London Cable Car



Where do you put the towers?

On this blog there’s a lot of talk about cable as a flexible and adaptable technology for urban transit. CPT can travel above roads and traffic, go through buildings, and cross rivers and gorges. But for all that to work there needs to be space for towers and stations, too.

So what happens when a city’s simply got no space?

They deal.

Take New York City, for example. The Roosevelt Island Tram’s been dealing with this problem for 35 years by building a tower right over a road. Of course they did, because the system has three towers, two of which are located in Manhattan, the most densely populated New York City borough and the country’s densest county.

The Roosevelt Tram tower sits right on top of 60th St. -- CC image by Flickr user David Berkowitz.

Then there’s a system in Romania, where the city of Piatra Neamt built a cable car system, of which an entire kilometer traverses the city — towers and all.

To do this they built a tower in a road median . . .

Image courtesy of Doppelmayr.

. . . one over a parking lot . . .

Image courtesy of Doppelmayr.

. . . and even one on top of a sidewalk, so as not to obstruct pedestrian traffic underneath.

Image courtesy of Doppelmayr.

Now, we’re not saying this is the best way to go about designing towers. Remember, there are practical designs and then there are pretty designs.

London and Portland have the aesthetics down pat. Both cities dedicated a lot of thought and effort (not to mention a few dollars) to create stunning architectural towers, and in return have (or will soon have) practical works of art, so to speak.

But the adaptability seen in New York and Piatra Neamt should not go unnoticed either. As drab and industrial as the tower designs are, they represent a collaboration that can exist between municipalities and transit planning when both parties add a bit of imagination and ingenuity to the mix.

The important question here is how to blend the practicality of New York and Piatra Neamt with the beauty of London and Portland. That’s the challenge and the opportunity.



Emirates Air-Line Completes First Tower

The first of three towers is completed for the London Thames Cable Car (Emirates Air Line).

The Londonist has a photo from Transport for London of the first completed tower for the forthcoming Emirates Air-Line. According to the Londonist, the tower is the shortest of the three but – even still – is over 60 meters high!

Now it’s incredibly hard to make any comments on the aesthetics of something merely from a single picture. But it’s worth taking note of a few things right from the start:

  • The open spiral design is absolutely inspired. It makes the tower feel far more light-weight and airy than it is. I sincerely hope the “interior” of the tower is lit at night so as to allow the entire structure to “glow” from within.
  • I understand that to speed construction, the sheave assemblies (the stuff the gondolas travel over) were necessarily off-the-shelf components plugged into the custom tower infrastructure. Nevertheless, the two components don’t quite seem to co-exist well with one another. They don’t feel like a united whole.
  • The sharp, machete-like sheave supports should be thrilling to ride next to.
  • As anyone who owns a white car can attest to, this thing is going to be a monster to keep clean.
  • As the impetus for this system was arguably next summer’s Olympic Games in London, I can’t help but wonder if the tower designers were intentionally going for a design that looks like an Olympic torch.

The tower automatically inspires questions about it’s implications not for the MDG technology for which it’s based, but instead for larger 3S systems. As we’ve seen before in Koblenz, 3S tower infrastructure has a lot to be desired from a design perspective. But if you consider just how oversized and massive these towers are for MDG systems, could a similar design be used in a 3S application.

If so, one of the biggest complaints about the technology are effectively rendered moot. That is, of course, if you think this tower is beautiful. Which I’m sure not everyone will.


London Cable Car
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New Images of the Emirates Air Line

Skyscrapercity has a whole slew of new images from the London Cable Car / Emirates Air Line. Well worth taking a look here.

(Sorry for the brief/late post today – it’s been a very busy day!)

London Cable Car
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Exploring the Thames Cable Car Costs

Over the weekend it was announced that the estimated project cost for London’s Thames Cable Car (Gondola) has ballooned to an estimated £60m. For those interested, that means the system will cost roughly $100m USD per kilometer.

With the possible exception of the Caracas Metrocable (whose finances are discussed here), the London Thames Cable Car will easily be the most expensive gondola/cable car ever built. It’s even more expensive than the overpriced Burnaby Mountain Gondola, whose cost has also yet to be explained or justified.

As we discuss here, the London Thames Cable Car appears to be nothing more than the latest example of largely English-speaking transit agencies’ unwillingness and/or inability to reign in costs related to transit projects.

Whether this is an example of scope creep, pork barrelling, corruption or just pure out-and-out incompetence is virtually irrelevant at this point because all or some clearly have a role to play in this debacle.

As someone who happens to know a little bit about cable transit systems, let be me completely blunt: There is absolutely, positively, completely no reason whatsoever this project should cost London taxpayers ~$100m USD. Not a single good reason:


ONE. Off-the shelf MDG technology is being used.

While we have no confirmation of this fact, we can use a little something called logic to figure it out. Construction on the project started just a few months ago. As the goal is to complete the system by next summer, the only possible way in which to do that is to use MDG technology.

3S technology would be the sexier (possibly even better) choice here, but the reality is this: MDG technology has virtually off-the-shelf availability; 3S has to be built to order. That’s why an MDG can be turned around in such a short period of time.

Widely available renderings also indicate MDG technology.

All-in, an MDG system can be built for $10m – $30m USD per kilometre. Max.

At their most expensive, Medellin’s Metrocable systems were coming in at ~$25m USD and that included intermediary stations, turns, 4,000 pphpd capacity (compared to London’s 2,500 pphpd), land acquisition and all station and tower architecture.


TWO. Where the technology is manufactured invalidates questions of where it’s built.

Okay, sure. Medellin isn’t London and it certainly doesn’t cost as much as London. But remember: As the majority of the cable system itself is manufactured in a western-European location (France, Austria, Switzerland and/or Italy), that means the cost of the systems’ electro-mechanical components (cabins, cable, towers, stations, etc.) will not vary much from place-to-place.

The only thing that’s likely to cause any sort of shift in price is currency and/or commodity fluctuations. But as the Euro has been depreciating against the British Pound for much of the last two years, shouldn’t the price actually be decreasing?

The one counter-argument to this could be if much of the system is being manufactured in Switzerland – in which case the rapid over-inflation of the Franc could be leading to these increases but a) much of that over-inflation has been recently stemmed due by Switzerland’s Central Bank and b) as we understand it the system is being built by Doppelmayr not Garaventa.

This is important because Doppelmayr is an Austrian company that trades in Euros and Garaventa is a Swiss subsidiary that trades in Francs. In other words, somewhere between 75 and 90% of the cost of this system is being incurred purely in London alone.


THREE. The capacity of this system invalidates the need for large scale station infrastructure.

As reported, the Thames Cable Car is expected to move roughly 1,000,000 people in its first year of operations with a throughput of 2,500 persons per hour per direction. One million looks like a big number, but it’s really not when you consider how many hours there are in a day and how many days there are in the year.

(Note: The Londonist riffs on this concept with a deplorable calculation that demonstrates how only 228 people will use the system per hour. This calculation is a gross over-simplification of the problem because it spreads ridership evenly across every day and every hour of a 365 day year. Of course we know that ridership has peaks and valleys from hour-to-hour and day-to-day especially when you inject a massive peak such as will occur during the Summer Olympics. This calculation is therefore nothing more than brazen misinformation and irresponsible commentary.)

Oversized station architecture typically accounts for the bulk of costs in a cable system such as this, but given the modest number of people this system is anticipated to move, there is absolutely no reason to invest in large scale stations.

To demonstrate: The Koblenz Rheinseilbahn utilizes the above-mentioned 3S technology and moves ~3,600 pphpd. It has been an enormous success and I’m told is moving tens of thousands of people per day due to the bi-annual (and inexplicably popular) BUGA horticultural festival.

The Koblenz Rheinseilbahn is also only 1 km long and cost ~$20m USD all in.

This is what the Koblenz stations look like:

That's the entire station, infrastructure and all. Image by Steven Dale.

Now compare that to London:

See the difference?

Granted the London system has two things that the Koblenz system does not. Owing to Koblenz’s current status as a temporary installation, it does not have the maintenance bay and custom-designed towers that the Thames Cable Car will. Fine. But do those two items justify the Thames Cable Car’s absurd price premium over the Rheinseilbahn?

Not when the Rheinseilbahn carries almost double the number of people.

Transport for London and Mayor Boris Johnson owe the people of London an explanation – particularly as they now plan to pay for it “out of the rail budget.”

Suffice it to say, this isn’t going to win Urban Gondolas any fans – likely just a few more enemies in one of the most highly visible cities in the world.




Cablegraphs: Vertical London

A quick comparison of existing heights in London and the proposed London Cable Car’s tallest tower.

click image for larger version

*this is a new (revised) version of a previous image



Weekly Roundup: London Cable Car Animation!

A few highlights from around the world of Urban Gondolas and Cable Propelled Transit:



London Cable Car
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Weekly Roundup

A few highlights from around the world of Urban Gondola Transit and Cable Propelled Transit:
  • Simon Fraser University’s The Peak is reporting that Burnaby city council gives the go-ahead to the Burnaby Mountain gondola transit system in suburban Vancouver. Advocates are quick to point out that this does not ensure the construction of the system – that will be based upon a new financial feasibility report due soon.

Lastly lastly, in other transportation-related news, if you live in Canada/US and can access Comedy Network, here is a hilarious parody by Stephen Colbert on the dilemmas of Unicycling in New York.

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London Cable Car / Vancouver/Burnaby Gondola / Weekly Roundup
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