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Aerial tramway suspended on two track cables with an additional haulage rope.
An aerial tramway in Italy.
An aerial tramway in Italy.
An aerial tramway or cable car (British English) is a type of aerial lift in which a cabin or other conveyance is suspended from a fixed cable and is pulled by another cable.

Because of the proliferation of such systems in the Alpine regions of Europe, the French and German language names of téléphérique and Seilbahn 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. Note also that, in American English, "cable car" is most often associated with surface cable car systems, e.g. San Francisco'smarker cable carsmarker, so 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 the cabin suspended from a moving cable, and is not to be confused with a gondola).


An aerial tramway consists of one or two fixed cables (called "track cables"), one loop of cable (called a "haulage rope"), and two passenger cabins. The fixed cables provide support for the cabins. The haulage rope, by means of a grip, is solidly connected to the truck (the wheel set that rolls on the track cables). The haulage rope is usually driven by an electric motor and being connected to the cabins, moves them up or down the mountain.

Aerial tramways differ from gondola lifts in that the latter use several smaller cabins suspended from a circulating looped cable.

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 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.

Many aerial tramways were built by Von Roll Ltd. of Switzerland, which has since been acquired by Austrian lift manufacturer Doppelmayr. The German firm of Bleichert built hundreds of freight and military tramways .

An escape aerial tramway is a special form of the aerial tramway that allows a fast escape from a dangerous location. They are used on rocket launching sites in order to offer the launch staff or astronauts a fast retreat. The tramway consists of a rope which runs from the launch tower downward to a protection shelter. On the launch supply tower several small cabs can be occupied by the launch staff or the astronauts. After a barrier is loosened these roll downward to the protection shelter. An escape aerial tramway exists on launch pads 39A and 39B at Cape Canaveralmarker.

Some aerial tramways have their own propulsion, such as the Lasso Mule or the Josef Mountain Aerial Tramway near Meranmarker, Italymarker.


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.

The first commercial telpherage line was in Glyndemarker, which is in Sussex, England. It was built to connect a newly-opened clay pit to the local railway station and opened in 1885.

Double deckers

Shinhotaka Ropeway

There are aerial tramways with double deck cabins. The Vanoise Express cable car carries 200 people in each cabin at a height of over the Ponturin gorge in France. The Shinhotaka Ropeway carries 121 people in each cabin at Mount Hotakamarker in Japan.

In mining

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 of the San Juan Mountains of the US state of Coloradomarker.A resource on the history of aerial tramways in the mining industry is "Riding the High Wire, Aerial Tramways in the West", by Robert A. Trennert, University Press of Colorado, 2001.


List of accidents

  • August 15, 1960: between Castellammare di Stabiamarker and the Monte Faitomarker, near Naplesmarker, Italymarker.
  • August 29, 1961: A military plane splits the hauling cable of a cabin railway on the Aiguille du Midimarker in the Mont Blancmarker massif: six people killed.
  • 1963: Cabin of the renovated PKB crashes at the valley station, one person killed, several injured.
  • December 25, 1965: Power failure on the aerial ropeway at Puy de Sancymarker in central France causes abrupt cabin halt, cabin wall breaks. 17 people fall, seven killed.
  • July 9, 1966: A cable breaks on a cabin railway at Aiguille du Midi in the Mont Blanc massif: three cabins fall, four people killed.
  • December 6, 1970: Five people killed at Meranmarker, Italymarker.
  • August 1, 1971: Four people killed in a mid-air collision between two gondolas in Alagna Valsesiamarker Italymarker.
  • July 13, 1972: 13 killed at the crash of a cab in Bettmeralpmarker, Switzerlandmarker.
  • October 26, 1972: During a test at an aerial tramway at Les Deux Alpesmarker in France, two cabs collide, nine people killed.
  • July 9, 1974: Hauling cable breaks on the aerial tramway at Ulrikenmarker, Norwaymarker. One cabin fell, four people killed.
  • March 9, 1976: In the Italian Dolomites at Cavalesemarker, a cab falls after a rope break, killing 42. (See Cavalese cable-car disaster )
  • March 26, 1976: Damage to the carrying rope leads to crash of multiple cabs of the aerial tramway at Vail, Coloradomarker, USA. Four people killed, five injured.
  • April 15, 1978: In a storm, two carrying ropes of the Squaw Valley Aerial Tramway in California fall from the aerial tramway support tower. One of the ropes partly destroys the cabin. four killed, 32 injured.
  • February 13, 1983: Two cabs collide in Champoluc, near Aostamarker (Italy), 11 dead.
  • January 13, 1989: Eight people killed during a test of the French aerial tramway Vaujany in the Alpe d'Huezmarker area.
  • June 1, 1990: 15 people killed after a rope break in Tbilisimarker, Georgia.
  • 1995: Operator error causes the cabin of Muttereralmbahn near Innsbruckmarker, Austria, to crash. No casualties or injuries.
  • February 3, 1998: U.S. military aircraft severs the cable of an aerial ropeway in Cavalese, Italy, killing 20 people. (See Cavalese cable-car disastermarker)
  • July 1, 1999: 20 people killed at the crash of an aerial tramway at the Bure observatorymarker in the French alps.
  • July 6, 2000: Entering the middle station of Nebelhornbahnmarker, a cabin fails to brake. 23 people injured.
  • October 19, 2003: Four were killed and 11 injured when three cars slipped off the cable of the Darjeeling Ropeway.
  • October 9, 2004: Crash of a cabin of the Grünberg aerial tramway in Gmundenmarker, Austria. Many hurt.
  • November 14, 2004: Empty cabin of tramway in Söldenmarker, Austria, falls after becoming entangled with rope. No casualties, 113 people rescued from other cabins
  • April 18, 2006: New York's Roosevelt Island Tramwaymarker experiences a power failure, leaving 69 passengers in two trams stranded over the East Rivermarker for approximately seven hours, just eight months after a similar incident in which trams were stranded for 90 minutes. No injuries or fatalities occurred in either incident.
  • October 31, 2007: The Flaine lift Les Grands Platieres or DMC broke down for six hours and was evacuated.


Some cities are currently looking into the possibility of aerial tramways as a viable option for Public Transport. In the city of Haifamarker, Israelmarker there is a plan to use an aerial tramways as an important way of solving the city's traffic problems. (See Haifa Cable Car)


Image:cablecar.zelllamsee.500pix.jpg|Cable car at Zell am Seemarker in the Austrian Alps.Image:PortlandTramCar3.jpg|Portland Aerial Trammarker car descends towards the rising South Waterfrontmarker district in Portland, Oregonmarker.Image:SandiaTram.jpg|Cable cars pass mid-stream on the Sandia Peak Tramwaymarker in Albuquerque, New Mexicomarker.Image:TitlisGondol.jpg|The rotating construction of the Titlismarker gondola provides passengers better viewImage:HoldAndPull.jpg|The construction of the aerial tramway. The lowest cable is used for pulling. The middle (thickest) cable supports the weight of gondola.Image:Åre kabinbana.JPG|Cable car in Åremarker (Sweden)Image:Klein Matterhorn - Zermatt - Switzerland - 2005 - 01.JPG|Klein Matterhornmarker cable car, the highest in Europe.Image:TelepheriqueAigMidi.jpg|Aiguille du Midimarker cable car (Chamonix, France)Image:Table_mountain_cable_car_2006-01.JPG|Table Mountain Aerial Cablewaymarker, Cape Townmarker, South Africa.Image:Telecabina.JPG|Telecabina in Romaniamarker, Carpathiansmarker, at Balea Lakemarker in Sibiumarker county.Image:Kulltaubane.jpg|Retired coal tramway in Longyearbyenmarker, Svalbardmarker.Image:Bergen02.jpg|Ulriksbanenmarker in Bergenmarker, Norwaymarker.Image:Telefericodemerida.jpg|The Mérida Aerial Tramway in VenezuelamarkerImage:SnowBird-Tram.JPG|Snowbirdmarker Tram service

Cableways in Fiction

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