The Wälderbahn ‘City Cable Car’ Could Be The Game-Changer The Ropeway Industry Needs

Post by Steven Dale

Image by Gugen Ueber.

Wälderbahn ‘City Cable Car’. Screenshot from Gugen Ueber.

One of the fundamental problems cable cars have always dealt with in the urban context is the conflict between not traversing privately owned lands and the necessity to only travel in straight lines with turns navigated solely at mid-stations. This has always made line optimization in urban environments incredibly challenging.

The Wälderbahn ‘City Cable Car’ could change all that.

Unveiled in the tiny Austrian state of Vorarlberg this past Tuesday, the City Cable Car is an 11-km cable car the likes of which we’ve never seen.

The first 7.5 km are relatively straightforward though no less ambitious.

Starting in the town of Bersbuch, the 3S system would travel roughly 3 kms and rise more than 800 meters to the top of the Hochälpele mountain where an underground mid-station would be located.

Mountain Station. Screenshot from Gegen Ueber.

Underground mountain station. Screenshot from Gegen Ueber.

We’ve seen underground stations before in places like Livigno, Italy and with the Hungerburgbahn Funicular in Innsbruck. But those stations appeared to be designed more due to practical matters of space rather than with matters of aesthetics. Within the Hochälpele context, it appears as though the intention is to make the station disappear as much as possible into the surrounding mountainside thereby minimizing concerns associated with visual pollution.

After Hochälpele, the cable car travels another 4km and descends more than a kilometer to the outskirts of the town of Dornbirn. And this is where things get interesting.

Let me explain.

From Hochälpele to the Dornbirn Train Station (the system’s intended final destination) requires an almost 6 km as-the-crow-flies journey across hundreds of pieces of privately owned land. That would be difficult to accomplish anywhere just from a technical perspective. From a social license and political perspective? Forget about it. Such a move would be virtually impossible in all but the most authoritarian of jurisdictions.

That’s where the Wälderbahn’s workaround is so ingenious.

Instead of flying direct to the central station, the Wälderbahn’s alpine route terminates at Karren Achmühle and transforms from a cable-propelled system to a self-propelled system. Detaching from the cable, the system’s bogies attach to what can only be described as a self-propelled “backpack bogey” that propels the vehicles forward along an elevated track. This track hews to the nearby river and local train tracks thereby eliminating the need to traverse any privately-owned lands.

It all sounds very gadgetbahn-esqe, but if it works it would represent a fundamental shift for the cable car industry the likes of which we’ve never seen.

Bogie. Screenshot from.

Bogie. Screenshot from Gugen Ueber.

Along River.

Along River. Screenshot from Gugen Ueber.

An additional intermediary station at Sägerbrücke exists prior to arrival at the central train station.
The system will clock in at 8.5 m/s and will have 28-person vehicles departing every 50 seconds.
Route and statistics. Screenshot from Gugen Ueber.

Map of route and statistics. Screenshot from Gugen Ueber.

The system is being developed directly by Doppelmayr, the world’s largest cable car manufacturer who just so happens to be headquartered in Wolfurt — a stone’s throw from Dornbirn.

The project is still at the conceptual stage and has numerous hurdles to clear. We also don’t know what the project will cost at this stage — which isn’t a surprise as a prototype, one would presume, still needs to be constructed. Comments on the project website anticipate an earliest possible completion sometime in 2022/23.

But here’s the thing —

We see projects all the time that try to do things with cable cars that they currently cannot do. We get emails all the time from people suggesting world-circling self-propelled gondolas running at hundreds of miles an hour. We tend to ignore those things.

But when the world’s largest manufacturer makes a play to build the world’s first detachable cable car that is truly capable of navigating the urban landscape (and they choose to make that play in their own backyard), we’re going to stand up and take notice.

This is a project to watch because it could change everything.

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. At Karren Achmuhle, why not transfer passengers from a Doppelmayr gondola system to a Doppelmayr Cabin Liner system?
  2. This is very exciting, I emailed the Gondola Project admin a couple year's ago inquiring about the use of a "track-based" system in urban environments, and was surprised and excited to see such a concept come to fruition (although the self propelled aspect was unexpected). I hope all goes well in this projects prospects, as this may now bring gondolas to the frontage of actual urban planning in the United States.
  3. A few reasons: One — Simplification. The greater number of technologies, the greater the costs to maintain. It's the same reason a smaller city would prefer to use only buses rather than buses and streetcars/trams/light rail. Two — Level of Service. Riders having to transfer from one system to the other will increase journey times. A cable liner would have a significant wait time between vehicles which the 3S presumably would not experience. Customers hate transfers. Three — Cost. Presumably this design would be cheaper than a cable liner while providing a greater level of service.
  4. It will be very exciting to see the capabilities such technology will bring to 3S Gondola systems. In addition to providing an alternative means of propulsion in between urban stations, such a rail-based system could also be of use within the stations themselves. This technology could, in theory, allow for multiple lines, serving different destinations, to utilize the same loading platform. Other benefits to using such technology within the stations could include smoother acceleration and deacceleration, which could also allow for higher speeds in between stations.
  5. for the sake of argument........ 1)wouldnt that rail segment qualify as a cable propelled monorail, as the one in MUD ISLAND RIVER PARK, TENNESSEE? or the Skyrail Midorizaka Line IN JAPAN? (cable propelled gondolas on rails) ......... 2)Propulsion mechanism aside, wouldnt it also emulate SAFEGE monorail working systems like Chiba and Shonan, BOTH IN JAPAN?....... Nothing against it........ On the contrary.......... 3)are they piggy backing or being pushed as in the Trieste Tram in Italy?...... 4)Even further, Couldnt your article on 19 Jun 2013 "Curvo Ropeway: Non-Linear Aerial Urban Cable Cars by CSR", have been some sort of WAKE UP CALL for the more traditional, stablished, conservative aerial cable car manufacturers to explore, develop further and integrate technologies , in their own portfolios and other manufacturers? Glad they did if so.....
  6. A reflexion,....... and Hope Im not too harsh....... but open to comments, criticism, ....... 1)Now, I have seen how the main supporting cables for some very long span suspension bridges, used for road traffic and railways, have been threaded, knitted, woven ON SITE........ They have used special thermal and moisture barriers (insulation) to guarantee the safety and longevity of the cable though....And no one consider this outrageous or unsafe , and no bridges have collapsed due to this practice....... why dont cable propelled transportation manufacturers imitate this technique to provide solutions for urban transit?....... 2)why dont stablished aerial cable car manufacturers, think outside the box, and decide to overcome long spans, sharp turns, etc, besides using high towers, with tailor made cables and/or truss or cable stayed bridges techniques, just get out of their confort zone and take some meticulously calculated risks for a change........ 3)Does any one recall the AEROBUS cable SUSPENDED monorail installed in the USA and in Canada, in Fair and in leasure Grounds , also in EUROPE...... including the occasion when one such hanging cable monorail was installed above city streets in Manheim Germany (in the seventies)? ......... It began riding on calbles, then on rail suspended cables and finally a mixture including tower suspended rails........ 4)Why dont cable car manufacturers apply the technical solutions, now in use, within the stations, to route, switch, store, redirect and turn, to handle cable gondolas along the route , above streets, across a city, in a metropolitan environment? 5)why does a city have to adapt to a transportation means instead of the other way around.... that is, the transportation means providing a solution adapted to the city? For instance, some MDG systems have been deployed to serve hilly neighborhoods in Caracas..... But as I see it, stations are too widely spaced and at hill tops forcing conmuters to climb long distances from lower terrain around them to reach the aforementioned stations....... I would have considered solutions closer related to cable propelled MINImetro systems, petit cable liner systems with closely spaced stations and running above and along foot paths and existing streets in these neighborhoods..... By the way, I am not a monorail guy, NEITHER a more conventional ground, rail fan......... just interested in technical , feasable solutions for municipalities to solve traffic congestion on a budget, rather against going through the ordeal of demolishing entire blocks to open space for conventional ground, or underground solutions if possible........ just in favor of technically feasable ideas (old or new)

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