Eibsee Cable Car



Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car — One Ropeway, Three World Records

Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car. Image from Zugspitze.

Rising to a height of nearly 3,000m above sea level, Zugspitze is Germany’s tallest peak and one of the country’s top visitor destinations. The summit is part of the Wetterstein Mountains and is located at the very south of Germany (90 minutes drive/100km from Munich), near the Bavarian (German) – Tyrolean (Austrian) border.

After six years of planning and construction, the new US$42 million (€50 million) state-of-the-art Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car is expected to redefine how people travel to and experience the summit. With its public opening scheduled for December 22, 2017, visitors will once again be able to soar to the pinnacle in just 10 minutes and experience the excitement of alpine recreation.

From the German side, the new ropeway will complement existing transport modes such as the Bavarian Zugspitze Railway and Zugspitze Glacier Cable Car (Gletscherbahn) that provide access to the mountain range.

Zugspitze Map from the German side. Routes for the Bavarian Zugspitze Railway, Zugspitze Glacier Cable Car (Gletscherbahn) and the Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car (Seilbahn Zugspitze) are all coloured in red. Image from Zugspitze.de.

For the new aerial tram, visitors will begin their journey at Eibsee (bottom station: 998m) before ascending 1945m to reach the Zugspitze summit (top station: 2943m).

The old Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car, built in 1963, was outdated since its low capacity caused long wait times for its 500,000 annual visitors. As a result, local stakeholders decided in Spring 2015 to replace the system with a modern ropeway that not only improves passenger comfort but also brings the Zugspitze experience into the 21st century.

The new ropeway, built by the Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group, is 4,466m in length and has increased its line capacity by more than 90% (580 pphpd vs 300 pphpd). The two old 44-person cabins have been replaced with two spacious, two-storey high 120-person cabins.

Effectively, the Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car has furthered pushed the boundaries of what’s technologically possible for rope-driven systems. A total of three impressive world records has been achieved:

  1. Highest steel structural tower for an aerial tram: 127m
  2. Largest height difference in one section: 1,945m
  3. Longest free span for a passenger ropeway: 3,213m

Diagram outlining major technical details for the cable car. Image by dpa_infographik.

The longest free span record has increased by an extra 189m in comparison to the previous record held by the Peak 2 Peak Gondola (3,024m free span). And compared to the old cable car which spanned 4,450m over two towers (65m and 85m high towers which were once the world’s tallest), the new ropeway only has one massive 127m steel tower which enables an incredible 3,213m free span — that’s nearly 30 football fields in length! 

View of the 127m tall tower. Screenshot from YouTube video by afpde.

No matter how you look at it, the Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car is a system of superlatives and an incredible feat of engineering. Interestingly, an examination of the system’s history revealed that the desire to ascend the Zugspitze has been a catalyst for transport innovation. 

Online articles suggest that Zugspitze has long been the centre of what some may call a technological competition between Austria and Germany. Without getting into details (you can read more here and here), there was essentially a rivalry in the 1920s to see which side could first build a transport connection to Zugspitze. The Austrians constructed the Tyrolean Zugspitze Cable Car in 1926 while the Germans responded with a rack railway in 1928-1930 and the Eibsee Cable Car in 1963.

Map of the Zugspitze area provides location and relationship between Austria’s Tiroler Zugspitzbahn cable car compared to Germany’s Eibsee Seilbahn cable car. The rack railway is not shown here. Screenshot from Google Maps.

Online commentators suggest there are pros and cons to experiencing the summit via Germany/Austria so visitors simply need to choose one (or both if you’re willing to pay separate tickets). 

While we’re not historians here by any stretch of the imagination, one can’t help but to think what the Austrian reaction would be to the new record-setting Zugspitze-Eibsee Cable Car. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, the new cable car will reignite competitive spirits and we’ll soon witness more ropeway innovation. 🙂

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