New Urban Gondola in Brest, France by 2015 (The Brest Téléphérique)

Rendering of the Brest Téléphérique, due to open in 2015. Image via

The small Breton city of Brest, France will enter the small club of cities around the world with an urban gondola system to call their own.

Back in December of 2011, the topographically-challenged city of 140,000 inhabitants approved plans to proceed with a short gondola system spanning the city’s harbour and Penfeld River.

The system is modest with only 2 stations, and ~ 410 meters in length. It’s primary purpose is to connect the left bank of the city with the  future neighbourhood of the Capuchins. Befitting the areas naval heritage, the system will operating at a height of 60 meters to allow naval ships to pass underneath.

Reports state the system will cost ~ €15m and will be fully-integrated with the city’s existing public transport network – which, as we often point out on The Gondola Project, is a must for urban gondola systems to be optimally effective.

Of the many reports about this system, one thing catches my eye. Apparently the system will include “deux trains de trois cabines de 20 places transporteront les passagers toutes les 3 minutes, pour une durée du trajet estimée à environ une minute.”

Now, if Google Translate is right (and it often isn’t), we’re talking about a system characterized by “two sets of three cabins of 20 seats will transport passengers every 3 minutes for a journey estimated at about one minute” (thanks Google Translate!).

Regular readers will immediately spot something amiss here.

If that quote/translation is to be believed, that means this is a Pulsed Gondola configuration. As we’ve discussed before, Pulsed Gondolas rarely have any useful purpose in urban environments due to their (relatively) long wait times, low capacities and inability to turn corners. This, however, is exactly the kind of situation where a pulsed situation is useful.

Due to the extremely short distance of the line, the wait time and capacity issue is largely eliminated. That allows project planners to leverage the (relatively) low costs of a pulsed system while minimizing the negatives associated with the technology.

If this all pans out, it will be the first known pulsed gondola to be fully-integrated into a public transportation agency – and worthy of our attention.

Having said that however, the youtube video of the system that’s making the rounds seems to show a Funitel-based technology arranged in a Pulsed configuration:

We’ve seen configurations like this before, but they’re rare.

To be honest, the only system I know of that uses such a set-up is the Bouqetin Funitel in Val Thorens, France. I’ll also admit that I have no idea what the advantages of the system are. Presumably, it leverages the low-cost of the pulsed system with the high wind stability of the Funitel. I also suspect that they’re arranged in a Dual Haul configuration to allow for round-the-clock operations.

Those comments, however, are pure speculation and I’d love for other readers to chime in with their thoughts because this thing is certainly an oddball.

Bouquetin Funitel in Val Thorens, France. Image by flickr user 123_456.

No matter what, you can be sure we’ll follow this one closely.

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Squaw Valley Funitel Stats

Kelly writes,

I am also interested in cable propelled transit and am a big fan of The Gondola Project. Anyway, I just worked out some numbers on the Funitel at the resort where I work (Squaw Valley) and I thought I would share them with you.

Squaw Valley Stats

  • 28 legal limit (This would be a crazy crush load)
  • 18 normal mixed load – 9 seated and 9 standing (this is pretty typical, if there is a small line this is about how many people naturally pack into a car)
  • 9 seated comfortably (kids sometimes squeeze 15 but adults who don’t know each other usually won’t sit more than 9)
  • 1,296 pphpd seated comfortably
  • 2,592 pphpd mixed seated and standing
  • 4,032 pphpd official capacity (crush load/legal limit)
  • Cable speed: 6 m/s (or 13.4 mph)
  • Headway: 25 seconds / 150 meters (in practice they space the cabs out a little more than this.)

I did this because I wanted to compare Seattle’s new light rail to Squaw’s funitel. As it’s configured now, this is how are our light rail compares:

Seattle LRT Stats

  • 1,184 pphpd seated
  • 3,200 pphpd crush load
  • Headway: 7.5 min
  • Cost per mile: $179 million

Wish we would have built a CPT system!

Now, unfortunately Kelly didn’t provide us with how much the Squaw Valley system cost to build, without which makes comparison difficult (if anyone out there has that number, please post it in the comments below). But at 1.67 miles in length, I can assure everyone that the Funitel didn’t come anywhere near the cost of the Seattle LRT. The Squaw Valley system, likely, was built for somewhere around $25 million per mile, not much more (again, if anyone out there has the actual number, please post it with link in the comments below).

Furthermore, it’s not an entirely fair comparison. Seattle’s LRT has significant portions of the line underground and the line is far longer (17.3 miles) than what a CPT system typically sees. Additionally, Seattle’s prone to earthquakes and seismic activity. Any cable system built in Seattle would face increased costs in order to earthquake-proof the system. At the same time, some of those costs would be defrayed by cable’s ability to deal with Seattle’s topographical challenges in ways that LRT never could.

With those caveats aside, however, two things jump out: The dramatic difference in headway and the capacity premium of the Funitel. The LRT system has wait times 15 times longer and a (current) maximum capacity that is 20% lower than the Squaw Valley Funitel.

One would expect that if Seattle were to pay such a high cost for their LRT (as per my knowledge, it’s the most expensive LRT ever built), headways should be far shorter and capacity far higher. Especially when compared to a ski lift.

Comparisons such as Kelly’s are useful for de-bugging. It’s the kind of comparison that jolts you into questioning what you think you already know. As more and more research is gathered on the Squaw Valley, such comparisons could also be useful in more rigorous ways.

So here’s a question: What if The Gondola Project set up a central database of interesting, appropriate systems for people to use as comparisons? As systems are identified, they could be “put out there” and readers could contribute research and statistics as they find them. Would that be useful to TGP readers? Would TGP readers be willing to help build that database? How would it work?

Think about it and send us your comments.

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Aerial Technologies, Lesson 4: Funitel

The Hakone Ropeway Funitel in Japan.

My absolute, all-time favorite aerial cable technology is a little-known configuration called The Funitel. The technology was originally created by Lift Engineering, Inc. an American company (that mercifully no longer exists) with one of the worst safety records in the industry. While the concept behind the Funitel was ingenious, the engineering wasn’t. It wasn’t until Poma/Leitner and Doppelmayr/Garaventa got their hands on the concept and reworked it that the Funitel truly came into its own.

It’s now one of the safest, fastest, most high-capacity aerial cable technologies in existence. And it looks fantastic!

Like BDG technology, the Funitel uses two cables for support and propulsion. However, unlike the BDG, both cables in a Funitel are in motion. If you’ll recall, in a BDG configuration one cable is stationary and used for support whereas a second, moving cable is used for propulsion. Not so with a Funitel. In a Funitel configuration, both cables are used for both support and propulsion. For anyone whose been following The Gondola Project, you’ll recognize immediately that this is very much like a traditional MDG system.

Now for the confusing part: Modern Funitels only use one cable. While it appears that a Funitel system uses two separate cables, in reality one single, double-looped cable creates the effect. In some literature, the Funitel is actually referred to as the DLM or Double-Looped Monocable.

A single, double-looped cable creates two sets of parallel ropes running in opposite directions.

Like most advanced Cable Propelled Transit systems, the Funitel is a detachable technology. The system uses a pair of grips that suspend the vehicles between each pair of cables. This unique design allows for extreme wind stability and safety. Funitels can operate in the most inclement weather conditions and wind speeds of over 100 km/hr. Like other detachable systems, intermediate stations and corner-turning are easily implemented. Maximum spans between towers, while not as long as those associated with the 3S, are still impressive at 1,000 metres.

The Galzigbahn in St. Anton am Alberg in Austria. The Funitel technology used allows for extremely long spans as well as safe operation in high wind and snow conditions. Image by Steven Dale.

Funitel Stats:

  • Maximum Speed: 27 km/hr.
  • Maximum Capacity: 4,000 -5,000 persons per hour per direction.
  • Maximum Vehicle Capacity: 24 – 30.
  • Cost: $15 – $30 million (US) per kilometre (approximate).
  • Maximum Span Between Towers: Up to 1 km.

Despite the obvious strengths of the Funitel, one of the most appealing aspects of the technology is the look of it. Most aerial cable systems dangle from their cable, giving them a sometimes comical, awkward look. Even I admit that when talking about cable as transit, it’s hard to take a gondola seriously. It’s my opinion that much of that is due to the appearance of the vehicles.

Most gondolas are asymmetrical, lanky objects that look not unlike ornaments on a Christmas tree. There’s no front, no hood, no face to the vehicle. They don’t look like any kind of vehicle we know or are familiar with. It’s a psychological issue of design that I think implicitly holds the technology back. As a colleague of mine once said: They just look too goofy.

That’s why I love the Funitel so much.

The Funitel is compact, stocky and purposeful with more than its fair share of moxy. It doesn’t just hang around. It doesn’t dangle. The Funitel’s dual grip provides visual balance and symmetry to the vehicles and eliminates the junky-looking grip arm that characterize all other gondola technologies. The elimination of this arm lowers the profile of the vehicle, making it slicker, sleeker and aggressive. It looks and feels like a sprinter crouched down ready to dash towards the finish line. The Funitel moves with an aggressive purpose as if to say “don’t bother me now, I’ve got things to do.” It just looks and feels right.

For cable to truly make in-roads into urban transit, vehicle design and aesthetics is going to becoming very important, very quickly. The industry has already established that they have a technology that is competitive (if not superior) to traditional forms of transit and the technology is advancing at a rapid pace. The engineering is beyond repute. The real question then is, can the industry design vehicles that have a pleasurable aesthetic that matches their engineering prowess.

The Funitel is one of the first steps towards that answer.

Proceed to Aerial Technologies, Lesson 5: Aerial Trams

Return to Aerial Technologies, Lesson 3: BDG

Creative Commons image by

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Cables As Ferries?

One great advantage of ferry technology is that it can carry not only people, but cars too.  The great problem with ferries, however, is the time and money involved in using them.

Look at the Washington State Ferry Service, for example.  Here’s a ridiculously expensive transportation option that offers the convenience of required reservations and wait times of up to 60 minutes upon arrival at the terminal.  Even walk-on passengers are told to be there a minimum of 15 minutes prior to boarding.

Could Cable-Propelled Transit handle that job?  It’s been shown to cross water, but can it carry cars?

Check this out:

In Bratislava, Slovakia Doppelmayr has outfitted a Volkswagen factory with a CPT system capable of moving cars.

To do this for a large scale ferry service would be complicated, no doubt, but what the video above demonstrates is that with a little ingenuity and creativity, Cable is capable of a whole lot of things.

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