A cableway saves money

About the financial advantages of urban cableway systems

In many places, urban cableways are seen as an exotic and expensive transport solution. But in fact, they have many financial advantages. In most cases, they are less expensive than traditional means of transport.

Energy consumption can be adjusted to the number of passengers by detaching and storing cabins in a garage during periods of low demand. Photo: Bergbahnen Sölden

Compared to other transport systems, the investment into building and operating a cableway are relatively low: no more than half the cost of a tramway and one tenth of the cost of a subway. “Building a subway costs around 250 million euros per kilometer. In comparison, the cost of one kilometer of cableway is just about 8 million euros,” explains Harry Wagner, Professor of Automotive & Mobility Management at the Technical University in Ingolstadt.


“For those 250 million euros, city planners could build a tramway network of each time five parallel lines, 500 meters apart, on an area of two square kilometers. But nothing more because the land is expensive and the costs of building the tracks, overhead lines, depots and tram cars are high,” echoes Günter Ecker, head of the “Avoid Bad Carbon Dioxide Emissions-Institute”.


According to his calculations, with the same amount of money city planners could build a squared network of 13 cableway lines in the north-south direction and 13 cableway lines in the west-east direction including intermediate stations. The lines, if installed 500 meters apart, would cover six square kilometers. As many as 37,500 persons per hour could be transported in each direction in gondola cars designed to carry 8 persons each.


This means that with the same amount of money, transport planners can cover a larger area with cableways - an advantage not to be underestimated because covering large areas is exactly what is needed if we are to persuade people to switch from cars to public transport.

Short building periods

What pushes the costs of urban cableways down are especially the short delivery periods made possible by the cableways’ modular construction. “A cableway is completed within two years including the construction of surface stations and project planning,” explains Wagner. The mono-cable gondola GD8 Narikala in the Georgian capital Tbilisi by the manufacturer LEITNER ropeways was implemented in a single year.In addition, comparatively little space is needed to build cableway towers and stations. Big dri- A Cableway Saves Money About the financial advantages of urban cableway systems 29 vers of costs (such as land purchases) and construction sites requiring large space and generating noise and traffic congestions are altogether avoided.

To operate a cableway line, fewer personnel are needed than for a tram or bus line. Photo: Doppelmayr

Low operating costs

And the construction of urban cableways itself is not only comparatively inexpensive. The operating costs, too, are very low thanks to energy-efficient drives and low-maintenance technology. Thanks to a very good ratio between the load capacity (passengers) and the installation’s own weight, a cableway uses less energy per person and kilometer than, for example, buses or trams.


“Modern cableways, such as that in Koblenz, use only 0.1 kilowatt hour (kWh) to transport 3,600 persons per hour and direction. To compare: a hair-dryer uses the same amount of energy in five minutes,” observes the cableway manufacturer DOPPELMAYR in its brochure. Moreover, while braking, the engine works as an energy recuperating generator. Energy consumption can be adjusted to the number of passengers by detaching and storing cabins in a garage during periods of low demand.

Fewer personnel needed

And last but not least, to operate a cableway line, fewer personnel are needed than for a tram or bus line. Günter Ecker gives the example of a mono-cable gondola with a typical transport capacity of 3,600 persons per hour and ten-second intervals. To achieve the same performance, a tram with a total of 290 seats and standing places would have to run in five-minute intervals, a high-capacity articulated bus with 145 seats and standing places, every two-and-a-half minutes.


“Covering a 2x 10-kilometer-long double-track route at the speed of 20 kilometers per hour at such an interval would require around twelve tram cars with drivers, or around twenty-five high-capacity buses with drivers. A fully-automated gondola cable car only needs five people,” notes Ecker. Operation of a gondola cable car is fully automated, no drivers are needed.


A larger reversible aerial tramway needs one driver (depending on the relevant legal regulation). According to Ecker, for one line three to five people are needed to cover one shift plus (depending on the relevant legal regulation) zero to two more people at each stop. To sum up, urban cableways save cities time, money and staff – and there’s no reason to shun comparison with other means of transport. Quite the opposite. ts