Research Issues



What Happens When Lightning Strikes?

That was the question: What happens in the event of lightning?

I recently had lunch with a group of individuals that included a cable engineer and lightning was was the topic of conversation. I asked him about the issue and what solutions had been engineered to avoid service disruptions due to it.

Much to everyone’s reassurance, he listed a variety of methods to ground and eliminate the effects of lightning on ropeway systems. None were very new or expensive and most were rather straightforward.

In other words: Gondolas, when designed properly, will function perfectly fine in the event of lightning.

“Why then,” I asked, “do you not make those solutions better known?”

I hear worries about lightning constantly. Urban dwellers (or at least their planners, bureaucrats and elected officials), it seems, are worried that these electrical discharges could compromise a system. As lightning is a fairly common occurrence, a public transit technology that cannot deal with it effectively would be virtually useless as mass urban transit. Hence my question.

The cable engineer paused, thought it through and answered with a fascinating (and eye-opening) response:

“We just think no one would let us build these things if they couldn’t handle lightning. I mean, they must be able to handle lightning. We wouldn’t build them if they couldn’t. And because we do build them and are allowed to build them, then we assume people know that they can handle lightning… I guess we must think differently.”


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9 Cable Systems That Are Important (And Virtually Unknown)

Sometimes important things are hidden away in far off (or difficult to access) places. Other times, they’re nearby but finding information very difficult.

In any case, here are nine cable systems that have great potential for expanding our knowledge about Cable-Propelled Transit but are so isolated, bizarre or obscure, research is painfully scant.

I suspect part of the problem is language. There could be reams of information on many of the systems listed below, but that research isn’t available in English.

  • The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, Austrialia – A 7.5 km long system with four stations. Very sensitive to its rainforest environment and has won several eco-tourism awards. Built in the early 1990’s, it’s capacity was more than doubled a few years after it originally opened. It’s only 2,500 kilometers north of Sydney.
  • The Urban Gondolas of Algeria – A series of five urban gondolas built in North Africa. The first three have been completed already. The country still struggles with the lingering effects of a brutal civil war.
  • The Norsjö Aerial Ropeway, Sweden – Currently, the longest passenger ropeway in the world. Located a 12 hour drive north of Stockholm, so if anyone’s thinking of a road trip this summer . . .
  • The Ngong Ping 360, Hong Kong – A Chinese system with a rather difficult history. Finding reports on this system are very hard to come by.
  • The Koblenz Rheinseilbahn, Germany – A brand new system with some of the wildest looking cabins around. So new is the system, it’s very difficult to find any publicly-accessible information on it.
  • The Fun’ambule, Switzerland – A Hybrid Funicular like the Hungerburgbahn in Austria. This one is built by Doppelmayr and uses a different technique of adjusting inclination than that used by Poma in the Hungerburgbahn. Apparently, it operates underground.
  • The Fribourg Funicular, Switzerland – A funicular dating from the late 1800’s. It’s run exclusively (get this) using waste water.
  • The Gangtok Ropeway, India – An Aerial Tram with a mid-station. It’s the only fixed link transit system in this mountaintop city of 30,000. Find Gangtok on a map, and you’ll see just how isolated this system is.
  • The Makong Gondola, Taipei – Turbulent decision-making process. Very difficult to find information.

If anyone out there knows anything about any of these systems; has toured any of these systems; or can locate information on any of these systems, please tell us about it in the comments below.

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Where Do We Go From Here?

Last week, I think, was a turning point for The Gondola Project.

If you’ll recall – or if you’re just joining us (welcome, by the way!) – last week we talked about the Funivia del Renon in Bolzano, Italy (Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3). I had toured the system and had some insight into what was going on there, but much information was lacking. Too much, apparently.

Luckily, my ignorance wasn’t an issue. The community here at The Gondola Project all chipped in and dug up research that I either hadn’t or couldn’t find. That research was important and far more valuable than me just yelling ‘gondola’ over and over again. That’s important and I thank you all so much.

Given the global nature of what we’re trying to pull off here, distance, languages, time and culture barriers make comprehensive knowledge of every important system in the world impossible for any one person.

But as our experience with Bolzano shows, if we work together on this we can actually accomplish a lot. So with that in mind:

Where do we go from here? Any suggestions?

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Aerial Trams vs. Gondolas

I recently spoke with a cable engineer who thought it completely absurd that people use Aerial Tram statistics to negate the feasibility of Urban Gondolas.

When I told him such confusion was the norm rather than the exception, he became flustered. He simply couldn’t accept that people make that mistake. They’re two completely different performance packages! he exclaimed. They should know the difference!

Listen, if you’re a regular reader of The Gondola Project, then you know the difference between an Aerial Tram and a Gondola (MDG, BDG or 3S). You also know why Gondolas are more suitable to urban environments and fully-integrated CPT installations.

You know that Aerial Trams have long wait times, little ability to implement intermediary stations and corners, low capacities and high costs. You also know that a Funifor negates those problems to some extent but not without significant cost increases.

But not everyone reads The Gondola Project (probably the greatest understatement in the history of blogging).

This is why a post over at David Marcus’ Liveable Norwalk caught my eye.

In that post, David suggests a CPT system for his hometown of Norwalk, Connecticut. It’s a modest proposal; a 1.5 mile long 4 station line. It wasn’t, however, the proposal that caught my eye. It was the response.

Responding to the post was Cap’n Transit, of Cap’n Transit Rides Again. For anyone who reads the transit blogs, the Cap’n should be more than familiar. He’s a prolific blogger and commenter with vast knowledge about public transportation.

He also gets it dead wrong in his response to the Norwalk Gondola:

Says Cap’n Transit:

. . . the urban gondola was first introduced right here in New York City. When they reopen the Roosevelt Island Tramway, come down and try it. You’ll find that wait time has hardly been eliminated.

Says David in response:

I have to distinguish between a tram like Roosevelt Island and a gondola like in Medellin. When I speak of gondolas, I mean the smaller cars that hold 6-10 people and come by every 10 seconds or so.

Says the Cap’n:

Thanks, David! Do they really come that frequently in Medellin? Are there more than 10 people at a time who want to ride? Has anyone tried them?

In the Cap’n’s defence, he was open-minded enough to notice he might have been incorrect. But besides that:

Can the average person really tell you what the difference between an Aerial Tram and a Gondola is?

Does the average person know that the Roosevelt Island Tram is actually to be replaced with a Funifor-type system?

Does the average person know the difference between a Funifor and an Aerial Tram?

Problem, however, is not with the average person, it’s with the knowledgeable person. Cap’n Transit knows a lot about transit, but he clearly knows little about Cable Propelled Transit. And that’s not his fault! After all, we don’t know what we don’t know.

The cable engineer can complain all he wants that people should know the difference between Aerial Trams and Gondolas, but they don’t. Whose fault do you think that is?

And maybe more importantly: Do you think complaining about it is going to change it?

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Never Mind The Real World

If I gave you the choice between a transit technology that could carry 20,000 people and a technology that could carry 6,000 which would you choose? Clearly, youd choose 20,000.

Or what if I gave you the choice between a transit technology that operated at 100 km/hr or one that operated at 35 km/hr? Obviously youd opt for the faster one. Faster is better because faster means you get where youre going sooner.

And thats the problem.

Humans are irrational – no secret there – and were so hard-wired to grab the most of anything, well almost always opt for that which gives us the most. It doesnt matter that we dont even like three-quarters of whats on the Mandarin’s all-you-can-eat buffet, we just like to know the option is there.

So too with transit planners.

Theoretically, Light Rail carries between 6,000 – 20,000. Just ask Professor Vukan R. Vuchic, one of the only people to ever write a textbook on transit planning. His Urban Transit series of textbooks constantly state that LRT carries between 6,000 and 20,000 people. He also states that they operate at “maximum speeds (of) 70 km/hr or higher.”

Never mind that there’s no LRT system in North America that carries more than 4,000.

Never mind that there’s never been an LRT system built that carries 20,000 people.

Never mind the cost involved in staffing and purchasing vehicles that arrive every 1-3 minutes; the figure necessary to reach 20,000 people.

Never mind that the posted speed limit in most cities is 40-50 km/hr. To Vuchic, what matters is that Light Rail emcan/em go 70 km/hr or higher.

Never mind that Vuchic himself says that the average operating speed of LRT is as low as 15 km/hr.

Never mind that LRT stations are spaced 300 – 1,000 meters apart, completely preventing vehicles from reaching those top speeds.

Never mind stop signs, traffic lights, jaywalkers, slow-moving grandmothers, speeding teenagers and streetcar drivers who stop to grab a coffee while on the job.

In other words: Never mind the real world. Completely ignore what actually happens in cities and instead focus solely on what is theoretically possible. Focus on the text book and the equations in it, not the city block and the people on it.

Numbers like Vuchics are constantly used to justify technologies like LRT and we flock to them because they promise us the fastest, biggest, best technology around. It doesnt matter that the numbers prove otherwise. If you give people a narrative that appeals to them, they’ll believe it. Its cheap and easy politics and it’s not fair, but that’s the way it is. Nobody ever said life was fair.

When you’re talking about billion dollar contracts and thousands of jobs, should you really expect government and industry to play fair?

Cable can carry more people than the industry publishes. It can also travel at speeds faster than what they publish. Ridiculously simple innovations like double decker vehicles would double the capacity over night. But the cable industry seems to want to play fair. They only want to talk about what they’ve done in the past, not what they’re going to do in the future.

That’s admirable, but it hurts the industry’s chances.

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8 Ways To Define An Aerial Ropeway

Cable Propelled Transit is just one segment of a technology that has dozens of names, Aerial Ropeways being the most common. But what if you broke it down a bit more? Aerial Ropeways, after all, is a pretty broad term and one that’s not really applicable to the urban area.

So how about these:

  1. Resort & Theme Park Systems – Purely for tourism and recreational purposes, most typically found at ski hills. They’re located well outside of urban areas, or if they are in urban areas, they exist in theme parks and zoos. These are by far the most common of all cable and ropeway systems. You don’t need examples, because these are the ones most everyone are familiar with.
  2. Toys For Tourists – Systems located in urban areas, but existing almost exclusively for tourists. These are rarely built and almost always die on the table, rarely getting past the proposal stage. See here.
  3. Complementary Infrastructure – Systems that exist to service another more primary business need. They may carry commuters, tourists or business people. They are usually free to ride and exist as a kind of middle child between the resort systems above and the CPT systems below. Systems such as these are becoming more-and-more common, especially in airports and master planned developments such as casinos. The Mandalay Bay Cable Car, for example.
  4. CPT with Zero Integration – Urban systems primarily targeted towards local users. These systems have no physical or fare integration with existing transit systems or technologies. The Mount Avila system in Caracas, Venezuela is an excellent example.
  5. CPT with Physical Integration – Urban systems primarily targeted towards local users. Physical design of stations and the surrounding areas allow for ease of use and transfer between other transit technologies. But the systems suffer for lack of integration within the local fare structure. The Portland Aerial Tram, or the Innsbruck Hungerburgbahn for example. Like Zero Integration systems, they are very closely related to Toys For Tourists.
  6. CPT with Fare Integration – Urban systems primarily targeted towards local users and commuters. Systems suffer from a lack of physical integration, but benefit from being ticketed under the same fare structure/system as the surrounding transit network. New York’s Roosevelt Island Tram used to have Zero Integration, but since a deal was brokered in 2004, the system should be classified as one with Fare Integration.
  7. CPT with Full Integration – The holy grail of CPT. Local users benefit from full physical and fare integration schemes. Obviously the Medellin and Caracas Metrocables fall into this category.
  8. Educational Systems – One of the problems with explaining CPT is the lack of strong examples. Instead, it’s necessary to extrapolate and translate things learned from non-urban ropeways and apply those lessons to CPT in order to improve the technology. Educational Systems are all over the place. I’d suggest that almost all Aerial Ropeways are Educational, but some of the most important are the Grindelwald-First in Switzerland, the Norsjö Aerial Ropeway in Sweden, Vancouver’s Peak 2 Peak, and the Volkswagen Funitel in Slovakia. All have important lessons for anyone interested in creatively applying Aerial Ropeways in urban environments.

Can you think of other potential categories that were missed?

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The Confusion Behind 3S, MDG and BDG

In yesterday’s post, I alluded to the bizarre nature of term “3S.” Let me explain – and I warn you, this will make your head hurt:

The cable industry differentiates technologies like Monocable Detachable Gondolas (MDG) and Bi-Cable Detachable Gondolas (BDG) based upon the ropes/cables used. Great, you say. That makes sense. Monocables use one cable and Bicables use two. I get that. Problem is, the terms Monocable and Bicables are not used in that way.

For example, this is a Monocable Detachable Gondola:

Image by ** Parapluie **

And this is a Bicable Detachable Gondola:

Image by night86mare.

Still, this seems straightforward enough. In the pictures, Monocables use one cable and Bicables use two. No big deal. Here’s where things get odd though. In the cable industry, Monocable is used to describe a vehicle whereby one cable is used for both support and propulsion. This is why Funitels are often referred to as Double Loop Monocables. Despite appearing to use two different cables, a Funitel only uses one rope and uses it for both support and propulsion.

Despite appearances, Funitels are still classed as Monocable systems. Image by 123_456.

Bicables, on the other hand, are classed according to the principal that systems must have one rope (or set of ropes) for support and a second rope for propulsion. That means the 3S, which is named for having three ropes (two support ropes, one propulsion rope) is actually classed as a BDG system. This is why on websites like Lift-World you won’t actually find 3S systems in their database. You actually have to dig through the BDG database to find them.

Despite clearly using three ropes (and being named for those three ropes) the 3S is still classed as a Bicable system. Image by Derek K. Miller.

In other words, the terms Monocable and Bicable are both a reference to a specific technology and a reference to a group of technologies. Problem is, the references are highly misleading; do not conform to the common logic of counting the number of cables we see; and cause obvious confusion.

As I’ve mentioned before (here and here), cable nomenclature is complex and difficult when first encountering the technology. But the way in which sub-technologies and systems are grouped and classified are positively arcane and borderline ridiculous. This is a problem for the industry because it needlessly complicates already expensive and time-consuming planning research. If I want a Bus or Streetcar or Light Rail or Subway, I don’t have to worry about families, sub-groups and the like. I just ask for a Bus or a Streetcar or a Subway. It’s simple.

Worse still is the common occurrence of researchers and writers using the qualities (or lack thereof) of one cable technology to mistakenly discredit cable as a whole without actually understanding that there are huge differences between cable techs and the bizarre manner in which their organized.

Told you it’d make your head hurt.

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