Proposals & Concepts

01
Sep

2016

The Wälderbahn ‘City Cable Car’ Could Be The Game-Changer The Ropeway Industry Needs

Image by Gugen Ueber.

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.

Mountain Station. Screenshot from Gegen Ueber.

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.

Bogie. Screenshot from Gugen Ueber.

Along River.

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.
Route and statistics. Screenshot from Gugen Ueber.

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.



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19
May

2016

Chicago Skyline: An Intriguing Proposal

Two weeks ago, a proposal for an urban gondola system along the Chicago River made the rounds as these things tend to do.

At first glance, it’s an ambitious and impressive proposal. Hugging the southern ridge of the Chicago river, the Skyline, as it’s been dubbed, would include three stations and around 2.5 km of length.

Onboard the 30-minute round-trip journey, passengers will be transported in customized shiny metallic cabins from the Franklin Street Bridge to Navy Pier and back again.

Chicago Skyline

Map. Screenshot from Youtube.

As I said — it’s impressive. And with a $250 million price tag it should be.

At a per kilometre cost of $100 / km, it would compete with London’s Emirates Air Line as one of the most expensive cable car systems ever built.

Chicago Skyline Rendering

Skyline rendering. Image by Davis Brody Bond.

One of the reasons, by my reasoning, for this significant price premium is because this would be the only cable car system I know of to deploy more angle stations than passenger stations.

What do I mean by that?

As regular readers of this site know, a gondola cannot turn a corner without first detaching and reattaching to the rope(s). That process has to occur within what’s known as a turning or “angle” station. There are some rare exceptions to that rule, but none of those would be relevant here. The Chicago Skyline configuration is the first proposed configuration that I know of that would have more angle stations (four) than passenger stations (three).

That’s a problem because the vast majority of a cable car’s costs are in the stations. And the costs associated with a turning station are essentially the same as the costs associated with a normal station used for boarding and alighting passengers.

Chicago Skyline Cabin

Cabin rendering. Image by Davis Brody Bond.

And that’s just on the construction end of things.

Compounding difficulties downstream, system owners still have to staff, operate and maintain the angle stations even though they won’t be used by passengers to generate any additional revenue.

The annual operations and maintenance costs associated with the Chicago Skyline will therefore be well beyond that which we could reasonably expect for a system of this length. Those costs are going to chew deeply into system economics.

While the reported annual ticket revenue is impressive at $28 million (1.4 million riders at around $20 a head), the annual operations and maintenance costs are likely to be 1/3 to 1/2 of that number simply because of the sheer number of extraneous stations included within the design. And we haven’t even begun to talk about capital reserve funds and financing costs that would be over-and-above annual operations and maintenance expenses.

Additional revenue streams such as concessions, premium VIP features and advertising are likely to be necessary to make this system financially viable as currently envisioned.

This is not unheard of in the cable car industry, but it is also not common.

London’s Emirates Air Line, for example, is one of these exceptional systems. While it’s reported to be financially self-sufficient, it might not have been if not for a sizeable EU-backed grant and a generous sponsorship with the United Arab Emirate’s national airline carrier.

Notwithstanding the London system, most tourist-oriented cable cars are expected to make the majority of their revenue from the farebox. All that other good stuff is typically nice gravy — but it ain’t steak.

This is why best practice within the cable car industry is to minimize the number of angle stations and — if absolutely necessary — co-locate them at places where a standard boarding/alighting station would actually be useful to people and hopefully increase revenue.

The matter associated with the angle stations isn’t simply one of economics, it’s one of rider experience as well.

As this is explicitly a tourist-oriented system, the ride experience needs to be exceptional enough to justify the price tag. And while I suspect the ride will be exceptional, the plethora of intermediary/angle stations will have a drag on the journey.

Within every intermediary station, whether it be a boarding/alighting station or an angle station, the dwell times for the vehicles will be roughly 60-90 seconds depending upon a variety of factors. Riders of the Chicago Skyline would therefore be expected to spend up to 7.5 minutes within stations. Assuming the journey from end-to-end is roughly 15 minutes, that means up to half the journey will be spent inside a gondola station.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m a tourist I don’t want to spend twenty bucks to stare at the inside of a gondola station. I want to be, you know, riding a gondola.

Having said all that, I think the idea has sizeable merit and I have no doubts about the projected ridership nor the ability to change what they think they can charge. All the concerns I mention above—while legitimate—could be logically explained by better understanding more of the background behind the system.

There may be completely legitimate reasons for such a large number of turning stations. We just don’t know.

Online Infrastructure Punditry (dibs on that coinage!) may have the benefit of detachment and distance, but it suffers from not always having an insider’s perspective. What to an outsider may seem patently absurd, may be incredibly logical once the full story is understood.

So while I admit to having certain reservations about the Chicago Skyline, I’m not prepared to pronounce it ill-conceived in the same way I did with a proposal for Staten Island that surfaced last year.

The team behind the Chicago Skyline (Laurence Geller, and Lou Raizin — both of which are successful entrepreneurs) are simply too experienced and too entrenched within the Chicago tourism industry to have made the decisions they did blindly.

I’m betting on the latter here and look forward to watching this one develop.



Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

05
Apr

2016

Bonn Explores Cable Car Across Rhine

Like many other Western municipalities (see urban gondola map), German cities may be on the cusp of a great urban gondola boom.

News reports indicate that cable cars are now being discussed in municipalities such as Bonn, Wuppertal, Siegen, Trier, Frankfurt and Mannheim. In fact, Berlin will see its gondola built by LEITNER Ropeways open in time for IGA 2017.

Bonn/Bad Godesberg

View over Bonn/Bad Godesberg from Venusberg, Bonn.

Specifically in Bonn (pop: 315,000, located on banks of Rhine, 30km south of Cologne Cable Car), there seems to be great public support and enthusiasm for the concept of an urban gondola.

There’s so much interest that the former capital of Germany began a feasibility study in February.

Since analyses are ongoing, full details have yet to be released. However, based on some information gathered online, it suggests that the City is studying a 3S/TDG system, with 35-person cabins and a line capacity of up to 5,000 ppphd.

Based on one netizen’s interpretation of the plan, the cable car will travel along 3-4 stations in Venusberg (a municipality in Bonn that’s located west of Rhine and on a 176m plateau).



Another proposed route appears to be a east-west connection which links up Venusberg (west of Rhine) to Ennert (east of Rhine) with stations at Museum Mile (Museumsmeile), UN-Campus and T-Mobile headquarters.

The study is expected to be complete by year’s end with project costs estimated at US$115-170 million (€100-150 million).

Whatever alignment is chosen and finalized, observers would be wise to keep track of the developments in Bonn and within other European cities. If any of these projects are successfully implemented, it may very open up the floodgates for many more cable cars.

 



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29
Mar

2016

Zurich Exploring Urban Cable Cars

As one of the countries with the highest per capita use of ropeways, one would expect gondola lines to be zipping commuters left, right and centre in Switzerland. However, that is strangely not the case as cable cars have remained mostly rural and recreational in nature.

Proposed gondolas in Zurich. Image from New Journal of Zurich.

Proposed gondola systems in Zurich. Image from New Journal of Zurich.

Nevertheless, things may soon change as recent reports indicate that Zurich is now finally catching on to the Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) movement. It appears that the Free Democratic Party (FDP), which represents two seats on City Council, has put forward 3-4 proposals for study and exploration.

The alignments connect to a variety of major attractions and nodes throughout the city, including Tiefenbrunnen Railway Station, ETH Honggerberg, Alstetten Railway Station, the Zoo, Balgrist University Hospital, and several urban districts.

Gondola crossing Lake Zurich via two 55m tall towers during Swiss Horticultural Festival in 1959.

Gondola crossing Lake Zurich via two 55m tall towers during Swiss Horticultural Festival in 1959. Image by ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv/Comet Photo AG (Zürich).

While these proposals may look new, it seems that one of the alignments (Wollishofen to Tiefenbrunnen) is merely a replay of old gondola systems that were previously operating in the city. Namely, the Swiss National Exhibition/”Landi-Bähnlis” gondola (1939) and the Horticultural Festival gondola (1959-1966) which took passengers on an aerial journey across Lake Zurich.

The 1939 gondola was an immense success, transporting 705,000 passengers during the 6-month exhibition via two 75m high towers! The system was unfortunately dismantled as its materials were required for national defence (i.e. WWII was coming).

Another view of the two 55m tall towers. Image by Johannes Schweizer, Klaus und Walter Leder - Grün Stadt Zürich.

Another view of the two 55m tall towers. Image by Johannes Schweizer, Klaus und Walter Leder – Grün Stadt Zürich.

Strangely enough, despite being a highly energy efficient mode of transport, a Green Party member actually rejected the proposals citing the negative impacts a cable car would have on the landscape. It’s somewhat bizarre but I suppose this is more politicking than anything else.

Overall, while proponents realize there are many more obstacles ahead before a system can be implemented, the Federal Council and the Commissioner have both supported the further exploration of these projects.

If online opinion polls are to be trusted — an overwhelming 82.3% (of 1891) voted in favour of the proposals — urban cable car(s) may soon, one day return to Switzerland’s most populous city.



Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

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02
Mar

2016

San Diego’s Bay to Balboa Skyway: Video Rendering

San Diego County Supervisor Rob Robert’s vision for a gondola has taken another step forward. Earlier this week, he released a video rendering of the Bay to Balboa Skyway which may one day connect to two of the City’s biggest attractions. Check it out.


Length (km) 3.2
Stations 4
Capacity (pphpd) 2,400
Est. Ridership ~1mm
Trip Time 12 minutes
Maximum speed (m/s) 6

 

 



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29
Feb

2016

Urban Gondolas in World’s Biggest Mall

Mall of the World Rendering

Mall of the World rendering. See the ropeway cabin? Image from Techinsider.

The proposed Mall of the World in Dubai is big. Really big. Like five times larger than the world’s biggest mall (New South China Mall), or about nine times bigger than the Mall of America big.

To service this 48 million square foot gargantuan, reports indicate that it will have its own internal transit network. Several modes of transport are planned, including 33km of roads, shuttle buses, a tram and yes, a gondola system.

Details on the precise ropeway technology is scant but based on the rendering above, it appears the artists have derived their inspiration from the Portland Aerial Tram. The bubble-shaped cabin runs along a series of small towers flying above what appears to be arboreal-like structures inspired by the Supertree Grove in Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay.

It’s difficult to say how successful this mall will be, but with a budget of $25 billion and the Emirati’s taste for excellence, I’d imagine the proposed system will be nothing short of spectacular.

 

Thanks goes to Christopher W for informing us about this project.



Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

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19
Feb

2016

Three Metro Atlanta Cities To Explore Urban Gondolas

MARTA proposed expansion. Image by MARTA.

MARTA proposed expansion. Image by MARTA.

Just days after we asked the question, “Will the US Become the Next Hub for Urban Gondolas?”, three metro Atlanta cities, Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, and Brookhaven have announced their intentions to study ropeways as a transportation alternative.

This means that over a dozen US cities are now exploring (or about to explore) Cable Propelled Transit (CPT).

Sandy Springs Mayor, Rusty Paul, has come out in support of studying all types of transportation, whether it is monorails, heavy rail or gondolas. However, what appealed to the Mayor appears to the cost-effectiveness and “fun” aspect of urban gondolas.

At this time, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) is the midst of some major debates over what could be worth $8 billion of transit investment. And yesterday, these plans took one step closer to reality as the Senate Transportation Committee approved a bill that would ask DeKalb and Fulton residents to vote on a half a penny to expand transit.

This vote may occur as quickly as November 2016 and if passed would set the stage for the state’s largest infrastructure project.

What is perhaps the most interesting is that the language of the first bill specifically required expansion through “heavy rail”. However, “heavy rail” was amended to “transit” before the current bill was approved.

This is great news to all transportation professionals who believe that techno-zealotry has no place in today’s transit debates. As urban planners, we feel that every transit proposal (and associated technologies, whether it’s LRT, BRT, CPT etc) should be assessed equally based on merit, and not one’s preconceived notions.

Slowly but surely, this is starting to hold true for gondolas.


Special thanks to Jonathan D. for sharing this story with us. 

 



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