Posts Tagged: Zurich



Weekly Roundup: Students Propose Urban Gondola in Zurich; Vietnam Plans Cable Car in World’s Largest Cave

Sơn Đoòng Cave. Image by Flickr user Nguyen Tan Tin.

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

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Two Old (And Awesome) Gondolas In Zurich

As we’ve learned from the BUGA festivals in Germany (here and here), there are few things German-speakers love more than to look at flowers while riding cable cars. Why? Why not? Who am I to judge?

And apparently this trend is not new: In the mid-part of the 20th century, Zürich hosted a horicultural fair and a national exhibition separated by just 20 years — and both were serviced by a different cable transit system.

Even weirder? From what I can ascertain (and I could be wrong), both plied basically the same route.

Sadly, neither system exists today. The first system (built in 1939) was dismantled shortly after the fair and the second system (build in 1959) was dismantled seven years later.

Which is a shame because they’re knockouts to behold.

Blumenparterre Belvoirpark

The 1959 Zurich Gondelbahn.

Image via Seilbahn Nostagie.

Zurich Gondola 1939.












Image via Seilbahn Nostalgie.



Gondelbahn Zurich


Are these the most beautiful gondola stations and towers? That’s not for me to say as beauty is completely subjective. But really look at what’s going on with these two systems. Look closely.

In the 1939 example, station and tower become one and the same. Sure there are some queueing issues to be dealt with, but no more so than with the Singapore Cable Car’s mid-station.

Meanwhile in the 1959 example, architect Werner Stücheli and engineer Max Walt designed two 55 metre towers that are as artistically sculptural as they are functional — the cable cars, after all, travel through the towers.

It’s a shame the cable industry doesn’t keep a better archive of their history and systems. The things we can learn from installations like this – particularly as the industry is moving towards a more urban form – could help inform designs and systems for decades to come.

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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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Pearson vs. Klotten: Transit Connectivity

I recently read an article in Canada’s Globe and Mail that made me smile.

The article, entitled Air-rail link to boost travel – and ‘wow’ factor, discusses how my hometown of Toronto “has been waiting for decades for a direct link between the airport and downtown” and how “at last . . . it’s finally taking shape.”

As anyone in Toronto will tell you, Pearson International Airport is woefully unconnected to the Greater Toronto Area by transit, and the Air-rail link won’t do much to change that. Consider the current situation:

  • The Toronto Transit Commission runs two bus routes to the airport. One is circuitous and basically useless (the 58A Malton) and the other is somewhat useful. The TTC also runs two late night buses to the airport.

With that one additional transit line, the Greater Toronto Area will have a total of six public transport connections to Canada’s busiest airport. The Globe and Mail estimates that users of that that additional transit line can expect to pay $15 to $35 to use it.

Now let’s compare that to Zurich Klotten Airport:

  • A tram services the airport along two separate lines.

In other words, Zurich Klotten Airport has 17 different public transit connections compared to Toronto’s current five.

And just to put that into perspective: Zurich proper is roughly 350,000 people. The greater Zurich area is 1.5 – 2.0 million people. Toronto proper is around 2.5 million people and the Greater Toronto Area is well in excess of 5 million.

To further reinforce the point, if you were to include the greater Zurich area – which you should – then you’d also have to include the myriad of regional bus routes and commuter rail lines that also service the airport. At which point the number of transit connections servicing the airport would be mind-bogglingly large.

Toronto would still have only five.

I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade here.

It’s important for Torontonians to celebrate our accomplishments, but it’s also important for us to recognize we’ve got a whole lot of catching-up to do.

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Im Viadukt, Zürich

Recently I was in Zurich, Switzerland and stumbled across this:

Viaduktstrasse in Zurich, Switzerland. Image by coyote-agile.

What you’re looking at is Im Viadukt, a new commercial and shopping district built into the stone mason arches of Zurich’s Wipkingen Viadukt.

Originally the Viaduct dates from 1894 and was used to ferry passenger trains into the core of Zurich. Like most elevated infrastructure, the Viaduct divided the area into two distinct zones. In the Wipkingen situation, the area known locally as District 5 was split into a residential area and an industrial area. Over time, shops disappeared and were replaced with the less-reputable sex and entertainment trades.

Tearing down the Viadukt was not, however, an option. Industry and the outlying suburbs relied on that rail link; much of the inner suburbs of Zurich are already covered by rail tracks, with little room to add to the clutter; and given the cost of Swiss labour and permitting, tunneling would have been all but impossible. In other words, the Viadukt wasn’t going anywhere.

(Update: According Matthias, some of the above paragraph is incorrect. Please see comments below.)

The Im Viadukt Plan. Image from

It was in this environment that the city commissioned an open design competition in the mid-2000’s. Zurich architectural firm EM2N won the challenge in 2004 with their innovative effort to recreate the Viadukt “from a spatial barrier to a connecting structureal element.” The results are only now being appreciated as shops and the central Markthalle opened just this fall.

These two quick news reports (in German) should give you some idea of the importance of what’s going on here:

Whether planners and urban designers like it or not, large-scale infrastructure is here to stay. And as the cost of land and tunneling increases, elevated infrastructure is likely to take a major place at the table. But as I’ve argued before ugly is a choice and ugly is an opportunity to be beautiful.

Planners who rail against the ugliness and disruptive aspect of elevated infrastructure need to see things like Im Viadukt because things like this are going to become more and more common. Indeed, they’re going to become more and more necessary.

But ask yourself: If instead of building Im Viadukt 100 years after the fact, what if it had been designed into the Wipkingen to begin with?

(As Im Viadukt is practically brand new, there is little in the way of press, images and videos from the English-speaking world. I therefore encourage readers – especially those in the German-speaking world – who come across such things to post them in the comments to help inform people about this truly revolutionary urban development.)

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