Cable Cars



The Las Vegas Cable Cars

The Mandalay Bay Tram. Image by Steven Dale

I just returned from touring the Mandalay Bay and City Centre cable transit systems in Las Vegas. There’s much to say about both, but I’ll leave a more complex analysis for another day.

When it came to american public transit back in the late 1800’s, cable cars ruled the roost. One of the major hassles and costs associated with the systems, however, was the cable itself. No one knew how long one would last. Rare was the cable that lasted two years and most lasted less than one single year.

Replacing a cable was complex and expensive. In some instances, cable maintenance and replacement were the single largest operating expenses any cable transit operator faced.

Things change. Fast-forward 130 years later . . .

The Mandalay Bay Cable Car's Back-Up Cable. Image by Steven Dale

Above is a spool of cable for the Mandalay Bay Cable Car. It was a back-up, intended to replace the original cable once its lifespan had eclipsed. It arrived in the maintenance facility 11 years ago, when the tram first opened to the public in 1999. It’s never been touched, never been used. Why?

Because even after 11 years of operation and hundreds of millions of riders, the Mandalay Bay Cable Car is still using its original rope. Eleven years.

Things change.

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The Peak 2 Peak (Part 1)

Image by Steven Dale.

Last month I toured Whistler’s Peak 2 Peak cable gondola system. This is a 3-part series on the system. Part 1 is necessarily technical in nature and will refer back to several pages of The Gondola Project for those unfamiliar with cable technology.

With small, incremental baby-steps, cable transit continues to push its capabilities beyond what people traditionally expect of it.

Whistler, British Columbia’s Peak 2 Peak, however, is not so much incremental as it is an innovative leap forward for the technology. One of my former university professors, after having ridden the system, described it to me as an “incredibly impressive machine.”

(Somehow referring to it simply as “a machine” doesn’t quite do it justice, but that professor was never easily impressed anyways.)

The Peak 2 Peak was initially conceived by the proprietor’s of the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort as a method of shuttling skiers and hikers between the tops of the resorts two major mountains (Whistler and Blackcomb).

You can’t help but question the logic of this: Skiers (the primary users of this system) use a gondola to get up a mountain so that they can ski down the mountain. As both the Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains each have their own gondola systems, why would a skier need to use the Peak 2 Peak at all?

Nevertheless, the novelty of the system attracts strong ridership and since it’s opening in early 2009, the Peak 2 Peak has become an attraction in it of itself.

At it’s highest point, the cable is 436 m above the valley floor, which (for comparison) is about the height of Chicago’s Sears Tower. And yet there’s virtually no vertical rise. The Peak 2 Peak is an almost completely horizontal system.

The Peak 2 Peak experiences virtually no vertical rise from station to station. Image by Steven Dale.

While the height of the system is impressive, it’s the valley crossing that garners most attention. While most cable systems would require several intermediary towers to accomplish a 3 km long valley crossing, the Peak 2 Peak does so without a single intermediary tower. This is the longest unsupported cable span in the world and the Peak 2 Peak owes its fame to this very feature.

Massive, unsupported spans such as this were impossible before the recent 3S innovation. Much like the technology behind Innsbruck’s Hungerburgbahn, 3S technology is a hybrid fusion of two separate cable technologies. But while the Hungerburgbahn fused funiculars and gondolas, the 3S is a hybrid of aerial trams and gondolas.

Aerial trams have a high speed, excellent wind stability and large vehicles. They are also expensive. The Portland Aerial Tram and the Roosevelt Island Tram are two very good examples of this technology. The trouble with aerial trams is they are not detachable systems and that causes their overall capacity to decrease. Corner-turning is impossible. It’s a high-cost, low-value technology.

Gondolas, meanwhile, have modest speeds, smaller vehicles and modest wind stability, but are detachable. This detachability increases system capacity, lowers wait times and allows for corner-turning.

The 3S, therefore fuses the benefits of both technologies while eliminating the deficiencies of each. The Peak 2 Peak runs on two individual and stationary support cables while it is propelled by a third separate moving cable. It is basically like a Bicable system with a second support cable. This second support cable allows 3S technology to carry vehicles of up to 35 people and operate safely in 100 km/hr winds.

Capacity of the Peak 2 Peak is 2,500 pphpd with 28-person vehicle headways of 49 seconds. Even shorter headways and larger vehicles are possible, driving the capacity of a 3S system above the 4,000 pphpd threshold.

Two stationary "track" cables with the moving propulsion cable in the centre. Image by Steven Dale.

While the Peak 2 Peak does not utilize intermediary stations or corners, those two features are both possible with 3S technology and are sure to be realized in the future. As of yet, however, only a handful of 3S systems are operational across the globe.

Proceed to Part 2 where I discuss station and vehicle design and footprint.

Click here to read Part 3

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.



Why Cable Propelled Transit Was Chosen In Oakland

Source:  Bay Area Rapid Transit

Source: Bay Area Rapid Transit

As I mentioned yesterday, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) agency announced on Thursday that the Oakland Airport Connector would be a Cable Propelled Transit system. This was a major breakthrough by a cable technology as it competed head-to-head with two other self-propelled transit technologies and won.

One of the reasons cited by BART for awarding the contract to the Parsons/Flatiron group was that their bid came in $60 million dollars less than the initial estimate of $552 million. That’s 10.8% below estimates for anyone whose counting. Considering most transit projects are completed significantly over budget, that’s impressive, assuming of course they can stay on budget.

Cost, however, was likely not the only motivating factor. Increasingly, transit agencies are noticing cable for what it is: A simple, cheap and effective method of transit compared to other more traditional technologies. Consider a recent report by the American Society of Civil Engineers in their publication, Automated People Movers, 2009 (you can find a limited preview of it at Google Books).

In it, the authors investigated people mover systems by method of propulsion. What did they find? Lots:

“It is observed that technologies that use external propulsion, for instance by means of
cables, currently offer the best efficiency indicators when compared to other technological solutions for propulsion and power transmission.” Page 245

“The interest for a technology also marked by the use of an off-vehicle propeller system strengthens the potential of simple but smart technologies, hopefully cheaper than that dominated by the market until nowadays.” Page 248

“Three (of the five most efficient systems studied ) are cable-propelled from Doppelmayr, one not specified and one is the (untested) pneumatic Aeromovel. The systems with lower efficiency scores… are based on self-propelled vehicles.” Page 252

“From the seven least efficient systems, under this analysis, six of them are based on rubber-tired self-propelled vehicles and one is not specified.” Page 254

“Technologies based on alternative propulsion methods, for instance by means of cables or pneumatics, represent a strong potential to become benchmarks.” Page 255

Things are changing. Maybe we should pay attention.

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.



Oakland Airport Connector

Yesterday morning, Bay Area Rapid Transit announced their selection of of the Parsons/Flatiron group to build the Oakland Airport Connector. This is a significant announcement for Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) because  the transit technology selected for the installation will be a cable system designed and built by Doppelmayr Cable Car.

The reason this is so significant for cable transit is simple: Of the four bids, two included cable transit and two included self-propelled vehicles by Bombardier and Mitsubishi. Cable won.

Let me repeat that: Cable won over two other self-propelled technologies. This is important. If cable is to receive attention, it needs victories like this. Self-propelled vehicles have been the norm for the last 100 years and only in the last decade have cities begun to rediscover the advantages of cable-propelled.

What’s more, at 7 km in length, this is a long system that demonstrates cable’s capabilities not just in short-haul situations but long haul, too.

I’ll speak about this a little more tomorrow, but if you’d like, head on over to Streetsblog to learn more about the selection of the Oakland Airport Connector.

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.



Basic Lesson 2: Gondolas & Cable Cars

There are two major sub-groups of Cable-Propelled Transit (CPT) technology:  Gondolas and Cable Cars.

Gondolas are supported and propelled from above by cables.  Most people are familiar with this technology as used in alpine ski-resorts, however it is finding increased usage in non-alpine urban regions.



Cable Cars on the other hand, are supported and propelled from below.  Propulsion is provided by a cable whereas support is provided by rails of varying configurations.

Cable Car

Cable Car

Cable Car

Cable Car

It’s important to understand that since there has never existed an exact typology for Cable-Propelled Transit, people tend to use the terms Gondola and Cable Car interchangeably.  Hopefully, The Gondola Project can help solve that problem.

Remember:  Gondolas are from above and Cable Cars are from below.  That’s all you need to know.

Proceed to Basic Lesson 3 to learn about Aerial Trams & Funiculars

Return to Basic Lesson 1 to learn the definition of Cable Propelled Transit

Creative Commons images by, Dede90 and Matthew Black

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.