Trieste–Opicina tramway



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?

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.