Wälderbahn ‘City Cable Car’. Screenshot from Gugen Ueber.
One of the fundamental problems cable cars have always dealt with in the urban context is the conflict between not traversing privately owned lands and the necessity to only travel in straight lines with turns navigated solely at mid-stations. This has always made line optimization in urban environments incredibly challenging.
The Wälderbahn ‘City Cable Car’ could change all that.
Unveiled in the tiny Austrian state of Vorarlberg this past Tuesday, the City Cable Car is an 11-km cable car the likes of which we’ve never seen.
The first 7.5 km are relatively straightforward though no less ambitious.
Starting in the town of Bersbuch, the 3S system would travel roughly 3 kms and rise more than 800 meters to the top of the Hochälpele mountain where an underground mid-station would be located.
Underground mountain station. Screenshot from Gegen Ueber.
We’ve seen underground stations before in places like Livigno, Italy and with the Hungerburgbahn Funicular in Innsbruck. But those stations appeared to be designed more due to practical matters of space rather than with matters of aesthetics. Within the Hochälpele context, it appears as though the intention is to make the station disappear as much as possible into the surrounding mountainside thereby minimizing concerns associated with visual pollution.
After Hochälpele, the cable car travels another 4km and descends more than a kilometer to the outskirts of the town of Dornbirn. And this is where things get interesting.
Let me explain.
From Hochälpele to the Dornbirn Train Station (the system’s intended final destination) requires an almost 6 km as-the-crow-flies journey across hundreds of pieces of privately owned land. That would be difficult to accomplish anywhere just from a technical perspective. From a social license and political perspective? Forget about it. Such a move would be virtually impossible in all but the most authoritarian of jurisdictions.
That’s where the Wälderbahn’s workaround is so ingenious.
Instead of flying direct to the central station, the Wälderbahn’s alpine route terminates at Karren Achmühle and transforms from a cable-propelled system to a self-propelled system. Detaching from the cable, the system’s bogies attach to what can only be described as a self-propelled “backpack bogey” that propels the vehicles forward along an elevated track. This track hews to the nearby river and local train tracks thereby eliminating the need to traverse any privately-owned lands.
It all sounds very gadgetbahn-esqe, but if it works it would represent a fundamental shift for the cable car industry the likes of which we’ve never seen.
Bogie. Screenshot from Gugen Ueber.
Along River. Screenshot from Gugen Ueber.
An additional intermediary station at Sägerbrücke exists prior to arrival at the central train station.
The system will clock in at 8.5 m/s and will have 28-person vehicles departing every 50 seconds.
Map of route and statistics. Screenshot from Gugen Ueber.
The system is being developed directly by Doppelmayr, the world’s largest cable car manufacturer who just so happens to be headquartered in Wolfurt — a stone’s throw from Dornbirn.
The project is still at the conceptual stage and has numerous hurdles to clear. We also don’t know what the project will cost at this stage — which isn’t a surprise as a prototype, one would presume, still needs to be constructed. Comments on the project website anticipate an earliest possible completion sometime in 2022/23.
But here’s the thing —
We see projects all the time that try to do things with cable cars that they currently cannot do. We get emails all the time from people suggesting world-circling self-propelled gondolas running at hundreds of miles an hour. We tend to ignore those things.
But when the world’s largest manufacturer makes a play to build the world’s first detachable cable car that is truly capable of navigating the urban landscape (and they choose to make that play in their own backyard), we’re going to stand up and take notice.
This is a project to watch because it could change everything.