Are Gondolas and Cable Cars Safe?

Post by Steven Dale

Perhaps the most common question we’re asked about Urban Gondolas and Cable Propelled Transit is the safety question. Namely, are they safe?

And while anecdotally we’ve always known them to be a remarkably safe technology, gathering clear statistical proof has been very difficult. Most countries don’t have readily available access to numbers on this and those that do make the mistake of combining ski hill chairlifts and gondolas within the same statistical category despite the two having fundamental differences in their safety statistics.

Nevertheless, the Switzerland’s Office fédéral de la statistique OFS recently put out some new statistics that help shed some light on the safety issue. While by no means definitive, we’ve compiled some of the important numbers in the tables below and our preliminary investigations suggest Cable Propelled Transit technologies such as Funiculars, Gondolas and Aerial Trams are amongst the safest public transit technologies around.

Take a look:

Compiled by CUP; Based Upon Numbers Gathered By Office fédéral de la statistique OFS.

You’ll note that during 2008 and 2009 Funiculars and Gondolas/Aerial Tram technologies consistently experienced the fewest number of accidents, injuries and deaths per 1,000 passengers. Rail-based technologies consistently experienced the most.

These numbers are important for a couple of reasons:

  • Switzerland has the largest number of cable transit systems in the world with a well-used and highly-developed multi-modal transit network across the country. If cable is to be compared to other travel modes, this is the place to make the comparisons.
  • These numbers necessarily did not include small, private gondola systems nor ski hill chairlift systems. This lack of inclusion makes the comparisons far more apt.

Notwithstanding the above, these numbers do come with a few caveats:

  • It would have been preferred to see numbers across a wider time period. Unfortunately the data series used did not include accidents, injuries and deaths for Tram, Trolleybus and Autobus technologies prior to 2008.
  • Owing to Switzerland’s almost complete lack of Subway/Metro technology, no statistics were available for those technologies.
  • While complete accident, injury and death statistics were available for 2010, passenger volumes were not available.
  • An additional comparison between modes by Passenger Kilometers Travelled would’ve been preferred as the distance travelled by cable is likely to be shorter than the distance travelled by the other modes. Such figures, however, were not present in the datasets for Gondola systems. Instead, gondola values were given in Hours of Operation.
  • All information was given in French. And while as Canadians we have a base understanding of the language, there is clear potential for error. Anyone with a greater grasp of the French language is invited to double-check our work.

Having said that, this is still a step in the right direction and more than a little bit eye-opening.

As always, additional information, corrections or amendments can be posted in the comments and we’ll be sure to correct any errors or omissions.

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 significant volume comparision is obtained from the same source in document su-f-11-TP-ST-6.1xls Number of voyager trips in thousands - period 1990-2010 Train : 4.369.645 Gondola /Cable transport : 2.348.289 It make sense, because gondola trips are surely much shorter than train ones, but also much more frequent . Note that roughly only 20% of death on rail are of passengers. the total deaths for 20 years of cable transport are 10 (ten) ....
  2. can you display that data in "per 1 million passengers" so we don't have to look at so many zeros?
  3. Are you saying that 20% of death on rail are of passengers from this data on Switzerland? Or are you talking more generally?
  4. here are the data http://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/portal/fr/index/themen/11/06/blank/key/01/bahnen.html Chemins de fer – victimes 1990 2000 2005 2008 2009 2010 Victimes d'accidents 227 90 82 75 69r 67 tués 1 87 29 39 24 29r 20 dont voyageurs 9 2 5 0 1 2 blessés1, 2 140 61 43 51 40r 47 dont voyageurs 45 16 4 10 12r 17 1 Voyageurs, agents et tierces personnes 2 Changement de la définition dès 2001 r révisé Source: Office fédéral des transports (OFT) État: juillet 2011
  5. The (American) National Ski Areas Association attempted to compare ski lifts with elevators and automobiles on a per-mile basis last year and came up with .138 fatalities per 100,000,000 miles compared with .735 for elevators and 1.23 for cars. There are 2,359 operating aerial lifts in the US and the last time someone died on one due to mechanical failure was in 1993. Still, perception is everything and in my experience the non-skiing American public does not trust the safety of these machines. Source: http://www.nsaa.org/media/214677/Lift_Safety_Fact_Sheet_10_31_14.pdf
  6. For very safe systems in countries with extensive safety regulations, suicide is likely to be a significant factor, sometimes accompanied by a deliberate intent to cause maximum disruption - hence the popularity of major railway stations and junctions. With smaller traffic volumes and lower speed vehicles, urban gondolas don't seem to offer the same opportunities for travel disruption.

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