News | 16 February 2021
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Cable Car celebrates birthday with highs and lows

Wellington’s iconic Cable Car is turning 119 this month, and everyone’s welcome to join the celebrations of its many ups and downs since it first opened to the public in 1902.

Image of Cable Car terminus circa 1910

Construction began in 1899 as demand for transport in the area grew with the growing population, and through two world wars, plagues and pestilence, facelifts and an assortment of challenges, it has stood the test of time – and will clock up many more trips in the future.

Mayor Andy Foster says the Cable Car has served many purposes over the years, and has, and always will be a popular drawcard to the city.

“The Cable Car has been a trusty, sustainable and reliable transport option for over a century, moving millions of commuters, students and tourists from the city to Kelburn and back again.

“Nearly every Wellingtonian will have fond memories of their experiences on this iconic ride, and it’s always top of the list for visitors to the city.”

Image of Cable Car emerging from tunnel date unknown

Cable Car Chief Executive Cesar Piotto says it has survived wars, depressions, earthquakes and now we can add pandemic and lockdown to the list – and the dedicated team continues to look after it so it can survive another 100 years.

“For generations, the Cable Car has been a must-do attraction when friends and family visit. Not only do locals share this Wellington taonga with whānau, but it’s ideal to explore the intermittent stations or head directly to Kelburn for the best views of the city and harbour.”

From 20-22 Feb, family pass holders can buy a model of the iconic Cable Car for $10 – usually $29.90.

The Cable Car provides sustainable, reliable and affordable access to the Cable Car Museum, Space Place, Zealandia and the Wellington Botanic Garden.

Image of Cable Car pulley designs circa 1900

Cable Car facts and figures

  • The Cable Car is a funicular railway rising 120 metres over a length of 609 metres. The line rises at a constant grade of 1 in 5 (18%), through three tunnels and over three bridges.
  • There are three equally-spaced stations - Clifton, Talavera and Salamanca (also referred to as University), all named after the nearby streets.
  • The Cable Car has two cars, which start from opposite ends of the line and pass in the middle. They are attached to each other by a 30 mm diameter cable, guided by 120 rollers, which runs round a pulley at the top of the hill.
  • The normal operating speed is 14.5 kmh, with a maximum load of about 75 passengers. Each car weighs about 13 tonnes when empty and 20 tonnes when full.
  • In pre COVID-19 times, the Cable Car was used by about 1.1 million people each year.
  • The service is operated by Wellington Cable Car Ltd, a City Council-controlled organisation.
  • The original Cable Car railway was built and operated by the Kelburne & Karori Tramway Company. The line opened to the public on 22 February 1902.
  • The hilltop location of Victoria University’s main campus was influenced by the company’s offer of a donation of £1000 if the university were located in Kelburn, so students would patronise the car when travelling between the city and the university.
  • The designer of the system was James Fulton, a Dunedin-born engineer who had earlier helped build and operate the privately-owned Wellington-Manawatu railway.
  • The Cable Car’s original steam-powered winding gear was replaced by an electric motor in 1933.
  • In the 1940s the Cable Car suffered from increased competition: City Council buses ran to Karori and other western suburbs, bypassing it. The company believed that it was wrong for the City Council to compete with a private company, and a legal dispute broke out. The argument ended when the City Council agreed to purchase the company in 1947.
  • The safety of the original Cable Car system, including its antique carriages, became a major issue in the 1970s. At that time the Ministry of Works concluded that aspects of the Cable Car were unsafe, particularly the use of unbraked trailers, and called for the system to be scrapped. Luckily for us, instead the Cable Car was replaced in 1979 with the design that we have today.
  • Since the replacement, each car has completed over 993K trips, which is a total distance of over 605,000 km. That is 15 times around the earth, or 290 trips from Bluff to Cape Reinga