Niche Transports

Cable Transports Sub-Page

Two pages looking at what are known as 'niche' technologies. This term usually refers to lower capacity and specialist transports which either act as feeders for the more mainstream transports or meet transport needs which other transports are incapable of providing.

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More information about this website & why it was created can be found by visiting this website's "front" pages (link opens in a new window) ..

Most images are "clickable" - run the mouse over them and if a "hand" appears then click & a larger version will open in a new window! .

Niche Transports are looked at on two pages.

This topic is on this page.

These topics are on the other page.

Transports For Hilly Locations

A very unusual and innovative solution for helping cyclists up steep hills can be found in the Norwegian city of Trondheim.

Known as the Trampe Bicycle Lift the manufacturer describes this as being somewhat akin to a ski lift - except that most of it is located just below the street surface so that people and vehicles can cross its route safely and without hindrance. Apart from the compact machinery & motor housing units at the start and end points the only things which protrude proud of the ground are the moving footplates used by the cyclists.

When using the lift the right foot is placed on the starting point (the left foot stays on the bicycle pedal), the keycard is inserted in the card reader and one pushes the start button. After a few seconds the user is pushed forward and a footplate emerges. A common mistake among tourists and first-time users is that they don't keep their right leg outstretched and their body tilted forward. This makes it hard to maintain balance on the footplate, and can result in falling off.

In the summer months it is used extensively by both commuting inhabitants of Trondheim and tourists with rented keycards. It is also sometimes used by thrill-seeking teenagers balancing on the footplate without a bicycle and by parents with young children in pushchairs (prams, buggies, strollers, etc.)

The footplates are 20 metres apart, which means that if several people wish to use it at the same time then they can, albeit with 20 metre gaps between them. The speed of the lift is 2 m/s (4 - 5 mph), giving a maximum capacity of 6 cyclists per minute or 360 cyclists per hour.

This installation opened in 1993, and in addition to being a useful facility for local people and tourists it purpose was to act as a working prototype with the aim of obtaining sales of similar systems elsewhere. It is 130 metres in length, although the concept allows for lengths of up to 400 metres, with longer runs being catered for by several installations.

In 2012/13 the original prototype bicycle lift was replaced with a newer production version that meets higher safety standards and uses the marketing name of CycloCable, which has also been registered as a trademark.

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These four images come from the manufacturers' website, which can be found at ..
More images can be found in their photogallery; other pages on the website include a video of the system in operation, schematic diagrams plus more detailed technical information.

Additional information can be found on these pages: the English language pages at the system owners' website . Video of the lift in operation on YouTube . the online "Wikipedia" encyclopædia ..
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Funiculars, Ropeways & Cable Cars

These systems come in two core variants with the principle differences being whether the vehicles run on top of a track (of some sort) and are hauled by moving cables which are below them; or hang with traction coming from cables which are above them.

Cable systems where the vehicles travel on railway tracks are typically called funiculars. Typically funicular railways use two 'cabin' sized trains which are located at at opposite ends of the cable so that the descending vehicle counterbalances the ascending vehicle and they pass at a half way location. A few higher capacity urban systems use larger vehicles, sometimes even two or three vehicles coupled together, as per self-powered railways.

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An important aspect of funicular railways are the sheaves and pulleys which guide the cable(s).
Both images & license: Otourly / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

The cables are very sensitive to air temperature, contracting and expanding depending on how cold / cool / warm / hot it is at the time. Especially for longer systems it is sometimes necessary to include a second cable which loops downhill of the vehicles via a very heavy load that goes up and down in an iron frame (like a tensioning spring). This is required solely to maintain the tension of the main cable (ie: the cable which hauls the vehicles). This secondary cable also helps offset the effect of the acceleration and deceleration of the vehicles on the main cable.

Funicular Variations

Funicular railways usually come in one of several versions:
  • Four rails / two vehicles: Like a double track railway each vehicle travels on its own dedicated track. To reduce land - take and possibly therefore the cost of constructing the system some four rail funiculars interlace the rails, except at the midway passing point.
  • Three rails / two vehicles: For most of the route there are three rails, with the outer rails being dedicated to one or the other funicular vehicles and the middle rail being used by them both. However the route will include a four rail section where the two vehicles pass.
  • Two rails / two vehicles: For most of the route there are two rails which are used by both vehicles. However the route will include a four rail section where the two vehicles pass. Typically these vehicles have double flanged wheels on one side of each axle and rollers / wheels without flanges on the other side, this is to guide the vehicles correctly as they pass - as per the image on the right.
  • Two rails / one vehicle: Single vehicle systems often use a counterbalance weight (called a counterweight) which travels on rails as well, albeit of a different track gauge and sometimes somewhere where it cannot be seen. Single vehicle systems are also known as inclined lifts although unlike vertical lifts they only normally serve two floors - these being the top and the bottom of the cliff / hill.
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Illustration of four-rail, three-rail and two-rail layouts.
The green coloured rails (top and bottom of 3 and 2 rail layouts) are shared by both cars. The two rail layout also shows the unconventional wheels and the gaps in the rails (rather than moving switch blades) where the routes diverge for the passing loop.
Image & license: Cmglee / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Three and two rail layouts considerably reduce the amount of land space required for building a funicular, which can lower construction costs on mountain slopes and property costs for urban funiculars. Whilst some of these benefits can also be achieved on four rail systems which feature interlaced tracks, when issues such as track maintenance are considered systems which use fewer rails still prove to be more financially beneficial.

Three rail systems seem to have become somewhat rare, with (over the years) many of these having been converted to two rail systems. This is probably because there are few, if any, operational advantages of the three rail system whilst eliminating the centre rail reduces the amount of work and cost of track maintenance.

Some examples of two rail / two vehicle funiculars showing the unusual track arrangement at the passing places where the track splits into four rails. By locating the double flanged wheels so that (at the passing places) they the outside rails and the blind (ie: without flange) roller wheels so that they use the inside rails (at passing places) it is possible to guarantee that the two vehicles will always travel on opposite sides without needing moving switch blades.

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An example of a two rail system showing the track layout where the track widens out to four rails form the passing loop. (Best seen in the larger version of the image - click the thumbnail).
This is the 201 metres Graz, Austria Schlossbergbahn funicular.
Image & license: Szalay Gábor István / Wikipedia encyclopædia.
CC BY-SA 3.0
An example of a three rail system showing the track layout where the track widens out to four rails form the passing loop. (Best seen in the larger version of the image - click the thumbnail).
This is the 440 metres Wiesbaden, Germany, Nerobergbahn. The Riggenbach rack track is solely used as part of a speed control safety braking system. This is the only remaining German water ballast powered funicular railway.
Image & license: James Steakley / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Below is an example of a two-rail inclined-lift style of cliff lift which also uses a counterweight that travels on rails, albeit of a different track gauge.

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The 100 metre Funicular Villanelo in Viña del Mar (Valparaíso region, Chile), which is an inclined-lift style of cliff lift and the counterweight which uses a narrow gauge set of tracks located between the main cabin's tracks.
Both images & license: Dario Alpern / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Although funicular railways are frequently seen as being transports for leisure-themed locations, such as linking urban areas with nearby hills which people like to visit for recreation, there are some funicular systems which meet real urban transport needs.

One example is the 1875 Istanbul Tünel. This funicular railway holds the accocolade for being the second-oldest subterranean urban rail line (after London's Metropolitan Railway) and the first subterranean urban railway in continental Europe*. Originally steam-powered with two wooden trains serving parallel tracks, the Tünel was modernized in 1971 and now has a single track with a passing loop, is electrically powered and uses two former Paris Métro MP55 rubber-tyred carriages. Along with its other urban transports (bus, tram, metro, ferry) Istanbul also has a second funicular railway, this too only serves two stations.

*Although the oldest subterranean railway in continental Europe, because the Tünel only serves two stations (one at each end) it cannot be seen as an underground railway system. Instead that accolade is held by what is now Line 1 of the Budapest (Hungary) Metro.

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Karaköy station of the 573 metres Istanbul Tünel.

This funicular railway uses two former Paris Métro MP55 rubber-tyred carriages.
Image & license: Khutuck / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain.
The Funicolare di Montesanto in Naples, Italy. Part of the Naples metro, this line is 824 metres in length and includes three stations. The large trains on this busy commuter railway can carry 300 passengers each. In all Naples has four funicular railways - the busiest is the 1.27km Central Funicular which has four stations, trains that can carry 420 passengers each journey and a total capacity of 6,200 passengers per hour, per direction.
Image & license: Ciro / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Funicular lines do not have to be long to be useful, the Lugano, Switzerland Funicolare Lugano Città - Stazioni which links the city centre with its railway station is just 220 metres in length and uses small cabin sized trains.

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The two cars at the midway passing point. There used to be two stations here (one each side) but they are no longer used. Car 2 at the upper station, which is located next to the city's main railway station.

Barcelona in Spain has three funicular railways, two of which are seen below. The Funicular de Montjuïc is fully integrated with the urban metro system (including ticketing) and has three carriage trains such as might be found on an urban mini-metro. Although the platforms at both stations are stepped the top end of the train is fully accessible.

By way of contrast the Funicular de Vallvidrera uses small 'cabin' sized rolling stock. This line is fully automatic with (for added safety) the stations also featuring platform screen doors which prevent access to the track. Popular with local residents, especially commuters, there are three stations. An uncommon feature of the intermediate station is that it is not at the passing point, which means that when the funicular stops here the passengers in the other vehicle must wait for the journey to continue. However, since this is a request stop - passengers on the train or waiting at the station must press buttons to request that it calls here - so many journeys pass by without stopping.

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The Montjuïc funicular railway at the lower station where passengers can interchange with two lines of the Barcelona metro.
Note the use of twin side platforms to reduce station dwell times and conflict between boarding and alighting passengers. Often called the Spanish Solution this arrangement is looked at on the Coping With Large Crowds page.
Image & license: Ymblanter / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
The fully automated Vallvidrera funicular railway at the upper station, showing the platform screen doors.

Despite using smaller 'cabin' sized vehicles this line includes some attributes of what are often called automated guided transits (AGT) which are looked at on the Automation page.
Image & license: Pere López / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Genova in Italy has two funicular railways. The line that is of greater interest is the Funicolare Zecca-Righi which is 1.428km in length and has as many as five (5) intermediate stations. Three of these are between the northern terminus and the central passing point whilst by way of contrast there is only one station between the central passing point and the station at the southern end of the line. This is because the southern part of the line includes a 700 metre tunnel, and as a result trains travelling through the tunnel stop twice, whilst the carriage on the northern section of line calls at a station. (Not illustrated).

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The famous 1,364 metres Hong Kong Peak Tram, which in reality is a funicular railway. There are four intermediate request stops at which the trams will only stop if passengers press the request button inside the tram compartment or at the station.

Although built to serve local residents the sheer numbers of visitors using the line means that the intermediate stations are closed at weekends and on public holidays.
Image & license: Ian and Wendy Sewell / Wikipedia encyclopædia.
CC BY-SA 2.5
The 628 metres Wellington Cable Car, New Zealand.

Linking the main shopping street (Lambton Quay) with the Wellington Botanic Gardens and the Cable Car Museum in Kelburn, which is a suburb in the hills overlooking the city centre, this funicular railway has three intermediate stations. The spacious carriages can carry as many as 100 passengers at a time, 30 of whom can be seated. The railway has become widely recognised as a symbol of Wellington.
Image & license: Clilly4 / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain

Often said to be the smallest underground railway / subway / metro systems the 1.8 km Haifa, Israel, Carmelit is a funicular railway that is facing a demographic conundrum. This railway uses twin carriage trains which call at six stations that at the time of its 1959 opening were close to many of the important population and business centres it was designed to serve. Since then however the city of Haifa has grown considerably and with the vast majority of Haifa's population no longer living close to the stations so the railway is very lightly used. Whilst extending the line has often been mooted this has not yet been done, with matters financial being cited as the primary reason.

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Carmelit trains have a slanted design, with steps within each carriage and on the station platform. Since the gradient varies along the route, the floors are exactly level and instead are angled slightly "uphill" or "downhill" depending on the location.
Image & license: Martina Nolte / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0 DE
Inside a Carmelit train.
Image & license: deror avi / Wikipedia encyclopædia.
Free use with attribution.

The 750 metre Funiculaire Evian-les-Bains is also known as the small metro évianais. There are six stations. Whilst all travel is free, because this system is only open in the summer and the first services commence at 10am in the morning so it is unlikely to be able to meet the real travel needs of many local people - especially not commuters. This is one of two French funicular railways which have been classified as Historical Monuments.

The longest known funicular railway is the Swiss 4.192km SMC (Funiculaire Sierre-Montana-Crans). Because of its length it needs a secondary cable which loops via powerful tensioning springs downhill of the cabins to help keep the main cable taut. The SMC uses luxurious wheelchair accessible vehicles which have panoramic windows on the fronts, sides and roof so that passengers can enjoy the views whilst travelling between two towns - rather than through one city. There are eight stations, services only call at the six intermediate stations if requested by passengers pressing buttons located inside the vehicles / at the stations.

Additional reading: The Funimag website includes much interesting and illustrated information about the unique SMC funicular railway, how it works and some of its special features. .

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The French Funiculaire Evian-les-Bains.
Image & license: Camster / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0évian.jpg
The Swiss 4.192km SMC (Funiculaire Sierre-Montana-Crans).
Image & license: Alexandre Emsenhuber / Wikipedia encyclopædia.
CC BY-SA 3.0

The French city of Lyon has two funicular railways, both of which are fully integrated into the métro system and use Vieux-Lyon métro station as their lower starting point. One serves the Basilica whilst the other goes to St Just.

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Two views showing the large two-section trains on the 822 metre route between Vieux-Lyon and the Basilica at Minimes Théâtres romains station, this being the only intermediate station and conveniently located to also act as the passing point. The station's name reflects the nearby Roman ruins.
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The 431 metre Lyon funicular to St Just crosses a short viaduct after leaving Vieux-Lyon station and commences its steeply graded uphill journey through the hills. Another city with two urban funicular railways is the Swiss city of Zürich.
Here we see a Polybahn car which has just left the lower station (which is located inside the building seen here) crossing the viaduct over Seilergraben. This line is just 176 metres in length.
Image & license: Markus Giger / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 2.5 CH

Whilst most funicular systems use just two vehicles / two trains the system in the French city of Laon is very different and uses four vehicles, all of which operate independently. Dating from 1989, it replaces a rack + pinion railway and links the railway station with the town hall in the city centre via one intermediate station.

The Poma 2000 shares many attributes with other funiculars, including that...

  • The line is single-track except for passing places,
  • All trains arrive at a station simultaneously, which in this instance means one at each terminal station plus two at the intermediate station.

However it also has some attributes which are less common for funicular railways...

  • Its vehicles use rubber tyred wheels - rather than steel wheel.
  • It has three passing places - one located between the upper and central stations, another one located between the central and lower stations plus an additional passing place at the central station,
  • It has two sections, each with their cables and winding gear, and during station stops the vehicles at the intermediate station are automatically switched from one cable section to the other cable section, so that passengers can benefit from through journeys without needing to change midway.

Also classified as a cable-driven people mover, for most of the year the system only operates Monday - Saturday, but in the summer it is used on Sundays too.

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Image & license: Smiley.toerist / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
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Image & license: Smiley.toerist / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
The Laooan Poma 2000 funicular cable-driven people mover.

Faced with severe environmental issues related to motor vehicle exhaust fumes the Italian city of Perugia decided that the only solution lay in restricting car and motorcoach access to parts of the city centre. However they also recognised that another part of the solution lay in improving public transport so that fewer people would want to drive their own cars and that visitors who come by motorcoach should also be happy to leave their vehicles outside of the city centre. Therefore, in addition to increasing car and coach parking capacity on the outskirts of the historic city centre and installing escalators between the parking areas and the city centre, they built a new metro system.

Being a small city (population a little below 165,000) on a hilly location they reasoned that they needed a lower capacity system capable of climbing steeper gradients, and wanting to maintain attractiveness by means of a high service frequency they opted to use lower capacity 'cabin' type vehicles which would operate as a funicular railway.

Known as the MiniMetro the Perugia system can operate so frequently that waiting time is almost non-existent. 3.2km (2miles) in length the system currently has seven stations, although a second line with two further stations is planned. There are 25 rubber-tyred vehicles which like normal railways can be added or removed from service as required depending on expected passenger numbers. Five metres in length, they are fitted with eight tip-up and one fixed 'special needs' seats and have a maximum capacity of 50 passengers. Other features include an acoustic 'doors closing' alarm and LED display which provides 'next station' and destination updates. The systems' top speed various between 36-43km/h (22-26mph)

Services are only cable operated between stations, as at the stations they are automatically detached from the cable and conveyed through the station by an independent conveyor system.

Although generally welcomed the MiniMetro has attracted some complaints by people who live close to the route who cite the continuous hum of the cable pulleys as being somewhat noisy.

The name MiniMetro is a registered trade mark, so can only be used on systems developed by the Italian company Leitner, who are specialists in automatic aerial ropeways and chairlifts - so it is not surprising that some practices from these transports (such as disengaging from the cable at stations) have been ported over.

Along with some other automated 'cabin' transports more photographs of the MiniMetro can be found on the Monorails, Maglevs and 'Cabin' Transports. page.

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An elevated section of line showing how it has been dovetailed to fit between existing residential buildings. In the distance can be seen one of the cutting-edge designed stations.
Image & license: Pava / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain.
Calling at an underground station.
Image & license: Radapanda / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain.

Before electricity became the universal choice several cities used cable-operated tram / streetcar systems. Nowadays only San Francisco still uses this technology. Here the cables take the shape of large under-road loops which are in continuous motion; to obtain propulsion the cable cars use special 'grippers' that lock onto the moving cable through a slot in the roadway located between the running rails.

At one time there were many cable lines operated by rival private companies which used incompatible track gauges. Although most lines were closed or electrified a few survived long enough to be appreciated for what they were. Nowadays they have become part of the tourist scene but the locals do still use them as legitimate urban transit - especially in the morning peak hour before the tourists swamp them!

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The San Francisco cablecars.
The two views on the left show the vehicles which operate on the California Street service, these cablecars are double-ended (ie: can be driven from either end) and can use simple 'stub-end' termini to reverse direction; the other type of vehicle (as seen on the right) operates on the Powel - Mason & Powel - Hyde routes, and at termini must use a turntable to reverse their direction of travel.
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Another hilly city with street-running cable transports is the Portuguese capital city of Lisbon. There are in fact three such systems, serving different parts of the conurbation.

Originally water powered and later steam powered, in 1912 it was decided that they should be converted to electricity with the vehicles each using two 25hp electric motors. The Glória funicular was completed in 1914 and Lavra's lift in 1915. Technically therefore these are cable balanced street trams, with each of the vehicles acting as the counterweight for the other one. For safety the two trams on each line are wired in series, so that one of them cannot try to start moving without the other one. This also means that either tram driver can stop both trams, if (for instance) there is an obstruction which only one tram driver can see. Another unusual feature is that both lines have their tracks configured in the shape of a letter Y, with the tracks being interlaced at the lower station and then splitting into separate lines for the passing points and remaining like this all the way to the upper stations.

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Glória funicular, which dates from 1885 and is 276m in length.
Despite being somewhat of a challenge to find this funicular tends to be the one that is most used by tourists.

Left: The lower station, as seen from opposite the road.
Right: At the upper station, a short flight of stairs leads to where the people can be seen behind the funicular vehicle.
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The Lavra's Lift, which dates from 1884 and is 188m in length.
Left: At the lower station.
Right: The upper station, where passengers benefit from a station building with a proper raised platform.
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Features common to both the Lavra Lift and the Glória funicular
Left: Separate tracks from just before the passing points all the way to the upper stations.
Centre: Locations where the vehicles come very close to the walls - these are not good places to stand whilst waiting for them to pass!
Right: Identical vehicles.

The 1912 proposals also intended converting the Bica funicular to self-driving counter weighted trams. However, with conversion works nearing completion (in 1916) the brakes of a tram being placed on the rails failed and it hurtled downhill, smashing into many pieces at the lower station. When, in 1923, this line was finally reopened the propulsion came from an external motor in a winding house. Therefore this line operates more like a traditional funicular; its tracks are also interlaced at both upper and lower stations, widening out at the midway passing point.

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Image & license: Reino Baptista / Wikipedia encyclopædia.
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The Bica funicular, which dates from 1893 and is 283m in length. These views also show the residential nature of the route.

Unfortunately this funicular was closed for periodic refurbishment on my visit in summer 2012,
so some of these images come from the Wikipedia encyclopædia.

Left: The lower part of the route with the closed lower station building in the distance.
Centre: Inside the lower station building. Trams which use the tracks on the left use the steps to the left as a
station platform whilst trams which use the tracks on the right use the steps to the right as a station platform
Right: The lower station entrance which was firmly locked shut at the time of my visit.
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Image & license: Singa Hitam / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 2.0
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Image & license: Jaime Silva / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Part of the route of this funicular is a public road, although only vehicles needing access to the local streets are permitted to use it. This middle section double track side view shows that the vehicles feature crosswise bench seats in three full-width compartments that are staggered at different levels, to suit the stepped footpath.
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Image & license: Concierge.2C / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
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Image & license: João Carvalho / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Left: The upper station plus a tram using the street tracks laid in the road just beyond the funicular's tracks.
Right: Approximately the same location but looking downhill.

Elsewhere in Portugal - in the town of Viseu - a more modern urban funicular opened in September 2009.

Linking the upper and lower parts of town this line is 400m in length with a maximum angle of 16% (64m overall rise).

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Image & license: Vítor @ Barões da Sé de Viseu / Wikipedia encyclopædia.
CC BY-SA 3.0
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Image & license: Andre guerra/ Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain
Viseu funicular.
These images date from when construction was still underway. Since they were taken the rest of the paving has been laid - so that just the tracks show - and to keep pedestrians and motor vehicles off the track much of the route has been fenced in.

A different type of cable system is used in the Italian city of Trieste, where tram route No.2 of the urban transport system links Piazza Oberdan, on the northern edge of the city centre, with the village of Villa Opicina in the hills above.

For most of the journey the line operates as a conventional electric tramway with a mixture of street running and reserved track. However on the steepest section of the line a funicular type system has been added to the tramway with the trams being pushed uphill / braked downhill by a pair of cable powered tractors / dummies which are always below the tram with the tram just resting on them.

The cable hauled section is 799 metres in length and climbs a vertical distance of 160 metres with a maximum gradient of 26%. It is single track below the passing point and interlaced double track above the passing point. The 'country' section of line north of the cable section mostly runs alongside the main road and is single track with passing loops.

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One of the latest generation of cable tractors, braking a descending tramcar.
Image & license: Radapanda / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain
Opicina Tramway Tramcar 402 at the Piazza Oberdan terminus.
Image & license: Orlovic / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

The Trammffordd Y Gogarth (Great Orme Tramway in English) in Llandudno, North Wales, is the only cable-hauled tramway still operating on public roads in Great Britain.

First opening in 1902, and still using its original tramcars, this four-vehicle system comprises two traditional funicular railways where the ascending and descending tramcars must operate as matched pairs counter-balancing each other. This mans that it is not a cable car system as in the San Francisco mold. Both funiculars meet at a midway station, which is where the winding house is also located. Passengers wanting to make a full journey need to transfer (by walking) between upper and lower railways at this station - unlike the Laon Poma 2000 the vehicles themselves always stay attached to the same cables / on the upper or lower sections of track. The combined length of the two lines is approximately one mile (1.6km).

The lower line links Llandudno town with the midway station. It includes sections of both street running and roadside right of way.

The upper line extends from the midway station to the Great Orme's 679ft (207m) summit, and on days when the weather is favourable the views can include Snowdonia, Anglesey, the Isle of Man, Blackpool and the Lake District.

Clicking any of these Great Orme Tramway images will lead to a dedicated page showing larger and more images in a popup window; alternatively clicking here will open the page in a new full-size window. .

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The lower line includes a section of street running; for safety motor vehicle access to this road is restricted to authorised vehicles only - this is to avoid the hazard of a tramcar travelling in one direction meeting an oncoming vehicle travelling in the opposite direction on a road so narrow that there is no space to pass. This descending tram almost clipped the blue hatchback stuck in a queue of traffic (beyond the junction) which was caused by single-file alternate directional traffic trying to pass a broken-down vehicle in the road further down the hill. Note the modern 'white dots" signal - these were introduced in Britain for street tramway operation in 1991.

It is questionable whether modern health and safety legislation would permit the construction of a new system - complete with street running - such as operates here; however as this line is already open it probably benefits from what is known as "grandfather" rights. However there should be no reason why there would be a problem for a new funicular railway that is away from the public highway.

Being aimed at leisure travellers services only operate between late March and late October, with trains running at 20 minute intervals from 10am (10.00) to 6pm (18.00) (March and October 5pm / 17.00).

More information and photographs of the Great Orme Tramway can be found by following this link . which leads to the website of the Great Orme Tramway.

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Originally the line was equipped with an overhead wire which was used for communicating between tramcars and a control centre. Nowadays the trams use radio communications and the overhead has been dismantled, nevertheless for decorative and historic reasons the tramcars retain their trolley-poles. The passing point on the lower section - still in the street domain but "off-road". The 'swept path' of the vehicle on the left slightly fouls the public highway and the white dotted line next to the double yellow lines delineates this and is intended to discourage road vehicles from straying too near the tracks.

Another British urban funicular is the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway, which is sometimes also known as the Castle Hill Railway. This is located in the town of Bridgnorth in Shropshire.

Claimed to be both the steepest and the shortest railway in Britain this line links the Low Town of Bridgnorth and the River Severn with the High Town, which is adjacent to the ruins of Bridgnorth Castle. This is a four rail funicular railway where the vehicles counter-balance each other whilst travelling up and down on their own rails.

The line dates back to 1890, when a public meeting in the town agreed to investigate a railway as an easier way of linking the two sections of the town avoiding the need to scale over 200 steps. Construction began in 1891, and the line opened in 1892. By way of comparison it would be interesting to see if a similar project could be carried out with such rapidity in the modern era - especially with the present-day very slow planning process and the liking by bureaucrats' of detailed studies - often multiple studies - which when combined give the impression of 'paralysis by analysis'. It is very probable that the planning stage alone would take over 5 years - and thats before construction even begins!

Originally the trains were water powered with each car housing a 2000 gallon water tank beneath the passenger compartment. These were filled at the top station and emptied at the lower station. The weight of the car with the water gently rolling downhill would be sufficient to haul the ascending vehicle. However in 1943 the gas powered engines which pumped the water to the top station became life-expired and the line was rebuilt to operate electrically. It reopened in 1944, and with trains now completing the journey more quickly than before passenger numbers increased. The present rolling stock dates to 1955.

This railway provides a full daily service 6.5 days a week, with, to allow time for routine maintenance, there being a later start to the working day on Sunday mornings. Although of course visitors to Bridgnorth are welcome to use the line its primary purpose to provide transport for local people.

More information and photographs of the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway can be found by following this link . which leads to the website of the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway.

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The upper station with a train at the platform and people at a viewpoint. The viewpoint overlooks the funicular railway, the lower town, River Severn and the local area.
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A close view of one of the cabins which is about to arrive at the upper station, and some of the winding gear.
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For people who prefer to walk there is a steeply graded footpath & stairway, which starts next to the lower station entrance but at the top arrives at a location that is remote from the upper station.

Elsewhere in Britain funicular systems mostly exist at seasides, with some being of the single track inclined lift variety. Typically these short cable railways located on very steeply graded cliffs facing the sea are known as Cliff Lifts. Although they can provide a useful transport service for local people nowadays they are more likely to survive by providing 'leisure-orientated' services in the summer months only.

An example which combines both urban transport for local people and seaside leisure-orientated transport is the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway.

This line links the twin towns of Lynton and Lynmouth on the rugged coast of North Devon. Construction work began in 1887 and was completed in less than three years. This railway is water powered, with the water coming from the West Lynn River which is over a mile away. The two carriages each have a 700 gallon water tank mounted between the wheels. Unlike most funicular railways both trains keep water in their tanks and movement comes by the lower car discharging water until it is lighter than the uphill car. (Other funicular railways always fill the water tank on the upper car and completely empty the lower car). In addition the trains are also braked using water. Trains operate with a member of staff onboard whose duties include acting as brakeman and controlling the speed of the journey.

In addition to the two stations at each end of the line there is a halt, with road access, at North Walk - this being just below Lynton station. This is used to transport larger freight items, for which the passenger carriage bodies can be removed to provide a flat load bed. In the early days of private motoring cars would sometimes be carried up the hill in this way. During rail replacement over the winter of 2006, the halt was used extensively for access and material storage.

The railway is now classified as a listed monument. Services operate roughly between mid-February and mid-November, with heavy maintenance being carried out during the winter.

Additional reading:
The Funimag website includes much interesting and illustrated information about this railway, how it works and some of its special features. .
More information and photographs can also be found at the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway website .
A video of this line in action can also be found here: ..

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The Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway, on a thoroughly wet July day in the 'non-summer' of 2007.
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An example of a single-track inclined-lift style funicular railway is the Southend-On-Sea, Essex, Cliff Lift. In many ways this type of funicular railway is more like the well known lifts (elevator in the American dialect) which can be found in many buildings - except that whilst lifts (normally) travel vertically, these funiculars will travel at an angle.

This line opened in 1912. The cabin-sized vehicle travels on 4ft 6in (137cm) gauge running track whilst the counterweight uses an a 1ft 9in (53cm) gauge track which is located out of sight below the cabin's tracks.

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The cliff railway at Southend-On-Sea, in Essex, as seen in the mid 1980's. Note the fixed stairs which flank the line on one side.

Of course cliff lift type funiculars also exist overseas too... the examples below come from France and the French Canadian Province of Québec.

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The 108 metres (354ft) Montmartre double inclined-lift style funicular, Paris, France, is flanked by a steeply graded walkway with 300 steps. The four-rail 64 metres (210ft) Old Québec Funicular (Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec) which links the Haute-Ville (Upper Town) to the Basse-Ville (Lower Town) in Québec City, Canada.

During its 1991 renovation the Montmartre funicular railway was converted from a traditional four-rail funicular railway where the two cabins counterweight each other to two totally independently operated inclined lifts. This allows one cabin to remain in service if the other must be taken out of service for maintenance. The two cabins are completely automatic in operation, using the weight of the passengers as a determining factor for when it is time to depart. Therefore, especially at busy times it can happen that both cabins will be travelling in the same direction at the same time.

Whilst mostly used in hilly locations, some funicular railways also exist at locations where gradients are not an issue.

These first examples come from the same manufacturer (Doppelmayr Cable Company). Only a few examples are shown, this system is used at more airports and other locations as well.

One noteworthy installation which is not illustrated is the New Doha International Airport Shuttle, Doha, Qatar where the trains carry both secured and non-secured passengers, with (at stations) them using separate entrance / exit doors and also being physically segregated within the train.

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The CableTren Bolivariano, which is in Caracas, Venezuela.
Image & license: Alejandro Gómez / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
The Las Vegas Mandalay Bay automated people mover, which locally is known as a tram.
Image & license: Doppelmayr Cable Car / Wikipedia encyclopædia.
CC BY-SA 3.0

The Cabletren Bolivariano automated people mover is 2.1 km (1.3 miles) long and uses four trains which consist of four units each. Each train is attached to a dedicated cable. The single track system has five stations and there are several different styles of operation depending on expected passenger flows.

The Las Vegas Mandalay Bay Tram is 838 metres (about 0.5 miles) in length. It was constructed to connect three gaming hotels. There are two tracks, one of which also includes two intermediate stations. At quiet times only one train and track are used and all four stations are served.

During peak periods both tracks are in use, with the express train carrying passengers southbound only - and then returning empty. The other train only carries passengers northbound and only serves three stations - all passengers must alight at the second intermediate station, after which the now empty train returns southbound. This means that at busy times it does not serve the northernmost terminus station. This asymmetric arrangement is designed to encourage extra patronage to each of the served hotels and their casinos, gambling rooms, slot machines, one arm bandits etc. The trains have five carriages and all travel is free of charge. This system carries 20 million passengers a year.

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Image & license: Gf9 / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain.
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Image & license: © Luca F. (riproduzione vietata) / Wikipedia encyclopædia.
Free use with correct attribution.
The Venice People Mover which is an 853 metre (0.5 mile) cable hauled railway that links Piazzale Roma with the Tronchetto island car parking facility, via an intermediate stop at the Marittima cruise terminal.

A British railway which uses the same technology is the shuttle service that links the National Exhibition Centre and Birmingham* International Railway station with Birmingham Airport. This replaced the former magnetic levitation railway which was introduced in 1984, used British technology and operated until 1995. The former Maglev closed because had been so dependable, for so long, that when it finally needed spare parts there was no replacement parts industry.

*(Birmingham England / Great Britain, and not Birmingham Alabama USA).
The Birmingham airport to National Exhibition Centre and International Railway station 'SkyRail' people-mover. The Birmingham airport to National Exhibition Centre and International Railway station 'SkyRail' people-mover.
The 585 metre Birmingham Airport - NEC and International Railway Station SkyRail people-mover.
In this installation the two vehicles are also able to operate independently of each other.

A different cable technology is used on what is said to be the smallest underground railway / metro / subway system anywhere planetwide. This is in the winter skiing resort of Serfus, which is located in the Austrian Tyrol. It is called Dorfbahn Serfaus which in English means Serfaus Village Railway.

This line was built as a way of overcoming severe traffic congestion from vehicles passing through the village on the way to the ski lifts. Initially it was thought that the solution would be to build a large car park near the village entrance and require visitors to use shuttle buses, however within a few years it was realised that there was still too much traffic - the buses did not provide the desired solution; there had to be a better way! Another aspect of the intended aim was the creation a safe pedestrian-friendly environment for visitors and local residents to enjoy.

The single track 1.28km (almost 0.8 mile) subterranean railway links the car park with the ski lifts and also includes two intermediate stations in the village centre. Legally a funicular railway (there is a 20 metre difference in height from one end to the other) the single train consists of two carriages with three doors each on one side. However the doors nearest the train ends do not open at the intermediate stations. In addition, the intermediate stations are only served in the respective tidal flow direction - which means that in the morning when travelling towards the ski lifts and in the afternoon when travelling towards the car park. All stations have platform screen doors. The train has a passenger capacity of 270 people and an end-to-end journey takes seven minutes.

Whilst funicular technology is used for propulsion the carriages float on a cushion of air, this is to reduce the vibrations caused whilst they are in motion.

No fares are charged - passengers travel for free.

In December 2007 it was announced that the line needed upgrading to meet stricter safety and newer technological requirements. This including changing the two-carriage train so that instead there will be two independent vehicles which travel in convoy a short distance apart. To make this possible the two end stations need the platforms extending.

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Image & license: Dmitry A. Mottl / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Additional reading: . (in English) . (in German) . (in German - picture gallery which shows all four stations).

The Dorfbahn Serfaus uses Otis Hovair technology and this too is also used at some airports and other places. These hovertrains replace conventional steel wheels with hovercraft lift pads and the conventional railway bed with a paved road-like surface. The idea is to eliminate rolling resistance and allow very high performance, while also simplifying the infrastructure needed to install new lines. In some ways Hovair technology is a competitor to magnetic levitation (Maglev) technology which attempts to meet the same basic goals, albeit using magnets for levitation rather than air cushions.

The technology was originally developed by General Motors as an automated guideway transit system, however they were forced to divest the system as part of an anti-trust ruling and it eventually ended up at Otis Elevator who replaced the linear induction motor with a cable propulsion technology. Otis are well-known for their vertical lifts (elevator in the American dialect) which can be found in many buildings; when combined with Hovair technology the system becomes more like a horizontal version of funicular railways.

The Otis Hovair system is the only hovertrain transport which has successfully entered commercial service. Typically the vehicles are 'cabin' sized. Maglevs and cabin transports are looked at on the Monorails, Maglevs and 'Cabin' Transports - Including PRT page.

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Image & license: ChristianSchd / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
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Image & license: Andreas Praefcke / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Three car trains of the Getty Center, Los Angeles, USA AGT (automated guided transit) Hovair system which links the car park with the museum.
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Image & license: Esun / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
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Image & license: Danleo / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
The "Express Tram" at the McNamara Terminal of the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County International Airport - see below for more information.

Detroit International Airport Edward H. McNamara Terminal combines moving walkways for shorter distance travel with what is called an Express Tram for longer journeys within Concourse A. This Hovair people-mover is located 21ft (6.4 metres) above the main terminal floor and consists of a single track guideway over 3700ft (1128 metres) in length along which two twin-car cable-driven trains travel at up to 31mph (50km/h). The vehicles can carry up to 208 passengers at a time. There are three stations, the intermediate station also acts as a passing point.

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The Skymetro at Kloten airport, Zürich, Switzerland. The stations all have platform screen doors.

Whereas most funiculars use wheeled transports running above the rails with the cables below them, a little-used variant sees the vehicles hanging from the rail with the counterbalance / traction cables being above them.

One example of this is the Dresden Schwebebahn, which is a suspended funicular railway. Opening in 1901 this system uses trains which hang from a single rail, which means that it is technically also a monorail, and indeed it was built by the same person (Eugen Langen) who later went on to build the 11km Schwebebahn (hanging railway) in Wüppertal. The Wüppertal Schwebebahn is a high capacity urban transport, it is looked at in greater detail on the Monorails, Maglevs and 'Cabin' Transports page.

The Schwebebahn is one of two funicular railways in Dresden, the other being the much more conventional Standseilbahn Dresden. Both lines are operated by the Dresdner Verkehrsbetriebe AG, who also operate the city's tram and bus networks.

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Above both and below left the Dresden Schwebebahn.
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Right: Looking out of the back of a descending car of Dresden's Funicular railway (Standseilbahn Dresden), passing an ascending car that has been specially decorated for the 110th anniversary of the funicular, which was celebrated on the 30th October 2005.
Image & license: Martin Röll / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 2.0 DE

The Mud Island Monorail is another cable-powered suspended railway. Also known as the Memphis Suspension Railway this suspended monorail connects Memphis city centre with the entertainment park on the peninsular that is known as Mud Island. The railway hangs from the underside of a footbridge over the Wolf River Lagoon and travels over the southern tip of the peninsular. The bridge is 1,700 ft (518 metres) long, each of the two vehicles has a maximum capacity of 180 passengers and travels at 7 mph (11.3 km/h).

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Image & license: Thomas R Machnitzki / Wikipedia encyclopædia.
CC BY 3.0
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Image & license: Nightryder84 / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
The cable powered Mud Island Monorail / Memphis Suspension Railway. which is in Memphis, Tennessee, USA.

In 1975 a prototype suspended railway system was used at a garden festival in Mannheim, Germany. Called Aerobus the system uses electrically powered passenger vehicles which hang from cables that are arranged in a similar fashion to a suspension bridge, so that spans of up to 2,000 ft / 600 metres between pylons are possible. This distance between supports is more than 15 times greater than other elevated systems. The advantage of fewer support columns is that the overall cost of construction is lower, reducing the cost of the entire project. Because suspended cables will always be straight so where sharper curves are required the system uses fixed metal rails, making this system also a form of monorail. This can be seen in one of the images below.

A variant of the Aerobus system could use vehicles designed for freight, rather than passengers.

The Mannheim installation was 2.8km in length and linked the sites used by the garden festival. Its promoters had been hoping that by demonstrating it in this way its advantages would be recognised and result in a commercial installation of the system - for either passengers or freight services. However as yet that has not come to pass.

There is still a business active in promoting Aerobus technology; their website can be found at this link: ..

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Above and below Some views of the Aerobus in Mannheim, Germany.
More photographs can be found at this link: .
All images & license: jhm0284 / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 2.0
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More well known types of hanging funiculars are systems which typically involve small cabins (sometimes also called gondolas) or open chairs which are located and hauled above the ground by means of cables. Sometimes the vehicles are directly attached to moving cables and sometimes they are hang from fixed cables (ie: which only support the vehicle's weight) with other cables moving the vehicle(s).

More than any other type of transport these hanging / suspended systems have a multiplicity of names which even in English speaking nations often vary widely depending on where the person lives and the type of English they speak. The online "Wikipedia" encyclopædia (which is mostly written in the American dialect) uses a generic term of 'aerial lift', and then subdivides them many ways further depending on the type of vehicle, how many cables it uses and how it operates.

  • The most well known type uses one (or more) fixed cable(s) for suspending the passenger (or freight) cabin and separate cable(s) to pull it from one end of the system to the other end. In British English this is often known as a 'cable car', whilst in the American dialect it is known as an 'aerial tramway', and in some places the term 'ropeway' is also used. On its page about these transports the "Wikipedia" encyclopædia includes the following text...
    Because of the proliferation of such systems in the Alpine regions of Europe, the French and German language names of Téléphérique and Seilbahn are often also used in an English language context. "Cable car" is the usual term in British English, as in British English the word "tramway" generally refers to a railed street tramway. Note also that, in American English, "cable car" is most often associated with surface cable car systems, e.g. San Francisco's Cable Cars, so careful phrasing is necessary to prevent confusion.
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Upper station of Caron's cable car (Val Thorens, Savoie, France)
Image & license: Ensopegador / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Furtschellas cable car, Engadin, Switzerland.
Image & license: Daniel Schwen / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC-BY-SA-2.5
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Closer view of a twin cable system showing how it is supported from the upper cable while the lower cable pulls it.
Cable car Rasa near Intragna, Switzerland.
Image & license: Audrius Meskauskas / Wikipedia encyclopædia.
CC BY-SA 3.0
Rotating cable car cabin on a system which serves the Titlis mountain in Switzerland.
Image & license: Audrius Meskauskas / Wikipedia encyclopædia.
CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Gondolas.

    Gondola systems are a variant of cable car where instead of just two larger passenger cabins which have exclusive use of cables on which they travel 'up and down' there are many small passenger cabins which at the terminals loop around a bullwheel - so that they effectively travel in a loop up one side and down the other. The term 'gondola' usually actually refers to the passenger cabins, which typically are smaller in size and will carry between two and a dozen or so passengers.

    With some systems the passenger cabins are connected to the cable by means of spring-loaded grips that allow the cabin to be detached from the moving cable and slowed down in the terminals, whilst passengers board and disembark. The doors are almost always automatically controlled by a lever on either the roof or the undercarriage that is pushed up or down. Cabins are driven through the terminals either by rotating tyres or a chain system. To be accelerated to and decelerated from line speed, cabins are driven along by progressively faster (or slower) rotating tyres until they reach line or terminal speed. On older installations gondolas are accelerated manually by an operator. Sometimes gondola systems will also feature intermediate stations.

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The language dilemma over what to call these becomes even more acute when 'overhead wire' and 'ground-level wire' powered systems meet, as here in Llandudno, Wales.
Here we see the Great Orme Tramway which is actually a funicular railway that includes sections of street running and the Great Orme Aerial Cable Cars, which features small gondola cars that hang from a single wire.
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See text for picture information. Above Left: Twin cable gondola system which serves
Ngong Ping village in Hong Kong
Image & license: Central2 / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC-BY-SA-2.5

Above Right: Classic 1960s 4-seater monocable gondola lift in Emmetten, Switzerland
Image & license: Martell / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC-BY-SA-2.5

Left: Passenger and freight gondolas on the twin cable gondola system in La Grave, France.
Image & license: NielsB / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
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Small gondola sized cable cars at the Sentosa station of the Singapore cable car system. This twin cable system uses detachable-grip gondolas which seat four people, and includes one intermediate station.
Image & license: Calvin Teo / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC-BY-SA-2.5
Interior of an intermediate station on the GMD Mueller gondola system in Gstaad, Switzerland. At this station the gondolas detach from the line, automatically travel through the building on tracks and attach to the line of the second section. The drive motors for both sections are visible below the bullwheels.
Image & license: Lipla / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Whilst most of the hanging cable transports seen on this page are in rural areas (rather than major cities) there is no reason why such transports cannot be used in conurbations as well, although it is useful if they meet a real travel need and are suited to the expected passenger demand. In other words, it would be foolish to expect them to act as an alternative to a high capacity rail service.

An example of an urban cablecar can be found in London's Docklands area. Opening just months before the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, this system is not just aimed at tourists who wish to see the locality from a different angle but also at local people who may prefer to use it as an alternative to a journey which requires two trains.

However this installation has not found favour with London's commuters - probably this is because the fare is significantly higher than London's other transports; and that even passengers who have bought 'pay-once ride-at-will' season tickets are charged an extra fare.

Emirates Air Line cable car. Emirates Air Line cable car.
Emirates Royal Victoria cable car terminus and some cranes from when the Royal Victoria Dock was a working dockyard. Close nearby is Royal Victoria DLR station. Two Emirates Air Line cable cars and an aircraft (seen near the top of the image) pass by the distinctively styled Crystal building, close to Royal Victoria DLR station.
Emirates Air Line cable car. . Emirates Air Line cable car.
From the water's edge it is possible to see inside the cable car terminus (best seen in the larger version of this image),
and (from a different location) the cable support roller assembly just outside the terminus.
  • Chairlift

    Chairlifts use a variant of the gondola which usually feature simple open bench seat style chairs (fitted with safety systems to prevent passengers falling off) that carry just a few seated passengers (typically between 2 and 6) and are open to the elements.

    They are often used at ski resorts - where they will usually be known as 'skilifts' - but can also be found at amusement parks and tourist attractions.

    Some chairlift systems use so-called bubble chairs, which feature a retractable acrylic glass dome to protect passengers from the weather - although the passengers feet will usually hang down outside of the protected area. Some also feature heated seats.

    As with gondolas detachable chairlifts also exist. With these the loop of cable will usually travel at a higher speed and the chairs will be clipped on to the cable either terminal (or intermediate station[s]) as required.

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Open chairs on the ski lift at Praz-de-Lys / Sommand (Haute-Savoie, France).
Image & license: Historicair / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
The return bullwheel of the chairlift of Col dei Baldi, Alleghe, Italy.
Image & license: Roberto Ferrari / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 2.0
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Bubble chairs on the Marchner chairlift, Kronplatz mountain
(Plan de Corones in Italian), South Tyrol, Italy.
Whilst the chairs facing / coming towards the camera are empty people's feet can be seen hanging from the cabin in front.
Image & license: Zefram / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Top station of the same chairlift showing
(amongst other things) the safety netting in case a passenger has not been properly seated and falls out.
Image & license: Zefram / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
See caption for picture information. An eight-seat chair, at Perisher (Australia), carrying seven passengers at the time of photographing.

Serving a beginners run it features a detachable mechanism, uses a magic carpet for boarding, and a gentle ramp for alighting.

Image courtesy and © copyright of Roderick B Smith 28-September-2009
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The gondola mounting of a small ropeway, for example a chairlift. The mounting consists of a metal clasp which in normal mode is held in the closed position by two steel springs, thereby forcing the clasp to firmly grip the steel rope.
Image & license: Wiggum / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
The grip of a Doppelmayr detachable quad chairlift built in 1985 as parked on a sidetrack in the lower lift terminal.
Image & license: CowboyWisdom / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain.
  • Telemix / Chondola

    The Telemix, which is also known as a chondola (chair gondola) is a hybrid system which combines both detachable gondolas and detachable chairlifts which use the same overhead cables. This allows beginners, children and non-skiing visitors to enjoy the benefits of the transport system without the hassle of embarking and disembarking from moving chairs, while skiers can avoid removing their skis by using the chairs instead of the gondolas.

    To allow safe loading and unloading, stations have separate areas for the different carrier types. The station resembles a gondola station followed by a chairlift station, or vice versa. Both carrier types first pass though a long loading deck, where they move along at a walking pace. This is where the gondolas are loaded, and the chairs that move by are ignored. Then, both carrier types turn around and go through a standard chairlift station, where people move in front of oncoming chairs and sit down as they pass by. Small gates open when a chair is about to go by, and close when a gondola goes by. This prevents people from moving in front of a gondola.

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Telemix / Chondola in Åre, Sweden.
Image & license: Skistar / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain.
Telemix / Chondola des Fontettes, La Joue du Loup,
Domaine skiable du Dévoluy, France.
Image & license: Gonioul / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Funitel

    The name funitel is a conjunction between the French words funiculaire and téléphérique.

    Funitel vehicles are attached to two moving cables which are approximately 3.2 metres apart. The cables can be formed of either twin cables forming two loops or a double loop from a single cable. The cables are attached to and powered by either two synchronized distinct winches or one winch with a pulley double throat. The advantages of the funitel system include its greater stability, especially in windy conditions when other types of hanging / suspended transport may not be able to operate. The disadvantage is their complexity, which can make maintenance relatively expensive.

    Typically funitel cabins will carry approximately 20 - 30 passengers, and whilst on some systems these will operate as traditional up / down cable cars some Funitels operate as detachable gondolas with several cabins are used as passenger demand requires. Funitels are usually found at ski resorts, although freight systems exist too.

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Gold Coast Funitel at the Squaw Valley Ski Resort, California, USA.
Image & license: Skistar / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Hakone Ropeway, Japan.
Image & license: Σ64 / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Funifor.

    Funifor's are a variant of the funitel where there are two fixed cables for suspending the hanging transport plus another cable to pull it along the cables.

    As with other types of larger cable cars there are just two reversible cabins which operate on parallel tracks. However, the drives of the two cabins are not interconnected, ie: whereas with 'normal' cable cars the haul rope for one vehicle loops at each end to serve the other vehicle (in the process balancing each other) with Funifors the drive cables are kept totally independent. This feature allows for single cabin operation at times of lower traffic demand. The independent drive also allows for emergency evacuations to occur by means of a bridge connected between the two adjacent cabins.

    The Funifor system is a proprietary design which is patented by Doppelmayr Garaventa Group, who are specialists in rope / cable hauled transports, of various types.

  • T-Bar and variants.

    T-bars are designed for transporting skiers and snowboarders uphill, whilst they remain standing with their feet on the ground.

    As with cable cars they feature arial cable systems, however with T-bars a series of vertical recoiling cables hang downwards, each of which is attached to a T-shaped bar measuring about a metre in both dimensions. The horizontal bar is placed behind the skier's or snowboarder's buttocks. This pulls the passenger uphill while they slide across the ground. A single T-bar transports one or two people.

    Variants of the T-bar include the J-Bar (effectively a one-sided T-bar) and the platter, which requires the passenger to straddle the pole as one would a hobby horse and rest their buttocks on a single, usually plastic, platter (or button).

    T-bars, J-bars and platters are often misunderstood by beginners who incorrectly believe the objective is to sit down on the bar. This almost always leads to a fall with the bar / platter being pulled to the ground along with the passenger.

    T-bars (etc.,) are rarely installed as the primary transport, except on small local slopes such as a golf course doing a seasonal business in local night skiing; generally chairlifts are the preferred, albeit more expensive option at established resorts. Instead they are mostly found at beginner slopes or in locales where high winds may prevent chairlifts from running, or on in-between terrain to allow a short uphill fork over a ridge into the next valley that skiers would not otherwise be able to reach without climbing.

    One specific feature of the bar and platter systems which for obvious safety reasons do not apply to any of the elevated cable transport systems is that the passenger may leave 'disembark' at any point, instead of being forced to wait until they arrive at the designated exit point(s). However mid-track unloadings are often discouraged by ski resort operators, which explains the orange fences seen in one of these photographs.

See caption for picture information. See caption for picture information.
Empty T-bars but full chairlifts on a system at Sauerland/NRW Germany.
Image & license: Ixitixel / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 2.5
T-Bar at Galicowa Grapa, Poronin, Poland, with fencing to encourage passengers to travel to the end of the line, and discourage non-passengers from 'getting in the way'
Image & license: Lzur / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Ski tow and Magic Carpet.

    A ski tow, also called rope tow or handle tow, is a mechanised system for pulling skiers and snowboarders uphill. In its most basic form it consists of a long rope loop running through a pulley at the bottom and one at the top. Passengers grab hold of the rope and are pulled along while standing on their skis or snowboards and sliding up the hill.

    Rope tows require a certain amount of skill to use, especially when joining or leaving the ropeway, or when avoiding obstacles - such as other people who have fallen over!

    A magic carpet (also carpet lift) is surface transport which is used at ski areas to transport skiers and snowboarders up the hill. The name is inspired by the mythological magic carpets featured in legends.

    In essence a magic carpet is a surface level moving walkway or a conveyor belt with the machinery and return belt typically hidden underneath. Passengers slide onto the belt at the base of the hill and stand with skis or snowboard facing forward. At the top, the belt pushes the passenger onto the snow and they slide away.

    Magic carpets are easier to use than the other ski transports which involve people travelling at surface level. But they are limited to shallow grades due to their dependence on friction between the carpet and the bottom of the ski or board, which in a snowy, wet environment are naturally slippery. As with moving walkways in urban areas they are normally relatively short, so are often confined to beginner and novice areas.

    To operate optimally and safely there is a need to ensure that the snow levels at the entrance and exit match the level of the moving walkway, which often requires hand shovelling or sweeping overnight snow accumulations before use the following morning. During the day the moving belt also needs to kept clear of accumulating snow and the moving walkway return device (at the top) must be periodically cleared of accumulated snow and ice. To help reduce these issues (plus for reasons related to the 'ride' itself and or local topography) these moving walkways sometimes include a canopy or tunnel.

See caption for picture information. See caption for picture information.
Detail of modern rope tow at loading station. The small hand grips help minimize "slippage" and encourage safe passenger separation. The red button is an emergency stop for use by the attendant if an obstacle, such as a fallen skier, blocks the rope line. The thin line looped under the rope is a safety limit: if a rider goes past this point, it disconnects the circuit and stops the tow. The foreground coiled yellow line is for deployment to mark a loading queue.
Image & license: EncMstr / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 2.5
Side view of magic carpet.
Image & license: EncMstr / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

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