Posts Tagged: Funitel



This Week’s Tweak — Funitel

Hakone Ropeway Funitel in Japan. CC image by Flickr user jpmatth.

In an effort to continually improve and expand the offerings on The Gondola Project, each week we’re rolling out a “tweak” to the site. If there’s a part of the website you’d like to see “tweaked” send us an email at gondola (at) creativeurbanprojects (dot) com.


The tech update series continues this week with the addition of the new Funitel page.

In case you forgot, funitels are those crazy two-arm, single-cable, detachable-grip gondolas. You can find the link here, or on the Learn the Basics listed under Learn About Cable Transit in the header menu.

The other tech pages that were recently updated include the MDG, BDG, Aerial Tram, and 3S.

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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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Urban Gondola Transit as Minivan?

Advancements in 3S and MDG technology have largely eliminated the need for Funitel and BDG technologies. If you’re considering a Funitel, you might as well go with a 3S. The 3S is faster, with higher potential capacity and reasonably similar capital costs. A 3S also doesn’t incur the high energy consumption cost that’s typical of the Funitel technology.

Similarly, the BDG’s only real advantage over the MDG is a moderately higher maximum speed (27 km/hr versus 22 km/hr), without any real capacity or wind stability improvements. Not surprisingly, however, the BDG has a higher capital and O&M cost than the MDG. If you’re considering the BDG, you’re therefore likely to opt for the MDG in the end.

That leaves us with a low-end market technology (the MDG) and a high-end market technology (the 3S). But what about the middle-market?

The curious thing about markets like Burnaby Mountain and Calgary are that the environmental conditions there are such that the wind stability offered by the 3S make it the logical choice.

However when you look at the capacity, speed and cost factors in both those situations, an MDG would suffice fine. Both cities would be more than content with an MDG system were it not for the needed wind stability. In fact, wind stability is the only reason for either of these cities to actually opt for the 3S. Is that worth the extra cost?

Let’s be clear, cost is a major impediment to implementation. At a price point of 2-3 times that of an MDG, it becomes much harder for a city to justify implementing a 3S over a more standard transit technology. However, with a wind stability threshold 30% lower than a 3S, it becomes impossible for many cities to implement an MDG.

See the problem?

You may not need all the bells and whistles of a 3S, but the one bell-and-whistle you do need (wind stability) the MDG doesn’t possess. You therefore must opt for the 3S.

So here’s the challenge and opportunity for the industry: Design a technology priced somewhere between an MDG and 3S system (in both capital and O&M costs) that offers the capacity and speed of an MDG but the wind stability of a 3S.

Think of it as the Minivan of cable transit:

"Seating for eight people at the price of a family-sized sedan? No way!"

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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

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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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