News | 20 July 2016

Cable Car’s reopening delayed by a fortnight

The return to service of Wellington’s iconic Cable Car will be delayed by two weeks – the first trips for members of the public will now be on 15 August, rather than 1 August.

Red Cable Car at the Botanical Garden.

Cable Car Company Chief Executive Simon Fleisher says the time needed to upgrade the system’s two 1970s carriages has proved to be slightly longer than originally scheduled. “Given the cars haven’t been dismantled and upgraded in almost 40 years, we found a bit more corrosion of the superstructure than we were expecting. So we’ve taken a bit more time to get it all right before the exterior panelling and the interiors are reinstated.”

Work on the $3 million upgrade started in June. The upgrade will, among other things, allow the service to run more quickly and carry more passengers.

A replacement passenger bus service is operating throughout the closure. The buses operate every 20 minutes and depart from Lambton Quay (outside Cable Car Lane) and Kelburn with request stops at Victoria University’s Kelburn Campus and Novotel on The Terrace.

Mr Fleisher says the extra fortnight’s closure will also help speed the significant construction work that Wellington City Council is undertaking in Cable Car Lane and the Cable Car passenger terminal - which includes a new, resilient overhead canopy and the Cable Car ticket kiosk.

It is estimated that each cable car carriage has made about 1.2 million trips up and down the hill since they were introduced in 1979 – and more than 30 million passengers have been carried.

The upgrade is being led 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 is being installed in the winding room at the Upland Road terminal, the electric motor that hauls the carriages up the hill has been replaced with a more powerful version, and the 30mm, 650m steel cable that forms the basis of the drive system has also been replaced.

The improvements will enable slightly quicker journeys – allowing 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.

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 is also being 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 kmh, 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.