Aerial Technologies, Lesson 4: Funitel

Post by Steven Dale

The Hakone Ropeway Funitel in Japan.

My absolute, all-time favorite aerial cable technology is a little-known configuration called The Funitel. The technology was originally created by Lift Engineering, Inc. an American company (that mercifully no longer exists) with one of the worst safety records in the industry. While the concept behind the Funitel was ingenious, the engineering wasn’t. It wasn’t until Poma/Leitner and Doppelmayr/Garaventa got their hands on the concept and reworked it that the Funitel truly came into its own.

It’s now one of the safest, fastest, most high-capacity aerial cable technologies in existence. And it looks fantastic!

Like BDG technology, the Funitel uses two cables for support and propulsion. However, unlike the BDG, both cables in a Funitel are in motion. If you’ll recall, in a BDG configuration one cable is stationary and used for support whereas a second, moving cable is used for propulsion. Not so with a Funitel. In a Funitel configuration, both cables are used for both support and propulsion. For anyone whose been following The Gondola Project, you’ll recognize immediately that this is very much like a traditional MDG system.

Now for the confusing part: Modern Funitels only use one cable. While it appears that a Funitel system uses two separate cables, in reality one single, double-looped cable creates the effect. In some literature, the Funitel is actually referred to as the DLM or Double-Looped Monocable.

A single, double-looped cable creates two sets of parallel ropes running in opposite directions.

Like most advanced Cable Propelled Transit systems, the Funitel is a detachable technology. The system uses a pair of grips that suspend the vehicles between each pair of cables. This unique design allows for extreme wind stability and safety. Funitels can operate in the most inclement weather conditions and wind speeds of over 100 km/hr. Like other detachable systems, intermediate stations and corner-turning are easily implemented. Maximum spans between towers, while not as long as those associated with the 3S, are still impressive at 1,000 metres.

The Galzigbahn in St. Anton am Alberg in Austria. The Funitel technology used allows for extremely long spans as well as safe operation in high wind and snow conditions. Image by Steven Dale.

Funitel Stats:

  • Maximum Speed: 27 km/hr.
  • Maximum Capacity: 4,000 -5,000 persons per hour per direction.
  • Maximum Vehicle Capacity: 24 – 30.
  • Cost: $15 – $30 million (US) per kilometre (approximate).
  • Maximum Span Between Towers: Up to 1 km.

Despite the obvious strengths of the Funitel, one of the most appealing aspects of the technology is the look of it. Most aerial cable systems dangle from their cable, giving them a sometimes comical, awkward look. Even I admit that when talking about cable as transit, it’s hard to take a gondola seriously. It’s my opinion that much of that is due to the appearance of the vehicles.

Most gondolas are asymmetrical, lanky objects that look not unlike ornaments on a Christmas tree. There’s no front, no hood, no face to the vehicle. They don’t look like any kind of vehicle we know or are familiar with. It’s a psychological issue of design that I think implicitly holds the technology back. As a colleague of mine once said: They just look too goofy.

That’s why I love the Funitel so much.

The Funitel is compact, stocky and purposeful with more than its fair share of moxy. It doesn’t just hang around. It doesn’t dangle. The Funitel’s dual grip provides visual balance and symmetry to the vehicles and eliminates the junky-looking grip arm that characterize all other gondola technologies. The elimination of this arm lowers the profile of the vehicle, making it slicker, sleeker and aggressive. It looks and feels like a sprinter crouched down ready to dash towards the finish line. The Funitel moves with an aggressive purpose as if to say “don’t bother me now, I’ve got things to do.” It just looks and feels right.

For cable to truly make in-roads into urban transit, vehicle design and aesthetics is going to becoming very important, very quickly. The industry has already established that they have a technology that is competitive (if not superior) to traditional forms of transit and the technology is advancing at a rapid pace. The engineering is beyond repute. The real question then is, can the industry design vehicles that have a pleasurable aesthetic that matches their engineering prowess.

The Funitel is one of the first steps towards that answer.

Proceed to Aerial Technologies, Lesson 5: Aerial Trams

Return to Aerial Technologies, Lesson 3: BDG

Creative Commons image by Lin1000.tw

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.

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.


  1. While the cabin itself might look more appealing than MCD, BCD or 3S, the Funitel Masts are very massive as the outer cable has to be supported from the outside. It is already a challenge to place a normal mast in an urban environment let alone one of those monsters. Also it is possible with other technology to make slight turns at masts, Funitel cannot do it, as the two moving ropes need to be strictly parallel all the time. Urban gondola system most likely need to make more turns as in alpine resorts and without the use of corner stations.
  2. With your stats, particularly for speed and maximum span, are these the top for systems that have been built or are they believed to be the top for the technology? For example, is 3S better than Funitel at spanning long distances or is it just the technology that was chosen to build Peak2Peak?
  3. Eric, The major advantage with 3S over Funitel technology is the ability to cross long spans. Funitels can span up to 1km without an intermediary tower, whereas 3S technology can span (as of writing) over 3 km without an intermediary tower. That was the reason 3S was selected for the Peak2Peak. The trade-off for that long span, however, is incredibly large tower infrastructure.
  4. I'm sorry, but Funtitels® are unsuitable for urban ropeways. The advantages of Tricable Ropeways Detachable (3S) in relation to Funitels® are: •on the track are few moving parts, their maintenance, repair and replacement are usually expensive and time consuming, •Most moving parts are on the gondolas, it's easier to repair gondolas in the gondola repair garage •less energy is needed to move ropes with less mass •less rope deflection sheaves are needed than with Funitel®-System •less energy is required, the cables are easier to bend / deflect at the deflection sheaves ( less friction loss ) •the ropes are more durable, because the thinner traction cables don't wear off so rapidly as haul ropes, rope exchange means high costs and idle times. •the track cables can be more tensioned and do not sag, and so you don't need so high supports(towers), •longest tension fields (up to 3 km, max. 600 m in cities) without supports(towers) can be bridged.

Leave a comment

You can add images to your comment by clicking here.