Safety

23
Jan

2013

The “Sky Road” Ropeway in China’s Yushan Village

We’ve seen our fair share of primitive, simple ropeways around the world, especially in China (link 1, link 2) where cable is often used to connect remote, mountainous villages.

And today, we can add another one to this exclusive list — the Yushan Village “Sky Road” Ropeway in Hubei Province.

In the past, the 200 villagers who use this system had to trek several days before reaching the nearest town but today, can simply glide across the 400m deep gorge in mere minutes. Take a look — and try not to look down.

The Sky Road Ropeway stretches 3200 ft long (~1km) across a gorge. Image from dailymail.co.uk.

While this system looks like something that was built in medieval times, in reality, the Sky Road is only 16 years old.

What’s even more incredible is that Zhang Xinjian is the ropeway’s only remaining operator and is responsible for all aspects of maintenance, including the weekly lubrication of the cables and daily upkeep of the diesel engine.

Zhang Xinjian hard at work. Image from dailymail.co.uk.

Passengers using ropeway to transport goods and materials. Image from dailymail.co.uk

 

The work by Zhang is undoubtedly commendable but as we’ve discussed in the past, there is probably need for much more involvement from the cable industry so to ensure that these systems continue to operate safely and to avoid any unnecessary accidents.



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27
Nov

2012

The Punisher Attacks The Roosevelt Tram

In our never-ending quest to document how the world of Hollywood fiction views cable cars and all mass transit as a mortal threat to your safety, we give you this:

Need we really say more about this?



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17
Jul

2012

What Can We Learn From The Pakistan Cable Car Accident?

Vernacular, improvised ropeways in places like Pakistan, India and Nepal are common. They are often over-crowded, poorly built and maintained and too-often are involved in accidents.

As we’ve demonstrated before, cable cars, ropeways and gondolas are amongst the safest transit technologies in the world.

But that doesn’t mean accidents don’t happen.

A few days ago in Pakistan a cable car system snapped, sending 8 passengers plunging into the swollen Indus river below. No survivors were reported.

A similar incident occurred last year in Nepal.

But before everyone jumps to conclusions and assumes this is typical of the technology, please remember that both of these systems were improvised, vernacular installations. These human-powered systems tend to be hand-built by locals lacking the proper resources to build effective installations. Incidents such as these are often characterized by low-capacity vehicles overloaded with passengers straining the system’s upper limits past its breaking point.

Yes cable transit systems are safe – but only when designed, built and installed by qualified, knowledgeable professionals with access to the proper tools and resources. That stands for virtually any product.

The reality is this: These types of systems exist in plenty throughout the developing world. In regions where topography reigns supreme and money is scarce, these improvised are going to flourish. In many ways, that’s a good thing. Here are people using their own know-how and limited funds to solve very clear mobility challenges. We can’t fault them for improving their lot.

What we can do, however, is assist them in their endeavours. So while no one doubts the tragedy of these incidents, they do point to clear opportunities for the cable industry to both do some good and increase their market presence:

1. Most major corporations make donations to some charity or another. How about an in-kind donation of a slimmed down, professionally-designed system that can stand up to the rigours of these environments?

2. Development money in these parts of the world is a-plenty. Why not create a low-cost ropeway system specifically designed for this market?

3. A combo approach of both one and two: How about partnering with local development agencies and offer in-kind donations of ropeway services to check on these various installations, report on their safety and rehabilitate them where necessary?

4. How about setting up ropeway engineering schools and programs in these isolated areas to educate the locals about proper techniques and providing the necessary resources to realize those goals? Or take it one step further and build small branch-offices to do just that but within an existing corporate structure?

As the cable industry becomes more-and-more a player in the city building and urban transport markets, corporate social responsibility (CSR) will necessarily become a key part of their marketing strategy. And that’s not going to be a choice.

The major ropeway manufacturers will be compelled by market forces to engage with communities such as these in unique and innovative ways simply because the current city building industry privileges those companies that do. City building, whether we wish to admit it or not, is a pay-to-play game.

So rather than run some bland, run-of-the mill CSR endeavour, how about spotting opportunities to get a little dirty and actually do some good?

This is clearly one such opportunity.



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17
Aug

2011

Paraglider Cripples Gondola

Image via The Local.

Last week a German paraglider crashed into the cables of a Bavarian gondola. The incident trapped 20 people in the gondola for 17 hours overnight.

There were no injuries or fatalities and all parties were rescued via helicopter.

Does this mean gondolas are unsafe? No. It means accidents happen. For example:

Take 5 minutes to google various combinations of words like; metro, accident, stranded, subway, etc. and you’ll see that accidents with various public transportation technologies aren’t anything special – indeed, they’re common.

Much more common, in fact, than accidents involving cable cars and gondolas.



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09
Mar

2011

Woman Spends Night In Gondola Cabin

Last week in British Columbia, a 25 year old woman spent 12 hours overnight stuck in an Excalibur Gondola cabin at the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort.

The woman was unharmed and the incident was chalked up to “human error.”

Problem is, incidents like this will always put a damper on things. Anytime a city wants to explore a gondola transit project, there’s always going to be some guy in some room who stands up and points out the story of the woman who was trapped in a gondola for three days before anyone noticed.

Note how 12 hours is inflated to 3 days when dealing with some guy in some room retelling a story he’s using to reinforce some point he’s trying to make to someone.

It doesn’t matter that the protocols one implements in an urban setting (such as cctv, intercoms and daily vehicle cleanings) would preclude a problem like this from ever happening. The fact that it did happen is too good a story for people to pass up.

As cable grows in the urban market, you can be sure that people are going to pay more and more attention to the moments when it doesn’t work as planned. The fact that cable does what’s it’s supposed to do 99.98% of the time just isn’t that good a story. Reliability is a good selling point, but unreliability is a better story.

Politics and advocacy is as much about stories as it is about stats, polls and votes. The cable industry has to learn how to manage those stories and understand that as they become the new kid on the block, there’s going to be more and more people waiting to use stories like these for their own political, financial and personal gain.

And you thought your hotel room was small. Image by flickr user Andrew Smith.



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07
Jan

2011

Sugarloaf Chairlift Accident

An image from the scene of the Sugarloaf incident. Image via Boardistan.

Last week a chair lift at Sugarloaf Resort in Maine derailed injuring 8 people, none seriously. Nevertheless, the story was all over the news and internet.

But as I’ve argued before here, the degree of media coverage a given technology’s failure causes is inversely related to the chance of that failure’s occurrence.

So while it may seem counter-intuitive to believe, the fact that you actually saw a news report about a ski lift accident is evidence of the technology being really quite safe.

According to the National Ski Areas Association:

  • there have been a total of 12 passenger fatalities involving ski lifts in the United States since 1973. This works out to 0.17 passenger fatalities per 100M passenger miles travelled.
  • An additional 3 fatalities involved employees, trespassers and other incidents. If one were to include these 3 fatalities with the 12 described above, one arrives at a figure of 0.21 passenger fatalities per 100M passenger miles travelled.
  • The last known gondola / aerial tram fatality occurred at Vail, Colorado in 1976; 4 passengers were killed.

Of course these numbers do not include non-ski lift area cable systems. But given the relative rarity of such systems in the United States, I think it reasonably fair to assume few if any additional fatalities. And while I could be wrong about this, I am unaware of any fatality in the recent history of aerial cable systems in urban areas of the United States. There have also been no fatalities associated with the Metrocable systems in Medellin and Caracas according to officials I interviewed last year.

Just to put things into perspective, the National Safety Council’s 2010 Injury Facts reports that in 2008:

  • 39,000 Americans died in motor-vehicle accidents;
  • 6,162 pedestrians were killed;
  • 6,700 died from unintentional public falls;
  • 3,800 died from unintentional public poisoning;
  • 3,600 people drowned while swimming in public areas;
  • 900 died while bicycle riding;
  • 129 died from tornadoes;
  • and 25 died from lightning.

That’s right, folks. You’ve got a better chance of dying in a tornado or lighting-related accident than you do riding in a gondola.

(I want to follow-up on this post with a comparison to other standard transit technologies. Data-gathering, however, is proving quite laborious. Stay tuned.)



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22
Nov

2010

What Can We Learn From Elevators?

Image by flickr user wilding.andrew.

The elevator is the world’s most used form of transit. Full stop.

Arguably, it defines contemporary urban culture even more than the private automobile. It is so common, so normal, we never even think about it. It is ubiquitous to the point of invisibility.

According to a wonderful article about elevators in the New Yorker, there are eleven billion elevator trips taken in New York City every year; 30 million every day.

Meanwhile, Otis (the world’s largest manufacturer of “vertical transportation” devices) claims their elevators move the equivalent of the world’s population every nine days.

Basically, without the elevator cities as we currently know them would disappear and be replaced with something entirely different than what we currently experience. Low-rise, European cities of no more than 6 stories would become the norm. And because density couldn’t be packed into one or two spots surrounded by a sea of bungalows, places like Tampa would be replaced with places like Vienna overnight.

Hong Kong would cease to exist entirely.

And yet they’re as safe as can be. Elevator accidents are incredibly rare. Cabins free-falling towards the ground (as one might see in the movies) for all intents and purposes just don’t happen.

Says the New Yorker: “An average of twenty-six people die in (or on) elevators in the United States every year, but most of these are people being paid to work on them. That may still seem like a lot, until you consider that that many die in automobiles every five hours (emphasis mine).”

So next time someone says to you that gondolas and cable transit aren’t safe, just remind them that elevators and gondolas are virtually the same technology – that is, a box attached to a very, very strong rope.

And like elevators, gondolas are about as safe a transit technology as there is.



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