Aerial Trams



Zingel Seilbahn: The water ballast tram

Preparing for take off!

The Obermatt – Unter Zingel Seilbahn in Switzerland is a cool old aerial tram that is powered, well, by gravity. Built in 1923 by Remigi Niederberger, the system still functions today. It is one of the last remaining water ballast tram systems.

The ropeway consists of two open-air “cabins” that have a spot to sit and a tank for water, cleverly built into the back of the seat. To hoist a person up from the bottom station, the tank at the top is filled with water and the weight of this water ballast is enough to counter balance the lower cabin (up to 100 kg) and run it up the mountain.

The system is simple, cheap, and surprisingly fast. (In fact the seilbahn can reach 45 km/h, which is the speed of any present day aerial tram.) There is no motor or no modern communication system. The operator at the top slows the cabin with a manually operated drum brake.

This video below beautifully illustrates how the Zingel Seilbahn works. [link]

Aerial Trams / Engineering
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Meran 2000 Bergbahn

The Merano 2000 Bergbahn. CC image by Flickr user Alexander Klotz.

There is more than one intriguing feature to the Meran 2000 Bergbahn, an aerial ropeway built in 2010 at the Merano 2000 ski resort in South Tyrol, Italy. At first the it may appear to be a simple (yet stunning) two-cabin tram — the stations are small, the system branded a vibrant red, and the cabins large (each cabin can hold 120 people.) But there’s more…


A view from the mid-station. Image from Merano 2000.

First off, the system has three stations, not just two. And even more interestingly the mid-station consists of an underground waiting area, a large lattice pylon (tower), and a bridge. Yes, I said a bridge. Essentially, because of the alignment, the mid-point is located in a rather difficult location (apparently mid-air?)

Instead of constructing a really tall station that would reach to the ground below (which would be more costly and require a larger footprint) or re-aligning the system, engineers decided to span the distance between the cabins and nearest parallel mountainside with a large metal and cantilever (with support) bridge.

Now, when I say cabins, I mean cabin. The other point to this design is that as far as I can tell, only one cabin can utilize the mid-station since the bridge only reaches as far as one side of the tower. This is more obvious in the diagram below.

The bridge is entirely static except for the last bit which folds down for the approaching cabin once it has come to a complete stop. You can see the bridge in action in this video (or here):

Another intriguing aspect to the mid-station is that the cabins only stop when requested. If everyone is going to the top (or bottom) station, the system will continue past the mid-station/bridge. Only when the “request a stop” button is pushed does the cabin stop. (This reminds me of some other form of transit … oh right, buses and streetcars!)

As previously mentioned, the Merano Bergbahn stations are small. And by small I mean really narrow. Since the system is a reversible aerial tram there can never be more than one cabin at each end station at any given time. Therefore to save space the loading/unloading platforms in these stations are moveable, sliding back and forth depending on which side the cabin is on.

The base station with its sliding platform. CC image by Flickr user Alexander Klotz.

Other than being really awesome, a big reason for the small size (at least at the bottom station) was to stay away from the river, which would have led to additional complications and cost. If station sizes can be reduced to avoid naturally occurring obstacles, imagine how they could be designed to fit into urban contexts…

Finally, the last point to note is the architecture, which is really rather striking.

The top and bottom stations are mostly concrete but clad in a ruby red metal mesh. The top station also has a bistro which is almost entirely surrounded by windows — I can only imagine that the view is spectacular.

Mountain Station by day. Image from Merano 2000.

Mountain Station by night. Image from Merano 2000.

As a final observation, one video I watched showed the inside of one of the cabins. And it was equipped with a bike rack, which seemed rather appropriate to point out especially as a feature for urban systems and as a follow up to a recent guest post about bikes on transit. In this case it is definitely a feature that seems like it could be removed for the winter to allow more room for people and skis.

The Merano 2000 biker friendly aerial trams

In conclusion, if you’ve ridden on this system or have anything to add, tell us in the comments! We’d love to hear your thoughts.



Sky Ride – 1933 Chicago’s World Fair

I accidentally stumbled upon this ad while reading the Economist on my subway ride home. Image by Zurich.

A week ago Julia provided us with a very sound analysis of using CPT technology in Chicago. Little did we know (or maybe we did), but suspended cable car technology already has a fairly colourful history in the Windy City.

The Sky Ride travelled at 6 mph or 9 kph across a lagoon. Image by Voice of America.

The Sky Ride was built in 1933 for the Chicago’s World Fair and was heralded as the fair’s architectural symbol and show piece. During its one year operational period, it’s estimated that the 32 “rocket riders” (i.e. cabins) helped transport 4.5 million passengers!

While some debate whether this ride should be considered a transporter bridge or an aerial tram – given it’s past success, perhaps a discussion of this system could be used as a launchpad to further develop the Chicago Cable Car proposal.




Yoshino Ropeway – World’s First CPT?

Gondola Project largely began because we noticed that there was a lack of accurate online educational resources on cable technology. Over these past years, we’ve helped a lot people from all backgrounds learn more about CPT systems by separating fact from fiction.

As we know, despite our best efforts, a gap still exists within cable literature (especially with the Algerian cable systems), due in large part to language barriers. While we initially thought that the Roosevelt Island Tram was one of the world’s first CPT system, we may be 47 years off.

Yoshino Ropeway is a 350m long aerial tram system that takes riders up to Yoshino Mountain in about 3 minutes time. Image by

The Yoshino Ropeway (website is in Japanese) in Yoshino, Japan was built in 1929, and is considered the oldest operating and surviving cable system in the country. It may very well be the earliest example of Cable Propelled Transit on the planet

According to Wikipedia, it not only provides transportation for tourists wishing to access Mount Yoshino, but it is a form of public transport for residents living in the vicinity.

As can be seen from Google Maps, the cable system is highly interconnected with the transit network – the Yoshino Railway Line is only a short walk from the Senbonguchi gondola station. This system is 82 years old and aside from cabin and cable updates, it still operates with the same infrastructure and span. Surely, this system is a testament to the reliability and durability of cable transport.

Interestingly enough, the system is likely a highly endeared and cherished local landmark – the two cabins are actually named: Kaede (Maple) and Sakura (Cherry).

Here is a video that gives you a full tour of the system. Enjoy!


If anyone has more information and insight on this unique cable system, we’d love to hear about it.



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?



Aerial Tram Greaser

From the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs series: How to maintain and grease an Aerial Tram. Very informative. (Note: Aerial Tram segment begins at 1:40.) Thanks for pointing this one out to me, Nick!

Aerial Trams
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6 Iconic (and Important) Aerial Trams

The other day I was pretty hard on Aerial Trams for being obsolete, expensive and inefficient members of the cable transit family. Because of their place in history, however, many of the most iconic and important cable transit systems ever built were Aerial Trams, a point I failed to mention. Here are 6 of them:

6. The Vanoise Express

The Vanoise Express in France. Image by hchalkley at flickr.

One of the world’s only double-decker Aerial Trams, this Dual Shuttle system in France can carry a whopping 200 people in each cabin! Opened in 2003, the system was shut down in 2007 for repairs after a vehicle operator failed to slow the vehicle down upon entering the station. The accident caused no injuries and the system was reopened the following season. Read more

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