Cable Car's winter closure for major upgrade

21 April 2016

Wellington’s iconic Cable Car is to close down for two months – from 7 June to 31 July – for a $3 million comprehensive equipment upgrade that will, among other things, allow the service to run more quickly and carry more passengers.

The two Cable Car carriages will be given a makeover and the electric drive and winding gear that hauls the carriages up the slope from Lambton Quay to Kelburn will be upgraded and updated.

Councillor Andy Foster, Chair of Wellington City Council’s Transport Committee, says it is almost 40 years since the existing Cable Car system was commissioned.“We’ve estimated that each car has made something like 1.2 million trips up and down the hill over that time – and more than 30 million passengers have been carried. It is safe to say the service has had its ups and downs…

“Technology has also changed and improved enormously since 1979 – and it’s time for the necessary upgrades to keep the service running well into the middle of the 21th century.”

A temporary bus service will run from Lambton Quay to Kelburn, via Victoria University, while the upgrade is under way, operating every 20 minutes in both directions.

Wellington Cable Car Limited’s Chief Executive Simon Fleisher says the upgrade will be tackled by the Doppelmayr/Garaventa Goup – the Austrian/Swiss cable car and funicular railway manufacturer that provided the power and control equipment when the service was upgraded in the late 1970s.

State-of-the-art computer control equipment will be installed in the winding room at the Upland Road terminal, the electric motor that hauls the carriages up the hill will be replaced with a more powerful version, and the 30mm, 650m steel cable that forms the basis of the drive system will also be replaced.

Cr Foster says slightly quicker journeys will allow the Cable Car to take more passengers over any given period which will be particularly valuable during busy cruise ship days – the improvements could allow two more ‘round trips’ per hour during the busiest periods – meaning an extra 150-200 passengers can be carried each hour.

He says it also makes sense to do the upgrade in the winter, after the cruise ship season has concluded.

Mr Fleisher says the combination of improved controls, more power and greater safety will enable the cars to stop and start more quickly and efficiently. “We’re also aiming to reduce the gentle ‘bounce’ that occurs when the cars come to a stop.

“The Cable Car will never break any speed records – but we can make it a bit quicker while enhancing passenger comfort. ”The interior and exterior of the cars will also be refurbished including the exterior finish, the internal linings, seats and lighting system.

The Cable Car – facts and figures

  • The Cable Car is a funicular railway rising 120 metres over a length of 612 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 16 km/h, with a maximum load of about 75 passengers. Each car weighs about 13 tonnes when empty and 20 tonnes when full.
  • The Cable Car is used by about 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.