Aerial tramway

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The Portland Aerial Tram in Portland, Oregon, US PortlandTramCar3.jpg
The Portland Aerial Tram in Portland, Oregon, US
Aerial tramway in Engadin, Switzerland, suspended on two track cables with an additional haulage rope CH Furtschellas aerial tram.jpg
Aerial tramway in Engadin, Switzerland, suspended on two track cables with an additional haulage rope
The Port Vell Aerial Tramway in Barcelona, Spain Teleferic del Port Barcelona.jpg
The Port Vell Aerial Tramway in Barcelona, Spain

An aerial tramway, aerial tram, sky tram, aerial cablecar, aerial cableway, telepherique, or seilbahn is a type of aerial lift which uses one or two stationary ropes for support while a third moving rope provides propulsion. [1] With this form of lift, the grip of an aerial tramway cabin is fixed onto the propulsion rope and cannot be decoupled from it during operations. In comparison to gondola lifts, aerial tramways generally provide lower line capacities and higher wait times. [2]



Cable car is the usual term in British English, where tramway generally refers to a railed street tramway. In American English, cable car may additionally refer to a cable-pulled street tramway with detachable vehicles (e.g., San Francisco's cable cars). As such, careful phrasing is necessary to prevent confusion.

It is also sometimes called a ropeway or even incorrectly referred to as a gondola lift. A gondola lift has cabins suspended from a continuously circulating cable whereas aerial trams simply shuttle back and forth on cables. In Japan, the two are considered as the same category of vehicle and called ropeway, while the term cable car refers to both grounded cable cars and funiculars. An aerial railway where the vehicles are suspended from a fixed track (as opposed to a cable) is known as a suspension railway.


An aerial tramway consists of one or two fixed cables (called track cables), one loop of cable (called a haulage rope), and one or two passenger or cargo cabins. The fixed cables provide support for the cabins while the haulage rope, by means of a grip, is solidly connected to the truck (the wheel set that rolls on the track cables). An electric motor drives the haulage rope which provides propulsion. Aerial tramways are constructed as reversible systems; vehicles shuttling back and forth between two end terminals and propelled by a cable loop which stops and reverses direction when the cabins arrive at the end stations. Aerial tramways differ from gondola lifts in that gondola lifts are considered continuous systems (cabins attached onto a circulating haul rope that moves continuously). [3]

An aerial tramway across the Yangtze river in the Chongqing CBD A aerial tramway across Yangtse river in Chongqing CBD Photo by Chen Hualin .jpeg
An aerial tramway across the Yangtze river in the Chongqing CBD

Two-car tramways use a jig-back system: a large electric motor is located at the bottom of the tramway so that it effectively pulls one cabin down, using that cabin's weight to help pull the other cabin up. A similar system of cables is used in a funicular railway. The two passenger or cargo cabins, which carry from 4 to over 150 people, are situated at opposite ends of the loops of cable. Thus, while one is coming up, the other is going down the mountain, and they pass each other midway on the cable span.

Some aerial trams have only one cabin, which lends itself better for systems with small elevation changes along the cable run.


The first design of an aerial lift was by Croatian polymath Fausto Veranzio and the first operational aerial tram was built in 1644 by Adam Wybe in Gdańsk, Poland. [4] It was moved by horses and used to move soil over the river to build defences. [5] It is called the first known cable lift in European history and precedes the invention of steel cables. It is not known how long this lift was used. In any case, it would be another 230 years before Germany would get the second cable lift, this newer version equipped with iron wire cable. [6]

In mining

NOR-2016-Svalbard-Adventdalen to Longyearbyen cableways for coal 04.jpg
Cableway from abandoned coal mine in Adventdalen to Longyearbyen, Svalbard (Norway)

Tramways are sometimes used in mountainous regions to carry ore from a mine located high on the mountain to an ore mill located at a lower elevation. Ore tramways were common in the early 20th century at the mines in North and South America. One can still be seen in the San Juan Mountains of the US state of Colorado. Another famous use of aerial tramways was at the Kennecott Copper mine in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Other firms entered the mining tramway business—Otto, Leschen, Breco Ropeways Ltd., Ceretti and Tanfani, and Riblet for instance. A major British contributor was Bullivant who became a constituent of British Ropes in 1924. [7]

Moving people

Cable car in the Mount Ulia, Spain Grupo de personas en el Teleferico de Ulia (1 de 2) - Fondo Car-Kutxa Fototeka.jpg
Cable car in the Mount Ulia, Spain
Cable car in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Bondinho chegando no Pao de Acucar.JPG
Cable car in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

In the beginning of the 20th century, the rise of the middle class and the leisure industry allowed for investment in sight-seeing machines. Prior to 1893, a combined goods and passenger carrying cableway was installed at Gibraltar. Initially, its passengers were military personnel. An 1893 industry publication said of a two-mile system in Hong Kong that it "is the only wire tramway which has been erected exclusively for the carriage of individuals" (albeit workmen). [8] After the pioneer cable car suitable for the public transportation of people at Mount Ulia in 1907 [9] [10] (San Sebastián, Spain) by Leonardo Torres Quevedo and the Wetterhorn Elevator (Grindelwald, Switzerland) in 1908, [11] others to the top of high peaks in the Alps of Austria, Germany and Switzerland resulted. They were much less expensive to build than the earlier rack railway.

One of the first trams was at Chamonix, while others in Switzerland, and Garmisch soon followed. From this, it was a natural transposition to build ski lifts and chairlifts. The first cable car in North America was at Cannon Mountain in Franconia, New Hampshire in 1938. [12]

Many aerial tramways were built by Von Roll Ltd. of Switzerland, which has since been acquired by Austrian lift manufacturer Doppelmayr. Other German, Swiss, and Austrian firms played an important role in the cable car business: Bleichert, Heckel, Pohlig, PHB (Pohlig-Heckel-Bleichert), Garaventa and Waagner-Biró. Now there are three groups dominating the world market: Doppelmayr Garaventa Group, Leitner Group, and Poma, the last two being owned by one person.

Some aerial tramways have their own propulsion, such as the Lasso Mule or the Josef Mountain Aerial Tramway near Merano, Italy.

Urban transport

A Roosevelt Island Tram car in operation Roosevelt Island tramcar 2010.jpg
A Roosevelt Island Tram car in operation

While typically used for ski resorts, aerial tramways have been ported over for usage in the urban environment in recent times. The Roosevelt Island Tramway in New York City, the Cable cars in Haifa Israel and the Portland Aerial Tram are examples where this technology has been successfully adapted for public transport purposes.


The telpherage concept was first publicised in 1883 and several experimental lines were constructed. It was designed to compete not with railways, but with horses and carts. [13]

The first commercial telpherage line was in Glynde, which is in Sussex, England. It was built to connect a newly opened clay pit to the local railway station and opened in 1885. [13]

Double deckers

There are aerial tramways with double deck cabins. The Vanoise Express cable car carries 200 people in each cabin at a height of 380 m (1,247 ft) over the Ponturin gorge in France. The Shinhotaka Ropeway carries 121 people in each cabin at Mount Hotaka in Japan. The CabriO cable car to the summit of the Stanserhorn in Switzerland carries 60 persons, with the upper floor accommodating 30 people in the open air. [14]


World's longest functioning aerial tramway, 1987-2013: Forsby-Koping Kalklinbanan-Forsby-skog.JPG
World's longest functioning aerial tramway, 1987–2013: Forsby-Köping
Wings of Tatev, Armenia, the world's longest reversible cable car line of one section Wings of Tatev Tram.jpg
Wings of Tatev, Armenia, the world's longest reversible cable car line of one section
Masada cableway has the world's lowest station. Israel Aerial Ropeway Masada BW 1.jpg
Masada cableway has the world's lowest station.

List of accidents

Despite the introduction of various safety measures (back-up power generators, evacuation plans, etc.) there have been several serious incidents on aerial tramways, some of which were fatal.

Cableways in fiction

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cable transport</span> Class of transport modes

Cable transport is a broad class of transport modes that have cables. They transport passengers and goods, often in vehicles called cable cars. The cable may be driven or passive, and items may be moved by pulling, sliding, sailing, or by drives within the object being moved on cableways. The use of pulleys and balancing of loads moving up and down are common elements of cable transport. They are often used in mountainous areas where cable haulage can overcome large differences in elevation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gondola lift</span> Aerial transport by cable

A gondola lift is a means of cable transport and type of aerial lift which is supported and propelled by cables from above. It consists of a loop of steel wire rope that is strung between two stations, sometimes over intermediate supporting towers. The cable is driven by a bullwheel in a terminal, which is typically connected to an engine or electric motor. It is often considered a continuous system since it features a haul rope which continuously moves and circulates around two terminal stations. In contrast, an aerial tramway operates solely with fixed grips and simply shuttles back and forth between two end terminals.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group</span> Austrian manufacturing company

Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group is an international manufacturer of ropeways and people movers for ski areas, urban transport, amusement parks, and material handling systems. As of 2023, the group had produced over 15,400 installations in 96 countries. Their annual revenue in 2022/2023 was 946 million euros. The Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group was formed in 2002 when Doppelmayr of Wolfurt, Austria merged with Garaventa AG of Switzerland to form the world's largest ropeway manufacturer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aerial lift</span> Method of cable transport

An aerial lift, also known as a cable car or ropeway, is a means of cable transport in which cabins, cars, gondolas, or open chairs are hauled above the ground by means of one or more cables. Aerial lift systems are frequently employed in a mountainous territory where roads are relatively difficult to build and use, and have seen extensive use in mining. Aerial lift systems are relatively easy to move and have been used to cross rivers and ravines. In more recent times, the cost-effectiveness and flexibility of aerial lifts have seen an increase of gondola lift being integrated into urban public transport systems.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scenic World</span> Tourist attraction in New South Wales, Australia

Scenic World is a family-owned tourist attraction located in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia, about 100 kilometres west of Sydney. Scenic World is home to four attractions, the Scenic Railway, the Scenic Skyway, the Scenic Cableway and Scenic Walkway, a 2.4-km elevated boardwalk through ancient rainforest.

Ropeway may refer to:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Singapore Cable Car</span> Gondola link near Sentosa, Singapore

The Singapore Cable Car is a gondola lift in Singapore, providing an aerial link from Mount Faber on Singapore Island to the resort island of Sentosa across the Keppel Harbour.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Material ropeway</span>

A material ropeway, ropeway conveyor is a subtype of gondola lift, from which containers for goods rather than passenger cars are suspended.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Norsjö ropeway</span> Aerial tramway in Sweden

Norsjö aerial tramway is a 13.2 kilometre long aerial tramway between Örträsk and Mensträsk in the Norsjö Municipality in Sweden.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Masada cableway</span> Cable car in Israel

The Masada cableway is an aerial tramway at the ancient fortress of Masada, Israel.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Schauinslandbahn</span>

The Schauinslandbahn is a gondola lift in the Black Forest area of Baden-Württemberg, Germany. It links a lower station in the municipality of Horben, near the city of Freiburg im Breisgau, with an upper station near the summit of the Schauinsland mountain. The line is operated by VAG Freiburg, the city transport operator for Freiburg. The same company operates that city's tram and bus network, including bus route 21 that links the lower station of the Schauinslandbahn to the terminus of tram route 2 at Günterstal.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tricable gondola lift</span> Cable car system introduced in 1991

The tricable gondola lift, also known as the 3S gondola lift, is a cable car system that was developed by the Swiss company Von Roll transport systems in Thun to unite the benefits of a gondola lift with those of a reversible cable car system. '3S' is an abbreviation of the German word dreiseil, meaning 'tricable'.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Forsby-Köping limestone cableway</span>

The Forsby-Köping limestone cableway, commonly referred to in Swedish as Kalklinbanan, was a 42 km aerial tramway running from Forsby in Vingåker municipality to industrial town Köping in central Sweden. Its final destination is the factory at the port of Köping, where cement was manufactured until 1978, and later various limestone derivatives. The cableway was Europe's longest at the time of construction. It was later superseded by a handful of longer cableways, notably the Norsjö aerial tramway, all of which were demolished during the 1960s–1980s. It was taken out of service in 1997 but kept in working order. By that time all longer industrial cableways had been demolished making it at present the world's longest cableway in working order.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wings of Tatev</span> Cableway in Armenia

Wings of Tatev is a 5.7 km (3.5 mi) cableway between Halidzor and the Tatev monastery in Armenia. It is the longest reversible aerial tramway built in only one section, and holds the record for Longest non-stop double track cable car. Construction was finished on 16 October 2010.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tbilisi cable car crash</span> 1990 cable car crash in Tbilisi, Georgia

The Tbilisi cable car crash was an aerial tramway accident in Tbilisi, the capital of Soviet Georgia on 1 June 1990, which resulted in 19 deaths and at least 42 injuries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bursa Uludağ Gondola</span> Aerial lift in Bursa Province, Turkey

The Bursa Uludağ Gondola, or simply Teleferik as called locally, is an aerial lift line in Bursa Province connecting the city of Bursa with the nearby ski resort area and national park at Mt. Uludağ. Initially, as an aerial tramway line, it went in service in 1963, and served for fifty years until it was replaced by a modern system of gondola lift and extended into a ski resort area. The installation of a new line became unavoidable due to increased demand by tourists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Awana Skyway</span> Aerial lift in Pahang, Malaysia

The Awana Skyway, also referred to as the new Awana Skyway, is a gondola lift system connecting Awana Transport Hub, Chin Swee Temple and SkyAvenue in Genting Highlands, Pahang, Malaysia since December 2016. The Awana Transport Hub terminus consists of the new Awana Bus Terminal, the station building and a new 8-storey car park while the other terminus is located at SkyAvenue.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arosa Lenzerheide</span> Ski area in Switzerland

Arosa Lenzerheide is a ski area located in Arosa, Lenzerheide, Valbella, Parpan and Churwalden, Graubünden/Switzerland. It originated 2013/14 by connecting the existing ski areas of Arosa and Lenzerheide. With a total of 225 kilometers of ski slopes and 43 cable cars it is the largest contiguous ski area in Graubünden.


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