Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Traffic solution could be up in the air

by Tom Washington at 01/06/2011 13:07

Travelling above the streets could be just the ticket to ending Moscow’s transport woes.

A system of cable cars could flit along above street level, leaving the cars standing and the creaking metro system to trundle along, jam-packed, below ground.

The idea has caught on in a few places around the world. The system’s fans list speed, affordability and ecology among its virtues and plans are afoot to bring it to the Russian capital and Yekaterinburg.

A car with a view

Gennady Kustarev, member of the Russian Academy of Engineering and one of the developers of Kanatonoe Metro (the Cable metro) is full of enthusiasm.

“[Passengers] are guaranteed high speed and beautiful views from the windows, soaring above the bustle of the city is like a dream come true. And up there it is very quiet, the car silently glides over the ropes, you can sit, talk or listen to music,” he told Moskovsky Komsomolets.

Medellin in Columbia, Singapore, Barcelona and others have them and Yekaterinburg announced it was seriously considering them this year.

However, the Barcelona cable car system is a short network linking Montjuic with the harbour rather than any kind of city-wide transport service. The Catalan capital sticks to more conventional metro, rail and bus services for that.

Off the streets

The problem with Russian cities is that they were built and planned without taking into account the fact that every family would own two or three cars,” Kustarev said.

Moscow has now almost exhausted its transport options on the ground, making it “time to explore the space above our heads,” he said.

Easy build

No roads or tracks means no bridges and that makes cable cars easy to accommodate and quick to build.

Extending the metro can go so far but extending the tracks is an expensive and time-consuming process and rising fear of terror attacks poses questions of convenient evacuation.

Safety is another cable car advantage, maintains Kustarev. Although the cable cars are suspended 10-12 metres above ground there are only small ventilation holes and no windows to jump out of and no flammable materials anywhere near. “Look how many people fall on the rails in the metro each year,” he pointed out.

No tracks mean no need to clear away snow and ice and freezing rain does not pose a threat.

“The system is the cleanest out there. And this has already been proven, funicular railways have already existed for 150 years in the most extreme places, in mountains and glaciers. And chiefly, this form of transport will not interfere with existing ones,” Kustarev said.

Flaws in the plan

But questions still hover. Moscow’s monorail was hailed as the same thing and never got far beyond an outpost in the north of the city, being slow, expensive and too far from the centre to be much use to commuters.