Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Gondola planned for Burnaby Mountain

with 31 comments

Burnaby News Leader

Burnaby Mountain could soon have a gondola line serving Simon Fraser University and the rapidly-growing community of UniverCity.

The SFU Community Trust has put forward the concept of an estimated $68.9 million project that would run between the Production Way SkyTrain station and the transit loop at the east end of the SFU campus. Trust CEO Gordon Harris said a gondola transit system would improve reliability and travel times to and from Burnaby Mountain, and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions currently produced by the fleet of diesel buses that run up and down the mountain

This is an excellent idea. It cannot of course simply be implemented by the Trust – who own the UniverCity development on the mountain. They are now talking to the Province and Translink. Based on the figures presented in this story they should proceed. Travel time from Production Way to the current transit loop would be 6 minutes – not the 14 (minimum) it takes by bus. Operating cost is around half that of buses – and the capital cost is not much more than the $50m it will cost for a replacement fleet of buses. Ridership is currently around 20,000 a day. Obviously it will be much better if the gondola is integrated into the Translink fare system than run privately.

One major advantage of the aerial tramway is that it can operate in snow and not leave people stranded on the mountain top.

Peak2Peak unloading

Peak2Peak unloading my picture


Peak2Peak my picture

Written by Stephen Rees

February 10, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with ,

31 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. In Portland the Oregon Health Science University (I think that’s its name) has a gondola too. The Peak to Peak @ Whistler is a continuous loop gondola with more than 2 cars (unlike the Grouse Mountain ones that just go back and forth). A loop system would provide good frequency and capacity.
    On SSP there was a suggestion that alternative gondola station sites at the base could be at Lake City Station or the future Burquitlam Station.

    Ron C.

    February 10, 2009 at 2:03 pm

  2. I think that a system which had gondolas scheduled to meet the trains would be the best way to match capacity. If the gondolas were sized to match the peak load of those getting off each SkyTrain arrival then you could have near to seamless service. A continuous loop system seems to me to be better for walk up traffic.

    Stephen Rees

    February 10, 2009 at 2:17 pm

  3. As a former SFU student I think that this is an awesome idea and I hope it gets implemented in the near future. The gondola’s can be also implemented in a very environmentally friendly way without the need to build construction roads by just dropping in towers using choppers.

    Dejan K

    February 10, 2009 at 5:05 pm

  4. What is the maximum grade for the road that goes to SFU? Just wondering.

    Malcolm J.

    February 10, 2009 at 5:36 pm

  5. Sorry boys and girls,nothing but BC Liberal electioneering.(although I think it`s a good idea)

    Just like the BC Liberals promised to dredge deer lake,5 years ago!

    Grant G

    February 10, 2009 at 6:22 pm

  6. I do not think there is a shred of evidence to support that assertion. This feasibility study has been running for some time and the story I linked to makes it clear that the initiative does NOT come from the BC Liberals. There are now talks with Translink and the province (apparently) but that would be at staff level – not political. If ot were electioneering they would have been front and centre with an announcement – just like they were last week on Port Mann

    Stephen Rees

    February 10, 2009 at 7:21 pm

  7. Systems like the peak 2 peak in Whistler have a capacity of up to 2050 passengers per direction per hour. Each car can hold up to 26 people. With trains in the future arriving on the average of every 45 seconds (90 headways, trains in both directions), a continuous loop system will work just as well or better than one with bigger but fewer cars.

    You also probably wouldn’t want to hold the gondola cars while people that just got off the SkyTrain made it to the gondola.

    I think a continuous loop system has more capacity and is just easier to operate rather than try and time a system with few but larger cars to SkyTrains and buses that won’t always arrive at predictable times or convenient intervals.


    February 10, 2009 at 7:35 pm

  8. Depending on which SkyTrain station is chosen as the terminus for the gondola, you’ll also have passengers arriving by bus, plus there will be cyclists and even people arriving on foot.


    February 10, 2009 at 8:12 pm

  9. I read the story in the Burnaby now,a couple of politicians names were mentioned.(I think it is a good idea)Which begs the question?

    If they can use a Gondola there,they could use gondolas everywhere,would it be cheaper than sky train? Imagine,high speed gondolas.

    How much would it cost to put skytrain up the mountain compared to a gondola,anyways,I don`t see this goverment building anything that would put skytrain to shame.

    Gondola`s from broadway station to UBC, hmmm,just a thought.

    Grant G

    February 10, 2009 at 8:45 pm

  10. Here Here Harry Bloy! This is an excellent project.
    It helps the community, families, SFU, the environment and will even save us money. My wife and I have hoped for such a gondola for the past several years. Thank you for leading this forward Harry Bloy.

    George Kovacic

    February 10, 2009 at 11:18 pm

  11. It seems like a good idea on the surface, but can you imagine the wide swath of barren land under the gondola? There are already pipelines and Hydro towers on this wildlife conservation area that cross salmon-bearing streams.

    In my view it was Shrum’s Folly to ever think that such a development as SFU was sustainable on a mountain top.

    Alan James

    February 11, 2009 at 7:33 am

  12. Some years ago, I researched the feasibility of a ‘rack’ LRT to SFU, when the Evergreen line was supposed to be light-rail. The cost difference was minimal, for the tram would only ‘rack’ on grades steeper than 8%.

    TransLink pooh-poohed and tried to tell me that tunneling would be cheaper.

    Just for information sake, Stadler of Switzerland makes ‘rack’ kits for trams and is the last company (it seems) that make ‘rack’ railways.

    I would assume that a ‘rack’ tram line to SFU would cost the same as a gondola to build, less visibly intrusive and cost less to operate.

    A ‘rack’ tram can also operate in all weathers and in high winds, which a gondola can not.
    Stuttgart’s ‘rack’ tram to its university on a mountain.

    Malcolm J.

    February 11, 2009 at 8:16 am

  13. Actually a rack tram would be more intrusive than a proper gondola as they would have to clear space for the tram to run on beside the road (much longer to make it up the hill). Or if they go straight up the hill that would mean a fenced off area where no one could go. Plus a storage yard for the trams would be required somewhere on the hill too. Now if the evergreen line was still light rail you might have a point, but since they switched to skytrain that point seems moot.


    February 11, 2009 at 11:11 am

  14. The tunneling on the Evergeen line referred to was neccessary to achieve the elevation using conventional track , the line following a broad curve to suit the optimum grade.
    It struck me at the when the route was published that if the line of the tunnel were extended a little further, it would co-incide with Univer-city above, and the use of elevator / escalator connection to a station at that location would surely be a direct solution and I believe, if viable , would have a signifacant impact on ridership of the Evergreen line.


    February 11, 2009 at 12:38 pm

  15. The advantage of the gondola is that it can go straight up the mountain without winding around on the road or ripping up the mountain to build a new guideway like a rack LRT would require.

    Wind should not be a problem.
    High Wind Stability: Designed to operate in winds up to 80km/hour, cabins ride on two cables, making the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola the most wind tolerant lift on Whistler Blackcomb. Testing at other Doppelmayr 3S installations have measured sustained winds at 100km/hour with no decrease in performance.

    The tram would have problems in winds that high as trees would likely get blown on the tracks. SkyTrain has had these problems as well.

    Find a better video to show a ‘rack’ tram. It just seems really slow in the one posted.


    February 11, 2009 at 12:44 pm

  16. I doubt any operator would run a gondola in 80 kph winds and from what I have read 60 kph is the max. wind speed that a gondola would carry passengers. This is from a Swiss source.

    The 80 kph is probably a theoretical case for the safety case and I would not want to be on one in an 80 kph gale!

    As for racking trams, maximum speed is about 30 to 50 kph. The grades in Stuttgart range to 17.5%. Also note the wee bike wagon or flatcar in front of the tram.

    All I want to illustrate is that there is a light-rail solution to many transit obstacles.

    I think the case for a ‘gondola’ to SFU may look nice at first, but maybe prone to environmental, location and operational issues.

    Malcolm J.

    February 11, 2009 at 1:50 pm

  17. I’m not sure I’d want to be on any form of transportation in such a gale. With falling trees, powerlines and gondolas, best to stay indoors.

    Noted that a tram could make it up SFU, not sure what the advantage would be over the gondola or buses for that matter would be.


    February 11, 2009 at 6:25 pm

  18. Malcolm, light rail is not ALWAYS the best solution.

    There have got to be very few rack rail systems capable of 50 km/h, and they must be very expensive at that. And even at 50 km/h, you’re going substantially slower than a bus.

    It would probably be more cost-effective to run trolleybus wires from Kootenay Loop all the way up to SFU and down to Production Way. Now, I’m not saying we should do that – a gondola would almost certainly be a better bet.

    Also, it’s not like you can’t run a few buses to backup the gondola on extreme wind days.


    February 11, 2009 at 6:27 pm

  19. “3S” Tricable Ropeway for SFU @ Burnaby Mtn – Production Way Skytrain
    – 300m vertical rise over a distance of 2650m could be produced by one threephase 500kw tandem drive unit
    – full speed operation (7m/s) in up to 80kph winds depending on gusting and direction, reduced speed operation in higher winds
    – level cabin entry at 0.35m/s, 30 passenger cabins spaced 30s apart would provide 3600p/h per direction
    – could be cheaper than Whistler ($55m) with much easier construction access and only two towers necessary.
    – fraction of footprint of surface travel solutions; diesel power replaced by renewable electricity

    C’mon people, this really doesn’t take any imagination – it just simply makes sense.

    Pete H

    February 11, 2009 at 9:14 pm

  20. […] Vancouver Sun] Campaign traditions about to be blown away by economic winds [The Vancouver Sun] Gondola planned for Burnaby Mountain [Stephen Rees] CANADA Image changes as city becomes green leader [The Oshawa Express] INTERNATIONAL […]

    re:place Magazine

    February 11, 2009 at 10:17 pm

  21. I have taken the Portland Gondola mentioned by Ron C. and it was a double treat as the access to the lower station is by one of the Portland tram (not the MAX LRT). However it is also true that quite a few people aren’t that eager to use a gondola at any time, much less if there is a strong wind. If the gondola had to be shut off due to high winds it would take hours before the first emergency driver and bus shows up. A gondola is a great idea at first but there are lots of kinks to work out. Just for fun check the Gondola in Grenoble-France-at
    check also that cable car has small “bubbles” for 6 people only per car but it has been in use since the 1930s..

    Red frog

    February 11, 2009 at 10:53 pm

  22. In Switzerland, the land of rack railways (and gondolas for that matter), the maximum speed for trains racking is now 70 kph (45 mph), which not bad climbing a 6% to 12% or more grades with freight and passenger trains

    Blane, I wonder what the maximum speed of a fully loaded bus is, climbing a %17.5 grade, I doubt it could make 20 kph. When the tram is not racking it can travel at normal speeds.

    It’s all academic because it will never happen here.

    As the chap from Stadler said to me, “when you build a major transit generator in a extraordinary place, extraordinary measures must be taken to service it.”


    February 12, 2009 at 7:43 am

  23. The feasibility studies are indeed underway – the consulting firm my wife works for has the contract.

    One big omission in the early studies (and I imagine the environmental impact assessment) is the impact of mountain bikers on the hill.

    Al-in-all, this is an excellent initiative that will reduce GHGs…also, SFU won’t shut down if there’s a snowstorm!


    February 12, 2009 at 9:23 am

  24. Sure there are a lot of kinks to work out, as there are a lot of kinks in any transportation system. Lets give them a chance to do a study before totally picking it apart based on other systems elsewhere that are different and in different locations.


    February 12, 2009 at 11:09 am

  25. The original plans for SFU had a funicular running up the hill from Barnet HWY. I always wished they had of gone ahead with that.

    old timer

    February 12, 2009 at 12:56 pm

  26. Before passing judgement people should actually ride a 3S tricable to experience the type of ride that it is. Due to the configuration of two parallel track ropes on either side it is actually quite a lot like riding on rails — except without the clickety-clack caused by joints in the rails. There is virtually no swaying motion but there is some whooshing during strong winds since there is no engine noise. (don’t most students have i-pods stuck in their ears anyway?).

    In terms of economics — I have to wonder where the dollar figure has come from. I can’t see how it would cost more than Whistler’s unless you’re lumping in stuff like a new multilevel carpark.

    Check out the link to the one in Kitzbuehel, Austria:

    An aerial railway in effect. Because of the height the Norweigan OCAS system is used

    Pete H

    February 12, 2009 at 8:16 pm

  27. somehow dropped the “L” in the url above. Here’s the link

    Pete H

    February 12, 2009 at 8:22 pm

  28. What is the status of the neighbourhoods this would pass over or is that a concern?

    Gene Blishen

    February 22, 2009 at 4:43 pm

  29. The reason anyone would build such a line is because SFU gets a lot of snow in the winter and it frequently shuts down the bus system leading up to it. On top of that, it causes problems for cars, causing the campus to shut down. Most of the time, there is little or no snow at the base of the mountain, so having a transportation system which is not affected by the snow makes sense, regardless of feasibility.

    As for the neighbourhoods that were mentioned above, they’re practically non-existent. Between Production Station and SFU, there are a handful of businesses and a few houses. Nothing else. So, it wouldn’t be a concern.


    February 24, 2009 at 9:14 pm

  30. Sorry to be getting to this conversation late (by like 8 months). I’m a planner in Toronto who specializes in Cable Propelled Transit. I’ve spoken with the author of the two studies as well as Gordon Harris, the President of UniverCity and based on that knowledge I can say that it’s a great idea with two major issues:

    1. Because the Peak-2-Peak was such a high profile system, they seem to be most interested in that technology, which is called 3S. 3S is probably the most expensive of all cable techs. For their needs, a funitel would be more cost effective and provide the same level of support. 3S was designed to be used in situations where long unsupported spans are necessary, which is not the case in Burnaby.

    2. Everyone is talking about Production Way station. That is a planner’s nightmare waiting to happen. If you look at the Portland Aerial Tram case history, you quickly learn that going overtop of people’s homes will result in tremendous backlash. I talk about this on my cable transit blog at
    The Lake City Station provides a route that would not fly over people’s back yards.

    All the best,

    Steven Dale

    Steven Dale

    December 5, 2009 at 12:56 am

  31. Sorry to inform you but it will be going over a residential area. There are approximately 3,000 people living in the Forest Grove area. You can’t see it because of the density of the trees.
    It will be such a benefit to those of us living up here. All has been peaceful for 25 years and now we will get to watch a gondola every few seconds overhead. No one has told us what the noise factor is. Typically the debate will not include the concerns of the residents except the tax base to fund this. Sorry but Lake City Station is the only path not affecting residents.

    Gene Blishen

    May 25, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: