Posts Tagged: Research

13
Jan

2010

Cable Shut-down

Yesterday, in Lenggries Germany, a gondola system malfunctioned stranding dozens of riders in mid-air. Helicopters were were used in the rescue. There were no injuries. The system was built by a subsidiary of Thyssenkrupp, a manufacturer with little experience in cable transit.

Detractors of cable technology – I’m certain – will use this as evidence that cable technology is not reliable or safe, but the facts suggest otherwise. Problem is, those facts are too often silent.

In his book, The Black Swan, the philosopher, empirical skeptic and financial guru, Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes a phenomenon called Silent Evidence. Silent Evidence is a body of evidence on any given topic that fails to present itself because no one ever talks about it. For example, in the realm of entrepreneurship (he states), we believe risk-taking to be an inherent quality of a successful entrepreneur. Problem is, it’s a dubious claim because there have been literally millions of risk-taking failures but because we never discuss those failures, the evidence they offer becomes “silent” and doesn’t count.

Same deal for cable.

There are tens of thousands of cable systems around the world, the vast majority of which never receive an iota of attention because nothing remarkable ever happens to them. But the moment a problem does occur – as did yesterday – the media pounces.

But does the media respond over a jumper on a subway platform? How about a mid-intersection fatality caused by a light rail vehicle? How about a car crash? How about an hours-long service disruption? How about a Windows computer virus?Of course not. Why? Because those incidents are common; they happen everyday.

There’s a simple rule that can tell you all you need to know about the safety and reliability of any given technology: The degree of media coverage a given technology’s failure causes is inversely related to the chance of that failure’s occurrence.

That’s why we read about airplane crashes; they’re exceptional. If they happened every day, we wouldn’t be interested.



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12
Jan

2010

Aerial Technologies, Lesson 1: Introduction

With most traditional transit technologies, there is little consideration about the variations within that technology. A bus is a bus; a streetcar is a streetcar; and a subway is a subway. Sure, there’s variation between suppliers and models, but those differences are negligible compared to the overall technologies themselves.

That’s one of the real competitive advantages traditional transit technologies possess over cable: Understanding them is simple, and that makes them highly attractive to time-constrained planners, policy-makers and politicians.

Cable is not so simple. While the basic concept behind all the modes remains the same (a vehicle propelled by a moving cable), the variations between the modes tend to cause confusion.  Beyond the 4 major families of Cable-Propelled Transit (Gondola, Aerial Tram, Funicular, Cable Car), there exists a wide range of cable transit modes, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

The key to cable is understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each respective mode and then matching the right mode to the right environment. It’s kind of like pairing wine with food: You’ve got to know the subtleties to do it right.

Over the coming months, I’ll describe these modes and give appropriate examples (probably one per week). But to begin with, let’s just get an idea of how many different modes there are:

  • Monocable Detachable Gondola (MDG)
  • Bicable Detachable Gondola (BDG)
  • Funitel
  • Pulsed Gondola
  • 3S
  • Funicular
  • Traditional Funicular
  • Cincinnati Funicular
  • Hybrid Funicular
  • Aerial Tram
  • Funifor
  • Cable Car
  • MiniMetro
  • Cable Liner
  • Cable LIner Shuttle

There are other modes, too, but these are the major ones. Like I said; it’s just not as easy as “a bus is a bus.”

Proceed to Technologies Module, 2: MDG



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07
Jan

2010

What Changed?

(Check out this fascinating video of a San Francisco Cable Car in action, days before the 1906 earthquake. Tnanks to Ron Wm. Hurlbut for pointing it out!)

Lot’s of people have asked of me a variation of the following question:

If cable’s so great, why did we change all our cable cars to electric ones 100 years ago?

It was a question I wrestled with because it’s valid. Not many people know this, but prior to the electric streetcar, North America had hundreds of miles of cable car systems running throughout their cities. They were eventually abandoned in favour of electric streetcars.

So again, the question is this: If not then, why now? Why is it that cable cars proved less economical than streetcars 100 years ago, but today we’re finding cable to be more economical?

I have some ideas and I think it comes down to the simple fact that things change. What things? How about these:

1. The price of labour has gone up . . . a lot.

2. Cable transit is now automated, streetcars and light rail typically are not.

3. Fully dedicated rights-of-way allow cable to exploit that automation and become safer in the process which they could not do historically (see above video).

That’s just a guess, mind you, but it’s not a wild guess. What do you think?



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06
Jan

2010

January 28th, 1882

Chicago, 1890s. Library of Congress

January 28th, 1882 is one of (if not the) most important dates in Cable Transit history. On that blustery winter day, C.B. Holmes opened the first cable car in Chicago.

It was the first time cable was shown to be economical in such a snowy, icy, windy environment. It was also the first known instance of cable cars installed in an absolutely flat city.

The Chicago City Railway cable cars operated at 23 km/hr and within 5 years were carrying 27 million passengers per year. Remember: This was 1887! They were also among the most profitable and extensive in all of North America.



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03
Jan

2010

Grip Module, Lesson 4: Corners

Gondolas turn corners by automatically switching from one cable line (blue) to another in intermediary angle stations (orange circles)

Corners are important because all cities have them. If your transit technology cannot turn corners, you cannot exist in cities. It’s just that simple.

As I said before, however, no one has taken the time to explicitly and simply explain how cable deals with them. For those who’ve never encountered Cable Propelled Transit before, you may not even believe CPT can turn corners.

For the sake of ease, I’m just going to talk about Gondola systems. Cable Cars are a whole other issue, one that I will get to in the future. Know, however, that Cable Cars can turn corners with or without detachability.

For Gondola systems to turn corners, however, detachability is an absolute prerequisite. An attached gondola, for all intents and purposes, cannot turn corners because corner-turning is dependent upon detachability (let’s pretend that’s a word, okay?).

If you’ll recall from Grip Module, Lesson 2 detachable grips allow cable gondola systems to stop at intermediary “angle” stations. This same technique is used to allow gondolas to turn corners by locating the opposing terminals of two separate cable lines in the same station. A gondola enters the station, detaches from the first cable line, is decelerated then moved through the station so that it aligns perpendicularly with the second cable line. The gondola is then reaccelerated, attaches to the second cable line and departs the station.

A Gondola Angle Station

This technique allows gondolas the flexibility to realize an almost infinite number of configurations. Furthermore, deceleration at the angle station is not a prerequisite. Gondolas can switch lines in angle stations at operating speed without the need to slow down.

Most (but certainly not all) turning stations are too large right now, admittedly (as the image above implies). The above image, it should be noted, is not merely a turning station, but a turning station coupled with a maintenance bay. It is therefore a very large station. Unfortunately it is the only photo I have of the internal workings of a turning station. One thing the cable industry should pay attention to is slimming the profile of their stations which is entirely possible given the technology.

Proceed to Grip Module, Lesson 5 (coming soon)

Return to Grip Module, Lesson 3: Atttachable Grips



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01
Jan

2010

Passenger Safety


As cable transit is fully automated, operators can focus on passengers and their needs, rather than road traffic.

It’s a new year, folks! Congratulations, we survived another one!

My column yesterday attracted the site’s first Rabble and I don’t expect it to be the last. Among “thickslab’s” (please don’t post anonymously on this site, folks, and try to be respectful) concerns was the issue of passenger safety. I don’t mean in the sense of a technological failure (a rarity anyways), but in the sense of conflicts between riders and undesirables.

Is this a legitimate concern? Yes and no. It’s legitimate in that every time we choose to leave our front doors (or even when we don’t) we risk harm by other people. It’s just a question of how we minimize those risks. It’s not a legitimate concern in that the risk is no greater with cable than with any other public transit technology:

  • Being in an elevator with someone you don’t know?
  • Taking a taxi cab with a “foreign” driver.
  • The end of a subway platform where monitors aren’t installed.
  • A public-access stairwell late at night.
  • A subway car whose driver is 5 cars away.
  • Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera.

Most public transit cable systems use closed-circuit television in each car. These live feeds are monitored continually by staff located in stations or in an on-board monitoring station. As vehicles are equipped with additional communications devices, safety is as close as the nearest station. Smaller vehicles also mean that those communication devices are typically closer at hand to passengers than larger vehicles.

When staff spots or is alerted to an issue, security personnel and staff can be dispatched immediately to the station whereby the perpetrator can be apprehended. Furthermore, vehicles that carry a large number of passengers almost always have an attendant in-vehicle at all times.

Additionally, as operators and staff do not have to worry about contending with traffic and the actual driving of the vehicle, I’d argue that they are more capable of attending to the safety of passengers because their attention is not focused on “the road.” In the picture above, you can see the “driver” of a cable vehicle in Innsbruck who can actually monitor the activity of all five cars he’s responsible for.

This is simple fear-mongering and it doesn’t work: Even after last week’s unfortunate attempt by a youth to bring down an airliner bound for Detroit, hundreds of thousands of people still continue to fly (with unnecessary hassle, by the way).

People accept that a life lived around other people is a life that involves some degree of risk. But most of us choose to ignore that risk and live a happy life.

I would, however, be interested to know statistically-speaking how many passenger incidents occur in public cable systems as opposed to public non-cable systems. If anyone has any information on the matter, I’d love to see it.



Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

26
Dec

2009

The Gondola Project on Flickr

Since no one on Boxing Day really wants to spend their time learning about anything, and no one has any real need to go anywhere by transit (hopefully), I’ll lay off today.

Instead, I’d just like to draw your attention to the new Flickr badge on The Gondola Project sidebar. Clicking it will take you to The Gondola Project group hosted by Flickr.

As you know there’s scant research out there on Cable Propelled Transit. The Gondola Project Flickr group exists to help alleviate that problem. It allows people to browse images of CPT from around the world. We already have dozens of members and hundreds of photos, but we’re always looking for more.

This is how research is going to be done more and more in the future. One guy sitting in a cubicle reading a report that no one else has ever read (or ever will) just can’t compete against a whole world of people pulling together in a common direction.

Get involved, we’d love your help.



Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.