Bartholet Completes Zero Gauge Tramway in France

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Workers recently hung the two Gangloff cabins on an innovative new tramway in Brest, France. Photo credit: Ouest France

What if you could squeeze a large double-reversible tramway into the footprint of a much smaller single-haul system?  The city of Brest, France and Bartholet of Switzerland will open such a tram in October.  Because its two cabins are never on the same half of the line at the same time, the Téléphérique de Brest has only one dock at each end and cabins pass directly on top of one another near a 270-foot tall center tower. Other lifts have been built with zero-gauge sections before (notably in Caribbean rainforests) but never on this scale or for their entire length.  The new ropeway is also France’s first lift in a true urban environment.

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Facing a need connect two points high over The Penfeld river in this Navy port, the City of Brest selected a ropeway instead of a massive bridge or expensive tunnel.  The government held a design competition in 2014 and selected the Swiss firm Bartholet Maschinenbau Flums (BMF) together with the French construction conglomerate Bouygues.  Fellow BMF Group subsidiary Gangloff supplied two ultramodern 60-passenger cabins.  The project cost €19 million versus an estimated €30 to 60 for a new bridge.  BMF also recently built two double-reversible tramways in Mexico.

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The City of Brest will open its new tramway in October.  Photo credit: Bartholet

The system has four track ropes, two haul rope loops and four drive motors. The cabins are hung like those on a funitel and can operate in winds up to 70 miles per hour.  Each loop is driven by two 135 horsepower motors but if one fails the loops can be mechanically connected and run using the remaining three motors to ensure near 100 percent uptime.  The slope length of the tramway is a short 1,352 feet with a line speed of 7.5 m/s.  The system will transport up to 1,220 commuters per hour in each direction starting in October.  Check out videos of system testing here.

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News Roundup: Eurotrip

Lift Profile: Portland Aerial Tram

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The Portland Aerial Tram, opened in January 2007, is one of only a handful of urban commuter lifts in the United States.  It connects the campus of the Oregon Health & Science University with Portland’s up-and-coming South Waterfront neighborhood.  The tram was built for $57 million during Doppelmayr-Garaventa’s North American golden years when they completed three projects worth $150 million in less than two years (the others being Jackson Hole’s new tram and the Peak 2 Peak Gondola.)  The Portland tram now carries more than 3,300 passengers a day, far exceeding initial projections.

Leaving the bottom terminal on Portland's South Waterfront.
Leaving the bottom terminal on Portland’s South Waterfront.

The tram only rises 496 feet but it crosses a light rail line, eight lanes of Interstate 5 and eleven other roads.  The bottom terminal houses the 600 HP drive motor and tram offices while the 80,000 lb. counterweight sits underneath the top station.  Slope length is only 3,437 feet, allowing quick three-minute trips at 2000 feet per minute or 7 m/s.  This achieves a capacity of 1,014 passengers per hour, per direction.

A tram cabin approaches the top dock.
A tram cabin approaches the top dock.

Why did a tram one quarter of the size of Jackson Hole’s cost $25 million more?  Two words: politics and aesthetics.  Designers wanted the system to be unique to Portland and aesthetically pleasing.  The city held an international design competition and selected AGPS Architecture of Zurich to design the terminals, tower and cabins.  The 197-foot tower is entirely covered in steel panels and lit up in colors at night.  Gangloff custom-designed the tram’s two 78-passenger cabins to look like flying reflective bubbles.  The top station is perhaps the most complex piece of the project, sitting 140-feet above ground and supported by angled columns.

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