Cable cars for the movement of people are really rather well developed. There is little that is fancy about them. The hardware, although being constantly refined, is fairly straightforward and to an untrained eye such as mine, really rather quaint. A car hangs from a constantly circulating cable and at the point where you’d like to get off, so does the car, and decelerates towards your platform.
Certainly it can be more complicated. Like the railway it can be configured for fast-through, non-stopping units and mid-line turnbacks that on occasions are a benefit to the occupants and the line capacities. Like the railway, even in these configurations the hardware remains comparatively simple, while the software does the clever stuff.
The basics are all generously covered in numerous websites, the best of which I have so-far found being here.
This is a pleasing discovery, for as you may recall, and if you don’t you will find it here, my interest was to examine the opportunity for an affordable, low energy, high benefit resolution to local public transport network in a post-Covid environment. The scale, capabilities and technical simplicity of the cable car system continues to meet that aim.
You may also recall that I had proposed the idea of using the cable car system in its ‘off-peak’ periods for goods distribution and, in the other direction, managed recycling. I’d referenced National Rail with its passengers and freight, as distinct from London Underground and the DLR which on occasions run largely empty.
This is not innovation, I only have to look out of my window here in the heart of Luxembourg steel manufacturing to see the benefits of suspended ropeways in the movement of Terres Rouge to the railways and furnaces that supported 20C European growth, not to mention a few wars. The ropeway was invented to carry goods not people. It was señor Torres-Quevedo that saw the potential and, having more recently been purloined by the good burgers of the Austrian Tyrol in the support of tourism, the buckets just got fancier and the systems safer, while the European miners exhausted their seams.
I then came across this article, with the NLA promoting an urban logistics forum which seeks an integration of uses – goods distribution and residential development in the example, but doubtless not excluding a similar symbiotic pact with public transport. The ambition is for greater availability of distribution centres closer into the city, in much the same geographical settings as those in need of local public transport networks such as Docklands, where the radial systems spread too thin and the highways circumnavigate the metropolis.
Like the cable car technology, a Google search indicates that the developed hardware of modern logistics is similarly and pleasingly straightforward, with the software doing the heavy lifting yet again.
It takes little to imagine how this mutualism would work, with the equipment already developed to automate pallets and containers in and out of racks and cable cars using a simple structural grid to support the passenger platforms above, and some clever software to identify the presence and destination of goods, people and discarded cardboard.
Within a network that connects areas of mixed employment, production and consumption, as is both occurring and proposed in the Estates and Opportunity Areas of London Docklands, the potential is evident.
So I sketched some of it, to see how big it all becomes in locations previously identified if not yet proven.
I appreciate it’s not my land, but for a system with so much potential it seems fairly low impact compared to the railway infrastructure I am more used to. The next thing to do is of course to put some numbers to it all and, while I have a reasonable estimate of the passenger matrices, the potential logistics capacities and construction costs are still to be understood.
If anyone wants to throw their professional hat at this, I’d be pleased to hear from you.