UrbanToronto member ShonTron recently attended a small-group session at the Martin Prosperity Institute called to present cable-car technologies, specifically aerial tramway/gondola systems, as public transit in urban settings. Gondolas are more commonly used as ski lifts or tourist transports, with New York City's Roosevelt Island Tram being a notable exception. The meeting was held under "Chatham House Rules", which state that participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed. On with his report...

 The Medellin Image by ShonTron

The focus was on the Medellin "Metrocable", a system of feeder tramways to the existing metro system of Colombia's second city. Medellin's Metrocable was the first modern application of aerial trams as public transport, linking the hilltop barrio of Santo Domingo (a poor, unsafe slum) with the valley-bottom metro. The Metrocable, since expanded to three lines, has been a major factor to the improvement of the barrios it serves. 

Medellin Image by ShonTron

(chilangoco) There are certainly some serious pros: the lines are cheap to implement, as they require little disruption on the ground during or after construction. Most of the system is pre-manufactured, including towers, cables, vehicles and motors; only the stations need to be built on-site. The first line in Medellin, Line K, cost only about $25 million for a 2 kilometre, 4 station line. Cars come very often, so the small cabin (which can hold up to 10 total) capacity is made up, and this is the ultimate in grade separation. There are drawbacks however: capacity is limited to 3,000 per hour, speed is limited to 30-35 km/h crusing speed, with a lower average speed, and there are aesthetic issues. The systems built in Medellin (and later Caracas) are feeders to bona-fide metro systems, and not trunk lines themselves. Naturally the subsequent discussion led to possible applications here in North America, such as in Toronto. One participant demonstrated how gondola technology could be used as a intermediate "downtown relief line" using the Lower Don River ravine to reach downtown from Castle Frank or Broadview. Perhaps more realistic routes could be to the Toronto Islands or to the Portlands from the ferry docks, or across the St. Lawrence River in Montreal or Quebec City or other similar situations. I did not really buy the DRL idea, though it is nice to see how that particular subway line got mentioned as a need. One could say that this is another gadgetbahn technology, like PRT or Monorail or Linear Induction, but at least there are dozens of working examples, although outside South America, they are in very limited types of applications. Nevertheless, it was a very interesting discussion. You can find out much more at this technology advocacy link: http://gondolaproject.com/ Images are Creative Commons pics from Flickr of Medellin's system.