Glass Dome Escalator – Uenohara, Japan

Post by Gondola Project

Incline Escalator: As can be seen, the glass domed tube – when designed properly – can be aesthetically pleasing and a delightful piece of architecture. Image by Panoramio user tsushima. 

Last month, Steven discovered an interesting/unconventional use for funicular technology in Horw, Swtizerland. Essentially a small development was built on a hillside, with a funicular acting as an elevator. Instead of connecting floors in a building, it moved between houses on a hillside.

Because of this funicular, it largely increased the hillside’s market value and made the site developable.

At that time, it was thought that this type of development concept was rare but (perhaps) it’s more common than we initially thought — especially in land-constrained and topographically-challenged locales.

In Uenohara, Japan – a city of 30,000 people that’s an hour drive west of Toyko – there exists a variation of this concept. Instead of using a funicular to provide access on a hill, they decided to build a 230m long glass tubed escalator that connects the Shiotsu Train station (at the bottom) to the Komoa Shiotsu hilltop community (at the top). The development, which was started in the early 90’s, is now a vibrant community complete with amenities which include schools, supermarkets and clinics.

Exterior View: Glass Tube Escalator – Uenohara, Japan. Image from Wikipedia.

Interior View:  Escalator ride is ~6 minutes. Image from blog.livedoor.jp.

This glass domed escalator  is a fine example of an ingenious and simple solution that not only maximizes the development potential/property value of the previously inaccessible hilltop lands, it drastically increases accessibility for residents who are now directly connected to one of Japan’s main trunk railway lines. This escalator connection is also important for the rail operator as it increases its station’s catchment area which brings in more riders. All in all, a win-win situation for all parties.

Legend: ORANGE – Hilltop Community; RED – Glass Domed Escalator; PURPLE – Train Station. 

While the escalator doesn’t completely eliminate the need for vehicles (i.e. there is a winding road that connects to the community), it does encourage and enable residents to be more multi-modal.

This form of escalator/funicular oriented development is worthy of more research and discussion as it could be a potential solution that maximizes the use and efficiency of all lands within an urban setting.


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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. Within the glass tube - in addition to the escalator - there's actually a funicular style device that takes you up and down. There's a video of it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifwYnj5FINY Not entirely sure if its cable driven. Although it doesn't appear to be....
  2. Anyone else notice that the long series of stairs on the left side of the interior view seems to come to a dead end at the last landing? WTF?
  3. I noticed that too... didn't make much sense to me. There must be a logical reason why though.
  4. Regarding the funicular like device inside the tube at the Komoa Bridge, actually it is what some experts call "an inclined lift" or "inclined elevator". Even, there is another example of this indoor funicular, actually a lift, in Japan, at the Glover´s Garden in Nagasaki; they call it the Sky Road. Being an elevator (lift) it actually has intermediate stops, which are called from inside/outside the travelling cabin, by pressing a button, like in a vertical elevator. There are several examples of this type of inclined elevators in Europe. They are cable driven, some even make 4 to 10 stops (not exagerating), on demand, used in private condominiums, public access to tourist destinations, etc, etc. You have them indoors but most are outdoors. Some can only turn in one axis (vertical) but others can turn in two axis (vertical and horizontal) in order to follow the contour of the terrain. Most go from a bottom station to a hill top station, following the hillside contour. But some just travel in a straight line indoors and outdoors. The indoor inclined elevators are installed to access upper floors in malls, museums, etc, etc. Believe me, there are all sorts of permutations. It is a wonderfull thing. There is another variation, (please cable transit lovers... bear with me) that does the same job without cables. They call them Slope cars in Japan. They are, basically, miniature monorails using toothed steel wheels for traction, in the same fashion way cog rail works, but these slope cars use rubber wheels for support and guidance, believe me, only using one rail for tracction, support and guidance. They follow the terrain at slow speeds and can climb very steep gradients. They use them for private and public access to tourist destinations, resorts, all on hill tops, in several parts of Asia, even in Europe. One manufacturer in Japan, claims at his web page that they combined cable propulsion with linear motor propulsion on a rail suspended gondola system ( Some people would call it a cable propelled monorail). I looks fantastic. It is very imposing. It follow the terrain, suspended on tall poles, above streets, along a housing development. There are several manufacturers in Europe, Asia and even Oceania, for all of the aforementioned technology. I am anxiously waiting for the Gondola Project to publish an article on some of these transit solutions. I will enjoy reading the material. I apollogyze if I made it too long. Thanks for listening (reading).
  5. Hi Roger. I've never heard of the "cable propelled monorail" before. It sounds quite pretty cool. Do you have a link? Also: since you seem quite knowledgeable, if you're interested, remember that we accept guest posts as well.
  6. Hi Nick, and every one else. First of all, let me apologize for the delay answering your kind request. The cable propelled monorail that I'm talking about actually goes by two different names in Japan: a)Skyrail Midorizaka Line (スカイレールみどり坂線), please bear with my non-existent Japanese grammar; or b) Hiroshima Short Distance Transit Seno Line (広島短距離交通瀬野線). I hope I'm not offending any Japanese speaker or making a complete full out of myself. According to what I have gathered from multiple sources (fan sites, blogs, and the manufacturer site) it is a combination of suspension monorail and ATW technologies. In simple terms, It is a gondola, traveling suspended along and massive I-beam rail, in a fashion similar to other I-beam monorails (industrial or recreational), but , and here is the twist, the propulsion is provided by a traction cable in a centralized engine room like regular telepheric, ATW, gondola, aerial lift systems. The double track is supported by handsome cylindrical steel pylons high above ground, so the gondola (or cabin if you prefer) maintains a predictable distance from the street level and twisting like a giant serpent in the landscape (really sorry to say this, but cannot be matched by cable transit, for now). I suspect that the height of the track was calculated to minimize the visual intrusion in the community; that is, if you are standing directly below it or for the surrounding houses when you look out a window. Several Japanese cities are used to see this type of rail transit cutting through high above ground. It is been used as a feeder public transit line in an urban area. It connects a recent large urban development with a JR main line. There are three stations in the line, and only a single cabin; but it is a dual rail line, with return loops at both ends of the line, so it is not a jig-saw ATW. Rather similar to a detachable gondola systems, since the cabin or gondola is detached from the main cable & I-beam line at the stations, and it travels through stations propelled by a LIM system (as technical sketches show) instead of the usual regular motor driven rubber wheel chain used in cable systems. The stations are massive, a little "over-killed" but I suspect that they intentionally added extra capacity for future growth in ridership. They are kind of boxy buildings that look rather dull, if you compare them with notorious modern and traditional buildings in other places in Japan. But look very similar to the stations that are part of the two 'working' SAFEGE type suspension monorail systems in Japan (CHIBA & SHONAN). I would have used more athletic stations like the ones in the Dortmund system in Germany. To most European riders the boarding of the cabin would be very similar to climbing on a gondola system. The SKYRAIL travels above beautiful hills and houses in a handsome neighborhood, even using the median on relatively two-way narrow street. It turns vertically and horizontally as needed to adapt to terrain contour and avoid "sensitive airspace" above private homes, gliding above a suburban street. The way I see it, The SKYRAIL is a special tool for a special situation (not a unique situation though). There are plenty of large cities in Latin America and Asian countries that present similar topographical, cultural, logistical, etc, restrictions where a tool like this would be a very strong candidate as a solution for a transit system with the least amount of pain to daily life of street based commuters, pedestrians, businesses along the incumbent path. Japanese planners and engineers thought “outside the box” and came up with a solution that blends various available proven technologies to provide a service that fits the city causing minimum impact due to civil work along preexistent roads, and that it is not so visually intrusive. At times the track from the distance looks like a Roman Aqueduct, and the view from inside the cabin is like riding in a low flying helicopter above your neighborhood. I might even say there is some sort of Japanese poetry in its stance. It looks serene and majestic, at peace. It looks like a tourist attraction on its own. One might remove it from this tranquil community and locate it on a mountain side or at a trendy marine bay and it will stand out adorning the landscape (assuming you need to turn in all axes multiple times along very narrow paths). I have compared the projected shadow by the “see through” track along the path, and it is substantially smaller than any aerial metro track, even smaller than the one projected by the “safege” systems or even some “alweg” sytems. Only comparable in size to the shadow projected by the aerial cable people mover systems at mayor airports and in downtown Las Vegas. Like in any other transit system, there are pros and cons. The pros shouldn’t be overemphasized to glorify the system nor the cons to be taken out of proportion to minimize its benefits even to ridicule the system. Said this, I am glad there are engineers that are generating solutions and companies making products that increment the alternatives that city planners, municipalities, transit agencies and the like, have in their “bag of goodies” to choose from in order to be able to include, in the transit network, communities that are hard to reach with more conventional ground based transit systems. Since I haven’t requested authorization from the original owners of the media to provide you the pictures that I have for my personal enjoyment, I am not including them this time. Believe me, I have plenty. Some are gorgeous. But I will include couple of links so you can start surfing for information where I did (sorry). Since my Japanese is really poor, and the bloggers where I found some of the best pictures are ladies, I didn’t feel quite ready to beg for permission to use their material. I hope there are readers out there from Japan, or expatriates living there that can visit the place and provide all of us with nice pictures to visualize all I have stated. Best regards to all. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skyrail_Midorizaka_Line http://www.kobelco.co.jp/english/nr-eng/products/traffic/1178518_12598.html
  7. here is a link to another site, where there is a bit of more graphical information on the Midorizaka gondola line... http://www1.u-netsurf.ne.jp/~ichiban/skyrail/index.html Hope you find it useful.

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