“Spanning far and running steeply up!”

A cableway planner, Stephan Salzmann, talks about urban cableway projects in Austria, maintenance as a cost factor and why cableways could be interesting also for industrial operations.

The cable car to the Plabutsch hill will connect Graz with a local recreation area. Photo: The Renderers

SI Urban: Mr. Salzmann, as a long-established cableway planner, you have gained a lot of experience in the planning, construction and operation of cableways, especially in Austria. What urban projects are currently discussed in the Alpine republic?

Stephan Salzmann: The cable car to the Kahlenberg hill in Vienna, the Wälderbahn in Vorarlberg and the gondola along the Mur River in Styria are still in the concept phase while the projects in Linz and Graz are becoming more concrete. In Linz, a cableway should connect the industrial zone with the port.  In Graz, politicians wish to have a cable car ascending to the city’s highest peak and excursion destination, Plabutsch.



What potential does the Linz project have?

Linz would profit from the cableway enormously, especially since 3,000 new apartments are to be built in the already densely populated area in the medium term. But the routing will be very difficult as a number of safety and health-related aspects will need to be addressed in connection with the leading the route above the industrial zone.


How do you judge the project in Graz?

With that project, I can say it is very good straight away. My engineering firm had the opportunity to conduct a feasibility study for it – rendering five very promising routes. The best option has already been approved by the city. It will start from a valley station connected to a tram near the emergency hospital, reach the top of Plabutsch hill in seven minutes and the recreation area Thalersee in another nine minutes.


What challenges in the field of planning are you facing in the Graz project?

We must take into account the environment and the interests of local residents. We want to avoid additional road traffic which is why interconnecting the cable car with the public transport network is our priority. A tramway line will be extended for this purpose. In addition to that, Plabutsch is to become a biker’s hill and so the size of the cableway cabins and stations needs to be planned accordingly.

Graz-Plabutsch (Section 1)

Number of pillars: 15

Horizontal length: 1,790 m

Inclined length: 1,820 m

Height difference: 362 m

Number of cabins: 42

Travel time: 7 min.

Transport capacity per direction: 1,600 pers./h

Travel speed: 6 m/s

Investment sum: 18.7 million

Plabutsch-Thal (Section 2)

Number of pillars: 16
Horizontal length: 2,280 m
Inclined length: 1,300 m
Height difference: 313 m
Number of cabins: 49
Travel time: 9 min.
Transport capacity/direction: 1.600 P/h
Travel speed: 6 m/s
Investment sum: 16,3 Mio.

How high do you think the level of acceptance of urban cableways is in Austria?

High, as long as no residential areas are crossed. Thanks to alpine tourism, people here are much more open to urban cableways than, for example, people in Germany where there is a lot of opposition with regard to their performance, safety and costs.

According to the director of the engineering firm SALZMANN Engenieure, Stephan Salzmann, the firm has already implemented 375 cableway projects. Photo: SI/Surrer


Yes, the cost of a mono-cable gondola lift even for a mid-sized city is very manageable; cableways – in relation to the distances they cover – are the second safest means of transport after airplanes and their transport capacity can keep up with that of buses and trams. In addition, cableways have two huge advantages: they can span far and run steeply up!


What do you mean by that?

With cableways, rivers, valleys and mountains can be easily bridged and separate traffic systems combined. Many projects, such as the one in Koblenz, for example, revolve around the theme of crossing a river. In Berlin, on the other hand, the theme was filling a gap between two underground rail lines. What’s more: cableways can even improve internal transport inside large operations.


Could you give us an example?

We are providing services to a company in Germany which wants to connect two of its plants located on opposite banks of the river. For now, their employees have to endure regular traffic congestion going over the region’s only highway bridge. It is impossible to plan a meeting or arrival. In addition, the transport of 6,000 cubic meters of material per day by the company’s own trucks blocks the road and delays production. A cableway could transport both employees and material and free up the road. During peak hours, it could run every two minutes, otherwise every 15 minutes. Passenger cabins and materials could alternate on the cable. As the route leads above a public train station, the cableway could even be open to use by commuters from outside the company – assuming that the city cooperates.


You have named a lot of advantages and some good examples of successful urban cableway projects. Why do you think so many projects still fail?

We have asked a student currently working at our engineering firm to research the reasons. More theoretical work first needs to be done in this area.


In this context, can we learn anything from the urban cableways operating in Latin America?

We can utilize their operation and maintenance-related experience. How do I keep the operation running well despite defects? Where do I store spare parts? What wear do I need to account for? The Latin-American cableways are in operation up to 7,000 hours per year! This means that the strain on their cables is six times greater than, for example, the strain on a cableway used for skiers and the period after which they need to be exchanged is some five to ten years.


What exactly increases the cost of operation?

Well, standardized data are still missing to answer this question. Even in alpine regions, operators do not record the costs of staff, energy and maintenance for each individual cableway, although getting exact figures would be very useful. For now, we can only estimate that total operating costs over the entire service life equals the cost of investment. But we will have one of our student trainees get more exact figures here, too!