History

12
Mar

2017

Reaction: Cable Cars Are Changing the World

Image by Darren Garrett.

Image by Darren Garrett.

It’s no secret that with the rise of the 24-hour news cycle and the collapse of advertising revenues, journalistic standards and intellectual rigour have been on the decline across the publishing spectrum.

As such, when journalist Duncan Geere of How We Get to Next requested an interview of me on the subject of urban cable cars, I presumed it would be nothing more than a 300-word puff piece on the subject written in the time it to takes to write . . . well, a 300-word puff piece.

It was much to my surprise, then, that Greene’s piece “Cable Cars Are Changing The World” is nothing of the sort.

It is an exhaustive, engaging and otherwise top-notch article on the subject of Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) and how they are rapidly being deployed throughout the world. For anyone new to the subject matter, I’d suggest starting with Greene’s article. It is comprehensive with a view into the history of the technology that few reporters bother to delve into.

He even takes the time to highlight one of the central complexities of the technology — nomenclature. Green perfectly encapsulates one of our industry’s constant problems:

“Researching the topic can be difficult, primarily because there are seemingly hundreds of different ways to refer to slight variations on the same basic principle. Spend 10 minutes looking into the subject and you’ll find people talking about gondolas, aerial tramways, ropeways, cableways, téléphériques, funiculars, funitels, inclined lifts, and many more.” 

As I read the article, there were at least a handful of moments I had to pause and think to myself “wow, I didn’t know that.”

If you’re new to the subject of urban cable cars, read this article. And if you’re an industry veteran who thinks postures to know everything there is to know about the topic — read this article. I can assure you there are things in there that will surprise and delight you.

05
Oct

2015

Medellin/Caracas, Part 1

Last week I travelled to Medellin, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela to tour five of the most important CPT systems in the world. This is Part 1 of a photo essay on those systems. In this part, a brief overview of the history of cable transit in this part of the world will be explained. Image by Steven Dale.

HISTORY

Modern Cable Propelled Transit started in Caracas, Venezuela with the Mount Avila Gondola. This system was originally built in the middle of the last century to carry people from Caracas to the top of Mount Avila where the luxurious Hotel Humboldt had been built. Political and economic strife caused the government to leave for neglect both the hotel and gondola. The gondola itself was not reopened until 1999, after a successful rebuild.

The Avila Mountain Gondola In Caracas. Image by Steven Dale.

An Avila Mountain Gondola From Below. Image by Steven Dale.

A gondola passes over two original and well-preserved antique gondola cars at the Mount Avila Caracas Terminal. Image by Steven Dale.

The Avila gondola cannot, however, be truly classed as cable transit. It lacks integration to the local transit network and really exists more for tourists, not local commuters. It did, however, indirectly inspire the nearby city of Medellin, Colombia to pursue a fully-integrated CPT system to serve the impoverished and dangerous barrio of Santo Domingo. The system would take almost 5 years to open, from conception to fruition and would be the world’s first true CPT system. They would name it The Metrocable. The first line, consistent with the city’s existing Metro system, would be named Linea K.

A Linea K Metrocable Car in Medellin, Colombia. Image by Steven Dale.

The Metrocable over top the Santo Domingo barrio. Image by Steven Dale.

Gondolas depart a Linea J Metrocable station. Image by Steven Dale.

Metrocable Linea K would be an enormous success. Crime rates in Santo Domingo plunged and area investment skyrocketed. In the four years since Linea K opened, crime in Santo Domingo virtually disappeared, jobs have increased 300% and 3 banks have opened along the Metrocable route. With such an obvious success story, Metro officials had little trouble convincing decision-makers to open Linea J.

Unlike Linea K, Linea J would connect several smaller barrios in the western end of the city. These barrios suffered from similar economic conditions but did not have the population density that Linea K had. This was considered a good thing as Linea K suffered from overcrowding almost immediately upon opening, a situation not witnessed on Linea J.

A Linea J gondola. Image by Steven Dale.

Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela was not to be undone. The opening of the second Metrocable line in Medellin made Chavez lust after a similar system in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. Within 2 years, Chavez’s dream would be realized with Caracas opening their own cable transit system in early 2010. It was also to be named The Metrocable.

Like the Medellin systems before it, the Caracas Metrocable would provide transit to under-serviced barrios with a history of crime and poverty. But unlike the Medellin systems, Caracas would feature enormous stations that included social facilities such as gymnasiums, police stations, community centres and markets. The Caracas Metrocable would also be the first in the world to feature extreme 90 degree turning radii at stations.

Gondolas enter and exit a station in Caracas. Image by Steven Dale.

The Caracas Metrocable. Image by Steven Dale.

The Metrocable loop between Medellin and Venezuela came full circle in early 2010. While Chavez was opening his first system in Caracas, Medellin was opening their third Metrocable line. But this time, the line looked more similar to the original Mount Avila system from Venezuela circa 1999.

While still fully-integrated into the Medellin Metro, the new Linea L services the Parque Arvi at the top of a nearby mountain in Medellin and requires an additional fare of 1,550 Colombian Pesos (roughly $1 US dollar). Linea L would give quick, affordable access to wilderness and parkland facilities that had previously only been accessible to wealthy land-owners in Medellin. This was a welcome change, given Colombia’s historically wide gap between rich and poor.

A Linea L gondola. Image by Steven Dale.

Medellin as seen from the Linea L, Parque Arvi nature preserve. Image by Steven Dale.

Both cities are engaged in major plans to expand their Metrocable offerings and cities throughout Latin America are embarking upon cable transit plans of their own.

Read Part 2.

06
Jul

2015

Why Doesn’t the Industry Keep Better Records?

Ropeway systems have continually demonstrated their ability to adapt to strange new environments. From the mighty rivers of rural China to the stacked vertical density of New York, it seems nothing is insurmountable.

No doubt this flexibility is a main reason why we see more and more of urban gondolas being proposed and built. And thanks to the Internet, we now can keep track of these developments as they come.

However, as we know, ropeways have been around for a long time and many old systems are now just being rediscovered today. Some of these older systems contain a wealth of lessons and best practices for us present-day transportation practitioners. Shouldn’t we be learning from them?

Image by Tino.

Cable Car in Wuhan, China. Notice anything interesting? Image by Tino.

Case in point, the urban cable car in Wuhan, China. It travels from a high-rise building, through and above dense urban form, crosses the Hanjiang River before terminating at the lush and picturesque Guishan Park.

Originally, we thought that the Singapore Cable Car was the only urban ropeway that travels from a tall building but as the picture shows this is obviously not the case.

Perhaps what’s even more unique is that this is the first example we’ve seen of an elevated and arching roadway tower. Aesthetically, the drab concrete architectural styling leaves much to be desired. However, the underlying concept is strong and functional advantages are unmistakable — the cable car tower is integrated into the urban form without the negatively impacting ground-level traffic.

If you look closely at the picture, you’ll notice that it is an excerpt from an old Doppelmayr report. Exactly why such a practical tower design is not mentioned and brought up more often is difficult to say. But we suspect that record keeping in the industry for urban gondolas in the past was minimal at best.

I’m almost certain we will find more of these nice little treats as we continue our journey on the Gondola Project. But perhaps this is a reminder of the importance and value of improving record-keeping for all those working in the cable car industry.

28
Oct

2014

Military Cable Cars

Guest post by Ross Edgar.

Over the years, the Gondola Project has discussed numerous different applications of Cable Propelled Transit (CPT), highlighting the versatility and adaptability of such technology. However, one particular avenue of CPT remains largely unexplored: military cable systems.

Military applications of CPT do not readily spring to mind, yet in Alpine nations CPT has been used extensively for this purpose. An early example of this is the Reisszug in Salzburg which has provided a supply route from the city to the fortress since the early sixteenth century. More extensive use of CPT for military applications can be found throughout the twentieth century, particularly in Switzerland.

Reisszug. Image by Wikipedia User Magnus Manske.

The Swiss National Redoubt, originally conceived in the late nineteenth century, was designed as a defensive system to protect the country in the event of invasion. The National Redoubt was subsequently revised on a number of occasions throughout the twentieth century, most notably under General Henri Guisan during the Second World War. The strategy pragmatically recognised the limited resources and manpower of Switzerland in comparison to the major European powers. Therefore, a strategy was created that did not endeavour to compete with such power, but aimed to ensure that any incursion into Swiss territory would be so bloody and would result in such huge losses that invasion would be rendered entirely unattractive. This strategy repelled both Nazi and Soviet aggression and guaranteed Swiss neutrality throughout the twentieth century.

The twentieth century National Redoubt featured static defences protecting strategic transportation nodes including mountain passes and railway tunnels. These defences included forts, gun emplacements, bunkers and other hardened positions which formed an armoured ring around the Swiss interior, creating a fall-back position for the government and the population and denying access to the aggressor. These defences are characterised by their highly effective concealment with examples including bunkers disguised as chalets and gun turrets disguised as large boulders.

Today, such hardened positions have been largely replaced with more technological defences but the exact details are not in the public domain. However, the majority of structures still exist and a number are open to the public as museums. A select few of the original defences remain in military use and have been widely upgraded to meet modern threats.

It is as part of the National Redoubt that Switzerland employs CPT technology in a military context. Due to the topography of Switzerland and the strategic advantage of altitude, many defences are constructed on mountain passes, in high pastures or even on mountain peaks. While providing a military advantage, this also presents a logistical challenge with the requirement for transport of men and materiel to such inaccessible locations. Therefore CPT is used to connect installations, both with other installations and with the valley below.

DSCF2454

Can you seen the cable system? Image by Ian Edgar.

The example illustrated in this post is on the Weissfluhgipfel above Davos in the east of Switzerland. It is not entirely clear what military facilities are present on the Weissfluhgipfel or what specific purpose the cable system serves in this instance, but the presence of CPT technology serving a military facility is very clear. The terminus pictured is evidently built into the mountainside and presumably has subterranean access to the facility above. This facility has been clearly designed to blend into the surrounding landscape.

DSCF2460

Subterranean station? Image by Ian Edgar.

Information on Alpine military cable systems is not readily available as many of these defensive networks have not been methodically catalogued and, particularly in the Swiss case, are shrouded in secrecy. However, both Italy and France built similar extensive defensive lines in the Alps in the twentieth century, known as the Alpine Wall and the Alpine Line respectively. It would be logical to conclude that the obvious benefits of CPT technology in an Alpine environment would have been utilised here also.

Closer look at entrance. Image by Ian Edgar.

Closer look at entrance. Image by Ian Edgar.

History / Infrastructure
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06
Nov

2013

A Brief History: New Brighton Cable Car

At the Gondola Project, we love learning about historical cable car systems and this past week, we were fortunate enough to have a reader send us some links and pictures of a cable lift in the seaside resort town of New Brighton, England.

New Brighton Tower chair lift 1966.

New Brighton Cable Car in 1966. Image by Flickr user Picture Esk.

Cable Car seen in the back. Image from historyofwallasey.co.uk.

Aside from a few pictures and tidbits of info, details about the system are scant. We do, however, know that it connected passengers from the beach to the a motor coach park and was still operational during the 60s.

Based on a visual analysis of the pictures, it appears that the system is somehow integrated, or at least travels over a large, monolithic building.

Unfortunately, as history dictates, it seems that this cable lift was ill-fated from the start.

That large building that it crossed over was known as the Tower Ballroom — a venue capable of fitting 1000 dancing couples.

New Brighton Tower and Tower Ballroom at base. Image from Wikipedia.

This ballroom served as the building base of another attraction, the New Brighton Tower.

This 173m tall tower, which mimicked the Eiffel Tower, opened in 1898 and was the tallest building in Great Britain at that time.

By 1921, due to neglect after World War I, the high-rise was, sadly, dismantled and its metal was sold off.

However, the Tower Ballroom remained intact and was in full use until 1956 when a fire completely gutted out the interior.

After two years of restoration and renovations, the ballroom was fully restored to its former glory.

In fact, the ballroom was a popular venue for the Beatles as they were reported to have played a total of 27 times at this theatre.

Everything was going well, that is, until another fire in 1969 completely destroyed the ballroom, along with the cable car.

But this time around, there was no restoration and the building grounds were replaced with a housing estate.

Tower Ballroom fire. Image from Tony Franks Buckley.

So while this system was purely a toys for tourists and not an urban gondola by any stretch of the imagination, it does serve as a reminder of how nimble and flexible cable technology was — even way back in the 60s!

 

History / Installations
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23
Apr

2012

CPD – Cable Propelled Doctor

Dr. Deng has spent the last 28 years travelling to villages via a death-defying rope journey to treat his patients. Image by mzb.com.cn.

On Friday last week, we brought you the news story that featured how a simple cable span was being use to ferry children across a gorge in China’s Guizhou province. Today, we’ve come across another incredible and heart-warming amazing story in China, but this time involving a selfless doctor named Dr. Deng.

Deng is a village doctor and most of his patients are separated from the main city by a river. In order to gain access to the village, he has to make use of a rudimentary cableway.  Despite the dangers involved and earning only 200 dollars a month, Dr. Deng has unceasingly made this treacherous trip each month for the past 28 years. It takes him over a week to fully check up on all the children in the village.

What’s more incredible is that, since there is no braking mechanism built into the pulley system, whenever he wants to slow down, he would rely on his grip strength to control his speed. He mentions that his hands would routinely get cut by the aging cable.

Dr. Deng hopes that a bridge will be built soon in the future so that residents can have quicker access to medical services. For the full story, click here for more photos and/or click here for the video (in Chinese).

02
Feb

2011

All Movements Begin With A Small Step

The Clay Street Hill Railroad

Two arguments against the current state of cable transit are the rather short line lengths of existing systems and the relatively few systems that actually exist. Both arguments suggest that urban gondola transit is not yet ready for ‘prime time.’

Fair enough.

It is, however, important to remember that all technologies start out modestly. No matter the rate of eventual uptake, all technology begins – in effect – in someone’s basement.

For example:

In 1873 Andrew Smith Hallidie opened America’s first commercially viable cable-hauled railway; San Francisco’s Clay Street Hill Railroad – the precursor to the beloved Cable Car.

It was less than 1 km in length.

By the end of the century there would be over 800 kms worth of cable lines in cities throughout the United States and dozens of other cities outside North America had their own systems, too.

Yes, the Cable Car became a relic of a bygone era – replaced by self-propelled streetcar – but the point still remains: What was a legitimate revolution in transportation started with one modest system of less than 1 km in the far away land (at least at that time) of San Francisco.

The parallels to what is going on with Cable Propelled Transit in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and South America in general should be obvious to anyone.

We should remember that when we scoff at the modest gains of all technologies. Even the beleaguered London Heathrow Ultra PRT, may be a precursor of things to come.

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