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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Aerial Trams vs. Gondolas

I recently spoke with a cable engineer who thought it completely absurd that people use Aerial Tram statistics to negate the feasibility of Urban Gondolas.

When I told him such confusion was the norm rather than the exception, he became flustered. He simply couldn’t accept that people make that mistake. They’re two completely different performance packages! he exclaimed. They should know the difference!

Listen, if you’re a regular reader of The Gondola Project, then you know the difference between an Aerial Tram and a Gondola (MDG, BDG or 3S). You also know why Gondolas are more suitable to urban environments and fully-integrated CPT installations.

You know that Aerial Trams have long wait times, little ability to implement intermediary stations and corners, low capacities and high costs. You also know that a Funifor negates those problems to some extent but not without significant cost increases.

But not everyone reads The Gondola Project (probably the greatest understatement in the history of blogging).

This is why a post over at David Marcus’ Liveable Norwalk caught my eye.

In that post, David suggests a CPT system for his hometown of Norwalk, Connecticut. It’s a modest proposal; a 1.5 mile long 4 station line. It wasn’t, however, the proposal that caught my eye. It was the response.

Responding to the post was Cap’n Transit, of Cap’n Transit Rides Again. For anyone who reads the transit blogs, the Cap’n should be more than familiar. He’s a prolific blogger and commenter with vast knowledge about public transportation.

He also gets it dead wrong in his response to the Norwalk Gondola:

Says Cap’n Transit:

. . . the urban gondola was first introduced right here in New York City. When they reopen the Roosevelt Island Tramway, come down and try it. You’ll find that wait time has hardly been eliminated.

Says David in response:

I have to distinguish between a tram like Roosevelt Island and a gondola like in Medellin. When I speak of gondolas, I mean the smaller cars that hold 6-10 people and come by every 10 seconds or so.

Says the Cap’n:

Thanks, David! Do they really come that frequently in Medellin? Are there more than 10 people at a time who want to ride? Has anyone tried them?

In the Cap’n’s defence, he was open-minded enough to notice he might have been incorrect. But besides that:

Can the average person really tell you what the difference between an Aerial Tram and a Gondola is?

Does the average person know that the Roosevelt Island Tram is actually to be replaced with a Funifor-type system?

Does the average person know the difference between a Funifor and an Aerial Tram?

Problem, however, is not with the average person, it’s with the knowledgeable person. Cap’n Transit knows a lot about transit, but he clearly knows little about Cable Propelled Transit. And that’s not his fault! After all, we don’t know what we don’t know.

The cable engineer can complain all he wants that people should know the difference between Aerial Trams and Gondolas, but they don’t. Whose fault do you think that is?

And maybe more importantly: Do you think complaining about it is going to change it?

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.



9 Reasons Why The London Cable Car (Gondola) Just Might Fly

London is looking at building an Urban Gondola (‘Cable Car’ as they’ve mistakenly dubbed it) for the 2012 Olympics. On first glance, the idea seemed somewhat suspect. It appeared to be more a Toy for Tourists rather than a genuine piece of cable transit infrastructure.

Upon closer examination, however, not only does this project have significant merit, it also has a very strong chance of actually being built. Here’s why:

  1. The London Olympics are less than 2 years away. The London Cable Car (Gondola) will connect venues on the North and South sides of the River Thames. Currently, no fixed link infrastructure exists to cross the River Thames and connect these two areas. The time required to plan, permit, build and test a bridge is likely too long to be operable for the games. A two station, 1 km long gondola system, however, can easily be installed in that period of time.
  2. London’s broke. Like all major western metropolises, London is in financial straits and the British government is trying to slash spending wherever it can. Even at an estimated £25 million for the London Cable Car/Gondola, it’s a bargain compared to the estimated cost of £500 million to build a bridge.
  3. Fare Integration. Reports suggest that the London Cable Car (Gondola) will be integrated with the city’s Oyster transit fare card. This moves the system beyond pure frill and into the realm of actual transit. This is an absolute prerequisite.
  4. Physical Integration. The line may not be integrated into existing transit station infrastructure, but will be in proximity to LRT and Underground lines. Fare integration should ensure easy transfer between lines.
  5. Demonstrated Need. With increasing residents and commercial activities, the area the Gondola will serve has been in need of a Thames crossing for a while now. The London Olympics are a convenient way to pay for it.
  6. Decent Capacity. The system is estimated to offer capacity of 2,500 pphpd. This is no where near the upper range of Urban Gondola systems, but well within the range of most medium capacity transit lines like LRT and bus. It would also be the highest capacity cable transit system ever built in a major English-speaking city.
  7. Topographically Challenged. Urban Gondola systems tend to occur first in areas of topographical constraints. The River Thames is just such a constraint.
  8. A History of Multi-Modality. London has one of the most multi-modal and diverse transit systems in the world. Now that cable transit has finally caught up to standard transit technologies, it makes logical sense for London to be one of the first to truly take advantage of its benefits.
  9. A History of Innovation. Against all conventional wisdom, it was in London that a team of promoters and engineers first suggested throwing a locomotive underground, thus ushering in the era of Subways and Metros. Why not follow suit?

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.



Algerian Gondolas

An MDG Urban Gondola System in Skikda, Algeria. Image courtesy of Doppelmayr.

Aside from high-profile systems in South America, Urban Gondolas and Cable Propelled Transit systems are relatively obscure. Yet there is one other country that’s quietly been hopping on the band wagon. That country is Algeria.

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A London Cable Car (Gondola)?

The internet is all a-buzz right now with the recent announcement of a proposed Urban Gondola system spanning the Thames River in East London for the 2012 Olympics.

Nevermind the fact that everyone seems to be calling it the London Cable Car – it’s a gondola – it’s an exciting idea that’s raising a lot of eyebrows:

  • The Daily Mail – “Capable of carrying up to 2,500 passengers an hour in each direction, the (gondola) would travel at a height of more than 50 metres.”
  • The Londonist – “Building a (gondola) with panoramic views of the capital would be a huge hit, instantly providing east London witha  conspicuous tourist attraction.”
  • Bloomberg Businessweek – “The consultation process for the project, to be financed by private investment, opens tomorrow and closes Aug. 2, according to Transport for London.”
  • Luvthecity.com – “Transport for London have released a basic map showing the proposed route, but today we show you the exact location of the two proposed cable car stations.”
  • Skyscrapercity.com (forum) – “Well yes but that’s it isn’t it. They’re for steep areas with difficult terrain. aka not London.”
  • The Guardian – “Transport for London is in talks with a number of potential operators. It will carry cyclists as well as pedestrians.”
  • London Reconnections – “Whether it proceeds or not, however, it at least shows that some thought is taking place into what can be completed relatively fast and relatively cheaply to alleviate the current issues that abound when trying to cross the Thames to the east.”

There’s much to say about this proposal. Stay tuned.

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The Confusion Behind 3S, MDG and BDG

In yesterday’s post, I alluded to the bizarre nature of term “3S.” Let me explain – and I warn you, this will make your head hurt:

The cable industry differentiates technologies like Monocable Detachable Gondolas (MDG) and Bi-Cable Detachable Gondolas (BDG) based upon the ropes/cables used. Great, you say. That makes sense. Monocables use one cable and Bicables use two. I get that. Problem is, the terms Monocable and Bicables are not used in that way.

For example, this is a Monocable Detachable Gondola:

Image by ** Parapluie **

And this is a Bicable Detachable Gondola:

Image by night86mare.

Still, this seems straightforward enough. In the pictures, Monocables use one cable and Bicables use two. No big deal. Here’s where things get odd though. In the cable industry, Monocable is used to describe a vehicle whereby one cable is used for both support and propulsion. This is why Funitels are often referred to as Double Loop Monocables. Despite appearing to use two different cables, a Funitel only uses one rope and uses it for both support and propulsion.

Despite appearances, Funitels are still classed as Monocable systems. Image by 123_456.

Bicables, on the other hand, are classed according to the principal that systems must have one rope (or set of ropes) for support and a second rope for propulsion. That means the 3S, which is named for having three ropes (two support ropes, one propulsion rope) is actually classed as a BDG system. This is why on websites like Lift-World you won’t actually find 3S systems in their database. You actually have to dig through the BDG database to find them.

Despite clearly using three ropes (and being named for those three ropes) the 3S is still classed as a Bicable system. Image by Derek K. Miller.

In other words, the terms Monocable and Bicable are both a reference to a specific technology and a reference to a group of technologies. Problem is, the references are highly misleading; do not conform to the common logic of counting the number of cables we see; and cause obvious confusion.

As I’ve mentioned before (here and here), cable nomenclature is complex and difficult when first encountering the technology. But the way in which sub-technologies and systems are grouped and classified are positively arcane and borderline ridiculous. This is a problem for the industry because it needlessly complicates already expensive and time-consuming planning research. If I want a Bus or Streetcar or Light Rail or Subway, I don’t have to worry about families, sub-groups and the like. I just ask for a Bus or a Streetcar or a Subway. It’s simple.

Worse still is the common occurrence of researchers and writers using the qualities (or lack thereof) of one cable technology to mistakenly discredit cable as a whole without actually understanding that there are huge differences between cable techs and the bizarre manner in which their organized.

Told you it’d make your head hurt.

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Aerial Technologies, Lesson 6: Pulsed Gondolas

The Grenoble, France Pulsed Gondola System. Image by Marv!

Pulsed Gondolas are a semi-rare subset of the CPT universe and generally not appropriate for mass transit installations. Most were built in the mid to late 20th century, and it’s uncommon to find pulsed systems built nowadays.

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