Posts Tagged: Cable Cars



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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Reviewing Good Advice: Low Profile Urban Gondolas

This piece was first published on The Gondola Project in 2010 but it is still highly relevant and useful. It’s about keeping your head low to the ground being unobtrusive; useful advice from a Canadian.

There’s a story about Cable Propelled Transit, Aerial Ropeways and Urban Gondolas that only hurts the technology’s future. Unfortunately, the industry does little to stop the spread of this story.

The story is simple: If you build an urban gondola, you’ll have vehicles flying over tall buildings, hundreds of feet in the air!

This story is bad for cable. Here’s why:

Read more

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Weekly Roundup: Edmonton to Study Gondola and Funicular for River Valley

A quick look at some of the things that happened this week in the world of cable cars, urban gondolas, and cable propelled transit:

Rendering of proposed gondola alignment in Edmonton. Image from Edmonton Journal.

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User-Controlled Smart Glass (Electrochromic Shades) on Boeing 787 and Lessons for Aerial Cable Cars

Throughout our time on the Gondola Project, we’ve seen many transport systems install smart glass windows (i.e. Morizo Gondola in Japan and Bukit Panjang LRT in Singapore). However, these systems did not offer users the ability to control when the glass becomes “frosted” nor the amount of “frostiness”.

Enter Boeing’s newest aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner. These planes now feature what they like to call, “electrochromic shades”.

Electrochromic Shades on Boeing 787. Image by Flickr user Jun Seita.

Passengers can now choose and adjust how transparent they want their windows to be (see video below). While the “electrochromic shades” term sounds a lot like a marketing buzz word, the company is quick to point out that this design was built to improve passenger comfort and fun. And who can doubt them? I’m not sure about you, but if I boarded a plane with this tinting system, I’d certainly let all my friends and family know about it.

This Boeing case study is a great example of how innovative companies and technologies are constantly undergoing minor upgrades to improve passenger experience — something that is often lacking in the field of public transit.

While user-controlled smart glass windows cannot and should not be replicated on all transit vehicles, this feature can certainly be translated into aerial gondola systems.

Giving passengers the option to adjust the level of brightness in a cabin may not convert hordes of auto commuters into transit riders, but perhaps anything that adds a bit of “personalization” and “fun” into the often dreary public space of a transit vehicle is a welcome site.

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Dual Mode Gondolas – Hook and Anchor

Over the past week and half, we’ve discussed two hybrid/dual-mode transit technologies – AutoTram and DMVs. To build on this topic, I was contemplating if such a concept could apply to Cable Propelled Transit (CPT). I asked myself: what if a gondola cabin could be both propelled from above and below?

Well, I decided to whip something up quickly today to demonstrate my design concept. If you’ll pardon my photoshop skills and the crude images, I’d like to briefly showcase a purely conceptual CPT idea, the Hook and Anchor (patent pending, but of course).

A vehicle that can travel both terrestrially and aerially can be advantageous in a city context. Image by Nicholas Chu, CUP Projects.

Imagine a detachable grip vehicle/cabin with the capability to “anchor” itself like a cable liner/cable car, but also have the ability to “hook” itself like a gondola. Would this idea solve some of complicated alignment and visual privacy issues often found in cities?

It is difficult to say at this time because this idea is so raw. But under the right circumstances, this theoretical configuration may mitigate some of the complex land use and settlement patterns seen in urban environments.

For example, this design may enable vehicles to manoeuvre themselves around complex turns and spaces in “anchor” mode but also soar above topographical (natural and man-made) challenges in “hook” mode. See hypothetical usage and illustration below.

In theory, a vehicle in "hook" mode can glide above urban obstacles such as intersections. Image by Nicholas Chu, CUP Projects.

Now I’m not an engineer, so I am unsure if this concept is technologically feasible. But I hope that this post and the ones preceding it, can help spur and initiate a conversation and discussion on how “simple” (I use that term loosely) technological innovations/changes can help us rethink transportation in cities.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on such a concept. Possible? Impossible? Insane? Sane? Feel free to be brutally honest.

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Transit Aesthetics – AutoTram / BusRail

Can the AutoTram revolutionize the way we think about transit planning? Image from

When a city plan is planning a new transit infrastructure project, a lot of time is often spent deliberating over which technology should be implemented. This discussion generally floats back and for between bus and rail (and more recently, sometimes even CPT). For many cash-strapped cities looking for quick wins and cost-effective mass transit solutions, the debate often settles on the mid-tier options, namely bus (BRT) and lightrail/streetcar opportunities (HRT tends to be too expensive and time-consuming to construct.) Amongst the many debate points — capacity, aesthetics, speed, cost, etc. — proponents of both technologies claim their technology is superior.

From my personal experience (your experience may be different), based on conversations with transit planners, engineers, operators and average joes, one of the biggest arguments in favour of LRT is its aesthetics. You can go on and on about all the capabilities and characteristics of modern bus technology, but in the end, a bus is still a bus.

But what makes a bus, such a bus? Its shape? Size? Look? Smell? Other than rubber on road vs steel on rail, what if a bus could be completely remodeled and redesigned to look and feel like LRT? Would this make it as attractive as LRT, and therefore able to attract just as much new transit riders as the rail systems claim?

The Fraunhofer Institute decided to find out. In 2005 they introduced the AutoTram — essentially a road-based LRT. The makers of this technology describe it as:

“… [it] combines features of conventional buses (e.g. high flexibility, low infrastructure costs and moderate life cycle costs) with the advantages of trams like high transport capacity, driving comfort and the possibility of partial emission-free operation.”

Could the AutoTram succeed and if it does, what does this mean for the future of light rail and transit planning?

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Cable Cars Module, Lesson 5: System Capacity & Line Length of Fixed Grip Cable Cars

For our new readers: Despite the fact that systems like the planned London Thames Cable Car are often officially called “Cable Cars,” they are more often than not Gondolas. This can be confusing to cable transit novices. To make it easier: Cable Cars are supported from below (like cars) and Gondolas are supported from the top (like ski lift gondolas). This is an error of nomenclature, nothing more.

For Cable Cars Lesson 1, click here. For Cable Cars Lesson 2, click here. For Cable Cars Lesson 3, click here. For Cable Cars Lesson 4, click here.

Thus far we’ve discussed Single Loop, Dual Loop and Dual By-Pass Cable Cars. Those three configurations together constitute the overwhelming majority of all fixed grip cable car technologies.

If it helps, let’s draw an analogy between cable cars and Aerial Rapid Transit systems: The fixed grip configurations listed above are rough equivalents to Aerial Trams. They are useful in point-to-point (or three station) situations, are fast and involve only one or two vehicles shuttling back-and-forth either on the same loop or on two separate loops.

To take the analogy one step further, a Dual Loop Cable Car would be analogous to a Funifor.

The system capacity of a Fixed Grip Cable Car is a function of four variables:

  • Vehicle Size
  • System Speed
  • Whether Single Loop or Dual Loop
  • Line Length

Arguably, the most important of these four variables is the fourth. As there is a maximum of just one vehicle traveling in either direction at any given time, the length of a line has dramatic implications. Assuming a conceptual situation where all things were equal, you can imagine the relationship between system capacity and line length as being a direct one where capacity drops as line length increases:

[easychart type=”line” height=”300″ width=”350″ title=”Conceptual Relationship Between Line Length and System Capacity” groupnames=”Fixed Grip Cable Car” valuenames=”Very Short, Short, Medium, Long, Very Long” group1values=”8000, 4000, 2000, 1000, 500″]

(Note: The chart above should not be taken literally, it is merely a conceptual representation of the relationship between line length and system capacity.)

Consider this comparison: The Mexico City Airport Aerotren travels at a speed of 45 km/hr whereas the Venice People Mover travels at a lethargic 29 km/hr. And yet despite this clear speed advantage, the Aerotren only offers capacity of 600 pphpd whereas the Venice system offers capacity of ~3,000 pphpd.

Aside from the speed mentioned above, there are three major differences between the Aerotren and the Venice People Mover:

  • The Venice system is a Dual By-Pass system and the Aerotren is a Single Loop system.
  • The Venice trains hold 200 passengers, almost double that of the Aerotren’s 104.
  • The Venice system is 870 meters long and the Aerotren is just over 3 kilometers long.

But these three differences do not affect system capacity equally.

According to company literature, the Aerotren vehicles can be expanded to a capacity of 156 persons, thereby increasing system capacity to 800 pphpd. That means a 50% increase in vehicle capacity causes just a 33.3% increase in system capacity.

And while we could imagine an alternate universe Aerotren built – like the Venice system – as a Dual By-Pass, that would theoretically only double its capacity up to a maximum of ~1,600 pphpd – around half of that offered by the Venice APM despite operating at a speed that’s 50% faster.

Most of the capacity disparity here is therefore caused by system length.

So remember: If you’re contemplating a Fixed Grip Cable Car, and you want high capacity, you either need a pretty short line or you’re going to have to opt for another technology.

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