"Independent planning really does pay off."

For over 40 years, SALZMANN INGENIEURE has been working on urban and alpine cableway projects. In an interview for SI, the firm’s managing director, Stephan Salzmann, talks about its independence from cableway manufacturers, successful route planning in urban space and why the operation and maintenance of a cableway must not be underestimated.

“An ideal route runs straight along the center strip of a four-lane road,” says Stephan Salzmann. Photo: SI/Surrer

SI Urban: Mr. Salzmann, as a cableway engineer with many years’ practice, you have a lot of experience in the area of cableway planning, construction and operation. When is the right time for cities and municipalities to bet on urban cableways? Stephan Salzmann: When city leaders and planners are looking for a quickly implementable, inexpensive transport solution with a capacity of up to 3,600 persons per hour.


For example, mono-cable gondolas can be set up in two years and the construction and maintenance costs are very low. Plus its carbon footprint per passenger is unbeatable compared to other means of transport. What does a perfect cableway route look like? An ideal route runs straight along the center strip of a four-lane road. There’s enough room, the route only crosses public land and there are no bends.


Bends are a problem for any kind of cableway. Mono-cable gondolas can only turn if there is a station built at the bend. Multi-cable gondolas can handle curves via support towers but these are three times as expensive as mono-cable gondolas. In addition, a lot of space is needed to build the towers. In principle, the more complex the route is, the more likely it is that a multi-cable gondola will be considered.


“Planning the route gets difficult especially where industrial areas are to be crossed, especially in terms of fire and explosion protection,” explains Salzmann. Photo: Voestalpine

But such an ideal route is rare. That’s what makes route planning such a challenge in the urban environment. City planners and authorities cannot do it by themselves. And that’s why I recommend consulting cableway planners, such as ourselves for example. With a professional feasibility study, you can find a route that may not be perfect but works well. We prepare a needs analysis based on space planning data such as the number of inhabitants, the flows of people, hot spots, large employers, shopping centers or schools.


They help us understand where hubs, i.e. cableway stations, make most sense. Only then do we look for a route that connects these points in a way that is economical, safe and has the least impact on its surroundings. It is a great challenge as there are a multitude of hurdles, such as land owners, power lines, natural hazards or building development.


Can you give us some examples? We are working on a feasibility study for Graz for a monocable gondola to connect the city’s accident hospital, the city hill of Plabutsch and the natural recreational area of Thalersee. The route is interconnected with the existing public transport and runs mainly over an unpopulated area in state ownership. We are in touch with other cities, too, regarding feasibility studies. The issues to be addressed are very complex: there is an industry area, railway tracks or a highway to be crossed, overhead lines to be undercut etc. So you can definitely say that interest in our services is growing.


Does it mean the challenges you face are more human-related than geological? Yes. Our many years’ experience with mountain and tourist cableways helps us face both types of challenges. We’ve had to consider highways, power lines or built-up areas, negotiate with land owners and comply with requirements for nature protection many times. Apart from our extensive knowledge of the laws, regulations and legal procedures, we also have an extensive technological know-how about urban environments and cableway systems.

“The more complex the route, the more likely it is that a multi-cable gondola will be considered,” explains Stephan Salzmann. Photo: POMA

Last but not least, I personally have developed great interest in urban transport issues and studied transport technology. Some cities skip cableway planners and have the manufacturers design the installations. Do you think it is a good strategy?


No, because in most cases the municipality then has no cost security. If there is no independent tender, the price of the cableway is not necessarily the market price. Moreover, under the procurement laws, a manufacturer that has prepared a preliminary study cannot bid in a tender at all. Without an engineering firm, the builder also lacks qualified support in the proceedings to issue relevant permits and in the process of cost-effective planning. Independent planning really does pay off, and not only during the construction itself.

“Moving cables need to be exchanged every eight to ten years and that requires road or building closures,” reminds Salzmann. Photo: Teufelberger/c lichtschwärmer