Aerial tramway

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The Portland Aerial Tram in Portland, Oregon, USA PortlandTramCar3.jpg
The Portland Aerial Tram in Portland, Oregon, USA
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.
Tramway on Kailasagiri, Visakhapatnam Rope way at Kailasagiri in Visakhapatnam.JPG
Tramway on Kailasagiri, Visakhapatnam
The Port Vell Aerial Tramway in Barcelona, Spain Teleferic del Port Barcelona.jpg
The Port Vell Aerial Tramway in Barcelona, Spain

An aerial tramway, sky tram,cable car, ropeway or aerial tram is a type of aerial lift which uses one or two stationary ropes for support while a third moving rope provides propulsion. [1] [ failed verification ] 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]


Because of the proliferation of such systems in the Alpine regions of Europe, the French and German names, téléphérique and Seilbahn, respectively, 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 while 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 Yangtse river in Chongqing CBD A aerial tramway across Yangtse river in Chongqing CBD Photo by Chen Hualin .jpeg
An aerial tramway across Yangtse river in 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 Wiebe in Gdańsk. It was moved by horses and used to move soil over the river to build defences. [4] 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. [5]

Other mining systems were developed in the 1860s by Hodgson, and Andrew Smith Hallidie. Hallidie went on to perfect a line of mining and people tramways after 1867 in California and Nevada. See Hallidie ropeway.

In mining

Ore bucket on the aerial tramway leading from the Mayflower mine, near Silverton, Colorado, USA MayflowerTramwayBucket.jpg
Ore bucket on the aerial tramway leading from the Mayflower mine, near Silverton, Colorado, USA
NOR-2016-Svalbard-Adventdalen to Longyearbyen cableways for coal 04.jpg
Cableway from abandoned coal mine in Adventdalen to Longyearbyen, Svalbard

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.

Over one thousand mining tramways were built around the world—Spitsbergen, Russia, Alaska, Argentina, New Zealand and Gabon. This experience was replicated with the use of tramways in the First World War particularly on the Isonzo Front in Italy. The German firm of Bleichert built hundreds of freight and military tramways, and even built the first tourist tramway at Bolzano/Bozen, in then Tyrolian Austria in 1913.

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. [6] [7] The perfection of the aerial tramway through mining led to its application in other fields including logging, sugar fields, beet farming, tea plantations, coffee beans and guano mining. A resource on the history of aerial tramways in the mining industry is "Riding the High Wire, Aerial Mine Tramways in the West"

Moving people

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) Going to the Isle of Dogs by Lesser Columbus, Bullivant & Co. 1893 page 10. This item can be accessed through an original held by the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers. After the pioneer cable car of 1907 at mount Ulia [8] [9] [10] [11] (San Sebastián, Spain) by Torres Quevedo others to the top of high peaks in the Alps of Austria, Germany and Switzerland resulted. They were much cheaper 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] After the Second World War installations proliferated in Europe, America, Japan, Canada and South Africa. Many hundreds of installations have emerged in mountainous and seascape areas.

The aerial tram evolves again in latter decades—one tram in Costa Rica was built to move tourists above a rainforest, while one in Portland, Oregon, was built to move commuters. Presently, the mining role of tramways has lessened, though some still work, and moving people remains a starring role for the device.

Aerial tramway of the Complexo do Alemao, Rio de Janeiro. Used for favela commuters to the closer urban train station and tourist alike. Teleferico do Complexo do Alemao 06 2014 9320.JPG
Aerial tramway of the Complexo do Alemão, Rio de Janeiro. Used for favela commuters to the closer urban train station and tourist alike.

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 and the Portland Aerial Tram are examples where this technology has been successfully adapted for public transport purposes.


One offshoot of the aerial tram was the telpher system. This was an overhead railway, which was electrically powered. The carrier basket had a motor and two contacts on two rails. They were primarily used in English railway and postal stations. The original version was called telpherage. Smaller telpherage systems are sometimes used to transport objects such as tools or mail within a building or factory.

The telpherage concept was first publicised in 1883 and several experimental lines were constructed. It was not designed to compete 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

Cable transport

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.

Gondola lift 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 cable 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. They are often considered continuous systems since they feature a haul rope which continuously moves and circulates around two terminal stations. In contrast, aerial tramways solely operate with fixed grips and simply shuttle back and forth between two end terminals. Depending on the combination of cables used for support and/or haulage and the type of grip, the capacity, cost, and functionality of a gondola lift will differ dramatically. Because of the proliferation of such systems in the Alpine regions of Europe, the Cabinovia (Italian) or the French name of Télécabine are also used in English texts. The system may often be referred to as a cable car.


An elevated passenger ropeway, or chairlift, is a type of aerial lift, which consists of a continuously circulating steel cable loop strung between two end terminals and usually over intermediate towers, carrying a series of chairs. They are the primary onhill transport at most ski areas, but are also found at amusement parks, various tourist attractions, and increasingly in urban transport.

Aerial lift Method of cable transport

An aerial lift (U.S.), also known as a cable car, 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.

Singapore Cable Car Gondola lift providing an aerial link from Mount Faber to the resort island of Sentosa

The Singapore Cable Car is a gondola lift providing an aerial link from Mount Faber on the main island of Singapore to the resort island of Sentosa across the Keppel Harbour. Opened on 15 February 1974, it was the first aerial ropeway system in the world to span a harbour. However, it is not the first aerial ropeway system to span the sea. For instance, Awashima Kaijō Ropeway in Japan, built in 1964, goes over a short strait to an island. Although referred to by its operators as a cable car, the listed system is in fact a monocable gondola lift and not an aerial tramway. In 2020, a round-trip ticket cost SGD 35 for adults and SGD 25 for children.

Material ropeway

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

Seilbahn Zugspitze

The Seilbahn Zugspitze is an aerial tramway running from the Eibsee Lake to the top of Zugspitze. It currently holds the world record for the longest freespan in a cable car at 3,213 metres (10,541 ft) as well as the tallest lattice steel aerial tramway support tower in the world at 127 metres (417 ft). Construction of the system began in 2015 and it opened on 22 December 2017.

Norsjö ropeway

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


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.

Tricable gondola lift Cable car system

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’.

Bleichert Former German wire ropeway & automobile manufacturer

Bleichert, short for Adolf Bleichert & Co., was a German engineering firm founded in 1874 by Adolf Bleichert. The company dominated the aerial wire ropeway industry during the first half of the 20th century, and its portfolio included cranes, electric cars, elevators, and mining and ship-loading equipment.

Mount Hakodate Ropeway

The Mt. Hakodate Ropeway is the name of an aerial lift, as well as its operator. The line climbs Mount Hakodate in Hakodate, Japan. As of 2004, this is the most heavily used aerial lift line in Japan, transporting 1,559,000 riders yearly. The aerial tramway was prominently featured in Noein, a 2005 anime.

Rokkō Arima Ropeway

The Rokkō Arima Ropeway is Japanese aerial lift line in Kōbe, Hyōgo, operated by Kōbe City Urban Development. Opened in 1970, the line links Mount Rokkō and Arima Onsen hot spring. The aerial lift consisted of two lines, Ura-Rokkō Line and Omote-Rokkō Line. The latter, however, is currently out of service, because users shifted to cars and buses.

Wings of Tatev

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.

1990 Tbilisi aerial tramway accident

The 1990 Tbilisi aerial tramway accident was an aerial tramway accident in Tbilisi, the capital of Soviet Georgia on June 1, 1990, which resulted in 20 deaths and at least 15 injuries.

Bursa Uludağ Gondola 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.

Awana Skyway 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.

Arosa Lenzerheide 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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