What Does the Future Hold for London’s First and Only Urban Cable Car?

Post by Gondola Project

On a recent trip to London over the holidays, we had a chance to tour the Emirates Air Line Cable Car again and examine how its role may evolve in the future. Image by CUP.

In less than half a year, London’s Emirates Air Line Cable Car (EAL) will be six years old. This means the system’s £36 million, 10-year sponsorship deal with the Emirates will have just four years remaining on its contract.

As the system matures, we thought it would be interesting to not only provide readers with a brief update of the gondola lift but to mull over what the future may hold for the cable car.

For those who have followed the ropeway’s history since its inauguration in 2012, you’ll be aware that EAL has received its fair share of praise and criticism. As a result, the cable car has been a fascinating and often discussed case study for industry observers.

For the critics, they have been able to aptly point out several mistakes made by the cable car’s project developers: 1) It was incorrectly described as public transit at the start; 2) It had signed a sponsorship deal without vetting potentially controversial terms; 3) Its alignment, location and pricing made it unattractive for commuters; and 4) It experienced some pretty serious cost overruns.

For all of its shortcomings however, the system does have its own fair share of successes: 1) It has been ranked as one of Transport for London’s (TfL) best transport lines; 2) It operates without a subsidy; 3) It continues to attract a steady flow of riders; and 4) It operates with an outstanding level of reliability at 99.4%.

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5 Top Urban Gondola (and Ropeway Related) Stories in 2017

Post by Gondola Project

The last 12 months has been an another eventful year for urban gondola systems and ropeway technology in general. La Paz’s continued expansion of its massive gondola network combined with a flurry of proposals worldwide has made 2017 another incredible year. In this post, we take a moment to review some of the biggest events and stories from the past 12 months.

1. La Paz Leads the Way

Unsurprisingly, the Bolivian capital makes it to the top of our list.

Three years ago, La Paz-El Alto embarked on an incredible journey to revolutionize the city’s urban transport network. The Austrian ropeway giant, Doppelmayr alongside Mi Teleferico, now operates five Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) systems in the city. In March 2017, one of the world’s largest urban gondola projects (the longest system in La Paz-El Alto), Blue Line (5.0km, 5 stations), was successfully inaugurated. During its first weekend, the system recorded a peak of 41,000 passengers in one day. Today residents fly high above the skies of El Alto before descending into the valley below on the Red Line.

A few months later in September 2017, the 4-station Orange Line (Spanish: Linea Naranja) invited riders to hop aboard with Bolivian President Evo Morales kicking off the celebrations. The Orange Line effectively extends the Red Line eastbound by another 2.6km and will be integrated with the upcoming White Line.

Effectively, the two new urban gondolas not only increased the length of the city’s rapid transit network by 76%, it also added nine more stations (7 if you only count the two transfer stations as one station each).

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Four other urban gondolas are currently under construction (e.g. Silver Line, Light Blue Line, White Line and Purple Line) with three of these expected to begin commercial service in 2018 (e.g. Purple, White and Light Blue).

And just a few days ago, the system officially recorded its 100th million passenger! Once the cable car masterplan (Spanish: Red de Integración Metropolitana or RIM) is all said and done by ~2019, passengers will be able to ride nearly 34km of aerial lifts spread over 39 stations.

Conceptual design for Toulouse’s “South Urban Gondola” at CHU Rangueil station platform. Image from SMTC-Tisseo.

2. First “True” Urban 3S

At the moment, mass transit cable cars are nearly all built with Monocable Detachable Gondola (MDG) technology. However that may soon change as Gothenburg (Sweden) and Toulouse (France) are in a close race to see who will be the first to build a pure transit 3S cable car.

To clarify, while the Koblenz Cable Car and the Rittner Cable Car is often referred to as an “urban gondola”, these systems can’t be considered true “public transit” cable cars since it largely provides a recreational transport function.

Based on current scheduling, Toulouse is set to open its system by 2020. However, in November, the proposal had a slight setback as it had to modify its route and build a new station at US$6 million (€5 million) to avoid travelling over a high school.

Conceptual design for urban gondola in Gothenburg, Sweden by Group A. Image from forlivochrorelse.se.

Gothenburg on the other hand has also been steadily planning and designing its system for the past few years. It currently is scheduled to inaugurate its cable car by 2021 as part of the City’s 400th year celebrations. However, a recent court challenge by a losing consortium could cause some slight delays.

Other upcoming urban transit 3S proposals that have been publicly announced include the Téléphérique Pont de Sèvres – Vélizy, Wuppertal Seilbahn, Likoni Cable Express and the Réunion Téléphérique (Bellepierre to La Montagne).

Albany hopes to connect its downtown to the nearby Amtrak station in Rensselaer. Image from Capital Gondola.

3. Studies Galore in North America

North America is home to a few public transport ropeways: the Portland Aerial Tram, Roosevelt Island Tram, the Telluride & Mountain View Gondola and Mexicable. All these lines have been successfully implemented and continue to provide reliable, safe and efficient transportation to tens of thousands of passengers daily.

Mexico’s first public transit gondola, the 7-station Mexicable, opened in 2016 and carries an average of 29,000 riders per day. However, within the English-speaking countries of North America, a transit cable car hasn’t been built in 10 years since the Portland Aerial Tram was opened in 2007.

Given the precarious nature of project development, it’s difficult to ascertain how many projects are fully active, but in the last couple of years, the total number of publicly announced urban cable car proposals in North America has exceeded 40.

San Diego alone has already studied 3 alignments!


The IGA 2017 Ropeway provides green, barrier-free and near silent transport across the 100+ hectares of event grounds. Image from LEITNER Ropeways.

4. French and German Developments

As the most populous nations in Western Europe, a number of French and German cities are finally coming to grips with ropeway technology.

In fact, France is one of the world leaders in rope-propelled solutions as the country is estimated to have over 3,600 ropeways while Germany ranks ~5th globally with over 1,800 lifts. Last year, Brest became the first French city to build an urban transit cable car (albeit with limited success due to malfunctions and an accident) while Berlin saw its first recreational cable car in over 50 years at IGA 2017.

At the time of writing, more than 20 proposals were located in France while Germany has seen more than 10 proposals. Within the Parisian Region alone, more than 12 proposals have been identified. Perhaps the most geographically distant and remote location to integrate urban gondolas into its public transit network is the proposals happening in Reunion, a small French island commune in the Indian Ocean.

The Metrocable over top the Santo Domingo barrio. Image by Steven Dale.

5. Latin America Remains on Top

The success of Medellin’s Metrocable Line K (2004) has catapulted urban gondolas to forefront of modern city building unlike anything that transit planning has seen in decades.

While interest has been growing around the world, Latin America continues to dominates the urban transit gondola market. Cultural affinity, geographical proximity and similar socioeconomic conditions perhaps has facilitated this process whereby six Latin American countries operate a total of 17 aerial transit cable cars. This represents about 50% of all the urban transit cable cars in the world.

Barring some sort of global economic recession, as the urban ropeways mature and expertise is developed, more and more cities around the world will likely find inspiration from the continued success of the urban gondolas in Latin America and beyond.

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Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car — One Ropeway, Three World Records

Post by Gondola Project

Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car. Image from Zugspitze.

Rising to a height of nearly 3,000m above sea level, Zugspitze is Germany’s tallest peak and one of the country’s top visitor destinations. The summit is part of the Wetterstein Mountains and is located at the very south of Germany (90 minutes drive/100km from Munich), near the Bavarian (German) – Tyrolean (Austrian) border.

After six years of planning and construction, the new US$42 million (€50 million) state-of-the-art Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car is expected to redefine how people travel to and experience the summit. With its public opening scheduled for December 22, 2017, visitors will once again be able to soar to the pinnacle in just 10 minutes and experience the excitement of alpine recreation.

From the German side, the new ropeway will complement existing transport modes such as the Bavarian Zugspitze Railway and Zugspitze Glacier Cable Car (Gletscherbahn) that provide access to the mountain range.

Zugspitze Map from the German side. Routes for the Bavarian Zugspitze Railway, Zugspitze Glacier Cable Car (Gletscherbahn) and the Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car (Seilbahn Zugspitze) are all coloured in red. Image from Zugspitze.de.

For the new aerial tram, visitors will begin their journey at Eibsee (bottom station: 998m) before ascending 1945m to reach the Zugspitze summit (top station: 2943m).

The old Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car, built in 1963, was outdated since its low capacity caused long wait times for its 500,000 annual visitors. As a result, local stakeholders decided in Spring 2015 to replace the system with a modern ropeway that not only improves passenger comfort but also brings the Zugspitze experience into the 21st century.

The new ropeway, built by the Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group, is 4,466m in length and has increased its line capacity by more than 90% (580 pphpd vs 300 pphpd). The two old 44-person cabins have been replaced with two spacious, two-storey high 120-person cabins.

Effectively, the Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car has furthered pushed the boundaries of what’s technologically possible for rope-driven systems. A total of three impressive world records has been achieved:

  1. Highest steel structural tower for an aerial tram: 127m
  2. Largest height difference in one section: 1,945m
  3. Longest free span for a passenger ropeway: 3,213m

Diagram outlining major technical details for the cable car. Image by dpa_infographik.

The longest free span record has increased by an extra 189m in comparison to the previous record held by the Peak 2 Peak Gondola (3,024m free span). And compared to the old cable car which spanned 4,450m over two towers (65m and 85m high towers which were once the world’s tallest), the new ropeway only has one massive 127m steel tower which enables an incredible 3,213m free span — that’s nearly 30 football fields in length! 

View of the 127m tall tower. Screenshot from YouTube video by afpde.

No matter how you look at it, the Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car is a system of superlatives and an incredible feat of engineering. Interestingly, an examination of the system’s history revealed that the desire to ascend the Zugspitze has been a catalyst for transport innovation. 

Online articles suggest that Zugspitze has long been the centre of what some may call a technological competition between Austria and Germany. Without getting into details (you can read more here and here), there was essentially a rivalry in the 1920s to see which side could first build a transport connection to Zugspitze. The Austrians constructed the Tyrolean Zugspitze Cable Car in 1926 while the Germans responded with a rack railway in 1928-1930 and the Eibsee Cable Car in 1963.

Map of the Zugspitze area provides location and relationship between Austria’s Tiroler Zugspitzbahn cable car compared to Germany’s Eibsee Seilbahn cable car. The rack railway is not shown here. Screenshot from Google Maps.

Online commentators suggest there are pros and cons to experiencing the summit via Germany/Austria so visitors simply need to choose one (or both if you’re willing to pay separate tickets). 

While we’re not historians here by any stretch of the imagination, one can’t help but to think what the Austrian reaction would be to the new record-setting Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, the new cable car will reignite competitive spirits and we’ll soon witness more ropeway innovation. 🙂

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World’s Steepest Funicular Opens for Passenger Service in Stoos

Post by Gondola Project

Schywz-Stoos Funicular. Image by Pakeha.

We first found out about the Schywz-Stoos Funicular (German: Standseilbahn Schwyz–Stoos) five years ago when we went to visit friends in the small Swiss village of Stoos. After construction kicked off in July 2013, the long-awaited ropeway project has finally come to a completion.

The world’s steepest funicular has a route length of 1,704m and climbs a jaw-dropping maximum gradient of 110%/47.7°. For the technologists reading this post, it might be important to note that the Katoomba Scenic Railway is actually steeper with a 128% slope. However, some consider it an inclined elevator/railway as it does not have two counterbalanced vehicles that is found on funiculars.

Bottom station. Image by Pakeha.

Top station. Image by Pakeha.

Technical note aside, the Schywz-Stoos funicular is an incredible feat of engineering no matter how one might look at it. Built by Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group, the system can travel at speeds of 10 m/s and transport 1,500 persons per hour per direction. Starting at Schlattli (562m), the system travels to Stoos (1306m) in just 3-5 minutes.

The most fascinating feature, of course, is the eight futuristic 34-passenger cylindrical cabins (four cabins on two trains). The vehicles were designed to remain horizontal throughout the entire journey.

Funicular travelling up towards Stoos. Image by Pakeha.

Unlike standard funiculars which have graded vehicle compartments built alongside a set of stairs for boarding/alighting, this new funicular has an inclination adjustment system. This means passenger loading is completely level, helping ease access and comfort for passengers of all mobility levels. At the front of each train, a rotating platform has also been built to allow for freight delivery. Clear separation of passenger cabins and freight delivery will improve rider comfort.

While the funicular is primarily a recreational system for transporting visitors from Schywz to the tourist village / ski resort at Stoos, the new system doubles as a public transit line for the 150 locals living at the top. This is important as Stoos is a car-free town with restrictions on vehicular access.

The US$52 million (CHF 52 million) project was financed with funding from the federal government, canton, district and municipality (54%), capital shares (6%), and debt (40%). The final project price was a 17% increase from initial cost estimates due to stricter technical regulations, added civil infrastructure and longer construction time.

To celebrate this momentum occasion, locals in the region were offered free passes on Saturday while the public were offered discount prices on Sunday. For those who can’t visit the system in person, fear not, readers can now ride vicariously through YouTube on the many videos uploaded online. Enjoy! 🙂

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Photo of the Week: Frozen Waters – Songhua River Cableway

Post by Gondola Project

🚡 looking over the vast river landscape of ice. #emojisinthewild #China

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The weather outside is frightful. . . .😖🌨#negative21c

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Is the Dresden Suspended Railway the World’s Most Fascinating (or Unusual) Cable Car System? 

Post by Gondola Project


Is it a monorail? AGT? Or an upside down funicular? Image by Hans Rudolf Stoll.

At the expense of sounding overly dramatic, the Dresden Suspended Railway may very well be the world’s most fascinating or perhaps unusual urban transport line. Built in 1901 on the slopes of the River Elbe, the 273m long system takes 4.5 minutes to climb 84m from the lower district of Loschwitz to the top of Oberloschwitz.

At the onset, the system looks a lot like a suspended monorail travelling on rails. However, the vehicles actually don’t contain any onboard motors for propulsion, rather, the vehicles are attached to and propelled by a cable. Operationally, it functions like an aerial tram or a funicular which have two counterbalanced vehicles shuttling back and forth.

In the transit planning world where practitioners and enthusiasts are often fixated with organizing technologies (e.g. buses, LRT, HRT/subways, monorails, CPT and etc.) into specific typologies, the Dresden Suspended Railway is perhaps one of those unique systems that slips conventional categories.

Dresden Suspended Railway travelling up towards Oberloschwitz. At the upper terminal, passengers can make their way up to the building’s roof and take in spectacular views of the City.  A cafe and museum is also available at the top. Image by Herbert Frank.

Unlike most aerial systems which travel in straight lines, the Dresden system travels with a slight curvature near the bottom terminal. Image by Kora27.

So from a definition standpoint, where does the Dresden Suspended Railway fit in?

From online sources, it seems to be placed somewhat correctly/incorrectly in articles related to “Suspended Railways“. But by general standards of what it means to be a “Cable Propelled Transit (CPT)” system, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to classify it as part of the CPT family. Perhaps a more accurate term is “Suspended Cable Train (SCT)”.

However, SCT isn’t likely to catch on anytime soon since Dresden, Memphis and Hiroshima are the only cities in the world with these contraptions.

But perhaps it doesn’t really matter what the Dresden system is. Rather if we analyze it purely from a performance perspective, it appears that the system continues to play an important transport function. Today, the city-operated system still attracts 300,000 riders annually despite it being over a 100 years old and having a higher fare than the rest of the transit network (€4 on cable car vs €2.30 on regular transit).

Chances are, given its uniqueness and heritage status, many of its riders will be of the recreational type. While some transit purists may disregard the system as merely a “toy for tourists“, it might be easy to forget that tourist riders are an integral part of a successful public transport systems.

In fact, many of the world’s most respected transit agencies build and operate recreational transport systems to complement their transport network (e.g. MTR’s Ngong Ping 360, TfL’s Emirates Air Line, and TMB’s Teleferic de Montjuic). Arguably, if a transit system lacked tourists, it’s likely a sign that it isn’t very attractive nor useful.

From a transit technology perspective, perhaps what is most exciting about Dresden is related to the precedence that it can set. While fusing cable-driven systems with suspended rails may not be appropriate for the majority of urban transport applications, chances are, there will be scenarios where this hybrid technology should be subject to further consideration and scrutiny. After all, transit isn’t always purely about function.

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Tower Design Lesson from Disney World Skyway

Post by Steven Dale

Walt Disney World Resort recently released new details about their Skyliner transportation system (here, here and here) — a topic I’ve been researching in hopes of a more fulsome analysis in the near future. During that research, however, I came upon something rather arcane that to a lot of people is probably rather mundane. But, trust me, it isn’t.

During our research about the Skyliner, I came upon this image of Disney World’s gondola, nicknamed the “skyway.”

Image from PlanningforDisney.com

What do you notice in this image?

Here’s what I notice — A series of benches. A flowerbed. A fountain. A clock. And a whole lot of people congregating around the base of the gondola tower.

Simply plunking a gondola tower into the middle of the public realm would be a non-start for a company as meticulous as Disney. Instead of seeing the tower as a liability, the staff who designed this system chose to turn the base of the tower into a focal point within their space.

We oftentimes hear clients complain about the towers. That they are unsightly and ugly. Which is, to some extent, true. But so is a lot of urban infrastructure. What’s interesting here is that system designers paid no attention to the tower itself. The towers pictured are off-the-shelf components of their time and era and it would be hard to imagine any special design or customization being put into their fabrication.

Instead, designers focused on the seam where the tower meets the street. That, after all, is where the majority of people will actually interact with the tower. It’s an elegant solution that costs thousands of dollars rather than the millions of dollars some people spend on customized towers (Portland and London, for example).

From the myriad of images of this system online, it’s clear that not all of the tower bases were given such a treatment with the answer as to why not likely lost to time.

As cable propelled transit systems slowly penetrate into urban realms, there will be increased scrutiny as to their impact on the surrounding public space and urban fabric. That’s why this precedent is so important. The Disney skyway shows in great detail how simply re-imagining this “ugly” piece of infrastructure can turn it into a focal point for public recreation. Urban gondola planners should take note.

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