Posts Tagged: Funicular



The Hybrid Monorail-Funicular-Cable Car?

Every so often we are confronted with wonderful and mysterious transportation devices (see Chinese Tunnel Bus). Today, we happen to come across the Sistema Monorail Con Funiculares (or the Monorail System With Funiculars) — a conceptual transit system designed by ECOLVIAS from Medellin, Colombia.

There’s not much information about this technology but it does make me wonder what type of advantages/disadvantages one might discover if you fuse monorail technology with cable cars. Perhaps it offers greater stability, capacity and/or speeds? Or maybe it’s as simple as being able to travel in style onboard teardrop-shaped cabins. Without any additional details it’s really anybody’s guess at this time.

But perhaps our engineer readers have a better idea and could provide us with your thoughts!

Big thanks goes out to Guenther for the link.

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System Profile: Montjuïc Funicular, Barcelona

Montjuic Funicular Barcelona

Image by Steven Dale.

As we know, public transit agencies rarely implement cable transit solutions within their networks (hence this website), and when they do, they tend to implement them not as fully-integrated components of their network but rather as isolated, independent components (here or here for example).

They’re treated kind of like that awkward, sticky-fingered step-cousin you only see at certain holidays—kept off to the side and left to fend for themselves.

That’s what makes the Monjuïc Funicular in Barcelona so wonderful. It isn’t an afterthought or at the kiddie’s table.

Montjuïc Funicular. Image by Flickr user lisaeeeee.

The system, originally built in 1928 to serve the hilltop Expo of 1929, was rebuilt by Leitner in 1992 so as to cope with the increased traffic to and from the hilltop due to the wildly successful Barcelona Summer Olympics. 

While only a modest 758 meters long and ostensibly built solely for tourists, the system is fully-integrated into Barcelona’s wider transportation network and is operated by TMB, the city’s local transportation agency. There are no additional fares to ride the system and the station platform is a mere 30 second walk down the hall from the nearby Paral-lel metro station platform.

You could, if you wanted to, pay your metro fare at the top of the funicular and then transfer directly to the metro without going outside, paying an additional fare or even passing through a turnstile—it’s that wedded into the overall system.

Montjuic Funicular Barcelona

The station platform of the Montjuïc Funicular. Image by Steven Dale

Currently, the system operates at approximately ten minute headways with a trip time of only two minutes. But during the Olympics, the system was operating at full-tilt: 10 m/s speeds, with three minute headways and cabins packed to the brim with 400 passengers.

Do the math and you quickly realize that during the Olympics, the Montjuîc Funicular was moving 8,000 pphpd. For those who are keeping track, that’s thought to be the most number of people a funicular had ever carried in history and is a record that stands to this day.

Unfortunately, the headways between vehicles experienced back then are not experienced now.

The current wait times for the vehicles are not exactly prohibitive—after all, at ten minutes they’re still within the tolerance of most urban frequent service bus schedules—but they do feel excessively long for what is such a short ride. Certainly it is possible for the system to operate at shorter frequencies, but to do so would only increase the wear-and-tear on the system.

That’s one of those operational trade-offs that causes problems. From a rider’s perspective, a ten minute wait for a two minute journey hardly seems reasonable, but does it make sense for a transit agency to operate a system in an inefficient manner so as to provide for a greater level of customer satisfaction? 

Hard to say.

Notwithstanding that one minor issue, the Montjuïc Funicular is exemplary in its overall function and integration. It’s not the typical cable car bastard child of the transit network; it’s part of the family. That’s what makes it valuable as a case study. The Montjuïc Funicular teaches you that if you treat a cable car system as transit, then it is transit. That’s the (easily remedied) mistake that London is making with their cable car line.

Perhaps most interesting?

Its upper terminus is right next to another urban cable transit line and what must certainly be one of the world’s most interesting urban gondola systems—but we’ll talk about that next week.

Montjuic Funicular

See that black box to the left? It’s in there. Image by Steven Dale.

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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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Zurich’s Urban Funiculars: The Polybahn and Rigiblick Funicular

This is a guest post by Ross Edgar.

The Swiss city of Zurich has a long heritage with the operation of funicular cable systems. At one time there were three funiculars within the city limits until the Dolderbahn was converted into a rack railway in 1973. Today, two funiculars remain in Zurich: the Polybahn in the city centre (map) and the Rigiblock Funicular (Seilbahn Rigiblick) (map) which climbs the Zurichberg in the north-east of the city.

Polybahn. Image by Flickr user hrs51.

Rigiblick Funicular. Image by Flickr user hrs51.

The Polybahn is an iconic symbol for Zurich, being possibly one of the most well known funicular railways in the world. Since 1889 the Polybahn has carried passengers between Zurich city centre and the main ETH Zurich university building, originally known as Eidgenossisches Polytechnikum. Between its opening in 1889 and its conversion to electric power in 1897, the Polybahn operated as a water balance funicular.

The line has been overhauled on a couple of occasions in its history. In 1976 both the track and the cars were refurbished, but in 1996 a more extensive rebuild was completed with the installation of new track and a new, automated haulage mechanism. Today’s Polybahn is 176m in length and ascends a total of 41m at an average gradient of 23%. The line features the standard funicular layout of two cars and two stations with a single passing loop at the midway point. However, at 955mm the Polybahn’s track gauge is far from standard. Each car has a capacity of 50 people with a travel time of just under two minutes.

Polybahn's integration with city and public transit. Image by hrs51.

The line is significant in its integration within the wider Zurich cityscape. The lower terminus is situated within a row of grand terraced townhouses with the entrance appearing just as any other building in the row. At the opposite end of the building the funicular emerges from the terminus at first storey level, immediately crossing a main road by means of a steel bridge. The Polybahn is a prime example of how a cable system can blend seamlessly and intelligently into a city environment.

The Seilbahn Rigiblick, in contrast, is located in Zurich’s largely residential outer suburbs. The funicular originally opened in 1901 but it was refurbished with all-new cars in the early 1950s and again in the late 1970s, together with an extension of the line at the upper terminus. Today’s Seilbahn Rigiblick is 385m in length and ascends a total of 94m at an average gradient of 25.3%. Interestingly, the line features two cars but a total of five different stops; two termini and three intermediate stops. Each car has a capacity of 30 people with a travel time of two minutes without any intermediate stops.

Rigiblick Funicular at Hadlaubstrasse stop. Image by Flickr user hrs51.

Rigiblick Funicular at Lower Base Station. Image by Flick user hrs51.

With its connections to both city tram routes and trolleybus routes, the Seilbahn Rigiblick is a prime example of how cable systems can be integrated within a wider urban transport network. Moreover, while it is not uncommon for funicular systems to feature intermediate stops at the midway point, intermediate stops in addition to this are indeed uncommon. However, as long as the intermediate stops are at uniformed intervals there is no reason why additional intermediate stops could not be a possibility.


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Terraza del Mar in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – Funicular Elevator

Here at the Gondola Project, we often discover really interesting uses of cable technology that is little known or understood. Couple weeks back, we found out about the Hohenwerfen Castle funicular and last year, we learned about the private funicular in the Kriens development in Switzerland.

In particular, the Kriens funicular demonstrates how cable can be implemented to open up development potential on hillside property. Coincidentally, while watching an episode of House Hunters this weekend, I stumbled upon a fascinating housing development which basically applies the same concept found in the Swiss example

The development I’m referring to is known as Terraza del Mara condo complex in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. This building was constructed on a slope in a tiered formation which provides residents with spectacular views of Banderas Bay.

It's a little hard to see, but the funicular is sandwiched in the middle of the housing complex. Image from

A closer view - funicular at the top of housing complex. Image by Flickr user mcgrayjr.

As we’ve discussed before, the implications of this application of cable technology can be far-reaching. In this example, with the introduction of a cable system, this previously “undevelopable” piece of real estate suddenly becomes “accessible” and skyrockets in value. Aside from the sheer cost-effectiveness of building a funicular to complement the development of a hillside property, the novelty and rarity of such a transport contraption suddenly gives the housing complex an edge on its competitors.

In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that buyers often not only express that the funicular is their favourite part of Terraza Del Mar, but also find themselves riding it up and down like kids at Disneyland!

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The Hohenwerfen Castle Funicular

This is a guest post by Ross Edgar.

Hohenwerfen Castle. Photo by “Sir James”

There are few castles in Europe more iconic than Hohenwerfen Castle which stands imposingly over the town of Werfen, 40km (25 miles) south of Salzburg on the Austro-German border. The fortress dates back to 1075 but in more recent years featured in the 1968 film epic ‘Where Eagles Dare’ in which the castle played the part of ‘Schloss Adler’.

Despite its considerable history the fortress is home to an altogether more modern means of transport to provide access from the valley below. From the castle’s car park visitors board a modern funicular which carries passengers from the foot of the hill into the heart of the fortress itself.

Hohenwerfen Castle single track funicular. Photo by Ross Edgar.

However, this funicular is far from conventional. Firstly, the funicular system only features a single car rather than the more conventional two cars. This is most likely due to the relatively short distance covered by the funicular. In place of the second car which traditionally acts as a counterbalance for the first, a set of weights travel in the opposite direction below the funicular’s tracks.

But the most unconventional feature of the Hohenwerfen Castle funicular is that it functions in a manner similar to a hotel elevator. Passengers at either station can ‘call’ the funicular by means of a button located next to the entry door. Once aboard the funicular the passenger then chooses whether to go up or down through the use of a button within the car itself.

The result is that this funicular is totally independent of any input being required from the operator. Therefore staffing requirements are comparatively low when compared to other means of transit or even more traditional funiculars. What is more, being operated by the passengers themselves means that the funicular is able to respond immediately to the demands of the visitors to the fortress. Waiting times are therefore reduced and operating costs are cut as the funicular does not confirm to a rigid schedule.

Hohenwerfen Castle funicular station. Photo by Ross Edgar.

The potential application for such a unique cable system within an urban environment is compelling. Such a funicular would allow a local authority to connect two areas of a city at considerably different elevations without the costs associated with other forms of transport or even other cable systems. The automation of the system would reduce staffing requirements to a very basic level of supervision and the system would be much more cost effective compared to a system that operates continually regardless of passenger demand. Moreover, the use of larger cars or even the addition of a second car would increase capacity considerably.
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Grey Public Transit? Quebec City’s Funiculaire

Quebec City's oldest public stairwell, the Breakneck Stairs. Image by flickr user mirsasha.

What do we call something that both is and is not public transit?

That’s something we’ve wrestled with before (here and here for example), but it wasn’t until a quick trip to Quebec City for an old friend’s wedding (congrats, by the way, to Ingrid and Darren!) that the point was driven home for me.

As many people know, Quebec City is topographically challenging. Which is an understatement if you’re elderly, disabled or otherwise disheartened by the idea of having to traverse an urban area almost exclusively by stairs and hills.

Moving from the upper to the lower parts of the old town, meanwhile, require navigating a series of steep wooden stairways lined with shops and restaurants. It’s all pretty beautiful. But as the stairs crowd with people, the entire experience can get a little overwhelming – and that’s not counting what they must be like in during an icy, slushy and snowy Canadian winter.

The stairs have such a reputation, their original name escalier Champlain (“Champlain Stairs”) has been replaced by the more humorous (and, I suspect, honest) escalier casse-cou – literally, the Breakneck Stairs.

(It’s worth noting that the Breakneck Stairs are just one out of several flights of stairs and hills one needs to ascend/descend to make the trek from the upper to the lower parts of the city. These stairs can present as much of a challenge to pedestrians as the Breaknecks.)

There is, however, another option: The Funiculaire.

Stretching almost exactly from the base of the Breakneck Stairs to to their destination outside the Chateau Frontenac, the Quebec City Funiculaire links the two halves of the city with a convenient, short connection. At only 64m in length, and with an almost completely vertical inclination, this system is more inclined elevator than funicular, but that’s just semantics and not really the point.

The Quebec City Funicular. Public or Private Transit? Image by flickr user jacdupree.

The point is this: At a one-way fare of $2.00 CAD (roughly the same in American) the Quebec City Funiculaire isn’t cheap. It’s not something your average joe could afford to use each day in each direction – unless, of course, that was the public transit they required.

Despite having a price point around what most transit agencies charge for unlimited access to their entire network, riders of the Funiculaire receive a five-minute long lineup to take a 30-second un-air-conditioned (at least when I rode it) elevator ride. It took less time for me to walk the stairways than it took to wait and ride the funicular.

Yet there were no shortage of people willing to use it. Most, I’m certain, were tourists, but many were not. And there appeared to be equal traffic in both the ascending and descending directions – something I admittedly didn’t expect.

So what do we call this piece of infrastructure? Especially when on considers issues of the mobility-challenged, the funicular clearly serves a public transit a purpose. Yet still, it exists outside the realm of public transit. It occupies a grey area that isn’t easy to define – and even harder to price.

These kind of borderline systems – whether cable-propelled or not – are common throughout the world. And despite this, we still don’t have a name for these type of installations. So I’m proposing we name them Grey Public Transit Systems.

Grey Public Transit Systems are neither the white of public transit systems nor the black of private transit (or reversed if you so choose) – instead they exist on a spectrum where they straddle both worlds and add an essential mix to the urban mobility picture.

What do people think? Does the term work? Does it make sense?

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