World’s Longest 3S Ropeway, the Hon Thom Cable Car, Set to Open in February

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Hon Thom 3S Cable Car breaks longest passenger ropeway record. Image by Fatzer.

In a few weeks, the 7.9km Hon Thom Cable Car (Vietnamese: Cáp treo Hòn Thơm) is expected to open for passenger service on the largest island in Vietnam. Once operations begin, not only will it hold the world’s longest continuous (single section) 3S passenger ropeway title, it will also dramatically improve transport time and experience along a string of tropical islands known as the An Thoi Archipelago.

After construction began in September 2015, the system is now being tested before it is commissioned in February 2018. This incredible feat of engineering was made possible thanks to the expertise from ropeway manufacturer, Doppelmayr, who collaborated with industry leaders such as Fatzer and CWA.

The 3S cable car begins its journey at Phu Quoc (pronounced “foo-kwock”), an island roughly the size of Singapore that lies 15km south of the Cambodian coastline in the Gulf of Thailand. Specifically, the cable car’s northern terminus is located in An Thoi, a port town in the southern region of Phu Quoc known for its white sand beaches, fish sauce, and coral reefs. Officials expect Phu Quoc to transform itself into the next Maldives and Phuket over the next decades as it lures investment with a slew of major infrastructure projects totalling US$16.7 billion.

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Doppelmayr’s Urban Gondolas Transport 100 Million Riders in La Paz-El Alto

The Red Line (2.3km, 3 stations) is the first of eleven urban ropeways in the world’s highest capital city.  Image by Doppelmayr.

A new milestone has been reached by the world’s largest network of urban gondolas in La Paz-El Alto, Bolivia. Since the Red Line (Spanish: Línea Roja) was first built in 2014 by Doppelmayr, ropeway technology has revolutionized city transport in the two Bolivian cities.

Mi Teleférico, the state company in charge of the projects, announced that its 100th million passenger was transported on November 16, 2017. Five urban gondola lines, spread over 20 stations and totalling 17.6km, have opened in less than four years. Five additional systems are currently under construction and once complete, the entire network will reach nearly 34km.

Doppelmayr congratulates Mi Teleférico for achieving such spectacular results in such a short period of time. By the end of 2018, two more urban gondola systems, the White Line (Spanish: Línea Blanca) and the Sky Blue (Spanish: Línea Celeste) are planned to enter commercial service.

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What Does the Future Hold for London’s First and Only Urban Cable Car?

On a recent trip to London over the holidays, we had a chance to tour the Emirates Air Line Cable Car again and examine how its role may evolve in the future. Image by CUP.

In less than half a year, London’s Emirates Air Line Cable Car (EAL) will be six years old. This means the system’s £36 million, 10-year sponsorship deal with the Emirates will have just four years remaining on its contract.

As the system matures, we thought it would be interesting to not only provide readers with a brief update of the gondola lift but to mull over what the future may hold for the cable car.

For those who have followed the ropeway’s history since its inauguration in 2012, you’ll be aware that EAL has received its fair share of praise and criticism. As a result, the cable car has been a fascinating and often discussed case study for industry observers.

For the critics, they have been able to aptly point out several mistakes made by the cable car’s project developers: 1) It was incorrectly described as public transit at the start; 2) It had signed a sponsorship deal without vetting potentially controversial terms; 3) Its alignment, location and pricing made it unattractive for commuters; and 4) It experienced some pretty serious cost overruns.

For all of its shortcomings however, the system does have its own fair share of successes: 1) It has been ranked as one of Transport for London’s (TfL) best transport lines; 2) It operates without a subsidy; 3) It continues to attract a steady flow of riders; and 4) It operates with an outstanding level of reliability at 99.4%.

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Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car — One Ropeway, Three World Records

Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car. Image from Zugspitze.

Rising to a height of nearly 3,000m above sea level, Zugspitze is Germany’s tallest peak and one of the country’s top visitor destinations. The summit is part of the Wetterstein Mountains and is located at the very south of Germany (90 minutes drive/100km from Munich), near the Bavarian (German) – Tyrolean (Austrian) border.

After six years of planning and construction, the new US$42 million (€50 million) state-of-the-art Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car is expected to redefine how people travel to and experience the summit. With its public opening scheduled for December 22, 2017, visitors will once again be able to soar to the pinnacle in just 10 minutes and experience the excitement of alpine recreation.

From the German side, the new ropeway will complement existing transport modes such as the Bavarian Zugspitze Railway and Zugspitze Glacier Cable Car (Gletscherbahn) that provide access to the mountain range.

Zugspitze Map from the German side. Routes for the Bavarian Zugspitze Railway, Zugspitze Glacier Cable Car (Gletscherbahn) and the Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car (Seilbahn Zugspitze) are all coloured in red. Image from

For the new aerial tram, visitors will begin their journey at Eibsee (bottom station: 998m) before ascending 1945m to reach the Zugspitze summit (top station: 2943m).

The old Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car, built in 1963, was outdated since its low capacity caused long wait times for its 500,000 annual visitors. As a result, local stakeholders decided in Spring 2015 to replace the system with a modern ropeway that not only improves passenger comfort but also brings the Zugspitze experience into the 21st century.

The new ropeway, built by the Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group, is 4,466m in length and has increased its line capacity by more than 90% (580 pphpd vs 300 pphpd). The two old 44-person cabins have been replaced with two spacious, two-storey high 120-person cabins.

Effectively, the Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car has furthered pushed the boundaries of what’s technologically possible for rope-driven systems. A total of three impressive world records has been achieved:

  1. Highest steel structural tower for an aerial tram: 127m
  2. Largest height difference in one section: 1,945m
  3. Longest free span for a passenger ropeway: 3,213m

Diagram outlining major technical details for the cable car. Image by dpa_infographik.

The longest free span record has increased by an extra 189m in comparison to the previous record held by the Peak 2 Peak Gondola (3,024m free span). And compared to the old cable car which spanned 4,450m over two towers (65m and 85m high towers which were once the world’s tallest), the new ropeway only has one massive 127m steel tower which enables an incredible 3,213m free span — that’s nearly 30 football fields in length! 

View of the 127m tall tower. Screenshot from YouTube video by afpde.

No matter how you look at it, the Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car is a system of superlatives and an incredible feat of engineering. Interestingly, an examination of the system’s history revealed that the desire to ascend the Zugspitze has been a catalyst for transport innovation. 

Online articles suggest that Zugspitze has long been the centre of what some may call a technological competition between Austria and Germany. Without getting into details (you can read more here and here), there was essentially a rivalry in the 1920s to see which side could first build a transport connection to Zugspitze. The Austrians constructed the Tyrolean Zugspitze Cable Car in 1926 while the Germans responded with a rack railway in 1928-1930 and the Eibsee Cable Car in 1963.

Map of the Zugspitze area provides location and relationship between Austria’s Tiroler Zugspitzbahn cable car compared to Germany’s Eibsee Seilbahn cable car. The rack railway is not shown here. Screenshot from Google Maps.

Online commentators suggest there are pros and cons to experiencing the summit via Germany/Austria so visitors simply need to choose one (or both if you’re willing to pay separate tickets). 

While we’re not historians here by any stretch of the imagination, one can’t help but to think what the Austrian reaction would be to the new record-setting Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, the new cable car will reignite competitive spirits and we’ll soon witness more ropeway innovation. 🙂

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World’s Steepest Funicular Opens for Passenger Service in Stoos

Schywz-Stoos Funicular. Image by Pakeha.

We first found out about the Schywz-Stoos Funicular (German: Standseilbahn Schwyz–Stoos) five years ago when we went to visit friends in the small Swiss village of Stoos. After construction kicked off in July 2013, the long-awaited ropeway project has finally come to a completion.

The world’s steepest funicular has a route length of 1,704m and climbs a jaw-dropping maximum gradient of 110%/47.7°. For the technologists reading this post, it might be important to note that the Katoomba Scenic Railway is actually steeper with a 128% slope. However, some consider it an inclined elevator/railway as it does not have two counterbalanced vehicles that is found on funiculars.

Bottom station. Image by Pakeha.

Top station. Image by Pakeha.

Technical note aside, the Schywz-Stoos funicular is an incredible feat of engineering no matter how one might look at it. Built by Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group, the system can travel at speeds of 10 m/s and transport 1,500 persons per hour per direction. Starting at Schlattli (562m), the system travels to Stoos (1306m) in just 3-5 minutes.

The most fascinating feature, of course, is the eight futuristic 34-passenger cylindrical cabins (four cabins on two trains). The vehicles were designed to remain horizontal throughout the entire journey.

Funicular travelling up towards Stoos. Image by Pakeha.

Unlike standard funiculars which have graded vehicle compartments built alongside a set of stairs for boarding/alighting, this new funicular has an inclination adjustment system. This means passenger loading is completely level, helping ease access and comfort for passengers of all mobility levels. At the front of each train, a rotating platform has also been built to allow for freight delivery. Clear separation of passenger cabins and freight delivery will improve rider comfort.

While the funicular is primarily a recreational system for transporting visitors from Schywz to the tourist village / ski resort at Stoos, the new system doubles as a public transit line for the 150 locals living at the top. This is important as Stoos is a car-free town with restrictions on vehicular access.

The US$52 million (CHF 52 million) project was financed with funding from the federal government, canton, district and municipality (54%), capital shares (6%), and debt (40%). The final project price was a 17% increase from initial cost estimates due to stricter technical regulations, added civil infrastructure and longer construction time.

To celebrate this momentum occasion, locals in the region were offered free passes on Saturday while the public were offered discount prices on Sunday. For those who can’t visit the system in person, fear not, readers can now ride vicariously through YouTube on the many videos uploaded online. Enjoy! 🙂

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Photo of the Week: Frozen Waters – Songhua River Cableway

🚡 looking over the vast river landscape of ice. #emojisinthewild #China

A post shared by A J (@mrallanjohnson) on

The weather outside is frightful. . . .😖🌨#negative21c

A post shared by Cinderella Tan (@thestickmadam) on

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Is the Dresden Suspended Railway the World’s Most Fascinating (or Unusual) Cable Car System? 


Is it a monorail? AGT? Or an upside down funicular? Image by Hans Rudolf Stoll.

At the expense of sounding overly dramatic, the Dresden Suspended Railway may very well be the world’s most fascinating or perhaps unusual urban transport line. Built in 1901 on the slopes of the River Elbe, the 273m long system takes 4.5 minutes to climb 84m from the lower district of Loschwitz to the top of Oberloschwitz.

At the onset, the system looks a lot like a suspended monorail travelling on rails. However, the vehicles actually don’t contain any onboard motors for propulsion, rather, the vehicles are attached to and propelled by a cable. Operationally, it functions like an aerial tram or a funicular which have two counterbalanced vehicles shuttling back and forth.

In the transit planning world where practitioners and enthusiasts are often fixated with organizing technologies (e.g. buses, LRT, HRT/subways, monorails, CPT and etc.) into specific typologies, the Dresden Suspended Railway is perhaps one of those unique systems that slips conventional categories.

Dresden Suspended Railway travelling up towards Oberloschwitz. At the upper terminal, passengers can make their way up to the building’s roof and take in spectacular views of the City.  A cafe and museum is also available at the top. Image by Herbert Frank.

Unlike most aerial systems which travel in straight lines, the Dresden system travels with a slight curvature near the bottom terminal. Image by Kora27.

So from a definition standpoint, where does the Dresden Suspended Railway fit in?

From online sources, it seems to be placed somewhat correctly/incorrectly in articles related to “Suspended Railways“. But by general standards of what it means to be a “Cable Propelled Transit (CPT)” system, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to classify it as part of the CPT family. Perhaps a more accurate term is “Suspended Cable Train (SCT)”.

However, SCT isn’t likely to catch on anytime soon since Dresden, Memphis and Hiroshima are the only cities in the world with these contraptions.

But perhaps it doesn’t really matter what the Dresden system is. Rather if we analyze it purely from a performance perspective, it appears that the system continues to play an important transport function. Today, the city-operated system still attracts 300,000 riders annually despite it being over a 100 years old and having a higher fare than the rest of the transit network (€4 on cable car vs €2.30 on regular transit).

Chances are, given its uniqueness and heritage status, many of its riders will be of the recreational type. While some transit purists may disregard the system as merely a “toy for tourists“, it might be easy to forget that tourist riders are an integral part of a successful public transport systems.

In fact, many of the world’s most respected transit agencies build and operate recreational transport systems to complement their transport network (e.g. MTR’s Ngong Ping 360, TfL’s Emirates Air Line, and TMB’s Teleferic de Montjuic). Arguably, if a transit system lacked tourists, it’s likely a sign that it isn’t very attractive nor useful.

From a transit technology perspective, perhaps what is most exciting about Dresden is related to the precedence that it can set. While fusing cable-driven systems with suspended rails may not be appropriate for the majority of urban transport applications, chances are, there will be scenarios where this hybrid technology should be subject to further consideration and scrutiny. After all, transit isn’t always purely about function.

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