Connecting Branson

Post by Steven Dale

(Today’s is a guest post by planner Michael D. Setty. Big thanks to Michael for taking the time to prepare this column for The Gondola Project’s readers – SD.)


Branson, Missouri is the “Country Music Capitol” of the U.S. Midwest, catering to more than eight million annual visitors with 50+ live performance theaters with 60,000+ seats, 18,800 hotel rooms, and 34,000+ restaurant seats. Missouri State Highway 76–only two lanes over most of its length–is the main connection between most venues in this community of 7,000. Not surprisingly, Branson is one huge traffic mess.

In 2006, a 6.5–7.5 mile automated, elevated guideway system paralleling State Highway 76 was studied by the City, along with bus alternatives. For bus options, Year 2030 patronage estimates ranged from about 3,500 daily passengers with no fares, to about 1,300 daily passengers with a $2.00 fare. Estimated guideway/connecting bus patronage ranged from a high of 20,300 daily riders with freefares, to about 8,100 daily riders with a $2.00 fare.

Branson simply cannot afford a $1.0 billion+ conventional automated, elevated guideway. Annual operating costs of $15-$20 million are likely based on the experience of similar lines. A “top to bottom” rethink of Branson’s growing traffic dilemma is clearly needed.

On November 19, 2007, the Branson City Council was visited by Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) advocates. To date, there has been no action on  the PRT concept. The developers of a 1.1 mile prototype PRT system at Heathrow International Airport in London, England, claim they will begin regular service this month (June 2010).

However, even if the Heathrow PRT system works and proves reliable, several years of additional development are needed before PRT systems at the scale required by Branson may become available.

In 2009, I developed a transit concept for Branson based on a mix of “old” and “new” technology, built around a “Park Once” strategy – that is, visitors should be able to conveniently access their destinations without driving, once they’ve parked the vehicle they arrived in at their lodging.

A Transit Center near the geographic center of Branson focus intercity travel modes such as passenger trains and intercity buses. This facility would also function as the central connection point for all local transit in the area. As proposed, the transit system would consist of the following services:

  • A 5.2 mile “rapid streetcar” line connecting downtown Branson, the Branson Landing development, the proposed Transit Center and Northwest Branson. Travel times of 15-17 minutes end-to-end were estimated. Replicas of “new old” New Orleans streetcars would be used, operating in 2-car trains at speed up to 45 mph.
  • Three Cable-Propelled Transit (CPT) lines fanning out from the Transit Center.
  • CPT Line No. 1 would operate westward along Highway 76 for 2.8 miles.
  • CPT Line No. 2 (2.9 miles+/-) would connect the Transit Center with downtown Branson eastward along Highway 76.
  • CPT Line No. 3 would run 2.1 miles north from the Transit Center to newer music, lodging, restaurant, and shopping venues towards State Highway 248.
  • Later on, a fourth CPT line (4.0 miles) could connect the Northwest Branson CPT/streetcar terminal with the Silver Dollar City Theme Park and Shepherd of the Hills.

Originally, I envisioned the CPT lines using guided cable car technology, such as those operated by several Las Vegas casinos. Yet, while bottom-supported cable cars appear suited for some markets, likely travel volumes within Branson strongly suggest that urban gondola technology is most suitable–and considerably cheaper to install. Assuming $20-$25 million per mile for modern urban gondolas, construction of Branson CPT lines 1, 2, and 3 should cost around $160-$200 million.

The 5.2 mile, double-track rapid streetcar line would cost another $150-$180 million, assuming mostly surface construction along available railroad and power line right-of-way.

CPT lines of similar length to those proposed in Branson each are estimated to cost around $2-$2.5 million annually to operate, e.g., atotal of $6-$8 million annually.

The proposed Branson rapid streetcar line is likely to cost around $4-$5 million annually to operate, based on typical streetcar operating expenses adjusted for lower labor costs in Branson compared to large cities.

This proposed rapid streetcar/CPT network would total 13+ miles, providing far more coverage of Branson area than the elevated guideway line studied in 2006.

Assuming free fares–perhaps financed by assessments on lodging, eateries and theater tickets–total patronage is likely to exceed 30,000 daily trips. That is, at least 50% higher than the most optimistic projections for 2030 included in the 2006 Branson Transit Study.

Michael D. Setty is the Principal-In-Charge at TransportationInnovators.com. He has more than 30 years of success in transit planning, operations, finance and management. He is also a dedicated transit advocate. Mr. Setty believes that effective, successful transit requires wise and creative application of proven methods and techniques, as well as proven “hardware.” In his view, while many new hardware ideas bring a “high tech” aura, in reality such ideas typically fall far short of their original hype. Mr. Setty’s transit advocacy website is http://www.publictransit.us. His consulting website is http://www.transportationinnovators.com.

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. A great idea! Traffic is horrible and something needs to be done about it. The problem is, typical road based transport will inevitably be unreliable and caught in traffic unless it gets its own ROW, which can be expensive financially and from a political standpoint as well. CPT might actually be a good solution to this problem. http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffrojr/2925044205/ A station like this for CPT would actually kind of fit in. I can totally imagine a Silver Dollar City station looking like that.
  2. Patrick Richmond
    I think that Michael Setty is a psychic or something. As much I would love to see public transit operate in Branson, there is no way in the world you could get an elevated cable car, have it make the stops at the theatres and hotels, and make the transfers easily. Plus you would have to buy elevators to get the handicapped passengers to and from the stops, you would need buses or vans to connect people to and from the stations. Not all theatres would have a tram stop at their door. And if the thing falls, then highway 76 is a mess and people that are trying to get to the shows end up mising them. The streetcar part is stupid because the track is active and owned by Union Pacific. There are no proposed dates on when the system would be in service, and what the fares would be. Michael needs to get his facts straight before he goes and does any more planning. I am not against public transit. I would love to ride it if it goes into service and would serve everybody.
  3. Patrick, Please be a little bit respectful. Having never been to Branson, I can make very few comments about Michael's proposal. At the same time I think before you say things like "Michael needs to get his facts straight," you should as well: 1. Please describe why there is "no way in the world you could get an elevated cable car" to work in Branson. 2. Why could it not stop at theatres and hotels? They already do in Las Vegas; a place which, I'm quite certain, deals with more passengers than Branson. 3. You would not necessarily need elevators to get disabled individuals to line level. Many systems bring the vehicles down to street level. And even if that were not the case, your argument is moot: Does that mean the disabled cannot use subways which are 2-4 stories below street level? 4. Your argument that "not all theatres would have a tram stop at their door" makes no sense. No transit system serves every destination along every route. That's the very nature of transit. You cannot hold against cable that which is true for all technologies. 5. "If the thing falls" -- Please tell me when the last time a cable car "fell" was, because I can assure you, it's a VERY rare occurrence. The last two times I'm aware of a vehicle "falling" were the following: A few years ago during testing of the Ngong Ping 360. Prior to that was when an American military fighter jet disobeyed orders and flew close to ground level in the Italian Alps tearing a cable car out with it. That was around 15 years ago. So unless you suspect the American military will be conducting fighter jet exercises in downtown Branson in the near future, I suspect this argument is somewhat irrelevant. This is not to say that I believe 100% that Branson should build cable. It's to say that it's an idea . . . an option.
  4. absolutely agreed with stevens post. it is just an option which needs to be considered. there are sometimes people that can sell products better than others and people which get attracted to better looking options. therefore it is crucial to look behind every opportunity. from my point of view the proposal looks kind of right and worth looking deeper into it. the technology for that proposal is already existing.

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