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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The Irony of Cable Car Pranks on April Fools

For those who haven’t noticed yet, it’s April Fools today.

Of course, this means that a few media outlets have gone to great lengths to have a little fun and punk their audiences.

Hey look, it's a proposal that might potentially improve transportation. Ha ha. Jokes on you. Image from Isle of Wight Radio.

Look! It’s a proposal that might potentially improve transportation. Ha ha. Image from Isle of Wight Radio.

For gondolas, we’ve found two great stories so far: 1) A “green-lit” water-crossing cable car for the Isle of Wight, UK; and 2) A city-wide gondola network in Victoria, Canada.

The massive cable car proposal in Victoria is obviously ridiculous in that environment. But could maybe one or two strategically placed lines in the BC capital help improve transport and tourism? Of course. I see several interesting opportunities already.

As for the Isle of Wight prank, I honestly know nothing about the island. But from 30 seconds of Googling, it seems the island’s ferry system made 4.3 million trips across The Solent (strait) in 2012/2013.

Ferry routes. Image from

Ferry routes. Image from

There appears to be 3 ferry routes which range from ~6km (Lymington to Yarmouth, 40 minutes) to ~8km (Porsmouth to Ryde, 22 minutes) to ~11km (Portsmouth to Fishbourne, 45 minutes). The shortest distance between the island and the mainland is about ~4-5km.

For simplicity sake, we did a quick comparison between the Lymington to Yarmoth ferry route and a theoretical 3S system.

  • Frequency: Ferry @ 1 hour wait / 3S Gondola @ 35-person cabins every ~30 seconds
  • Travel Time: Ferry @ 40 minutes / 3S Gondola @ 12.5 minutes (assuming 6km, 8 m/s)
  • Capacity: Ferry @ 360 pphpd / 3S Gondola @ 4,000-5,000 pphpd

Judging solely on these three basic parameters above, a cable car can be designed to operate at a much superior level of service than the ferry. Furthermore in terms of environmental factors, average wind speeds of 27km/h may have little effect on a cable car’s performance.

Vietnam's Vinpearl Cable Car transports passengers

Vietnam’s 3.3km Vinpearl Cable Car is built with 9 towers (7 offshore towers in a seismically prone South China Sea) and transports passengers at heights of 115m. The cable car was actually built to replace the inefficient ferry system. Image by Flickr user gavindeas.

While it’s not possible to tell if a cable car can be economically viable at this time (depends on fare structure and volume), I suspect that adding another cross-strait transportation option may help drive down ferry ticket prices.

And this coincidentally might be important to locals and visitors since the strait is considered by many online commentators as one of the world’s most expensive stretches of water (single adult ticket costs US$14.25/£10).

I suppose the irony about this “joke” is there’s a good potential that there is significant technical and economical validity behind the idea. Despite the prank, this idea might actually deserve more analysis and attention.

Laughs and giggles aside, perhaps what is the most unsettling is this: while many of us in so called “developed” nations continue to mock and ridicule ropeways, many of those in “developing” nations have fully embraced the technology (see urban gondola map) and have decided to assess it based on its merits (rather than one’s preconceived notions).

For those who think a cross-Solent cable car is impossible, they might wish to take some inspiration from Vietnam’s 7.9km Hòn Thơm – Phú Quốc Ropeway. Best part is, the system has broken ground and scheduled to open in early 2017.

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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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Maximum Travel Speed for a Cable Car

We recently received a great question from reader Roberto:

I was wondering what is the maximum speed now registered in the world for a cable car. So far I know, reversible cable cars (43 kph, Portland, USA) go faster than the well known loop cable cars (27 kph, Val d’Isère, France), which is not clear to me why. If you could also explain this issue, that would be great. Thank you in advance.

By the way, what can we expect in the near future for maximum speeds?

These are great questions Roberto. To start, it’s important to remember that Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) can be broken down into top-supported and bottom-supported systems. For bottom-supported systems, the fastest cable technology are funiculars which can travel at maximum speeds of 14 m/s (50km/h).

For top-supported systems such as the Aerial Tram and Gondola, maximum speeds are 12.5m/s (45km/h) and 8.5m/s (30km/h) respectively. Maximum gondola speeds as high as 9 m/s are rumoured but not confirmed.

Why detachable gondolas (“loop cable cars”) travel at lower maximum speeds is partially related to issues of design and economics. For a detachable gondola to reach higher speeds, it would require enormous stations to accelerate and decelerate cabins.

For most gondola systems — which travel in relatively short distances — the increase in speeds would only result in marginal time savings but result in much greater station costs, energy demands, system wear and tear, and etc etc. Aerial trams in comparison, are fixed-grip systems. They simply come to a full stop in a station which enables them to travel at higher maximum speeds. Also, aerial trams typically use larger cabins which are able to provide greater comfort and stability during high speed operations.

As for the future, high speed cable test facilities have reportedly designed ropeways operating at speeds of 18m/s (65km/h). While this is exciting, it’s important to note that before maximum speeds change, it must meet a series of stringent technical and legal requirements to ensure maximum passenger safety.


Got a technical question about ropeways you want answered? Send your questions to 
gondola (at) creativeurbanprojects (dot) com in the subject heading and we’ll try to answer it.

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Designed right, ropeway technology makes an excellent complement to urban transit. Naturally, a crucial element of that right ropeway design must be the rope itself. In this article, we’d like to look at which rope could suit crowded cities best.

Among the many issues designers need to consider, environmental impact steals the headlines at the planning stages, but maintenance time and costs — all of the inevitable downtime — is what people notice later. The right rope will help at both stages.

So what does an urban environment require? Firstly, you should choose a rope that can travel at high speeds and carry a great deal of weight for long hours. All ropes gradually wear and eventually need to be replaced. To minimize downtime, the key is to select one that lasts longer. You also want to consider a rope that lessens the environmental impact.

The only product we know of that fulfills these needs and was specifically designed for city use is the Performa-DT® from FATZER®. Earlier this year, it was recognized for its innovativeness in design with a Red Dot Award.

So what makes Performa-DT right for urban gondolas? Its reduced vibrations, noise and elongation — in short, performance.

First there’s the speed and strength. The initials DT are short for detachable. This rope is specifically designed for gondolas or chairlifts that detach in the station. The net benefit? The rope needn’t slow while the gondola car unloads and fills up with passengers. (Its smaller-in-diameter sister product, Performa rope, was designed for those automatic people movers you see mainly in airports, which are clamped and do not detach.)

Next there’s endurance. Any transit system requires regular maintenance but that means downtime. Part of your cable car system’s maintenance retinue entails switching the ropes when they’ve reached their best-before date.

All ropes wear but, according to its producers, the Performa-DT should last from 2.5 to 3 times longer than a typical rope.

“Normally a rope stretches slightly each year,” says Daniel Graf, Head of Transportation Ropes at Fatzer. “Performa stretches far less. Therefor there is no need for a shortening of the rope in the first year. We call this ‘reduced settlement’.”

The company has its own ropeway test installation in Romanshorn Switzerland, where they perform ‘cycle testing’. Looking like a complete mini gondola system, which they call the world’s fastest ropeway in this video, the installation contains two full-sized bull wheels just metres apart. Its producers can accelerate a given rope’s ending cycles — that is, when the rope needs to be replaced — by testing it on this very short system. Consider. The greatest amount of wear and tear on a rope happens when it cycles past the bullwheel, bending the metal fibres and plastic. Bending then straightening it 24/7 at high speeds for months, they learn its strengths, weaknesses and length of life.

Of course, then there’s the real world. How does the Performa-DT perform here?

In 2014, Barcelona replaced its Teleferic de Montjuic ropeway with an appropriately gauged Performa-DT. The results have made for an excellent before/after case study. The clients recently reported the elongation was has been very low and “after 22,000 hours of operation, we need not provide for a shortening of the rope.”

But what about the aforementioned environmental benefits?

Taking cars off roads and putting their riders into electric powered gondolas is one obvious environmental plus of ropeway technology, but there other considerations in urban environments. A big one is noise. The ambient hum of a ropeway is far preferable to the loud revving of a passing diesel bus — but the Performa-DT goes further, lessening that hum considerably.

In Barcelona, “Vibrations caused by the rope passage on line sheaves is considerably reduced. It is particularly noticeable in the absence of vibrations in the towers structures and increasing the comfort of the cabins.” Which makes for happier riders.

However, the vibration and hum are part of a larger issue too: expended energy through friction. Again in Barcelona, “bullwheels and sheaves linings wear is decreased. It consequently brings lower power consumption due to the lower friction of the rope with all different rolling elements.”

How would it fare your city?

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Online Platform Designated Driver Transport

Here at the Gondola Project, we generally discuss cable transport issues but many of our long-time readers also know we’re really just transit nerds at heart. (And über-nerds will note we’ve used the word nerd two days in a row.) Sticking to one single solution isn’t our thing and we’re always looking for new and exciting transport ideas.

Last week I found myself traveling and eating with relatives in the city of Jinan in China’s Shandong province.

After taking in the many sights and sounds we naturally went out for dinner. As the food came in, the topic (naturally) flowed towards alcohol consumption. Being in one of China’s most famous provinces for beer (Tsingtao), I foolishly thought I could make it through a meal without a drink. Clearly that was not going to be the case and since Chinese is not my native tongue, it was difficult to say no to free beer in Mandarin (or any language for that matter).

Ai Dai Jia – substitute driver services. Image from Ai Dai Jia.

After throwing back a few pints with Uncle Bob, eating some really awesome local food and sharing a few laughs, it was time to bid farewell. Since he’d had a few drinks, Uncle Bob, decided to get home the safe, nouveau way. He pulled out his smartphone and clicked on Ai Dai Jia which I initially thought was China’s equivalent of Uber. Soon enough, a stylish young chap arrives on his foldable motorbike.

Being an ignorant foreigner, I assumed Uncle Bob would merely share a motorbike ride home while leaving his car at the restaurant. Instead, Uncle Bob popped opened his car’s trunk and the motorcyclist placed his motorbike there.

They explained that Ai Dai Jia was an online app providing substitute driving services. Among these was designated driver transportation to help people avoid the high penalties and dangers of drinking and driving.

It turns out that the young chap will drive Uncle Bob home, park his car, and then leave via his own folding motorbike.

It’s amazing that I’d never heard of this simple service. But equally mind-blowing is the fact that it’s not more prevalent around the world.

Truly, I thought to myself, designated-driver transport must be one of the greatest features of online platform transport services. In the US alone, 30 people die each day in alcohol-impaired crashes. If somehow this feature were integrated with major ride-sharing programs like, say, Uber, it could lessen the frequency of drunk driving. Now that would be a disruptive technology.


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Ropeways for Waves Have Dudes Everywhere “Like Totally Stoked!”

Wavegarden. Image from LEITNER Ropeways.

Surfing is not just for beach boys and Internet users any more. Using LEITNER Ropeway’s DirectDrive technology, Wavegarden has partnered with the South Tyrolean company to design a system that creates the world’s longest artificial surfing wave.

Consider the confluence: mountain technology bringing ocean shore culture inland.

The system generates continuous waves with ropeway technology where a watercraft is pulled through the pier. The results are 0.5 -1.9m high waves enabling surfers to ride for 18-35 seconds.

Described by enthusiasts as both “awesome” and “excellent!”, these perfect waves are ideal all surfer levels, from beginners to vets who regularly hang ten. The first inland surfing facility is being built right now in Austin, Texas.

For more information, click here.

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