Saboteur Apparently Behind Sea to Sky Gondola Accident

Sea to Sky Gondola Accident
A Sea to Sky Gondola cabin rests on the ground after an act of vandalism halted system operation over the weekend. Image by Squamish RCMP

Over the weekend, in an incident the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are treating as a criminal matter, an apparent saboteur somehow managed to sever the haul rope of the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, British Columbia.

Thankfully, the vandal acted in the dead of night thereby avoiding any human casualties. This person’s actions, however, still managed to cause millions of dollars of damage, throw hundreds of system employees out of work during the busy summer season and create uncountable amounts of grief for a whole slew of people. 

And for what? 

My gut says this is (hopefully?) nothing more than garden-variety vandalism—albeit an extreme version—but one never knows. What’s most disturbing about this is the degree of preparation one would need to execute such a maneuver. One doesn’t just find themselves wandering in the British Columbia hinterland at 4am in the morning with the tools necessary to cut through an industrial-strength cable. 

This took planning — which tends to follow intention and motive, in that order. Thankfully that motive doesn’t appear to include a desire to see a loss of human life. 

We here at Gondola Projectdon’t shy away from discussing events in our industry that cast a negative light on Cable-Propelled Transit technologies. This situation, however, is so beyond the pale it’s hard to even wrap one’s mind around it. After much internal discussion, therefore, we’ve decided not to offer any opinion on the matter nor speculate on the intentions or sequence of events that led to these circumstances. There’s simply not enough information to warrant real comment.

We would, however, like to point out the remarkable safety record of cable car technology throughout the ages. Even if one included what occurred at Squamish over the weekend, cable car systems would still be amongst the safest transportation technologies around the world and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. You can read an entire post here outlining the considerable data and analysis that exists in support of that position.

Updates on this situation will be made available as things develop. 

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Photos: Annual Safety Training and Evacuation Exercises in Grenoble

Grenoble-Bastille cable car held annual safety evacuation training this week. Photo by R Lemercier.

Aerial ropeways are amongst the safest, if not the safest forms of transport in the world.

For those who work with cable transport, they will personally understand and acknowledge that there is a deeply embedded culture of safety where passenger security is prioritized first and foremost.

While aerial lifts rarely suffer any mechanical or electronic failures — some estimate that there is an evacuation only once every 4.5 years — cable cars still employ teams of first responders who are trained to safely evacuate passengers during emergency situations.

To ensure aerial rescuers are fully prepared, the Grenoble-Bastille cable car conducted its annual evacuation exercises this week. A specialist team skillfully lowered thirty brave evacuees — all of which were actually volunteers! Photographer R. Lemercier was there in person to witness the annual event and was kind enough to share with us some of his personal images.

Photo by R Lemercier.

Photo by R Lemercier.

Photo by R Lemercier.

To view the entire photo album from this year’s training sessions in Grenoble, click here.

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A Reminder on Cable Car Safety

In the past weeks, a few lift incidents made headlines across North America. Dozens were evacuated after a chair fell down at Heavenly Mountain Sky Resort (Nevada), while a stranded passenger captured some incredible footage of his own rescue at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (British Columbia).

Naturally since safety on Cable Propelled Transit is always a top concern, we thought it was important to provide readers not only with a refresher on this topic, but with a few updated stats to help keep discussions grounded in reality and not just perceptions.

To begin, a few years ago we came across data from Switzerland. In short, when compared to rail, trolley buses, auto buses and trams, funiculars and gondolas/aerial trams ranked the first and second safest amongst the transit technologies.

This of course, is quite significant since Switzerland is home to the highest, if not one of the world’s highest per capita use of cable transport systems.

For those that live in the USA, the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) keeps a fantastic database on lift safety. In their latest 2015 report, they found that there has been zero fatalities related to ski lift malfunctions since 1993. In fact, since record keeping began in 1973, only 12 deaths are attributable to lift malfunction. Compared to fatalities per 100 million miles transported, ski lift passengers are five and eight times less likely to suffer a fatality than riding an elevator or driving.

However, these stats are slightly misleading for urban cable transit since this NSAA report included only chairlifts. And because cities never build open-air chairlifts, parsing gondola/aerial tram (that have fully enclosed cabins) systems from the dataset is important.

From my research online, the last deaths that I found on an aerial lift (with fully enclosed cabins) in the US happened in 1976 and 1978. These incidents occurred respectively in Vail (cause: frayed cable, maintenance negligence) and Squaw Valley (cause: act of god, high wind a likely contributor). This means that fully enclosed aerial lifts in North America have safely operated without a fatality in almost 40 years.*

So by any stretch of the imagination, these findings help reconfirm the incredible safety record of cable transport. At the same time, it is also a testament to professionalism and dedication of ropeway staff who work day in and day out to ensure that these systems are designed, and operated to the highest standards.


*Note: Fatalities were reported in Disneyland’s Skyway in 1994 and at the State Fair of Texas Skyride in 1979. However, these systems feature open-air gondola cabins. So for purposes of discussing safety levels of fully enclosed gondola systems (which are built in cities), these systems were not included in the analysis. 

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Ropeway Redux: Highlights From Doppelmayr’s Comprehensive Magazine

The world's safest form of public transit.

According to Doppelmayr, a ropeway with a 3,600 person capacity can use as little as 0.1kWh of power to carry one passenger over 1km — the same amount of energy consumed by a hair dryer in 5 minutes!

Earlier this year, Doppelmayr Urban Solutions produced an attractively art directed brochure-cum-magazine called Ropeways in the urban environment. It compiles the many benefits of cable cars (or ropeways as they’re called in the industry) as urban transportation.

The following is a summary of the magazine’s main points. The content is very useful for anyone looking to write a top-10 list or giving a presentation. The truly time-starved can skip to the last section for the key features at a glance.

  • Ropeways complement other forms of urban transit, easily integrating into existing infrastructure. They continuously operate, so there is no need for other modes of transit to modify their own schedules just to accommodate them.
  • Service is continuous. So the other side of the first point is no schedules for ropeway passengers to memorize and adhere to, and no long waiting periods in ropeway stations.
  • They have their own dedicated and uninterrupted route. There are no traffic jams 20 metres overhead.
  • Formerly outlying neighbourhoods thrive when connected.
  • Capacity — Ropeways can carry up to 5,000 passengers per hour and direction.
  • Capacity — Cabins can carry up to 35 passengers, plus bikes, wheelchairs, strollers and baggage. In other words, they allow barrier-free access for all riders.
  • Ropeways are statistically the world’s safest means of transit.
  • They easily integrate into neighbourhoods, requiring minimal structural footprints. (Indeed, in some cities stations have been built high up in skyscrapers.)
  • They have minimal environmental impact. The Koblenz Seilbahn, consumes as little as 0.1kwh to transport one rider over a distance of 1km. This is equivalent to the amount of energy a hair dryer uses in 5 minutes.
  • To transport 10,000 passengers in an hour, you need 100 buses, 2,000 cars or one ropeway. So, for the capacity, ropeways are a cost-effective solution for cash-strapped transit authorities and city governments.
  • Robustness — Built for mountaintop conditions, many ropeway systems can continue operating in winds up to 100km/h.
  • Comfort need never be a problem. Cabins can easily be heated, cooled and supplied with infotainment systems and Wi-Fi.
  • Ropeway infrastructure is relatively easy to build and it goes up fast — perfect for already-clogged cities with lots of construction on the go and in a hurry to get moving.
  • Stations and towers can be adapted to blend in with the local architecture.

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 12.58.03 PM

A gondola can offset a huge number of car and bus trips.


  • Ropeways can fill gaps between busy zones that generate traffic, like hospitals and other outlying infrastructure.
  • They are ideal for connecting organizationally linked facilities that are physically removed, like a campus, factory or exhibition grounds.
  • You can use them to bridge otherwise difficult-to-cross barriers, inexpensively.
  • They extend or relieve existing urban transit systems, cost-effectively.
  • Ropeways generate a new source of advertising revenue. Passengers are a captive audience for the length of their ride.

Ropeways provide barrier-free access

Ropeways provide barrier-free access.


  • Fully automatic operation
  • High capacity due to continuous operation
  • Short, low-cost construction phase
  • Minimal space requirements
  • Easy integration with existing transport systems
  • Barrier-free movement
  • World’ssafest means of transport
  • Minimal environmental impact


The magazine shows examples of urban ropeways from around the world. You can downloadRopeways in the urban environment’ free.


Materials on this page are paid for. Gondola Project (including its parent companies and its team of writers and contributors) does not explicitly or implicitly endorse third parties in exchange for advertising. Advertising does not influence editorial content, products, or services offered on Gondola Project.


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Are Gondolas and Cable Cars Safe?

Perhaps the most common question we’re asked about Urban Gondolas and Cable Propelled Transit is the safety question. Namely, are they safe?

And while anecdotally we’ve always known them to be a remarkably safe technology, gathering clear statistical proof has been very difficult. Most countries don’t have readily available access to numbers on this and those that do make the mistake of combining ski hill chairlifts and gondolas within the same statistical category despite the two having fundamental differences in their safety statistics.

Nevertheless, the Switzerland’s Office fédéral de la statistique OFS recently put out some new statistics that help shed some light on the safety issue. While by no means definitive, we’ve compiled some of the important numbers in the tables below and our preliminary investigations suggest Cable Propelled Transit technologies such as Funiculars, Gondolas and Aerial Trams are amongst the safest public transit technologies around.

Take a look:

Compiled by CUP; Based Upon Numbers Gathered By Office fédéral de la statistique OFS.

You’ll note that during 2008 and 2009 Funiculars and Gondolas/Aerial Tram technologies consistently experienced the fewest number of accidents, injuries and deaths per 1,000 passengers. Rail-based technologies consistently experienced the most.

These numbers are important for a couple of reasons:

  • Switzerland has the largest number of cable transit systems in the world with a well-used and highly-developed multi-modal transit network across the country. If cable is to be compared to other travel modes, this is the place to make the comparisons.
  • These numbers necessarily did not include small, private gondola systems nor ski hill chairlift systems. This lack of inclusion makes the comparisons far more apt.

Notwithstanding the above, these numbers do come with a few caveats:

  • It would have been preferred to see numbers across a wider time period. Unfortunately the data series used did not include accidents, injuries and deaths for Tram, Trolleybus and Autobus technologies prior to 2008.
  • Owing to Switzerland’s almost complete lack of Subway/Metro technology, no statistics were available for those technologies.
  • While complete accident, injury and death statistics were available for 2010, passenger volumes were not available.
  • An additional comparison between modes by Passenger Kilometers Travelled would’ve been preferred as the distance travelled by cable is likely to be shorter than the distance travelled by the other modes. Such figures, however, were not present in the datasets for Gondola systems. Instead, gondola values were given in Hours of Operation.
  • All information was given in French. And while as Canadians we have a base understanding of the language, there is clear potential for error. Anyone with a greater grasp of the French language is invited to double-check our work.

Having said that, this is still a step in the right direction and more than a little bit eye-opening.

As always, additional information, corrections or amendments can be posted in the comments and we’ll be sure to correct any errors or omissions.

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Public Transit: Safety Should Never Be Compromised

Sometimes you forget how incredibly awesome and safe cable systems are – especially when entire systems are supported by a single cable the width of golf ball.

Note: this is a repost from an original article in 2012.

Last week, guest blogger Ryan O’Connor, wrote a brief analysis on the state of HSR (high speed rail) and the potential implications and lessons cable can learn from China’s recent love affair with rail. If you haven’t been keeping up-to-date with transportation news in China, last Saturday a tragic accident occurred when two HSR trains near Wenzhou collided.

Having just recently traveled to China and experienced the comfort and convenience of HSR, I cannot imagine the pain and sorrow that the victims and their families are experiencing.

Built partly to raise national pride and joy, the entire HSR network is now under extreme scrutiny as members of the public are demanding immediate answers from the government. Unfortunately, as China continues to build and develop HSR at such an unprecedented and feverish rate, quality and safety most likely will continue to arise. Hopefully this recent tragedy will serve as a grim reminder and lesson that safety should always be the paramount priority.

While the pace of HSR and CPT development are not nearly on the same level, the fact is, cable will also continue to grow. Let us hope that the growth of CPT technology continues to develop and evolve without any major setbacks.

In fact (although I don’t have the official statistics on hand) the safety record of cable technology since its inception is  nothing short of a remarkable achievement – probably one that is neither praised enough nor one that’s given the attention it deserves.

Can you think of the last time someone died in a gondola accident as a result of mechanical failure? Last one that comes to my mind is the Peak2Peak Excalibur Gondola tower failure, but no fatalities resulted.

So to all the cable engineer dudes and dudettes that may read this blog and the supporting staff that work day and night to ensure the safety of CPT passengers, on the behalf of the Gondola Project and myself, my hat goes off to you.


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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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