To Simon Fraser University by funicular!

Last year there was much talk of an aerial tramway, linking theAi??Millennium Line to Simon Fraser University, but like all transit projects in the region, it has stalled for lack of funding. The SFU aerial tramway project is projected to cost nearly $70 million, which breaks down into $38.2 million for manufacturing the actual lift and $30.7 million for construction of terminal buildings, purchase of land, and other related costs. Annual operation expenditures are estimated to be just over $3 million.

Is there a cheaper way to connect SFU, on its mountain top location?

The answer couldAi??be yes,Ai??by building a funicular.

A funicular, also known as aAi??Ai??inclined railway, is a cable railway in which a cable is attached to a pair of tram-like vehicles on rails moves them up and down a steep slope; the ascending and descending vehicles counterbalance each other. Being cable hauled means that it can operate in all weathers.

Cairn Gorm funicular at the passing point.

The Cairn Gorm funicular in Scotland, which opened in 2001 had an estimated to have cost of around A?19.6 million (Approx. Cad $31 million) for the two kilometre line. The funicular costs about $15 million/km to build, which makes it cheaper than the estimated $70 million for the proposed SFU aerial cable car.

The recently rebuilt Sierre-Montana-Crans funicularAi?? is the worlds longest funicular at 4.1 kilometresAi??(or just over 2.6 miles) and links the city of Sierre, in the Rhone valley, to the Crans-Montana-Vermala resortAi??with a 12 minute ride.

The Sierre-Montana-Crans funicular stopping atAi??one of four intermediaryAi??stations along its route

It is realisticAi??proposition that a 3 kilometre SFU Funicular connecting to the Millennium LineAi??would costAi??between $45 million to $50 million and with modern funiculars being automatic (driverless), it would have cheaper operating costs. The trip time, which would be unimpeded by snow and freezing rain, would be about 8 toAi??9 minutes or slightlyAi??longer if there was an intermediary stop.

The two cabins (what funicularAi??vehicles are called) can accommodate as many as 120 persons apiece and with aboutAi??6 trips an hour, the SFU funicular could carry as many asAi??720 persons per hour per direction. With a station at the midway point, the SFU funicular could also provide a local transit service for residents who live in the Forest Grove residential area, something that the aerial tramway would not do.

It is always wise to consider many Ai??transit option for a proposed new transit line and with the SFU funicular, it may have less capacity than an aerial tramway, but it would be able to service residents along its route guaranteeing high ridership in all seasons.

A SFU funicular would not only be cheaper to build, it would also cheaper to operate and maintain, with the bonus of providing a transit option to local residents. A funicular, connectin SFU with the Millennium Line certainly makes the grade!


14 Responses to “To Simon Fraser University by funicular!”
  1. Clark says:

    The one in Hong Kong has been operating since 1888.
    Very simple, just a single track with a spot for them to cross. They just go up and down all day. They totally should seriously consider it.

  2. zweisystem says:

    The sad fact is, TransLink would never consider any transit option, first considered by Rail for the Valley.

  3. Richard says:

    While all reasonable options should be considered, even a quick look at a map indicates that a funicular would not be very practical and more expensive. There a lot of roads along routes up to SFU and funicular would have to be grade separated at every one dramatically increasing the cost. There are also streams and trails that would require grade separation. The whole thing would likely have to be elevated until after Gaglardi.

    The residents along Forest Grove are concerned about a low impact gondola. At first glance, it looks like homes would be in the path of the funicular route. Imagine their reaction when their homes would have to be levelled.

    It also doesn’t appear as if you converted the cost of Cairn Gorm funicular to 2011 dollars. If you did, the cost would likely be similar to the gondola with less than half the capacity.

    As a right-of-way would have to be cleared, the environmental impact would be much greater as well.

    It is pretty obvious that gondola is a better option. It is a bit surprising after decades of slagging driverless grade separated transit that you are now supporting such an option.

  4. zweisystem says:

    Richard, I did convert the cost to 2011 dollars.

    The benefits of a funicular service is that it could service intermediate stops along the way, which an aerial gondola can not, and a funicular can operate in high winds, which an aerial tramway can not. Being largely single tracked, except for a 50m to 100m passing loop in the middle, means construction costs are quite cheap and what grade separation needed would be inexpensive compared to twin track operation. The Carin Gorm funicular is mainly grade separated as it operates on a trestle.

    I would be interesting to see if a company that builds funiculars were included in the planning process, but then this project, like most of TransLinks projects, smacks of cronyism, where friends of the government (only) are allowed to build transit solutions.

    Richard, if an aerial tramway is build, we would have to build roads to service the towers as well, with a funicular the land take would be much less!

    Richard, if you have actually read what I have said, I lobby against SkyTrain and/or light-metro because we build SkyTrain up to ten times more and operate SkyTrain at 60% more than comparable LRT operations.

    If a funicular could be built cheaper than an aerial tramway and operate cheaper than an aerial tramway, should not TransLink investigate a funicular transit option?

  5. zweisystem says:

    Just a note – The Carin Goram funicular is built on a cement trestle for most of its route, thus the construction costs are appropriate to the SFU route.

  6. Richard says:

    There were cost overruns and it actually cost £26.75m or $42 million. I suspect that is in 2001 dollars so it would be $51.6 in 2011 dollars. Your $31 million would be $38 million in 2011 dollars. So, depending on which you chose, the cost would be from $19 to $25 million per km or $57 to $75 million for the 3km.

    The gondola could carry 4000 persons per hour per direction. Over 5 times that of the 720 for the funicular. Seems like the gondola is better value for the money.

  7. zweisystem says:

    To move 4000 persons per hour per direction would require very large gondolas indeed. A gondola with a capacity of 40 persons, would require 100 trips per hour to fulfill this need and 100 trips per hour would require a gondola leaving every 40 seconds or so and I very much doubt this is what will be built. In fact what we see is is typical TransLink over statement of the ability of their pet transit project.

    What probably will be built is a 10 or 12 car aerial railway, with a modest capacity of 400 to 500 persons per hour per direction.

  8. TransitGuy says:

    What if a funicular were to take up one or two lanes of the four lane Gaglardi Way? No separate right of way required. And perhaps there could be two or three cars going up and two or three going down, with a couple of stops along the way timed so they all stop together at stops. Gaglardi Way ends about 400 m from Production Way station – moving the station would be expensive.

  9. zweisystem says:

    All I ask, is for TransLink have an open mind and see if a funicular would work. The actual land take for a funicular is quite small, about 3 metres!

    Personally, I like the idea of intermediate stations along the route, enabling the common folk to use the transit mode. A true funicular only has two cars as one counter balances the other via a cable.

    I have been in communication with a person very knowledgeable on funiculars and he claims that cabins can be designed to accommodate over 150 customers!

  10. the Ragnore brothers says:

    No doubt Richard; you could search the www 24/7 to find any detracting article that appears to support your views and add credence to your argument, whilst conveniently ignoring the commentary’s that have appeared over the last few years in the BC press & blogs highlighting TransLink’s poor project fiscal controls & the cost overruns on the Canada Line.

  11. David says:

    I don’t know why a system with a capacity of only 720 pphpd is even being discussed here. All that would do is replace 10 buses. What about all the other people who need to get up and down Burnaby Mountain?

    Peak to Peak has 28 gondolas operating at 49 second headways to provide a real world capacity of over 2000 pphpd and that’s with the vast majority of passengers sitting. The Grouse Mountain gondola has no seats at all and packs in people like sardines.

  12. JC says:

    Have any of you seen the gondolas at whistler? They have massive capacity and are insanely reliable. They also have mid-mountain load/unload points. While I am all for alternative suggestions, I don’t see anything short of a revolution in fanicular technology being applicable. 20-30 person+ gondolas are already the norm and can run on 90 second intervals. They would also be incorporating a level of counter balance as at any given time 1/2 of the cars are on either the up or down side of the cable.
    Plus gondolas are not intrusive of the ground and thusly the trails and forest would not be impacted by a train track.
    Again, not an attack on the fanicular, but the gondola makes more sense to me.

  13. zweisystem says:

    As I said, I rather doubt we are getting a peak to peak, type aerial railway, rather a cheaper, smaller model with less capacity. The one thing that a funicular would do, would service intermediate stops.

    I also believe that a deal has been already made and TransLink is selling it to the public. If an aerial tramway is built, I would say it’s adiós to the Evergreen line.

  14. zweisystem says:

    I think we are using any excuse to build an aerial tramway, for the sake of building an aerial tramway, because it looks neat!