Design Considerations



Famous Architect Doesn’t Know About World Heritage Cable Cars

Western Wall Cable Car. Image from ynetnews.

Israeli-Canadian architect, Moshe Safdie, apparently hates cable cars — especially the one that’s currently being planned for the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Since its inception a few years back, the controversial project has faced several hurdles, including the withdrawal of a French construction company due to political sensitivities. Some commentators have noticed a “cable car revival” in Israel as the Jerusalem project is one of five active proposals in the country.

Online sources suggests the system will travel 1.4km and provide connectivity to four sites which includes Emek Refaim Train Station, Dung Gate, Mount of Olives and Gethsemane. The gondola is conceptualized to solve congestion problems in a hilly area with a weekly visitation of about 130,000 persons.

Western Wall Cable Car. Image from ynetnews.

While we won’t deny the sociocultural challenges with this project, some of the statements released by Moshe Safdie on cable transit systems appear to be completely incorrect. The architect is quoted as saying, “As far as I know, and I’ve researched the topic, there is no other historical city in the world that allowed a cable car to be built within the visual core of its historical heritage.”

It is a little baffling to read this remark because a quick google search of the words “world heritage cable cars” will immediately reveal 37 aerial ropeways built in culturally sensitive UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

In the defense of Safdie however, there could be some nuance to his statement as it is uncertain how he defined “a cable car built within the visual core of its historical heritage”.

If we assume he’s referring to just cable cars built in cities with historical heritage, many of the 37 world heritage cable cars would by and large be eliminated. But nevertheless, even with a more stringent interpretation of an “heritage urban gondola”, several ropeways (described below) would still fall under this definition.

Koblenz Cable Car crosses the Rhine River.  Image by CUP.

1. Koblenz Cable Car

The Koblenz Cable Car is perhaps the most famous “world heritage” urban gondola built in recent memory. The system was constructed to ease transportation challenges and replace bus service between the city core to the top of Ehrenbreitstein fortress (elevation difference of 112m over a length of 890m).

The cable car, which is noted for being built with the world’s most advanced aerial ropeway technology (3S / Tricable Detachable Gondola), was constructed in preparation for the 2011 Federal Horticultural Show (BUGA 2011) in Germany.

At a capacity of 3,800 persons per hour per direction (pphpd), it provides the equivalent hourly capacity of more than seventy 50-person buses! Since the system is constructed in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site — an area with over 2,000 years of history — the cable car was scheduled for disassembly four years after opening. In other words, the decommissioning was supposed to occur so that Koblenz would not lose its designation.

However, the system performed beyond expectations during the horticultural festival and it became an instant hit with locals. As such, system proponents collected over 100,000 signatures to keep the cable car. With this data, the City was then able to convince the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) to permit the extension of cable car operations until 2026.

To this day, the cable car has become a symbol of Koblenz and in June 2015, carried its ten millionth rider.

Sugar Loaf Cable Car. Image by Halley Pacheco de Oliveira.

2. Sugarloaf Cable Car

When it comes to the heritage and history of Rio de Janeiro, there is perhaps nothing more recognizable than the Sugar Loaf Cable Car. The cable car operates within the Rio de Janeiro: Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea World Heritage Site.

The system, built in 1912 travels adjacent to Guanabara Bay en route to the City’s most iconic hill, Sugar Loaf mountain, and the Christ the Redeemer statue.

Based on TripAdvisor reviews, the system is currently ranked the number one “Things to Do” in the Marvellous City! Historically, this ropeway was one of the first aerial passenger lifts ever built and has transported riders safely and efficiently for more than than 105 years.

If you speak to locals and tourists alike, it is not too farfetched to say that the cable car is intrinsically linked to the City’s cultural heritage.

Funivia di San Marino. Image by Vladimir Menkov.

3. Funivia di San Marino 

San Marino, a city-state located entirely in Italy, is designated as a World Heritage Site and the last city-state in the country. Due to its strategic location at Mount Titano, San Marino has been in continual existence for over 700 years.

To enhance transport to the city centre and nearby commune of Borgo Maggiore, a 353m long cable car was opened in 1959. Despite being nearly 60 years old, the cable car remains one of the most popular ways to move around the city state and transports an average of 400,000 persons per year.

In fact, the system was so popular that it’s former 20-person cabins had to be upgraded to 50-person cabins in 1995!

— — — 

As we’ve discussed before, we believe that detractors of ropeway technology are often misinformed.

And while everyone is entitled to their opinion, it is somewhat disheartening to find that such a well-known and intelligent architect could make such a rookie mistake when it comes to assessing gondolas.

Hopefully, Safdie is able to objectively assess the cable car proposal on its actual merits and shortcomings rather than spreading false information.


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Pod Cabins Now Seen in Moscow!

Space pod cabins. Screenshot from MReporter.

About three weeks ago, a few “portal towers” were spotted in Moscow’s VDNKh amusement park. Today, it appears that a number of futuristic “space pod” cabins have now been mounted on the park’s ropeway as it prepares for testing and commissioning this Fall.

We’re not sure where the designers got their inspiration from, but the spherical cabins reminded us of the rotund BB-8 droid from Star Wars or perhaps even the helmet of a cosmonaut.

Cabins mounted to station. The system is being constructed by Doppelmayr. Screenshot from MReporter.

Pod cabins will help transport the estimated 2 million visitors to VDNKh park. Screenshot from MReporter.

From our experiences, an increasing number of cities and their decision-makers are becoming more demanding when it comes to unique ropeway designs. While standardized, off-the-shelf cable car components reduce implementation costs and time, some projects in aesthetically sensitive areas will inevitably require customized designs.

For instance to highlight the importance of form, Portland’s City Commissioner was once quoted as saying that the Portland Aerial Tram did not consider standard parts since it would result in “a cheap ski lift at a bad ski resort” — which in turn, would leave the City with “an ugly postcard” lasting a hundred years.

UFO style “space” cabin were already in existence Post-WII as it was built by Carlevaro-Savio out of  Turin, Italy . Image

With the increasing number of attractive and non-utilitarian cabin and tower designs , this will likely help inspire other project proponents to develop and add their own creative touches to their ropeways.

For the time being however, the Russian capital’s VDNKh park may very well have built one of the world’s most eye-catching aerial gondolas in recent memory.


A big thank you (again) to Irakli Z for forwarding us the link!


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Nostalgic Carrier Designs

The Port Vell Aerial Tramway in Barecelona is built with Bleichert’s dodecagonal (12-sided) cabin. Image by Jordiferrer.

Many modern urban ropeways and their manufacturers are easily recognizable based purely from their cabin designs.

For instance, monocable detachable gondolas (MDGs) built by Doppelmayr use the OMEGA carriers from CWA while the Leitner Group (Leitner ropeways and Poma) uses the Diamond cabins from Sigma. However, before the industry experienced a flurry of mergers at/near the turn of the 20th century, many smaller ropeways manufacturers expertly plied their craft around the world.

Not so dissimilar to some of the iconic cabin models we see today, many prominent ropeway builders of the past were also easily recognizable based solely on their carrier designs.

With the return of the custom-built “Charlotte” cabin on the Brest Cable Car this week and the continued growth in cable transit, we thought it would be interesting to showcase a few nostalgic cabin types that are practically unknown to the outside world.

As ropeway companies and planners are becoming increasingly sensitive to the importance of aesthetics in the urban environment, perhaps some of these images will inspire cities to add a little more flavour and personality to their cabin designs.


Gerhard Müller Dietlikon (GMD) — Lightweight Aluminum Cabins

Emmetten-Stockhütte Gondola (1968) was built with Müller’s iconic aluminum 4-person cabins. Image from Seilbahn-Nostalgie.

The steel lattice hanger arms were another unique feature of the Muller gondola design. Image from Seilbahn-Nostalgie.









Gerhard Müller was a Swiss engineer and one of the pioneers in detachable ropeway technology. As the founder of Gerhard Müller Dietlikon (GMD) in 1947, he was one of the most important players in the production of aerial lifts until his death in 1985.

Among his many accomplishments, he was known for designing lifts with portal/gantry towers, inventing the detachable Müller grip and inventing the ill-fated Aerobus. In addition to his great technical achievements, many of Müller’s ropeways were immediately identifiable by spotting its lightweight aluminum cabins.

More than twenty of these gondola systems were built throughout the world but many, if not most, of them have been modernized.

Carlevaro & Savio — Futuristic / Egg-Shaped Cabins 

Piana di Vigezzo gondola (1986) built with the iconic egg-shaped cabins. Most of the cabins were designed to fit 2-4 persons. Image from

UFO-style cabin at Mount Snow, Vermont. Very little information is available about this system. Image from Colorado School of Mines.

Carlevaro & Savio was an Italian ropeway company that was founded in 1945.

They were recognized for designing their lifts with charming egg-shaped cabins made of metal and fibre glass. Many in the industry considered Carlevaro & Savio’s designs as some of the most futuristic-looking ropeways for their time. Dozens of these systems were built around the world in countries such as the USA, Italy, Switzerland and France.

Aside from their whimsical gondola cabins, they were also one of the first companies to develop a detachable grip. Their spring-loaded clamp is considered the forerunner of the detachable grips now used by Doppelmayr and Leitner ropeways.

Von Roll — Side-Chairs

The Krupka-Mückentürmchen sidechair (Czech Republic), built in 1952, is still operational today! Note that the chair has a roof for weather protection. Image form Seilbahn-Nostalgie.

VR 101 sidechair constructed for the 1949 KABA Expo in Thun, Switzerland. System carried 300,000 riders. Image from R. Von Roll.

Voll Roll, a Swiss ropeway manufacturer based in Bern, was another prolific builder of ropeways.

They were famous for being the inventors of the detachable chairlift, the VR101 model, way back in 1945. They were similarly well-known for designing 2-seater side chairs where passengers actually sat perpendicular to their direction of travel. This might seem a little odd nowadays, but from what we can gather online, the sideway seating was believed to provide passengers with a better ride and viewing experience. Also, the sideway profile of the chairs meant that station widths could be reduced.

While the chair is not a “cabin” per say, sidechairs do provide an example of the unique carrier designs that were once found on passenger ropeways.

Bleichert — Dodecagonal, 12-Sided Cabin

Predigtstuhl Cable Car (1928) is the oldest, still operational, large-cabin cable car on the planet. It connects a 1613m tall mountain in southern Germany. Image by HUvB.

The Aeri de Montserrat (Spain) opened in 1930 and still operates with its original cabins. The 1.3km system links visitors to the Monserrat Mountain near Barcelona. with Image by HuvB.










Established in 1874, Bleichert was once the world’s largest ropeway manufacturer, having built thousands of cable lifts on every corner of the globe.

While it initially focused its efforts on constructing material transport ropeways, it began to build iconic passenger lifts after World War I. Some famous systems include the Tyrolean Zugspitze Cable Car (formerly highest altitude), Predigstuhl Cable Car (oldest operating cable car with original cabin, 1928), and Port Vell Aerial Tramway (formerly highest ropeway tower, 107m).

Despite the age of some of Bleichert’s systems, it appears that some systems still operate with the original cabins built almost 100 years ago! As you might be able to tell from the photos above, the 12-sided dodecagonal cabins which fit 20-35 persons were a instantly recognizable symbol of Bleichert’s aerial tram products.

The aforementioned images and videos really just scratch the surface of the diversity found in the historical ropeway carrier scene. Given the dozens of cable car companies in the past and thousands of installations worldwide, let us know below in the comments section which nostalgic cabin designs are your favourite. 

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Green Gondolas: Energy Neutral, Solar Powered Aerial Ropeway

The new Staubern ropeway in Switzerland is built to be “energy neutral”. This means that the system is designed to generate all the energy it requires for daily operations internally and does not require any external power sources. Image from Berggasthaus Staubern.

As gondolas experience tremendous growth in the urban and recreational transport market, many decision-makers are now beginning to realize that ropeways are amongst the world’s most sustainable forms of transport.

For instance, not only are gondolas able to create direct environmental benefits by producing less carbon emissions per passenger kilometre than trams and buses (under the right conditions of course), their electrical power consumption systems can reduce the amount of point source pollutants that are released locally. In the case of the Mexicable, operators estimated that 5,800 cars were removed from neighbourhood roads while 17,400 tons of carbon emissions were eliminated.

While sustainable practices are almost always built into all cable car projects, the Staubern Ropeway (German: Bergbahn Staubern) is expected to take ecological stewardship to a whole new level.

The new modernized aerial tram, which takes users from the Rhein Valley to the Staubern Inn (located 1,800m above sea level), is supposed to be the first aerial ropeway in the world that can operate “independent of energy“. According to online articles, there are a few ways that the gondola can achieve this objective.

Daniel Lüchinger, the project proponent, was inspired to build a true “climate-neutral” gondola after a guest challenge him that his other gondola, the Frümsen-Staubern Ropeway, was not truly “energy netural” as it was powered by vegetable oil that was brought in by his car. Image from

Technologically, the ropeway’s 51-kilowatt drive is powered by electric Tesla batteries which store solar energy. The top and bottom stations are outfitted with solar panels to capture as much power from the sun as possible.

Operationally, in terms of its passenger flows, the gondola is unlike many traditional sightseeing lifts where there is, by and large, an equal flow of passengers riding from the bottom station to the top station (and vice versa).

Rather, since many of the ropeway’s customers are hikers who trek up to the summit, these passengers simply ride the system from the top to the bottom. As such, due to the heavier descending cabin loads (compared to lighter ascending cabin loads), energy is actually generated during downhill operations, which in turn, is fed back to the electric batteries.

As surprising as this may sound, this isn’t the first time that a ropeway has been designed with solar energy in mind. Previously, the Swiss town of Tenna, built a tow lift that was powered entirely by sun power while the American resort town of Telluride implemented a major green retrofitting program for its public transit gondola.

The Staubern ropeway was entirely financed by local hotel operators who built the system without any subsidies. Their investment of US$5.2 million (5 million CHF) is designed to improve passenger service and comfort.

Compared to the old Frümsen – Staubern Ropeway (built 1979), the new gondola will be two times faster (7.0m/s vs 3.5m/s), more comfortable (two 8-person cabins versus one 6-person cabin), and will offer higher capacities (72 passengers per hour vs 18 passengers per hour).

To celebrate this momentous occasion, a slew of festivities are planned throughout this weekend as part of its inauguration. A total of 3,000 – 5,000 visitors from across the region are expected.

While this “energy neutral” cable lift model is only possible in unique circumstances, the laudable achievements of the Staubern Ropeway will hopefully inspire more action towards sustainable development practices.

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Is the Dresden Suspended Railway the World’s Most Fascinating (or Unusual) Cable Car System? 


Is it a monorail? AGT? Or an upside down funicular? Image by Hans Rudolf Stoll.

At the expense of sounding overly dramatic, the Dresden Suspended Railway may very well be the world’s most fascinating or perhaps unusual urban transport line. Built in 1901 on the slopes of the River Elbe, the 273m long system takes 4.5 minutes to climb 84m from the lower district of Loschwitz to the top of Oberloschwitz.

At the onset, the system looks a lot like a suspended monorail travelling on rails. However, the vehicles actually don’t contain any onboard motors for propulsion, rather, the vehicles are attached to and propelled by a cable. Operationally, it functions like an aerial tram or a funicular which have two counterbalanced vehicles shuttling back and forth.

In the transit planning world where practitioners and enthusiasts are often fixated with organizing technologies (e.g. buses, LRT, HRT/subways, monorails, CPT and etc.) into specific typologies, the Dresden Suspended Railway is perhaps one of those unique systems that slips conventional categories.

Dresden Suspended Railway travelling up towards Oberloschwitz. At the upper terminal, passengers can make their way up to the building’s roof and take in spectacular views of the City.  A cafe and museum is also available at the top. Image by Herbert Frank.

Unlike most aerial systems which travel in straight lines, the Dresden system travels with a slight curvature near the bottom terminal. Image by Kora27.

So from a definition standpoint, where does the Dresden Suspended Railway fit in?

From online sources, it seems to be placed somewhat correctly/incorrectly in articles related to “Suspended Railways“. But by general standards of what it means to be a “Cable Propelled Transit (CPT)” system, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to classify it as part of the CPT family. Perhaps a more accurate term is “Suspended Cable Train (SCT)”.

However, SCT isn’t likely to catch on anytime soon since Dresden, Memphis and Hiroshima are the only cities in the world with these contraptions.

But perhaps it doesn’t really matter what the Dresden system is. Rather if we analyze it purely from a performance perspective, it appears that the system continues to play an important transport function. Today, the city-operated system still attracts 300,000 riders annually despite it being over a 100 years old and having a higher fare than the rest of the transit network (€4 on cable car vs €2.30 on regular transit).

Chances are, given its uniqueness and heritage status, many of its riders will be of the recreational type. While some transit purists may disregard the system as merely a “toy for tourists“, it might be easy to forget that tourist riders are an integral part of a successful public transport systems.

In fact, many of the world’s most respected transit agencies build and operate recreational transport systems to complement their transport network (e.g. MTR’s Ngong Ping 360, TfL’s Emirates Air Line, and TMB’s Teleferic de Montjuic). Arguably, if a transit system lacked tourists, it’s likely a sign that it isn’t very attractive nor useful.

From a transit technology perspective, perhaps what is most exciting about Dresden is related to the precedence that it can set. While fusing cable-driven systems with suspended rails may not be appropriate for the majority of urban transport applications, chances are, there will be scenarios where this hybrid technology should be subject to further consideration and scrutiny. After all, transit isn’t always purely about function.

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Tower Design Lesson from Disney World Skyway

Walt Disney World Resort recently released new details about their Skyliner transportation system (here, here and here) — a topic I’ve been researching in hopes of a more fulsome analysis in the near future. During that research, however, I came upon something rather arcane that to a lot of people is probably rather mundane. But, trust me, it isn’t.

During our research about the Skyliner, I came upon this image of Disney World’s gondola, nicknamed the “skyway.”

Image from

What do you notice in this image?

Here’s what I notice — A series of benches. A flowerbed. A fountain. A clock. And a whole lot of people congregating around the base of the gondola tower.

Simply plunking a gondola tower into the middle of the public realm would be a non-start for a company as meticulous as Disney. Instead of seeing the tower as a liability, the staff who designed this system chose to turn the base of the tower into a focal point within their space.

We oftentimes hear clients complain about the towers. That they are unsightly and ugly. Which is, to some extent, true. But so is a lot of urban infrastructure. What’s interesting here is that system designers paid no attention to the tower itself. The towers pictured are off-the-shelf components of their time and era and it would be hard to imagine any special design or customization being put into their fabrication.

Instead, designers focused on the seam where the tower meets the street. That, after all, is where the majority of people will actually interact with the tower. It’s an elegant solution that costs thousands of dollars rather than the millions of dollars some people spend on customized towers (Portland and London, for example).

From the myriad of images of this system online, it’s clear that not all of the tower bases were given such a treatment with the answer as to why not likely lost to time.

As cable propelled transit systems slowly penetrate into urban realms, there will be increased scrutiny as to their impact on the surrounding public space and urban fabric. That’s why this precedent is so important. The Disney skyway shows in great detail how simply re-imagining this “ugly” piece of infrastructure can turn it into a focal point for public recreation. Urban gondola planners should take note.

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Special Gondola Design: Cantilevered Towers

Cantilevered tower design maximizes use of airspace above existing roads. Image from Google Streetview.

Thanks to our readers and the internet, documenting unique designs for Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) systems are now easier than ever before. Notable examples that immediately come to mind include the Finnish Sauna Gondola, the Singaporean Skyscraper Station and the Chinese Arching Roadway Tower.

Unfortunately, it seems that lax record keeping in the industry has meant that many unique ropeway designs created in the past have been largely lost and/or just simply forgotten.

Most recently, reader Conrad W (re)discovered and shared with us a fascinating cantilevered tower design on the Poços de Caldas Teleférico in Brazil. Having reviewed countless urban gondola proposals in the past, we know that this tower design has been theoretically discussed but this is the first instance where we’ve seen its implementation in real life — and it is for this exact reason why this discovery is exciting.

Tower designs examined for the San Diego Bay to Balboa Park Skyway. Screenshot from Feasibility Report.

For those working in the city-building industry, theoretical design solutions are great for sparking lively conversations but unfortunately, most cities are incredibly risk-averse when it comes to adopting new forms of infrastructure. Having real world examples allows project proponents to demonstrate that a design is tested and proven.

For urban planners and designers, this ingenious tower style provides one major advantage: it enables a cable car to follow the under-utilized airspace along an existing right of way — without the need to remove/impact road space. In an urban transport project, this advantage cannot be underestimated as many rapid transit proposals face immense backlash due to the need to take away lanes from motorists.

However, if vehicular lanes and capacity are maintained with the strategic use of cantilevered towers, the concerns of motorists can be mitigated.  Furthermore, in cities where the cost of land is high and the desire to maintain vehicular capacity is strong, this design solution could significantly increase a project’s financial and social feasibility.

While the tower design is fascinating, it should be noted that these towers are designed for a relatively old ropeway system. According to data online, the 1.5km gondola was built in 1974 and only carries 6,000 persons per month. As such, transferability from a cost and technical perspective to modern ropeway specifications is still relatively unknown at this time since no urban gondola (that we know of) is currently built with cantilevered towers.

What we do know now is that thanks to the Poços de Caldas Teleférico, there is precedence for this unique cantilevered tower solution in an urban environment.

All that’s required now is the right set of circumstances for implementation. Luckily, from the hundreds of active cable car proposals, it probably isn’t too difficult to find a city who wants to build additional transport capacity along an existing thoroughfare without removing car lanes.

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.