve got to be aggressive, diligent and pro-active. If the industry wants to be transit – as opposed to ski lifts – they’re going to have pull out all the stops and devote time, energy and money to make this technology the best they can. Simply calling a ski lift “transit” (or “CPT”) won’t cut it.

It’s got to be transit.

Better yet: Instead of just catching up to standard transit modes, now’s the time to eclipse them. Lap them. Beat them at their own game. Currently, cable is an Insurgent Technology, but now it’s time for the industry to get their game face on.

Capabilities & Competencies
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5 Things The Cable Industry Could Do (To Improve Their Chances In The Urban Market)

  1. Decrease Dwell Times – Current dwell times can reach up to 60 seconds for cable systems. Engineers I’ve talked to, however, have said that 3S dwell times can be reduced to 20 seconds. 20 seconds is far more palatable from a transit planning perspective and should become a more standard feature of cable systems.
  2. Increase Capacity – Despite the fact that cable is more than capable of handling the moderate capacities witnessed by most of the world’s LRT systems, there is still a perception out there that cable just can’t handle that many people. Maybe it’s a psychological issue. What would happen if the industry were able to eclipse the 10,000 pphpd barrier?
  3. Make Air-Conditioned and Heated Cabins Standard – While available, they aren’t common. Meanwhile, air-conditioning and heating in transit systems is practically standard nowadays. It isn’t a frill, it’s a necessity. All urban gondola systems should be equipped with these systems.
  4. Gather Safety Stats – Most of the evidence of gondola’s and cable’s safety is anecdotal. Ironically, so too are most people’s concern about cable’s safety. A comprehensive study should be undertaken by the industry to actually gather the numbers and report on the technology’s excellent safety record.
  5. Plan For Expandability – Due to a lack of foresight, systems like the Medellin Metrocable and the Funivia del Renon suffer from over-crowding at peak times. This isn’t the fault of the technology, rather it was the fault of the planning and execution. Systems should be designed such that they can be expanded quickly, easily and cheaply in the future with minimal disruption. This would be a good back-stop against inevitable human forecasting errors.

I’m sure there are others. What do you all think?



What Happens When Lightning Strikes?

That was the question: What happens in the event of lightning?

I recently had lunch with a group of individuals that included a cable engineer and lightning was was the topic of conversation. I asked him about the issue and what solutions had been engineered to avoid service disruptions due to it.

Much to everyone’s reassurance, he listed a variety of methods to ground and eliminate the effects of lightning on ropeway systems. None were very new or expensive and most were rather straightforward.

In other words: Gondolas, when designed properly, will function perfectly fine in the event of lightning.

“Why then,” I asked, “do you not make those solutions better known?”

I hear worries about lightning constantly. Urban dwellers (or at least their planners, bureaucrats and elected officials), it seems, are worried that these electrical discharges could compromise a system. As lightning is a fairly common occurrence, a public transit technology that cannot deal with it effectively would be virtually useless as mass urban transit. Hence my question.

The cable engineer paused, thought it through and answered with a fascinating (and eye-opening) response:

“We just think no one would let us build these things if they couldn’t handle lightning. I mean, they must be able to handle lightning. We wouldn’t build them if they couldn’t. And because we do build them and are allowed to build them, then we assume people know that they can handle lightning… I guess we must think differently.”


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