Caracas Metrocable

28
May

2010

Caracas Metrocable Expansion Plans

The Caracas Metro System. Image by User:Okty. Not affiliated with, released by or approved by Metro de Caracas.

The above map is the Caracas Metro System. Metro de Caracas, of course, is one of the few transit systems in the world to utilize a Cable Propelled Transit (they call it the Metrocable) system.

Look closely at the map and you’ll see all the other CPT lines Metro de Caracas has planned. All eight of them. (Nine, if you include the extension of the currently-operational San Augustin line).



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12
Apr

2010

Being First

It’s only a matter of time before someone builds an urban gondola or Cable Propelled Transit system in your world. It’s only a matter of when, where and whose first.

I know this because I read dozens of documents and reports from amateurs and professionals alike, answer a fair bit of email and listen to what people are saying. Trust me, it’s only a matter of time.

But that’s not the point. This is:

Every one of these documents I read or reports I correct or people I listen to all say the same thing: That an urban gondola or cable transit system is a guaranteed generator of tourism.

That’s only partly right and guarantees are not guaranteed.

For the city in your world that first installs a fully-integrated cable transit system, yes, the tourism dollars it generates will be large. Huge in fact. But only because the city in question was quick enough and smart enough to be first. For everyone else, forget it. Being first is a zero sum game.

Medellin was first and has reaped the rewards. And it will continue to reap the rewards for decades. Why? Because they were first. They were the original. They were the pioneers. For sure, no city wants to be first but there’s no bonus prize for being second.

Does the casual appreciator of art – the generalist – care about cubism? Probably not. But they’ll pay twenty bucks to see a Picasso.

In South America, cable’s about to become common. Cable’s already spread from Medellin to Caracas and plans are under way for CPT systems in Bogota, Cali, and throughout South America. There is literally so much talk about cable in South America, I can barely keep up.

In 10 years time will people travel to those places because of a gondola? Of course they won’t. People don’t travel thousands of miles to learn about, experience and witness something that’s common. Not when they’ve got one in their own backyard.

Once something is common, people choose instead to seek out the original. Which means if you want your gondola transit system to bear the fruits of tourism, you need to be first.

But wait you’re saying. How can my city be first? It’s no longer possible to be first. Medellin was first. Again, only partly right.

Remember, Medellin was only first in their world. Just as your world is far away from most of the rest of the world, Latin America is far away from most of the rest of the world. Not everyone will have the time and resources to travel to Medellin. That means the race to be first is still on. In your world.

It’s on in North America. It’s on in Sub-Saharan Africa. It’s on in Australasia. It’s on in China. It’s on in India. It’s on in Europe. It’s on in Scandanavia. It’s on in Russia. It’s on in the Caribbean. Smart cities know this and are racing towards the finish line. Foolish cities don’t even know the race is on.

So let’s make it official: The race is on. Be first.



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25
Mar

2010

Medellin/Caracas, Part 7

Two weeks ago I travelled to Medellin, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela to tour five of the most important CPT systems in the world. This is Part 7 where I discuss the social mandate that underlies the Caracas Metocable. Image by Steven Dale.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed something problematic about the Caracas Metrocable: The stations are enormous. We’re not talking about just “big” here. We’re talking about “big enough for Cirque du Soleil to perform in.”

This is because the stations themselves are not really stations at all. Whut? Exactly.

In actuality, the Caracas Metrocable stations are full-service community centres with multiple neighborhood facilities all under one roof including a Cable Propelled Transit line. Most of these facilities are not yet complete and as such the stations have an eery empty quality thus far. The plan, however, is to have gymnasiums, markets, dental offices, police stations, medical clinics, theatres, libraries and all other manner of social services located within the 5 stations united by the Metrocable.

The idea is to have each station host one or two such facilities. As each station is linked to the other via Metrocable, those within the poor barrios can travel quickly and cheaply between those services in a way that simply would not have been possible before the Metrocable. When you consider this component of the plan, the Metrocable is less a transit line and more the connective tissue that holds together a network of social services.

Whether or not you agree with the political ideology behind Hugo Chavez’s plan, you have to admit it’s bold and unique. It’s also costly. The price of the Metrocable including stations/community centres has been reported as $265 million USD and I’ve heard numbers as high as $300 million USD. Considering the system is only 1.8 kilometers long, you could practically build a subway for that price.

The price of the gondola system, however, was modest. Everything necessary for the gondola system (the “electro-mechanical” cost in industry-speak) was only $18 million USD.

Consider that for a moment: Only 6-7 % of the total cost of the Metrocable went to the transit system and infrastructure itself. The rest was spent on the stations/community centres and land expropriation costs.

I want to state this plainly so that no one opposed to the concept of cable transit can use Caracas as an example of how expensive the technology is: The Caracas Metrocable did not cost $300 million. It cost $18 million. The additional monies spent were on community centre facilities and land expropriation costs that were separate from the transit system itself.

Once again (because the internet is great at taking people out of context): The Caracas Metrocable did not cost $300 million. It cost $18 million. The additional monies spent were on community centre facilities and land expropriation costs that were separate from the transit system itself.

Should some of those additional monies be allocated to station costs? Yes, but not the vast majority of it. The Medellin Metrocable (which uses similar MDG technology) Linea K cost $26 million USD in 2006; that included 1.8 kms of length and 4 stations. Linea J cost $50 million USD in 2008; that included 2.7 km and 4 stations. Linea L cost $25 million USD in 2010; that included 4.8 km and 2 stations. It would be fair to allocate an additional $10 – $20 million dollars to the cost of the Metrocable itself, but no more than that.

Perched high atop hills, the Caracas Metrocable stations are one small component of a much bigger network of community centres and social services. Image by Steven Dale

As a social experiment, it will be interesting to see how the Caracas Metrocable pans out. I, for one, am hopeful. Caracas needs these kinds of services, particularly in the barrios. One thing, however, I’m not certain of is the overt social message of the Metrocable. Many cabins are adorned with single word imperatives suggesting qualities which those in the barrio should aspire to and exemplify:

Sacrificio . . . Moral . . . Libertad . . . Equidad . . . Humanismo . . . Amor . . .

It’s an odd design choice that has nothing to do with the technology itself. But as one rides the Metrocable or sees them glide overhead, one can’t escape this blatant messaging. Granted, it’s hard to argue with the message: Sacrifice, Morals, Liberty, Equality, Humanity, Love. But at the same time, is it a transit agencies job to suggest how to behave? Maybe, maybe not.

In the western world we’re used to being told how to ride our transit. Hold the handrail. Exit by the rear doors. Don’t spit. Don’t litter. Give up your seat for the elderly. Mind the gap. These instructions transit agencies force upon us are nothing more than the practical application of the emotional instructions the Caracas Metrocable forces upon its riders.

Maybe we wouldn’t need so many rules and instructions in our transit systems if we simply had signs that read “Love” or “Equality.” Or not, I don’t know. It’s something I’ve wrestled with a lot since seeing it. Is it propaganda? No. But it veers pretty close to it and that’s what makes me uncomfortable. The message plays so blatantly upon emotions and that’s problematic. But at the same time, the sweet naiveté of the gesture is charming enough, innocent enough to catch even the most cynical observer off-guard.

I honestly don’t know. I’d love to know what everyone else thinks about this matter. Take a look at the images below and form your own opinion: Are the messages on the Caracas Metrocable propaganda? Are they amusing and pleasant? Are they harmless? Are they dangerous? What do you think?

Libertad. Image by Steven Dale.

Moral. Image by Steven Dale.

Sacrificio. Image by Steven Dale.

Amor & Humanismo. Image by Steven Dale.

Equidad. Image by Steven Dale.

Return to Part 6.



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23
Mar

2010

Medellin/Caracas, Part 6

Two weeks ago I travelled to Medellin, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela to tour five of the most important CPT systems in the world. This is Part 6 where I discuss the technological innovations of the Caracas Metocable. Image by Steven Dale.

Like the Medellin Metrocable, the Caracas Metrocable is a MDG system, the most basic of aerial Cable Propelled Transit technologies. It is fully-integrated into the local Metro system, has a maximum operating speed of 18 km/hr, a capacity of 3,000 pphpd and is 1.8 km long. Vehicles can carry 8 sitters and 2 standees. The system has 2 terminals and 3 intermediary stations; a total of 5 stations. Unlike the Medellin systems, which were built by the French-Italian consortium of Poma-Leitner, the Caracas Metrocable was built by the Austrian-Swiss partnership of Doppelmayr/Garaventa.

The most important aspect of the Caracas Metrocable is its alignment. The Caracas Metrocable’s alignment includes two extreme 90 degree turns. That this was the first aerial cable system in known history to implement a 90 degree turn is impressive, that the designers had the guts to attempt two 90 degree turns is all the more so. With this single act, the cable transit industry has demonstrated their ability to adapt, innovate and improve upon their technology within the public transit market.

What’s more, engineers did not utilize a separate drive wheel at each angle station as is common in most corner-turning applications. Instead, engineers used a single, passive deflection bullwheel at the two 90 degree stations, dramatically reducing complexity, size and cost of the system. Only at the middle station is a second drive wheel utilized. This, in essence, means that the Caracas Metrocable is made up of two separate lines where vehicles switch automatically from one line to the second at the middle station.

A graphical representation of the Caracas Metrocable system. Notice how the system is made up of two separate lines (represented by two different shades of blue). If one line fails, vehicles can be re-routed back onto the original line. Image by Steven Dale.

Additionally, a mechanism was designed into the middle station that allows operators to divert vehicles such that they do not automatically switch onto the new line, returning instead from whence they came. This configuration creates enormous additional benefit from an operations perspective. In the even that either of the two lines were to experience mechanical difficulties, the second of the two lines would be able to continue operations.

This simple feature debunks the common (but provably misinformed) opinion that with cable technology when one part of the system goes down, the whole system goes down.

A passive deflection wheel at angle stations allow vehicles to make sharp, 90 degree turns. Image by Steven Dale.

Vehicles enter and depart one of two 90 degree turning stations. Image by Steven Dale.

Image by Steven Dale.

Further features add to the Metrocable's appeal: Two way intercoms are located in each vehicle to assist with safety and emergency situations. Image by Steven Dale.

Sylish wooden benches in each vehicle are a charmingly casual (though somewhat Spartan) method of dealing with seating. Image by Steven Dale.

8 spots on the floor cue passengers where to stand and how to cue up. It's a unique and incredibly cost-effective design feature that speeds loading and disembarking times. Image by Steven Dale.

Return to Part 5.

Move on to Part 7.



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22
Mar

2010

Medellin/Caracas, Part 5

Last week I travelled to Medellin, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela to tour five of the most important CPT systems in the world. This is Part 5 where I introduce Caracas, Venezuela's brand-new Metocable. Image by Steven Dale.

The Caracas Metrocable, Introduction

Imitation, they say, is the greatest form of flattery. And if that’s the case, then Caracas is clearly smitten with Medellin. Inspired by Medellin’s incredibly positive experience with Cable Propelled Transit, Venezuela has embarked on their own CPT campaign, beginning first in the capital city of Caracas.

Like Medellin, Caracas exists in a narrow mountain valley. It is crowded, dangerous and littered with impoverished, poorly connected hillside barrios. It is an ideal environment for CPT. But the similarity ends there. So much is similar between the Medellin and Caracas Metrocables (not the least of which is the name), it would be easy to ignore the differences. But those differences are many and dramatic. The two systems are both cousins and rivals, synonyms and antonyms. The Caracas component of Medellin/Caracas will partly focus on those differences.

One difference between the Caracas and Medellin situations must be stated up front: While both cities (like all cities) suffer from traffic congestion, one is typical (Medellin) and the other is a complete and utter basket case (Caracas). See, Venezuela is a net exporter of oil whose central policy is to subsidize petrol prices. This policy results in Venezuela having the cheapest gasoline on the planet; 12 cents per gallon (USD)! Consequently, the roads of Caracas are a traffic nightmare the likes of which would make North Americans pine for the rush hour gridlock they are typically accustomed to. A trip of a half dozen kilometers can take (literally) hours. Traffic lights, lane demarcations and signals are ignored and pointless. Bumper-to-bumper is a ridiculous understatement.

In other words, Caracas needs cheap public transit outside the right-of way of the private automobile in a way that one needs to witness to appreciate. It could rightly be called a crisis. The Metrocable is part of the solution to that crisis.

As the Caracas Metrocable opened mere weeks ago (it had been out of testing for just two weeks during my visit), it is impossible to discuss the “success” of the system, only it’s existence. But the fact that it exists at all is important. That the world doesn’t know it even exists, more so.

The photos you’ll see here over the next few days are unique. I was afforded time to speak with technicians, operators, designers and salesmen associated with the Metrocable and given free reign to photograph and videotape as I saw fit. Please lead people to these next few posts. Anyone associated with or interested in public transit needs to see them.

Hopefully you find the Caracas Metrocable as inspiring as I did.

A work crew completes work on the Caracas Metrocable while a young women hangs laundry atop her home in a hillside barrio. Image by Steven Dale.

A construction crew completes work on the Caracas Metrocable. Meanwhile, a young woman nearby hangs laundry in a hillside barrio. Image by Steven Dale.

In Caracas, the Metrocable highlights the disparity between progress and the past. Image by Steven Dale.

The Metrocable sails overtop of Caracas barrios. The stations, meanwhile, sit like small hillside castles. Image by Steven Dale.

Vehicles approach and depart from the St. Augustin transfer station in dense, crowded downtown Caracas. Image by Steven Dale.

A Caracas Metrocable gondola. Image by Steven Dale.

Return to Part 4.

Move on to Part 6.



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08
Mar

2010

Medellin/Caracas!!!

Image by Steven Dale

Tune in Wednesday for the start of The Gondola Project’s first photo essay: Medellin/Caracas.

I’ve just returned from Medellin, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela where I toured five of the most important systems in all of cable transit. Two of them just opened mere weeks ago. There’s so much to say, this series could go on for a while. To be honest, I don’t know how long, but I suspect at least a couple of weeks.

Cable transit’s here . . . in a big way. See you Wednesday!



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05
Dec

2009

The Wealth of Poor Nations

Call us what you will . . . Developed Nation; Advanced Nation; Industrialized Country; Post-Industrialized Country; Economically Developed Nation; Global North Country; First World Country; Et Cetera. But whatever term you choose to use, remember it’s just euphemism to avoid calling us what we are: Rich.

Nowadays, however, it’s a different kind of rich. We’ve got lots of stuff but no way to pay for it and the stuff is getting costlier and costlier to maintain and operate. To borrow a concept from home economics, the First World is house-rich but cash-poor.

No where is this more clear than in our collective need for more infrastructure. We need more transit, that’s clear, but instead of acknowledging our compromised finances, we continue to insist on transit technologies we simply cannot afford. Subways and Light Rail, I’m afraid, are no longer in our price range. We’re going to have to get used to that fact. And more importantly, we’re going to have to learn from those poorer nations who’ve learned to implement efficient transit for a fraction of what we are used to paying.

Nations like Columbia, Algeria and Venezuela have all implemented fully-integrated public cable transit systems in the last 10 years and all have met with positive results. Need further evidence of worth: Each country has, is or plans to install additional cable systems despite having a standard of living well below what we in the Developed World are accustomed to. These countries are expanding their transit systems at a rate almost unheard of because they discovered that Cable Propelled Transit is a poor country’s solution to a rich country’s problem.

Sometimes the rich get stuck in a mindset simply because they’re rich. Our wealth, we assume, is a direct result of our strategies, tactics and ideas and so we close our mind to new ideas. But the poor don’t have the luxury of a closed mind. They need to survive and sometimes that survival instinct causes them to develop ingenious, creative and remarkable solutions that we wealthy nations could never dream of.

But now the tables have turned. China, Southeast Asia, India, Brazil and Latin America are finding their feet and we’re just barely keeping our heads above water. Maybe it’s time we swallowed our pride. Maybe it’s time we played follower instead of leader just for a little while. Maybe it’s time we learned a thing or two from these so-called Poor Nations. And while we’re at it, maybe it’s time we stand up, take notice, and recognize these countries’ efforts to tackle complex problems for what they are: The true creation of actual wealth.



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