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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Rider’s Digest: Leitner Ropeways’ Tricable Gondola Lifts

The following summarizes 16-page glossy brochure on LEITNER’s 3S system. Also known as ‘tricable gondolas’, they have single haul rope and two carrying ropes.

Rittner Seilbahn in Renon, Italy.

Rittner Seilbahn in Renon, Italy.

Tricable gondolas features detachable grips and offers the highest transport capacity of all aerial technologies. They guarantee increased wind resistance and can also cross major spans of over 2,500 meters between towers. Cabins can be slowed in the stations — or even be stopped completely — for additional comfort when riders enter and exit the cabin.

Capacity: up to 6,000 people/h

Speed: up to 8.5 m/s

Cabin capacity: up to 35 people


Cabins are Co-Designed by Pininfarina, Ferrari and Maserati designers


  • Wide entryway speeds boarding and deboarding.
  • Seats 28 comfortably with standing room for 7 more.
  • Sophisticated lighting concept developed in collaboration with Bartenbach Lighting Design is tailored to your corporate colour scheme.
  • Collaboration with qpunkt, automotive air conditioning experts, produced a new climate control concept with continuously variable air volume and improved air-flow velocity.
  • Supercaps energy concept employs a roller generator and solar panels to power a multimedia system with high-resolution LCD screens, WiFi and sound system.
3S Symphony Cabins.

3S Symphony Cabins.

The Leitner 3S Cabin


  • Manufacturing technologies and precision components are like those used in aircraft construction.
  • Milled from solid pieces, most parts require no safety welds. Meaning? Greater stability but lower weight.
  • Additional two-way rollers in the station and garaging areas can travel on the smallest curve radii.
  • Safety: each carriage’s unique vehicle detector indicates possible roller defects. So operators know exactly where to inspect track rollers. Then, the affected vehicle can be safely transported to the end station.
  • Removable grip reduces maintenance requirements.
  • Comfort: Each carriage’s lateral damping system ensures greater wind resistance and eliminates swaying.
  • Eco-friendly roller generator contributes to the power supply in the cabin.
  • Colours of all parts can be customized to your corporate standards, except for rollers and grips.


The Advantages of the Leitner 3S System

Simple Rope Deflection

Lifts are equipped with a single haul rope deflection mechanism. LEITNER 3S systems only require four sheaves. Up to two drive sheaves and one return sheave are installed in the drive station. There is one return sheave in the return station.

+ Longer service life

+ Lower maintenance costs


Optimum Redundancy for Maximum Safety

If required, an independent drive can be installed for both drive sheaves and the emergency/evacuation drive. Of course, the LEITNER DirectDrive can be used.

+ Maximum safety

+ Greater availability


Patented Haul Rope Roller with Spring System

The lift-off load on the haul rope is minimized by the spring roller system on the support towers. The lower lift-off height results in fewer vibrations on the haul rope and considerably lower loading of the carrying ropes by the carriage rollers.

+ Increased service life of the carrying ropes

+ Quieter ride


Optimized Accessibility

All mechanisms are directly accessible and thus easy to check and adjust. The outer station turnaround is accessible while walking upright for ergonomic and safer working.

+ Simplified maintenance

+ Safety for maintenance staff


The Flexible Switch Points System

The switch points are designed for optimum flexibility. The rapid switching cycles allow the vehicles to be pushed in and out during operation. The garaging procedure can be executed at running speed. The compartment-style system enables manual control of the switch points.

+ Flexibility

+ Time savings

+ Availability


Compact Station Design

The low installation height reduces cubage and costs. The new 3S carriage permits minimal curve radii in the station and the very narrowest curves in both directions in the garaging area.

+ Cost savings

+ Flexibility

3S Prodains Gondola

3S Prodains Gondola

Examples of LEITNER Tricable Gondolas In Situ 

The brochure closes with summaries of working and coming Leitner tricable systems. (The beautiful mountain vistas may be distracting for urban planners considering transit issues but the statistics are useful.)


Ritten/Bozen, Italy

Inclined length: 4,544 m

Vertical rise: 949 m

Transport capacity: 726 people/h

Power: 900 kw

Total vehicles: 10

Total towers: 7


Les Prodains, France

Inclined length: 1,751 m

Vertical rise: 576 m

Transport capacity: 2,400 people/h

Power: 2x 530 kw

Total vehicles: 4

Total towers: 2


Stubaier Gletscher, Austria

Inclined length: 4,092 m

Vertical rise: 1,137 m

Transport capacity: 3,000 people/h

Power: 2x 530 kw

Total number of vehicles: 48

Opening: 2016


Zermatt, Switzerland

Inclined length: 3,760 m

Vertical rise: 900 m

Transport capacity: 2,000 people/h

Total number of vehicles: 25

Opening: 2018


Download the complete brochure here.


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Medellin/Caracas, Part 1

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 1 of a photo essay on those systems. In this part, a brief overview of the history of cable transit in this part of the world will be explained. Image by Steven Dale.


Modern Cable Propelled Transit started in Caracas, Venezuela with the Mount Avila Gondola. This system was originally built in the middle of the last century to carry people from Caracas to the top of Mount Avila where the luxurious Hotel Humboldt had been built. Political and economic strife caused the government to leave for neglect both the hotel and gondola. The gondola itself was not reopened until 1999, after a successful rebuild.

The Avila Mountain Gondola In Caracas. Image by Steven Dale.

An Avila Mountain Gondola From Below. Image by Steven Dale.

A gondola passes over two original and well-preserved antique gondola cars at the Mount Avila Caracas Terminal. Image by Steven Dale.

The Avila gondola cannot, however, be truly classed as cable transit. It lacks integration to the local transit network and really exists more for tourists, not local commuters. It did, however, indirectly inspire the nearby city of Medellin, Colombia to pursue a fully-integrated CPT system to serve the impoverished and dangerous barrio of Santo Domingo. The system would take almost 5 years to open, from conception to fruition and would be the world’s first true CPT system. They would name it The Metrocable. The first line, consistent with the city’s existing Metro system, would be named Linea K.

A Linea K Metrocable Car in Medellin, Colombia. Image by Steven Dale.

The Metrocable over top the Santo Domingo barrio. Image by Steven Dale.

Gondolas depart a Linea J Metrocable station. Image by Steven Dale.

Metrocable Linea K would be an enormous success. Crime rates in Santo Domingo plunged and area investment skyrocketed. In the four years since Linea K opened, crime in Santo Domingo virtually disappeared, jobs have increased 300% and 3 banks have opened along the Metrocable route. With such an obvious success story, Metro officials had little trouble convincing decision-makers to open Linea J.

Unlike Linea K, Linea J would connect several smaller barrios in the western end of the city. These barrios suffered from similar economic conditions but did not have the population density that Linea K had. This was considered a good thing as Linea K suffered from overcrowding almost immediately upon opening, a situation not witnessed on Linea J.

A Linea J gondola. Image by Steven Dale.

Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela was not to be undone. The opening of the second Metrocable line in Medellin made Chavez lust after a similar system in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. Within 2 years, Chavez’s dream would be realized with Caracas opening their own cable transit system in early 2010. It was also to be named The Metrocable.

Like the Medellin systems before it, the Caracas Metrocable would provide transit to under-serviced barrios with a history of crime and poverty. But unlike the Medellin systems, Caracas would feature enormous stations that included social facilities such as gymnasiums, police stations, community centres and markets. The Caracas Metrocable would also be the first in the world to feature extreme 90 degree turning radii at stations.

Gondolas enter and exit a station in Caracas. Image by Steven Dale.

The Caracas Metrocable. Image by Steven Dale.

The Metrocable loop between Medellin and Venezuela came full circle in early 2010. While Chavez was opening his first system in Caracas, Medellin was opening their third Metrocable line. But this time, the line looked more similar to the original Mount Avila system from Venezuela circa 1999.

While still fully-integrated into the Medellin Metro, the new Linea L services the Parque Arvi at the top of a nearby mountain in Medellin and requires an additional fare of 1,550 Colombian Pesos (roughly $1 US dollar). Linea L would give quick, affordable access to wilderness and parkland facilities that had previously only been accessible to wealthy land-owners in Medellin. This was a welcome change, given Colombia’s historically wide gap between rich and poor.

A Linea L gondola. Image by Steven Dale.

Medellin as seen from the Linea L, Parque Arvi nature preserve. Image by Steven Dale.

Both cities are engaged in major plans to expand their Metrocable offerings and cities throughout Latin America are embarking upon cable transit plans of their own.

Read Part 2.

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Fatzer — Don’t Be Roped In With Massive Legacy Expenses

Fatzer Performa Wire Rope Cable

The rope is the heart of any ropeway — but companies that produce these components say that planners who ignore this fact early in the process do so to their detriment. Image via Fatzer AG.

Imagine dressing for the most important presentation of your career. Your $3,000 hand-tailored suit is perfectly matched with a newly pressed bespoke shirt, bright silk tie, and completed by richly burnished brogues. Then it is utterly spoiled by gym socks.

Add several zeroes to that initial sum and you have just pictured the sartorial equivalent to mismatching steel wire rope to your urban cable-car system. It can be an ugly error — but unlike socks, which are easily changed, this expensive mistake keeps on taking.

“When a cable-car system is designed, it is uniquely calibrated to fit with whichever gauge and quality of rope is selected. So the time to select the appropriate rope is right at the start,” says Matthias Stacher of Romanshorn, Switzerland. He’s the Sales Manager of Fatzer, among the world leaders in the production of steel wire for cable car systems since 1900. So he knows what he is talking about.


Read more

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LINK Train Operates Trouble-Free at Pearson Airport Despite Extreme Cold

Frosty conditions at Pearson Int’l Airport. Image by Flickr user ddewong1.

In case you didn’t hear, Canada’s largest airport basically shut down for 8 hours yesterday due to extreme frigid conditions (-30 degrees celsius to be exact). This immediately caused a massive backlog at the terminal and utter chaos with flight delays and cancellations.

So while nearly every form of transport was affected in Toronto this past week (from streetcars to buses to the Scarborough RT), I was curious to see how the City’s only CPT system would fare in this weather.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the LINK Train operated smoothly and efficiently when I visited last night. Passengers were hopping on and off without a hitch and everything ran like, well, normal.

Just for proof (and admittedly to kill time while I waited for family/friends to arrive), I personally took some pictures and a video.

LINK Train yesterday. Image by Nicholas Chu.

LINK Train operations during -30 degrees weather. Image by Nicholas Chu.

So once again, let us reiterate: CPT is not a cure-all/best transport solution nor are streetcars, buses, APMs and planes somehow poor/inferior forms of transport.

Rather, I think the fact that the LINK Train — a bottom-supported cable car — was operating problem-free in arctic-like conditions is truly a testament to the robustness and resilience of cable technology.

And for that, we believe its efforts should be worthy of a brief mention and small recognition!

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The New Taris 3S Cabin From CWA

3S Cable Car

The New Taris 3S/TDG Cabin by CWA. Image by Steven Dale.

It’s been a busy month for me what with Interalpin, Alpipro and the launch of our new Guide to Gondolas, hence the spareness of posts for the last couple of weeks.

Now that I’m back into the swing of things though, I’m going to spend the next few posts discussing some of the highlights of both Interalpin and Alpipro to give readers an idea of what’s on the near horizon for the cable transit industry. 

Glass is a material taken for granted in life. It’s everywhere and we only really notice it when it’s missing or broken—hence my excitement upon seeing the new Taris 3S cabins by Swiss manufacturer CWA.

Glass is a relative rarity in cable transit. You see it sometimes in Funiculars, Cable Liners and Aerial Trams, but I cannot recall a single instance of a Detachable Gondola that was equipped with glass panels and windows. That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t exist—but if they do, we’ve never heard of them.

(Now before I get ahead of myself, allow me to clarify something: More often than not, the “glass” I’m referring to above isn’t glass at all. Instead, the glass that’s used in a cable transit system is often a shatter-proof polycarbonate material that approximates—to a remarkably high degree—the look and feel of real glass. So when I refer to glass walls and windows in a cable transit system, know that I’m talking about fake glass that looks real, not real glass. Got it? Good.)

The windows and doors in most detachable gondolas—and that includes current iterations of the 3S—have always tended to look, feel and sound like cheap plastic. In turn, that cheap plastic aesthetic has practically imbued gondolas with a cheap plastic quality. Other transit technologies such as buses and light rail vehicles tend to use real actual glass panels. This gives “real” transit systems a degree of heft that gondolas have always lacked.

This may seem like a small point but it’s not.

To a large extent, cable cars are in a war of perception. People simply don’t perceive them to be public transit—hence, they’re not public transit. That’s what was learned a couple decades ago by transport scholars Neumann & Bondada. They learned that the transit planning world fundamentally  misunderstood almost everything about cable car technology. They perceived it, quite simply, to not be public transit.

Perception is a funny thing because it’s a self-fullfilling prophecy—the simple perception that a ski lift cannot be used as public transit reinforces the idea that it is not public transit. That’s a nasty vicious circle to that cable manufacturers have had difficulty breaking out of.

That’s the importance of the Taris’ (fake) glass windows—they change perception. Real transit has real glass. Now, so too do gondolas. Cable transit now has a technology with the heft of a “real” transit vehicle and feels completely unlike the ski lift models that have preceded it—and when I say that, note that I’m including the Koblenz Rheinseilbahn in that class of ‘ski lift models.’ Despite that system’s innovative urban concept cabins, it doesn’t approach the Taris’ degree of heft, finesse or general overall urbanity.

Another feature of public transit that’s as standard as they come but has been lacking in detachable gondola systems has been air conditioning. It’s a feature that’s been around for a while now, but has still been the exception rather than the norm. Yet look at the CWA website and you’ll see that the Taris is being offered with an (optional) commercially available 24V air conditioning unit in the same way that their Omega series of cabins are. That’s a change from their past line of 3S cabins which currently aren’t (and I don’t believe ever were) offered with AC.

The final thing to note about the Taris is the cabin capacity. CWA states that the maximum capacity model of the Taris to be 45—a significant premium above the 35-40 that’s typically reported about 3S systems. That’s a 12.5%-28.5% increase in capacity for those that care about those sort of things.

Where the space for those extra 5-10 people are coming from, however, isn’t entirely clear because dimensions aren’t given for either the Taris nor older model 3S cabins. So there’s a few possibilities:

  • The Taris is legitimately larger than standard 3S cabin models;
  • the upper capacity limit of the Taris is presumed to be without any standing room;
  • the capacity numbers have been adjusted to reflect a typical urban commuter—which typically occupy less space and are less heavy than ski lift patrons (due to gear) or;
  • this is just a marketing gimmick.

Furthermore, it’s not at all clear if this increase in cabin capacity will have any actual impact on overall system capacity. It’s all fine and well to increase cabin capacity, but if that only results in fewer vehicles on the line (instead of an increase in pphpd), then all that’s been realized is an increase in cabin crowding and wait times between vehicles—a overall net decrease in cabin capacity.

No matter what the capacity implications, it’s clear that the Taris is targeted to the urban transport market.

According to my conversations with CWA during Interalpin, the company intends it to become the new standard in 3S systems, especially for the urban market. As of yet, we don’t know what the price premium associated with the Taris is, but it’s reasonable to assume it will be significant. It is, after all, a brand new vehicle tailored to a market that can absorb a cost premium well beyond that which a ski resort can.

Notwithstanding the lack of clarity on issues of capacity, it’s clear that this is a big leap forward for the industry.


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What Fatzer Teaches The Ropeway Industry About The Urban Market

Cross-Section of a standard rope.

Recently, I was given a tour of Swiss cable manufacturer Fatzer and learned about a relatively new cable product the company calls their Performa line of cables. Amongst other things, these cables opened my eyes to the wide disconnect of understanding that exists between the traditional ropeway industry and the fast-growing urban market.

Let me explain . . .

A standard propulsion cable (or ‘rope’) is not uniform in diameter. The basic nature of taking dozens of separate, uniformly-shaped strands and winding them together into a larger rope ensures non-uniformity. That non-uniformity has three major drawbacks:

Firstly, the ropes wear more heavily on rubber components such as the sheaves and bullwheels than they would were they of a uniform diameter.

Cross-Section of an Integra rope.

Secondly, the lack of uniformity causes slight vibrations between the ropes and other components that cause an increase in noise. The low-level humming one hears at a ski lift is typically due to this issue.

Thirdly, increased rope maintenance is required than would be necessary with ropes of uniform diameter.

Cables such as Fatzer’s Integra line of ropes are almost completely uniform in diameter, but that uniformity results in a rigidity that prohibits their use as propulsion ropes. Such uniform-diameter ropes can be used almost exclusively for support functions (such as in a 3S or Aerial Tram installation).

What the Performa line of cables does – in layman’s terms – is fill in the ‘gaps’ of a rope’s diameter using plastic to best-approximate a uniform diameter. The flexibility of the plastic, meanwhile, allows the rope to be used as a propulsion cable.

Fatzer’s Performa Cable. Image via Fatzer.

That benefit, however, comes at a cost. According to the people at Fatzer who gave me the tour, a Performa rope costs roughly twice the price of a standard rope. That premium feature is often out of the price range of most ski hills as:  a) hills only experience a short 4 month long peak season; b) lifts typically operate for only 8 or 9 hours out of the day and; c) the outlying areas ski hills service minimize the need for decreased noise pollution.

But here’s the interesting thing: On a typical lift, the rope costs less than 1% of the total project price. So while a rope such as the Performa may be cost prohibitive in a ski lift market, the marginal cost of a Performa cable is more than justified in the urban market. This is due simply to higher overall project prices in urban installations; the need for decreased noise in urban environments and; the need for decreased wear-and-tear on a system due to increased overall usage in urban markets.

In other words, ropes such as the Performa should yield significantly greater benefits in an urban environment as compared to the marginal costs involved in their application.

It’s common to hear complaints from people about the aforementioned low-level humming of lifts as an argument against their application in urban environments. Yet here we have, again, a tried-and-tested method of dealing with that very problem. But since the cable industry is still focused on their core ski lift market, this solution is rarely offered proactively as a solution to laymen in the urban transportation industry.

That’s a problem.

Generally speaking, people are strapped for time and resources. When they have a question, they don’t want to spend hours searching for its answer. If they can’t find the solution to their problem quickly, they’re likely to assume it just doesn’t exist.

The Performa should be a lesson to everyone in the ski lift industry – just because you and your existing customers know that a solution to a problem exists, doesn’t mean your customers in new markets do.

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