Emirates Air Line



How the London Emirates Air Line Cable Car Powers its Cabins

The issue of energy has come up a lot when we talk about urban cable systems — and for a good reason. If cable is going to succeed as the modern, comfortable, city transit technology it claims to be, then such amenities as heating, air conditioning, video screens, wifi, and two-way communication systems are going to have to be standard features.

For most of their existence, gondola were not heated, cooled, or souped-up in any way because frankly, there was no need. If you’re skiing outside all day you don’t exactly want to step into air conditioning and heating is not necessary since you’re all bundled up and only inside for a few minutes at a time. But as cable moves into the urban realm, the issue of power becomes increasingly more significant.

Can cabins be heated and cooled?

Yes. For example, London’s new Emirates Air Line cable car has air conditioning. In fact, we’ve know that it was possible for a while, having had this discussion before, we just weren’t sure how.

The solar panel is not the answer

So how do cabins get power?

First off, definitely not from the small solar panels seen on the roof of some gondolas. Since gondola cabins aren’t connected to a power source, heating and cooling, etc, is not as straight forward as say, in a subway. But this doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Last week an article came out about how the Emirates Air Line cable car in London utilizes ultracapacitors to provide power to each cabin. So there we go, voilá.

Each cabin has an ultracapacitor on the roof

But what does that mean and how does it work?

Ultracapacitors are like batteries in the sense that they both store energy. A capacitor, on the other hand, unlike a battery, can charge and discharge energy very, very quickly (like in a matter of seconds). In the case of the London gondola cabins,

“48V ultracapacitor modules fitted on top of each car [to] enable split-second, rapid energy charging of the modules on reaching the charging stations located at both turnaround points.”

Maxwell Technologies 48 V Ultra cap

Capacitors have a longer lifespan so you can repeat this process way more than with a battery — in this case, up to one million charge/discharge cycles — and they require little to no maintenance.

The rapid charge is key because it means that the capacitors can charge as the cabins pass through stations. A battery, on the other hand, would need a much longer charge period. Since the capacitor is continually charged through out the day, its physical size can be reduced. For a comparable battery system that would recharged at night, the sheer amount of batteries needed for each cabin would probably be far too heavy and too costly to be practical.

The ultracapacitors installed in the Emirates Air Line cable car were manufactured by Maxwell Technologies. The capacitors are a green technology that use electric fields, rather than chemical reactions, to store energy. The Maxwell 48V modules are the same capacitors used in hybrid buses and construction equipment. They can allow for high bursts of power needed to accelerate or to lift a heavy load (opposed to a gradual loss cruising or lowering a load) and they can quickly recapture energy from braking.

In conclusion, yes, gondolas/cable cars/aerial cable transit cabins can be individually supplied with enough energy to power temperature regulators, multi-media screens, and all the lighting necessary for your ultra-comfortable, ultra-modern, and ultra-fun cable experience. You just need to add ultracapacitors to the top of each cabin to charge everything up in the station and you’re good to go.



The Emirates Air Line — a photo essay

Last week, friend/designer/planner Yen Trinh travelled to London and rode the city’s newest cable car — the Emirates Air Line. Yen is an Australian based urban planner and city enthusiast. On her blog, the City Love Blog, Yen shares interesting urban-themed discoveries from her world adventures. Today, Yen has compiled a short photo essay from her trip over the Thames.


We visited the Emirates Air Line (cable car) on a Sunday afternoon, and joined the long queue of tourists and curious locals. The integration with other transit is good, as it was an easy walk from the North Greenwich tube, and the other end we connected to the DLR light rail.

The ticket system is integrated with the Oyster card, but not the paper-based travelcards which frustratingly landed us into a 25 minute ticket line.

The ride itself was a quick trip over the Thames River. We travelled from the south to north end.

The terminals and surrounding public spaces seemed well designed, and it’s clear and easy space to understand. Based on the map it seemed an odd location for this project, but when we arrived, it made more sense as a strategic link. It is apparent that at both ends of the cable car are precincts still undergoing urban redevelopment, and it is nearby mixed use developments and large venues like O2 and ExCel Centre.


Thanks again to guest photo-essay blogger Yen Trinh for sharing her thoughts and pictures!



The London Cable Car Fares: Unfair to Locals?

The fare-pricing structure for the Emirates Air Line / London Thames Cable Car was recently announced and it doesn’t look good for commuters.

Single-trip fares will be £3.20 with an Oyster fare card and £4.30 without. Frequent users of the service, however, can opt to buy a 10-trip pass for £16, essentially reducing the fare by 50% to £1.60 per single trip. 

This effectively renders the Thames Cable Car a Toy for Tourists and adds little to the overall London Transport Network. Is that a problem? Yes and no.

Had Transport for London (TfL) positioned this as nothing more than an additional attraction for the city’s 30 million annual international tourists, that would be fine. After all, at €8.60 per round-trip, it will take a very small percentage of London tourists to both pay for the system’s annual operating costs as well as pay off TfL’s £24 million share of the project’s total £60 million price tag.

Let’s assume, for example, that this system costs £5 million per year for operations, maintenance, spare parts and the annual payments for capital costs. That’s reasonable and probably on the conservative side.

In the above scenario, only 2% of annual tourists to London need to ride this system to keep it afloat (assuming a round-trip fare of £8.60). I’m not going to comment on whether or not 2% of annual tourists to London will ride this system, but it’s a bet that most people would be willing to make.

The question, then, is why local commuters – already paying some of the the highest transit fares in the world – are being forced to pay an additional fare to use what is, honestly, a minor transit connection?

Maybe an even better question is whether or not any commuters will?

My gut says no.

A quick history:

When New York’s Roosevelt Island Tram (RIT) was first built, there was no other higher order connection between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island. If you lived on Roosevelt Island, you had no choice but to pay the additional fare to ride the RIT. But then when the subway finally arrived on Roosevelt Island, ridership collapsed. Why? Because riding the subway didn’t require an additional fare.

It wasn’t until the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation struck a deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that fully-integrated the RIT into the wider New York transit grid. The RIT was thereafter treated just as any other part of that city’s transit network and no additional fees were required to ride the RIT.

After that, ridership on the RIT returned.

This is really basic economics. If people have the choice between paying for something or not paying for something, they’re going to opt not to. Plain and simple.

The area around the Emirates Air Line has several other public transportation options for local commuters wishing to get around the city. People wishing to get from the areas serviced by the Emirates Air Line need only travel from Royal Victoria Station of North Greenwich Station – which are only two stops apart. Granted, such a trip requires a transfer at Canning Town, but the point that needs to be highlighted is the existing method of crossing the river by public transit is not particularly onerous.

Without doubt, the Emirates Air Line makes the journey easier, quicker and with lessened wait times. But how many London commuters will be willing and able to afford the additional minimum of £3.20 per day to take advantage of that ease? Not likely many.

Assuming 250 work days per year, a commuter who uses the Air Line every day get to and from their respective job would have to come up with an additional £800.00 per year to pay for such a service. How many people do you know who would be willing to pay that just to shave a few minutes off their daily commute? Me neither.

Had the Emirates Air Line been constructed as a subway, tram or bus there is no way an additional fare would be required to use it. That’s the bizarreness of this project. It pretends to be transit, but it’s not.

That the Air Line is being passed off as actual public transit is highly misleading. Commuters might use it one or two times just to experience it. Maybe the limited number of straphangers who have a singular need to cross the Thames at that specific location – and nothing more – will use it, but if they have to go anywhere else in the city, they’ll opt for the free transfer.

Allow free transfers to and from the Air Line and that situation would change dramatically.

Given the money this system will generate – and it will make money – it seems unfaithful of TfL to use local transit funds to build something that gives limited benefit to local transit users. There is little reason TfL couldn’t allow local riders to ride the Air Line as a fully-integrated component of the network (meaning: free from additional fares) while still charging tourists a premium.

The latter would easily subsidize the former.

Note: I have no idea how onerous the journey from Royal Victoria to North Greenwich is. It would be useful if others more familiar with that issue could chime in with their opinions.



Emirates Air Line to Open June 28

Emirates Air Line. Image by Flickr user worldoflard.

With much speculation happening in the past on whether the Emirates Air Line will open in time for the Olympics, several media outlets have now officially confirmed that the cable car will open to the public on June 28. This is great news as the system will begin operations nearly one month before the Olympics start on July 27.

Fare pricing was also announced: adults using an Oyster Card will fork out £3.20 per ride, while a cash fare will set you back £4.30. For those who plan to use the cable car regularly, a frequent flyer’s pass is available at a cost of £16 for ten trips.

While this system is merely a simple river crossing, it is certainly the most high-profile cable car line in the Western world. The success or failure of the Emirates Air Line may have major ramifications for future urban CPT systems.



Emirates Air Lines – Mayor Still not ready to commit to deadline

During testing phase, 700 kg weights are being placed into cabins to replicate 10 passengers. Image by thisislondon.co.uk.

Despite undergoing testing at the moment, a recent interview by ITV News with London Mayor, Boris Johnson, indicates that he is still not willing to guarantee that the cable car project will be ready in time for the Olympics.

However, he did agree that it would be unfortunate should the system be not completed by that time. Who knows, I guess we’ll see and keep our fingers crossed because as of today, there’s only 72 days before the Games start!

Emirates Air Line
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Emirates Air Line (London Cable Car) – CONSTRUCTION photos

Emirates Air Lines and Docklands Light Railway. Image by Flickr User mwmbwls.

We just created a new gallery on our Flickr Account – CUP Projects – which displays the ongoing construction progress of the Emirates Air Line (as of April 5-6, 2012). To access the gallery, click here or the picture above.

A big thanks goes to Bob for informing us and allowing us to share these photos!

Emirates Air Line
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Emirates Air Line (Cable Car) – PHOTOS (March 2012)

Sneak peek of what towers may look like at night. Image by Flickr user wawd.

More photos uploaded by users on Flickr showing the construction progression of the Emirates Air Line (Cable Car) in London.

Station under construction. Image by Flickr user wawd.

It appears that as of March 3, 2012, two towers have been erected. Image by Flickr user wawd.

For more pictures, a new thread on Skyscrapercity has been started to document its development.

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