Has Urban Gondola Technology Finally Gone Mainstream?

In the last fifteen years, over fifty urban ropeways (recreational and mass transit) have been built. Systems pictured (from left to right, top to bottom) are the Metrocable Line J, Metrocable Line K, Roosevelt Island Tram, Portland Aerial Tram, Ankara Cable Car, Mi Teleferico Yellow Line, Koblenz Cable Car, Emirates Air Line Cable Car and Gaia Cable Car.

By and large for the past quarter century, urban gondolas have been considered a fringe transport technology in the minds of many North American transit professionals. Over this past decade however, attitudes over its application in the urban environment have shifted dramatically and it seems that the tides are finally turning.

Last week for instance, the mayor of Los Angeles committed publicly to building a Dodgers Stadium gondola by 2022 and this week, the Edmonton Transit System Advisory Board (ETSAB), admitted in a seemingly reluctant fashion that, “It [cable transport] actually is a valid mass transit option.”

If that wasn’t enough positive news, the Toronto Star reported two days ago that the Burnaby Mountain Gondola (first proposed in 2009) will be subject to detailed analysis as part of TransLink’s Phase 2 plan. Basically, what this means is that a mayor, a transit advisory committee and a major transit agency all within a single week — in North America — came out in support of urban gondolas! Needless to say, that’s not an insignificant event in the world of cable transport.

Essentially with these new projects, we’ve been able to track over two hundred urban ropeways proposals worldwide — and from our estimates, there are nearly forty public transport gondolas which are currently operational (i.e. Metrocable Line J, Red Line Mi Teleferico, Ankara Cable Car and etc).

In fact, this number increases to nearly a hundred systems if you include urban ropeways built for recreational purposes (i.e. Emirates Air Lines, Ngong Ping 360, Singapore Cable Car and etc). All of these systems can be viewed in the map below.

With the immense successes seen throughout the globe, especially in Latin American cities, it appears that the few remaining cynical transport planners have little ammunition to support their biases against cable cars. Gut-based arguments that ropeways are too slow, too dangerous and too unworldly have largely fallen by the wayside.

After all, it’s hard to argue that gondolas aren’t a serious form of mass transit when they consistently operate with reliability levels of more than 99%, transport commuters in more than a dozen countries, and can function as the rapid transit backbone of an entire city.

Of course, while we believe Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) can offer solutions to urban transport challenges, it is important to reiterate that ropeway technology is not a silver bullet. City planners must simply be cognizant that it is merely one tool in their toolbox that they can use to address contemporary transport problems.

As gondolas find growing acceptance in the transit planning circles, let us know what your thoughts are on these major events taking place in the world of urban ropeways.


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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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Hybrid Transport — Trieste Opicina Tramway Funicular


Trieste Opincina Tramway Funicular. Notice anything different? Image by Nol Aders.

Before the widespread adoption of automobiles, cities around the world had little choice but to develop creative ways to move people around. Near the turn of the twentieth century, when urban areas began to industrialize and innovations flourished, streetcar systems began to grow and expand. However, one of the main challenges faced by rail vehicles then (and now) was that they were unable to navigate hilly terrain (> 10% gradient).

To solve this problem, some city builders found that cable-driven solutions were complementary tools in a multi-modal and topographically-challenged transit network.

Mount Adams Incline c1905.jpg

Mount Adams Incline transporting streetcars up and down the hill. Image from Wikipedia.

For example, in the past we documented an interesting hybrid transit lines such the streetcars which operated on Cincinnati’s Mount Adams Incline (1876 – 1948).

Simply put, the rope-driven funicular enabled streetcars to navigate steep hills by allowing a vehicle to load onto a platform, which in turn, was pulled up to the top of a hill. It wasn’t the quickest option by today’s standards, but was regarded as an effective solution for its time.

However, as competing lines were built and cars became more popular, the Mount Adams Incline (alongside the city’s other inclines) were all abandoned. And to that extent, we assumed that all hybrid streetcar / funicular systems were forever lost to time.

Of course, that is until reader Paul S. sent us a link of the Trieste Opicina Tramway.

This 5.2km transit line, built in 1902, connects the town of Opicina to the City of Trieste in Northeastern Italy. While the system at the onset looks like any standard tram, 15% of the route is actually designed with cable-propulsion technology.

When the system first opened, the transit route’s steepest section (between Piazza Scorcola and Vetta Scorcola) used rack railway technology to overcome the hilly terrain. However, to accommodate an increase in ridership, the rack railway section was replaced in 1928 with a more efficient cable-driven tractor. The 799m long rope-propelled section of the line enabled the tram to overcome a height difference of 160m and a maximum gradient of 26% in about 7 minutes.

File:Tram Trieste 2009 11.JPG

The cable-tractor basically “brakes” the descending vehicle (seen on the left) and “pushes” the ascending vehicle. It is important to note that the tram vehicles are not physically connected to the cable-tractor. Image by Smiley.toerist.

The funicular portion of the transit line, between Piazza Scorcola and Vetta Scorcola, is highlighted in red. Image from Trieste Transporti.

While photos are great for illustrating the hybrid tram+funicular concept, nothing really beats seeing the system in action. If you watch the video below, the funicular part starts at the 1:20 mark. In another clip, it’s possible to see that the actual process of preparing the tram for cable-propulsion is relatively quick, taking about 1.5 minutes.

Today, the tram is a popular ride for both locals and tourists and is one of the top attractions in the City. Unfortunately, the line is currently out of service as it suffered damages in an accident in 2016.

As it has been our experience with cable-propelled transit research, it appears that a lot of the information on these hybrid transit lines is yet to be fully unpacked and/or understood by transit planners — especially in the English-speaking world. And perhaps this should not come as a surprise since the majority (and limited number) of these cable-fused trams — Monreale Tram, Automotofunicolare Catanzaro and Darling Street — are now defunct and/or operated in Italy.

Nevertheless, as urban populations grow and renounce the car for more sustainable transportation forms, one can imagine that this type of hybrid technology could be a complementary service in many terrain challenged streetcar networks. The ability to make tram routes more efficient by directly overcoming hilly areas can not only make journeys quicker, but it can also add some novelty/fun to a trip.

Off the top of my head, there are a dozen or so cities where this technology could be used. In fact, this type niche product seems like it could be a logical extension of the urban transit solutions offered by ropeways manufacturers. If cities knew of this product, imagine how many 300+ streetcar cities in the world would explore this technology? After all, how can urban planners begin to solve local transport challenges if they don’t even know that hybrid cable-trams exists?

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5 Top Urban Gondola (and Ropeway Related) Stories in 2017

The last 12 months has been an another eventful year for urban gondola systems and ropeway technology in general. La Paz’s continued expansion of its massive gondola network combined with a flurry of proposals worldwide has made 2017 another incredible year. In this post, we take a moment to review some of the biggest events and stories from the past 12 months.

1. La Paz Leads the Way

Unsurprisingly, the Bolivian capital makes it to the top of our list.

Three years ago, La Paz-El Alto embarked on an incredible journey to revolutionize the city’s urban transport network. The Austrian ropeway giant, Doppelmayr alongside Mi Teleferico, now operates five Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) systems in the city. In March 2017, one of the world’s largest urban gondola projects (the longest system in La Paz-El Alto), Blue Line (5.0km, 5 stations), was successfully inaugurated. During its first weekend, the system recorded a peak of 41,000 passengers in one day. Today residents fly high above the skies of El Alto before descending into the valley below on the Red Line.

A few months later in September 2017, the 4-station Orange Line (Spanish: Linea Naranja) invited riders to hop aboard with Bolivian President Evo Morales kicking off the celebrations. The Orange Line effectively extends the Red Line eastbound by another 2.6km and will be integrated with the upcoming White Line.

Effectively, the two new urban gondolas not only increased the length of the city’s rapid transit network by 76%, it also added nine more stations (7 if you only count the two transfer stations as one station each).

A post shared by Mi Teleférico (@miteleferico) on

Four other urban gondolas are currently under construction (e.g. Silver Line, Light Blue Line, White Line and Purple Line) with three of these expected to begin commercial service in 2018 (e.g. Purple, White and Light Blue).

And just a few days ago, the system officially recorded its 100th million passenger! Once the cable car masterplan (Spanish: Red de Integración Metropolitana or RIM) is all said and done by ~2019, passengers will be able to ride nearly 34km of aerial lifts spread over 39 stations.

Conceptual design for Toulouse’s “South Urban Gondola” at CHU Rangueil station platform. Image from SMTC-Tisseo.

2. First “True” Urban 3S

At the moment, mass transit cable cars are nearly all built with Monocable Detachable Gondola (MDG) technology. However that may soon change as Gothenburg (Sweden) and Toulouse (France) are in a close race to see who will be the first to build a pure transit 3S cable car.

To clarify, while the Koblenz Cable Car and the Rittner Cable Car is often referred to as an “urban gondola”, these systems can’t be considered true “public transit” cable cars since it largely provides a recreational transport function.

Based on current scheduling, Toulouse is set to open its system by 2020. However, in November, the proposal had a slight setback as it had to modify its route and build a new station at US$6 million (€5 million) to avoid travelling over a high school.

Conceptual design for urban gondola in Gothenburg, Sweden by Group A. Image from

Gothenburg on the other hand has also been steadily planning and designing its system for the past few years. It currently is scheduled to inaugurate its cable car by 2021 as part of the City’s 400th year celebrations. However, a recent court challenge by a losing consortium could cause some slight delays.

Other upcoming urban transit 3S proposals that have been publicly announced include the Téléphérique Pont de Sèvres – Vélizy, Wuppertal Seilbahn, Likoni Cable Express and the Réunion Téléphérique (Bellepierre to La Montagne).

Albany hopes to connect its downtown to the nearby Amtrak station in Rensselaer. Image from Capital Gondola.

3. Studies Galore in North America

North America is home to a few public transport ropeways: the Portland Aerial Tram, Roosevelt Island Tram, the Telluride & Mountain View Gondola and Mexicable. All these lines have been successfully implemented and continue to provide reliable, safe and efficient transportation to tens of thousands of passengers daily.

Mexico’s first public transit gondola, the 7-station Mexicable, opened in 2016 and carries an average of 29,000 riders per day. However, within the English-speaking countries of North America, a transit cable car hasn’t been built in 10 years since the Portland Aerial Tram was opened in 2007.

Given the precarious nature of project development, it’s difficult to ascertain how many projects are fully active, but in the last couple of years, the total number of publicly announced urban cable car proposals in North America has exceeded 40.

San Diego alone has already studied 3 alignments!


The IGA 2017 Ropeway provides green, barrier-free and near silent transport across the 100+ hectares of event grounds. Image from LEITNER Ropeways.

4. French and German Developments

As the most populous nations in Western Europe, a number of French and German cities are finally coming to grips with ropeway technology.

In fact, France is one of the world leaders in rope-propelled solutions as the country is estimated to have over 3,600 ropeways while Germany ranks ~5th globally with over 1,800 lifts. Last year, Brest became the first French city to build an urban transit cable car (albeit with limited success due to malfunctions and an accident) while Berlin saw its first recreational cable car in over 50 years at IGA 2017.

At the time of writing, more than 20 proposals were located in France while Germany has seen more than 10 proposals. Within the Parisian Region alone, more than 12 proposals have been identified. Perhaps the most geographically distant and remote location to integrate urban gondolas into its public transit network is the proposals happening in Reunion, a small French island commune in the Indian Ocean.

The Metrocable over top the Santo Domingo barrio. Image by Steven Dale.

5. Latin America Remains on Top

The success of Medellin’s Metrocable Line K (2004) has catapulted urban gondolas to forefront of modern city building unlike anything that transit planning has seen in decades.

While interest has been growing around the world, Latin America continues to dominates the urban transit gondola market. Cultural affinity, geographical proximity and similar socioeconomic conditions perhaps has facilitated this process whereby six Latin American countries operate a total of 17 aerial transit cable cars. This represents about 50% of all the urban transit cable cars in the world.

Barring some sort of global economic recession, as the urban ropeways mature and expertise is developed, more and more cities around the world will likely find inspiration from the continued success of the urban gondolas in Latin America and beyond.

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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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Tbilisi / Georgian Ropeways, Part 1.1

Narikala Ropeway, one of Tbilisi's modern urban cable cars soaring towards the ancient Narikala Fortress. Image by Prasanna Raju.

The Narikala Ropeway — one of Tbilisi’s modern urban cable cars — soars across the Mtkvari River towards an ancient fortress. Image by Prasanna Raju.

Update February 10, 2017: As we’ve alluded to in our original post, filtering and interpreting Soviet-era information with a high degree of precision is proving to be a little more challenging than we first expected. 

To compound these difficulties, we’ve learned this week that much of the history for Georgian/Tbilisi ropeways may have been lost forever. During the tumultuous times in the 90s, the central ropeway repository along with other historical archives were subject to, how you would say, collateral damage (read: burned down). As a result, much of the data and knowledge is only available through word-of-mouth at this time. 

While this is undoubtedly terrible news, we do have some good findings to share. Thanks to reader Irakli Z’s incredible research skills, it appears that there were actually many more ropeways we didn’t list in the original article. In fact, during Soviet times, up to 10 urban ropeways (or 11 if you count one that was partially constructed) were built! 

Hopefully we can compile the data and share it online while we still can. At this time, we’ve updated the map to reflect these changes and will continue to provide findings (and hopefully not lack thereof) as it comes.  

Continue to Part 1.2 – Tbilisi State University Ropeway

Back to to Part 1.0 – Tbilisi/Georgian Ropeways

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Tbilisi / Georgian Ropeways, Part 1

Narikala Ropeway, one of Tbilisi's modern urban cable cars soaring towards the ancient Narikala Fortress. Image by Prasanna Raju.

The Narikala Ropeway — one of Tbilisi’s modern urban cable cars — soars across the Mtkvari River towards an ancient fortress. Image by Prasanna Raju.

In the 8 years in which the Gondola Project has been online, our team has been on a journey to uncover the secrets of the urban gondola world and to share that knowledge with our readers. Most recently, a fellow researcher has helped our team learn more about the fascinating passenger cable lifts in Georgia (the country, not state).

To many North Americans (ourselves included), this developing democracy remains a bit of an enigma — located in the Caucasus Mountains surrounded by Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Black Sea, Georgia’s unique geopolitical context, complex history and distinct language has often meant that it operated under the radar of English-speakers. However, this small country’s relationship with ropeway technology is arguably as rich as any of its counterparts in the Alps.



Before Georgia gained full independence in 1991, the country was an integral part of the Russian empire. According to researcher Irakli Z., Georgia was the heart and soul of the Soviet Union’s ropeway industry as it was the country’s only manufacturer of cable cars. 

Although Georgia is relatively small (about the same size as Ireland), an estimated 62-75 passenger ropeways have been built since the 1950s. In the capital city alone, a total of 6 ropeways were constructed during Soviet times — many of which were still operational up until the 90s. 

Map of Georgian Ropeways (dated 2012).

Georgian Ropeways mapped out across the entire country. Since the map was created back in 2012, some information is now dated.

While we’ve yet to come across any specific sources which explains why each of these systems became non-operational, it might be safe to assume that a combination of the Soviet Union collapse (1991), the Georgian Civil War (1991-1993) and Russo-Georgian War (2008) contributed to, and accelerated the neglect of these ropeways.

Fortunately, if the pace of recent development is any indication of Tbilisi’s desire to modernize its infrastructure, then the prospects for urban cable cars looks incredibly promising.

A report released by the Asian Development Bank in 2013, suggests that the city’s public transit company (Tbilisi Transport) already provides 1.15 million trips per year on its ropeway.

At this time of this article’s writing, three cable propelled systems provide recreational transport service: 

  1. Narikala Ropeway (2012) by LEITNER Ropeways
  2. Tbilisi Funicular (modernized 2013) by Doppelmayr/Garaventa
  3. Turtle Lake Ropeway (modernized 2016)

A full list of all the ropeways can be viewed in the map below. Note that while Google Translate has improved a lot, interpretational challenges still remain. If we have misinterpreted any information/details, please let us know in the comments section or email us

Overall our hope is that we can help shed light on the many historical and modern Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) installations in Tbilisi, and to examine what the future might hold for urban gondolas in the Georgian capital.

Stay tuned for more.

Continue to Part 1.1 – Tbilisi/Georgian Ropeways

Big thank you goes out to Irakli Z. for translating and sharing his research. If you would like to get involved in the Gondola Project, visit this page here.

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.