Aerobus: Ahead of Its Time?

Post by Gondola Project

We may have posted this video earlier but recently there has been some comments about the Aerobus which made me revisit the technology.

Based off some quick Google searches, it seems like it has been awhile since anyone online has given Aerobus the time of day. The last news article mentioned that a few developments were made in Ecuador but there appears to be little word on what progress has been made so far (at least in the English language).

Digging through Gondola Project’s past blog posts, we ourselves actually had some interesting but cursory discussions on the technology (click here).

But after watching the Aerobus promotional video again last night, it got me thinking: was the Aerobus a technology that was ahead of its time?

Perhaps to partially answer that question, we can take look at the technology and its basic claims/achievements:

  • Capacity: up to 10,000 pphpd
  • Speeds: up to 60km/h
  • Headways: 60 seconds
  • Estimated cost: $23 million/km

Now some of the variables are hard to ascertain. Supporters may assert that a few pilot systems were implemented back in the 1970s-90s but I imagine that argument, unfortunately, holds little weight in today’s time.

On the flip side, we often contend that “No City Wants to Be First But Every City Wants to be Second” and that without the internet, cable transit may not be where it is today.

So let’s just assume that another pilot Aerobus was safely redesigned, financed, and implemented in a city, would the technology take off? I certainly don’t have a clear answer right now but it’s got me thinking more.

If the technology has ever had a chance to redefine itself and gain a foothold in the urban transport market, the time may be now. In comparison to the 70s, in today’s environment the Aerobus may have many of the necessary ingredients to succeed: escalating traffic congestion, massive urbanizing populations and the increasing need for innovative, green and sustainable transit solutions.

But I feel that I’m almost certainly missing something here and maybe readers with a greater knowledge of the technology and history can help provide guidance to this post. What are your thought? Am I onto something or not even remotely?

I’d love to hear from you.


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  1. Aerobus was ahead of its time ( curiously like the "Cabinentaxi" of german MBB as a PRT in the same period) , it was a brilliant idea , but its basically an "inverted tram" (streetcar for N.Americans). The main limitation that I see is that like a tramway , the incline feasible is <12% , and that impose only elevated stations or stops, since line could not climb. Capability were and are really those of a LRV or tramline on own right-of-way . Visual impact , though , is way more invasive respect a common MGD or ATW. Seems that the main operative issue at Mannheim, was the necessity to fix and tension the catenary spans every night...
  2. to build on your point about the visual impact: i think this is what I suspect had to do with its lack of uptake. the system design, while subjective, is probably not the most attractive. i presume that if this was improved, a lot more cities would be interested.
  3. I always thought the project in China was where Aerobus was perhaps uniquely well suited (except maybe for a cable car). Seemed a shame it didn't come to pass but since no alternative has been built who knows what will happen eventually? On the issue of nightly re-tensioning isn't that something that could be automated? Seems like a fatal flaw in the technology otherwise.
  4. There is a famous book , unfortunately out of print, in German language: Hans Dieter Schmoll: "Weltseilbahngeschichte" (booktitle translated: "world funicular history" ). There you can read: Disadvantages of Aerobus were o he could not climb or descent (the rails were marginally curved upwards, by the weight of the cabin they were lowered to a horizontal position). o the prototype for the Bundesgartenschau (Federal garden show) Mannheim 1974 has been built so that it could be easyly dismantled. This led to that the technicians had to tighten or replace up to 16,000 screws,. rivets or fasteners during 180 days of operating time. This prototype costed the inventor and designer Gerhard Müller most of his assets. Formerly existed another self-propelled system, called in French: "Téléphérique automoteur". One prototype system, (company: Neyrpic, in place: Le Deux Alpes, France). Before the opening, a downhill driving vehicle occupied with workers collided in a heavy snowstorm with a service vehicle. Both vehicles crashed 80 meters down and the plant and the principle never went into operation.
  5. Aerobus is a very interesting technology. It is very fast for a cable sytem. It coud have bends or curves. The principle allow the installation of switches/points, so 'off-line' stations and easy maintenance in a dedicated area. It was already tested and there was improvement from the original system (most interesting in the 'suspension bridge' system, allowing less deflexion and higher speed). Plus, all patents are now public domain. The current developper have new patents but I am quite doubtful about their interest. Probably an attempt to influence investors about the 'property' of the system. Particularly, the segmented 'caterpillar' original body design looks more clever than a monolithic body as envisioned in Weihai. The running way bolted on the cables is also questionnable. The project in Weihai seems stalled and so the future of this system doesn't look promising. As a general note, it shall never be forgotten that the lack of success of any system may not be related at all to its technical merits but way often to engineering/commercial/business organisation. This why the frequent critic 'if it was so good, it shall be already implemented' have ZERO value. Implementing a tranport system needs a lot of engineering and contracting that small actors are rarely capable to guarantee. It is very difficult to trust a small company with lack of engineering experience in big projects. Proponent of new systems or as here, rarely implemented systems have not necessarily the mindset required by large public project. My feeling is that a small entities shall first find a large engineering partner to help them and also give credibility to customers. But that mean they shall publicize a lot of technical details, which they are very reluctant to do, because these small entities have the feeling their only value is in this details. Unfortunately, developing systems and implementing them are two very different jobs, that a unique company can rarely do.
  6. Perhaps the Curvo-System, from India (https://www.gondolaproject.com/2013/06/19/curvo-ropeway-non-linear-aerial-urban-cable-cars-by-csr/) requires less material but cannot carry so many people in one hour like an Aerobus? What needs more energy: Transportation of a rope or transportation of electric motors?
  7. ...and some early and very crazy cable-propelled forest transportation systems from United States: http://www.heavyequipmentforums.com/showthread.php?26011-Manually-Operated-Motorised-Carriages
  8. The Neyrpic Self-Propelled cablecar effectively ended its story with the Jandri II/Deux Alpes 1972 accident , but they have a much more long success story - were conceived and realized the first time for the Grevelingen Dam construction in Holland "Deltawerken" project , where gave outstanding service and performances hard to obtain even today… Would like to write something about (I did some research) if is interesting.
  9. @ Guenther and PRZ: So basically the sheer cost of constantly replacing or tightening the screws was the downfall of the Mannheim system and probably the entire technology. And afterwards, my guess is that since the Aerobus company lost so much money, it was unable to fulfill its business development activities. I think PRZ, you make a fantastic point that a technology is not solely based on its technical merits, rather on many other factors. It's a shame that this technology hasn't seen any resurgence cause I think it was built and designed with good intentions. Perhaps the public domain of the patents will inspire some smart engineers to take this product to the next level (at least that's my hope!
  10. @ Re Forest Transportation and Neyrpic Cable Car Guenther : You find really amazing materials! I wish their was still some of these systems operating in the world... An article on these would be definitely interesting for the website.
  11. Thank you for bringing this up. I still think Aerobus was a good invention. It was ahed of its time, but strangly the time window to implement such a system is closed now. in the 70ies maybe it would have been acceptable to build an elevated system. While the track and Pylons of Aerobus look quite Ok, Large elevated station are required. And The cables need to be tensioned and anchored with massive underground structures. Now underground transit is the gold standard and even medium cities are building underground lines. This summer i visited the smallest underground in the World. Dorfbahn Serfauy in Tyrol Austria. While located in teh Ski resort of Serfaus it operates only in the town and could be built in any other town or city. Features. Rides on a air cushion (Hovercraft). So it has no wheels. Benefits. Almost no vibration inside and outside the vehicle. The weight is distributed evenly almost no wear of the track surface This means it can go closer to buildings and the tunnel diameter can be smaller. While underground, stations are almost at ground and can be accesed by a ramp. No elevators or escalators are needed. Pulling cables and guide rail are on the side, the track is just a flat concrete surface. Benefits: The guide way itself can serve as an evacuation route. A bicycle can be used as track inspection vehicle. A forklift can be used as maintenance vehicle. At least in Europe i guess small subways are the way to go. Cable propulsion can lead to very small low cost tunnels. The tunnel diameter is similar to a pedestrian underpass. And any company which is able to build a pedestrian underpass could build the tunnel for such a small subway.
  12. At http://www.aerobus.com/installations.html I can read: "Ste. Anne, Quebec, Canada / 1975 ~ 1992 Expanded to a suspended guideway length of 820 meters, about one-half mile, the system carried patrons of a ski area from their lodges to the lifts in all weather conditions. In May 1981, the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA), part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, inspected the operation and produced a most favorable report on the system." Hey guys YOU ARE in Canada. Could you research or find out the experiences with this Canadian Aerobus?
  13. Read about Mr. Parks (the video of this article is from this company) here: http://lubbockonline.com/stories/092400/bus_092400020.shtml and here: http://www.bizjournals.com/houston/stories/2004/04/19/story2.html?page=all . Dennis Stallings, Chairman of Directors from Aerobus China Inc., 245 Mccarty St., Houston, TX 77029 should'nt be a gifted salesman. better ask HIM about the future of Aerobus
  14. @Matthias - the problem with underground systems is that costs are always high and not easily forecasted , a similar underground funicular in Alagna practically bankrupted the historic Ceretti & Tanfani company . Most of the times , are simply out of reach of most communities. @Nick Chu - Self-propelled forest cableways , like those of Skyhook Pointer-Willamette , are in a simplified version in everyday use like Greifemberg Tecno https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9ywYQA553A or Konrad Woodliner https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drzr-RFUqOQ
  15. Forest ropeway: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlePskloleA Why not make such an "instant" cablecar for an exhibition?
  16. There is a similar project to Aerobus: The SKYTRAN http://www.skytran.us/skytran/ and the winner is.... Tel Aviv: http://www.businessinsider.com/tel-aviv-skytran-elevated-transit-system-2014-6
  17. @ GiorgioXT Any cost can be forecasted even for underground project. And in Italy it is very common that ANY project has MASSSIVE cost overruns. In Zürich a new Railway tunnel opened in time and budget. The official project was to widen an EXISTING (more than 100 years old) railway viaduct from two to four tracks. Now we ended with a new double track tunnel crossing under the busiest Station another railway tunnel a river and historical buildings. Wideing that old viaduct would have been much more cost efficient. But no chance to much opposition. In this environment is just impossible to build a new elevated line. People rather will pay a much higher price for an underground system. If coordinated with road building and other supply lines (water/sewage/electricity/communications) then a underground system is feasible. Especially when tunnel diameter and vehicle dimension and weight can be minimized by using a cable propelled system. The most travelled cable system in Switzerland are funiculars which are at ground or underground. The mist passenger ride the skymetro in Zurich Airport which is completely underground and also runs on air cushions.
  18. And there is an existing system, a mixture of a monorail line and a cable liner. At the station moved by a linear motor: Skyrail Midorizaka Line in Japan, described at Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skyrail_Midorizaka_Line). Like this, I believe we need a combination of Aerobus-rails with Aerobus curves and cable propulsion and linear motors for ascending the gondolas and eddy current brakes.
  19. I believe all single-car-PRTs (Personal Rapid Transit) like the MagTran are on a wrong way. "People have their own vehicle", a statement from the SkyTran Video on this website (http://www.skytran.us/videos/). You see, they want to sell their system, but they don't understand anything about mobility or transport planning.With vehicles for two persons they replace car jams on five-lane-highways with five-lane-MagTran Jams and subsequently with expensive parking and then also garages for private Mag-Tran-vehicles and special parking areas for the company bosses. The cabins look stylish, but it is not a mass transit system. The critical challenge (of all single PRT cars) is the stop station. What happens, when 200 commuters come in the rush hour, but only 5 vehicles have their place there? Then the main access path is congested? Jam? Or let's wait for the first lightning strike that paralyzes one single vehicle on the route (like a robomow lawn mower is paralyzed by lightning but cable-car systems too) and then you have the jam in the first floor. Immature technology. Good for a single circle, but not a mass transportation system.
  20. The Midorizaka Skyrail was made by Kobe Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries , but they have built just that line - more than 20 years ago and no else since then , instead they are building and selling "traditional" heavy monorails . There's scarce info on that system, but it seem heavily overbuilt and overcomplicated for a short line with a single curve and no intermediate stops. Maybe a "showcase" system? @Matthias , boring underground will always come with some surprises, as also in Switzerland knows well … just look at "Swissmetro" fate.
  21. Swissmetro was a project of running a maglev in a vacuum tunnel at very high speeds. The actual tunnelling would have been the least problem. The diameter would be very small so not much excavation would have been needed. Making the tunnel air tight to hold a vacuum would have been the challenge. But that not needed for an urban system. The Gotthard Base Tunnel will be the longest railway tunnel in the world and was built under the Alps. cost overruns because of Geological reasons is 4.5%. cost overruns because of political and legal delays 6.3%, cost overruns because of increased safety level of teh railway installation 8.5%. this is for a massive 57 km long tunnel and a project which took 20 years to complete. Durchmesserlinie (Weinbergtunnel and Bahnhof Löwenstrasse)n Zürich opened in time and budget. Maglev has a very small loading gauge and also not much vibration. Subwaycars have the floor more than 1m above the rail because the wheels need space. This will increase tunnel diameter. also when going near to building the need a special track to reduce vibration this needs also space further increase tunnel diameter. A system without wheels can therefore use smaller tunnels. A cable pulled train on air cushions is much easier and cheaper to install and run than a maglev. For small capacities we do not even use air cushions. Did you know that in some mines chairlifts are used to transport the miners. A gondola can run underground. A funitel would use the tunnel diameter very efficient. One advantage of CPT is that it can negotiate steep gradients. It will need some thinking in 3 dimension . Above and Underground. A CPT will have very short ramps when going from elevated to underground. Monorail including Aerobus have a huge loading gauge and will use huge tunnels. So automated guidway transit like VAL are more popular because they can be built elevated , at ground or underground. Got to bombardiers website their AGT and monorail use the same components but monorails are only used at resorts. Cable system are very well suited for underground operation, but the companies need to be more active in marketing.
  22. @Matthias "Cable system are very well suited for underground operation" Well, have a look to "Carmelit", the underground funicular of Haifa, Israel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmelit)
  23. And more other underground funiculars: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Underground_funiculars
  24. @ Guenther Ecker the liston Wiki is pointless as it is incomplete. In Switzerland they missed Zermatt Sunnegga, Saas fee Metro Alpin, Zürich Airport Skymetro, i am sure and then there are some funiculars which run partially underground and many military funiculars or funiculars which are used to transport equipment to Hydroelectric powerstations. Lint Limmern opened the now strongest funicular in the world in 2013. 3777m long it can carry loads up to 215t. The excavated a tunnel. This is a private company the tunnel was the solution with the lowest overall cost. http://www.standseilbahnen.ch/linthal-tierfehd-limmern.html In Austria the list missed Dorfbahn Serfaus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorfbahn_Serfaus
  25. Ahead of its time? On time and with more fun is this system at an aluminium tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcokRXI6HEk or with a rope: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nttx2C7GJgw#t=101 Why not more such systems in towns? With closed cabins too?

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