Photo of the Week: Telecabine Lisboa

Post by Nick Chu



Chicago Skyline: An Intriguing Proposal

Post by Steven Dale

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.



Roosevelt Island Tram: 40 Years of Cable Transit

Post by Nick Chu

From a temporary transport solution to now an iconic symbol of Roosevelt Island, the Roosevelt Island Tramway has come along way in its 40 years.

Today it continues to provide the millions of annual commuters and visitors with a high level of service between the island and Manhattan. Most residents cannot comprehend a life without the tramway.

While the system did experience a few headline grabbing incidents along the way, the system remains one of the safest and reliable forms of transport in New York. In fact, since 2010, riders have been treated to a fully modernized aerial lift with even greater availability, capacity and wind resistance.

To help celebrate the 40th birthday of the Tram, we’ve gathered a few of our favourite photos of the system!

Queensboro Bridge and Roosevelt Island Tramway (ca 1981). Image by Edmund Vincent Gillon via MCNY.

Queensboro Bridge and Roosevelt Island Tramway (ca 1981). Image by Edmund Vincent Gillon via MCNY.

#rooseveltislandtram #newyork #nyc

A photo posted by Jimmy Greco (@photosbyjimmygreco) on



Photo of the Week: Mi Teleférico – Yellow Line (Linea Amarilla)

Post by Nick Chu

La Paz A photo posted by tyson wheatley (@twheat) on



Teleférico de Santiago to Reopen in July 2016

Post by Nick Chu

After being shut down for 7 years, Teleférico de Santiago (or Teleférico Parque Metropolitano) is now scheduled to reopen in July 2016.

Teleférico de Santiago. Image from biobiochile.

Teleférico de Santiago. Image from biobiochile.

This 2.0km cable car was originally built in 1980 and connected users to the largest urban park in Latin America, Parque Metropolitano. Soon after it opened, it became a popular attraction for both visitors and locals looking for recreation in the Chilean capital.

Since it was closed for modernization in June 2009, the system has been completely updated with new cabins, ropes, drive systems and control devices. To improve the level of service, the system’s capacity and speed has been upgraded to 1,000 pphpd and 5 m/s (from 960 pphpd and 4 m/s).

The system’s 3 stations – Oasis, Tupahue, and Summit – provide users with fun and easy access to different parts of the large greenspace including gardens, pools, and a cultural center.

At the top station, visitors arrive at the Cerro San Cristobal (845m, second highest point in city) and have sweeping views of Santiago and the Andes. From here, visitors can take another cable-driven system, the Funicular de Santiago, back to the Pio Nono park entrance.

As the park is preparing to celebrate its 100th birthday, officials and residents alike are excited at the prospects of once again riding in one of the city’s most beloved attraction.

For those who can’t wait until July, a video of the journey can be seen here.



Photo of the Week: Mexicable Sneak Peek

Post by Nick Chu

Hoy en el próximo teleférico de ecatepec #mexicable #nofilter

A photo posted by Edgar Castellanos (@edgardsgn) on

#mexicable #ecatepec #teleferico

A photo posted by Edgar Castellanos (@edgardsgn) on



World’s Longest Multiple Section Aerial Tram Reopens – Mérida Cable Car

Post by Nick Chu

For those who have been following events in South America, news from Venezuela haven’t exactly been the most bright and cheery recently.

In fact, it has been downright terrifying as observers predict the country is on the brink of economic, social and political collapse.

Mérida Cable Car. Image by Flickr user Wilfredor.

However, if we could find a silver lining to all this, the Mérida Cable Car (Spanish: Teleférico de Mérida) has finally reopened after nearly 8 years of inoperation.

Calling it a “cable car” is somewhat misleading as the Doppelmayr-built ropeway is actually a 5-station network of aerial trams designed in four sections:

  1. Barinitas – La Montaña (3.4km)
  2. La Montaña – La Aguada (3.3km)
  3. La Aguada – Loma Redonda (2.8km); and
  4. Loma Redonda (3.0km).

To give a short background, the aerial trams were originally built in 1960 for ~$16 million with the help of Swiss, German and French personnel. However, after nearly 50 years of operations, technicians determined in 2008 that system components were now operating well beyond their intended life span.

The cable cars were subsequently shut down and it was not until last week before the system was reopened for “pre-commercial” testing. With the modernization program complete, it will hopefully reinvigorate the local tourism industry as the cable car was Mérida’s top attraction.

And it’s not hard to see understand why the ropeway was so popular — it offers passengers unparalleled panoramic views of the city and nature as they fly from the foot of the Andes (1,577m) to the top of Pico Espejo (4,765m).

Views from Pico Espejo and cable car. Image by Flickr user Nancycven.

While reports online have constantly coined the system as the world’s “highest” and “longest”, this is only partially true — depending on how you define it.

It’s top station is located at 4,765m, which is about 78m lower than the Dagu Glacier Gondola for the world’s highest passenger ropeway. However, at 12.5km in length, it does currently stand as the world’s longest multiple section aerial tram network.

Each cabin holds about 60 persons (40 seated, 20 standing) and the entire 4 section journey takes about 40 minutes to complete. The system is expected to finish its pre-commercial phase and then officially open its gates to the general public in 3-4 months.

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