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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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.

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Video: Brest Cable Car Showcases World’s First Cable “Overpass” Design

After 2 months of testing, new footage of the Brest Cable Car (French: Téléphérique de Brest) has surfaced online.

The cable lift operates in an aerial tram configuration — however, unlike your typical aerial tram, the manufacturers (Bartholet) have built an incredibly unique system known as the “saut de mouton à câble” or SDMC Concept.

With this design, the two cabins operate on different track alignments, which enables the cabins to travel above and below each other as they move through the central 80m tower. This concept results in considerable space savings (i.e. smaller station footprint) as both cabins utilize the same platform.

SDMC Concept. Image from Bartholet.

SDMC Concept. Image from Bartholet.

SDMC concept in action. Image from Ouest France.

SDMC concept in action. Image from Ouest France.

In a city setting, this reduction in station widths will be particularly advantageous since urban real estate is often priced at a premium.

The cable car is scheduled to open in October 2016.

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

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.

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Doppelmayr’s Innovative Recovery Concept – Unmatched Passenger Safety and Comfort

As we’ve pointed out before, gondolas are the safest form of transport in the world. Whether it’s data from United States, France or the Swiss Alps, cable cars have demonstrated their ability to transport riders in the most extreme topographical and meteorological conditions with unmatched safety and comfort.

Despite its high safety record, Doppelmayr – the global leader in urban gondolas with worldwide facilities and sales teams – has continued to advance and improve the technology to greater levels of quality and excellence.

In recent times, the company has designed an innovative safety feature called the Recovery Concept.

Koblenz Cable Car is equipped with the Recovery Concept to maximize safety.

The Recovery Concept is a series of redundant drive-line systems that ensures the cabins will return to a station in the event of a mechanical or electrical failure of the primary drive-line.

While there have always been backup drive-lines for aerial ropeway installations, the world’s first detachable gondola supported by the Recovery Concept was installed in the Grasjochbahn 8-passenger gondola (Silvretta Montafon, Voralberg, Austria) in 2011.

Grasjoch 8-passenger gondola. Image by Doppelmayr.

Grasjoch 8-passenger gondola. Image by Doppelmayr.

“With Doppelmayr’s Recovery Concept, dramatic and expensive rescues are no longer necessary. Cabins with passengers remain comfortably intact and would simply be returned to the station with one of the Concept’s alternative drive mechanisms,” says Tom Sanford, VP Sales of Doppelmayr USA.

Doppelmayr Recovery Concept. Image by Doppelmayr.

Recovery Concept. Image by Doppelmayr.

Major features of this system include:

  • Main drive mechanism has an auxiliary motor in case of primary motor failure
  • Coupling can be detached from bullwheel to allow emergency drives to take over in case both primary and auxiliary motors fail
  • Each bullwheel is equipped with an emergency bearing allowing rotational movement between emergency drives on either side
  • Special tools installed which lifts the cable back to normal position in case of derailment
  • Special tools, such as permanent crane facilities, to remove blocked cabins

“We’ll never completely eliminate the need for rope rescues but, with Doppelmayr’s Recovery Concept, nearly all of them are now prevented,” says Sanford.


Application to Urban Gondolas

Already the Recovery Concept has been installed in several high-profile urban cable cars including the Koblenz Cable Car (Germany), and the Emirates Air Line Cable Car (UK).

Emirates Air Line Cable Car built with the Recovery Concept. Two independent emergency drives and recovery equipment on top of each tower means passengers can stay in cabins during emergencies.

“We think this concept is a must-have for cities installing ropeways as public transportation” says Sanford.

As the performance and passenger requirements of public transit is immensely demanding, the Recovery Concept can help strengthen Cable Propelled Transit’s position as the world’s safest urban transport modality.

You can learn more about Doppelmayr and urban applications of its ropeways here.


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Next-Gen Ropeway Designs: D-Line by Doppelmayr

D-Line Station. Screenshot from Doppelmayr Video.

D-Line Station. Screenshot from Doppelmayr video.

This week Doppelmayr released footage of its next generation ropeway system for detachable lifts, the D-Line. Alongside Youtube videos of the terminal design, the manufacturer also showcased its new cabins and grips.

Among a slew of new features in the remodeled stations, a few will be be particularly attractive in city environments:

  • Real glass design
  • Low noise bullwheel design
  • Silenced running rail and outer guide rail
  • Low noise grip opening/closing rail
  • Station roof covers entire carrier
  • Outer facade for displaying media content

In terms of the D-Line carriers, the Omega IV-10 SI D provides added passenger comfort as the cabins are now larger than before.

Meanwhile, the Detachable Grip D promises to increase service life and enable greater ease of maintenance. The design has been optimized to accommodate ropes of up to 64mm in diameter and allow up to 1,800kg (4,000lbs) in total carrier weight.


These features, especially noise reduction, ease of maintenance and larger cabins, will be especially important in the urban market. Further innovations are likely to take place in the future as urban ropeways continue to place greater demands on the technology.

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3 Innovations In Gondola Transit

A thought experiment:

You’re now the owner of the world’s largest cable gondola transit manufacturer on the planet. This could be a fictional company or a real company; it doesn’t matter.

You’re told by your CEO that three (and only three) innovations must be developed to ensure the technology’s viability into the future. One innovation needs to be relatively simple; the second innovation needs to be difficult but manageable in the near future and; the third innovation needs to be a pipe dream – something that’s likely never to happen within the next decade, but that would nevertheless improve the product drastically.

Your CEO asks you what those three innovations should be.

Here’s mine:

  • Reduce dwell times to under 30 seconds – should be relatively simple.
  • Develop gondolas that can operate at the maximum speed of aerial trams – with time it shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Allow for off-line stations such as those found in faux-prt systems – unlikely to occur anytime soon.

What’s your answer?

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