Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Pakistan's Improvised Cable Cars: Example of Rural Ingenuity

Global media coverage of a recent cable car rescue in northern Pakistan has brought to light the widespread use of the improvised aerial transportation systems across mountain communities in the country. The improvised cable car system and the recent zip-line rescue are both testaments to local rural ingenuity. These systems serve as a lifeline for villagers living on sparsely populated hilltops in places like Mansehra, Swat and Azad Kashmir. They allow them to access clinics, jobs, markets and schools on a daily basis. Building the alternative road infrastructure for these mountainous terrains would be much more expensive and time-consuming. A better example of a fast, safe and relatively less expensive public transportation system for such areas can be found in a modern cable car system built in La Paz,  Bolivia. Pakistan should explore a public-private partnership to use the local talent to build a safe, fast and cheap cable car system to meet their residents' needs.

Disabled Pakistan Cable Car Prior to Rescue

Improvised Cable Cars:

Improvised cable cars are built from scrap and strung up by local communities. It is cheaper and there is no comparable alternative infrastructure. They often use the upper body of a pick-up truck. The system relies on a network of cables which are anchored at various points along the route. These cables support the weight of the cabins and passengers. The main support cables run continuously, while the cabins are pulled by a moving "haul rope". 

The cabins are moved and stopped by a combination of mechanical systems. A drive mechanism located at the stations provides the propulsion to move the cabins along the cables. Braking systems are used to slow and stop the cabins. 

Zip-line Rescue:

A cable car with 8 passengers, mainly schoolchildren, was left dangling after a support cable broke earlier this month. Pakistan Army helicopters mounted a rescue effort that succeeded in rescuing only one child. The military called off its effort after the air stirred up by the helicopter rotor caused the cable car to shake violently and the daylight dimmed. That's when the local zip-line experts stepped in and successfully rescued the remaining 7 passengers who were trapped hundreds of meters above a valley. 

Cable Car System in La Paz Bolivia

Bolivian Example:

In 2014, Bolivia inaugurated  a cable car system with a length of nearly 7 miles threading through 11 stations, making it the world's largest network of aerial urban transportation.  Built by Austria's Doppelmayr Garaventa Group, the La Paz system has become very popular. It serves 18,000 people an hour. 

Pakistan's Options:

The governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Azad Kashmir need to find safe, fast and cost-effective transportation systems for their far-flung hilltop communities. Neither the current road infrastructure nor the improvised cable car systems meet these objectives. Both governments should explore a public-private partnership to use the local talent to build a safe and cheap cable car system to meet their residents' needs.  In addition to providing job opportunities for locals, such a system could also become a big attraction for tourists to enjoy seeing the picturesque landscape from the air. It could also be used to promote winter sports in these beautiful areas extending from KPK to Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. 

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Pakistan Travel and Tourism Boom

Extreme Kayak Adventures in Pakistan

Helicopter Skiing in Karakorams

Climbing K2: The Ultimate Challenge

Indian Visitors Share "Eye-Opening" Stories of Pakistan

American Tourist Picks Pakistan Among Top 10 Best Countries to Visit

Pakistani American to Pakistani Diaspora: Go Back and Visit Pakistan

Riaz Haq's YouTube Channel

PakAlumni Social Network


EP said...

I am surprised that a cable system built without professional engineering design and construction is reliable enough to be useful. I had the impression that cable systems are inherently risky and require not only rigorous design and construction but also periodic inspection and maintenance.

Vineeth said...

This is the flip-side of "jugaad", which we often celebrate in the subcontinent. People who build these contraptions often lack the knowhow about its engineering aspects, risks involved and safety precautions that needs to be taken. There was a similar cable car mishap in northern India a couple of years ago and the Army helicopters had to be called in to rescue the passengers. (At least one of the passengers tragically fell to his death while being rescued.) A year ago or so, a young man who attempted to build a helicopter in northern India was killed when the tail rotor flew off and slit his neck. Local talent definitely needs to be encouraged, but there must be a rigorous qualification/certification system for such ventures to ensure people involved are qualified and competent enough to do the work, and periodic checks must be done to ensure safety protocols and rules are being followed.

Shams N. said...

Totally agree. Venezuela first had it in its Teleférico de Mérida beginning in 1960.

I had proposed to Musharraf that Karachi could definitely have one like Teleférico de Mérida. It has its downside if installed for mass transportation, the chief among those being the ugliness of aerial cables over a city. Very few failures since the cable is moving, not the cars. No accidents. If one cable snaps, there are three more there, each capable of taking the entire load. Each car carried 50 passengers, all sitting, and belt harnessed.

My brother and I were at the business core of it, and we had an Army brigadier with us to bring the military on board. The brigadier then passed away, and our project followed.

In my proposal, Karachi had aerial cable tracks for large cable cars from Sohrab Goth to Tower, another run from Malir to Tower, and on and on, with transfer stations over Numaish, etc. Far superior to the BRTs.

Riaz Haq said...

Cable cars: An economically viable public transport system in #AmLat cities?


Did you know that in 2004 in Colombia, the Mayor's Office of Medellín inaugurated "Metrocable", the first cable car in Latin America (and the world) that functioned as a means of urban transportation?

Metrocable, in addition to connecting the marginal hillside neighborhoods of Comuna 13 with the city's metro system, demonstrated that cable car technology was viable as a mode of transport in mountainous or hillside urban areas, for distances of up to five kilometers. In the Latin American context, cable car helps vulnerable and predominantly low-income populations living in such sites, improving their urban conditions, and increasing access to job opportunities and other growth opportunities. Following the successful case of Medellín, in several cities around the world this solution was implemented.

The relatively low cost of construction, ranging from US$19 million per kilometer, in cities such as Medellín and Mexico City, to US$32 million in Guayaquil, and its rapid implementation (for example, the 4.1 kilometer Guayaquil cable car took 24 months to complete) have led more than 18 cities, mostly in emerging economies, to opt for implementing cable car systems within their urban transport infrastructure.

In addition to the advantages in terms of mobility, urban cable cars do not take up large surfaces, enabling public entities to provide and improve urban facilities. This generates socio-economic benefits in addition to those attributable to a transport project.

Why choosing this solution?

In the last years, public authorities and private actors have tried to understand business models used for this solution and variables that affect their success.

Faced with a growing interest to implement this system, the World Bank published in 2020 the study "Urban Aerial Cable Cars as Mass Transit Systems. Case studies, technical specifications, and business models". This is the first publication that brings together objective data on 21 urban cable cars projects, both in Latin America and other countries around the world, and includes a description of the main characteristics of the infrastructure, travel demand, and the business model adopted for their construction and operation.

The (World) Bank's analysis documented the cable car-gondolas technology systems, their relatively low implementation complexity, and found that the equipment supplier market (cabins and electromechanical equipment) is dominated by a limited number of European manufacturers.

Given this particularity of the supplier market, the Bank's analysis suggests that a decisive element for the success of these projects lies in the choice of the business model used for both construction and operation. Reviewing the inventory of modern urban ropeways, we found the following business models:

1. The Public works model, which is put out to tender the execution of works, with state operation and maintenance.

The La Paz and Medellín systems are in this category. La Paz has the most extensive urban cable network in the world, with 10 lines, more than 30 kilometers of extension, and an average of 160 thousand passengers per day. Medellín, on the other hand, has a network of 5 lines with about 12 kilometers of extension, and 40 thousand passengers per day.

2. In the PPP - public-private partnership – model, the concession for the service’s construction, operation, and maintenance are in charge of a private entity.

Zen, Germany said...

Definitely looks "safe"

Zia said...

Much safer than Pakistan railway

They are inspected often by the operator

Mostly are safe.. accidents are rare.

Cable snapping is the biggest problem but they is rarely a single cable. They mostly have in build redundancy with 2-3 cables running so if one snaps a rescue cop can be done with the other cables

What happened recently was mishap because of police stopping a rescue op and hence a delay happened

There was another snap cable few days ago rescue happened before the police arrival 😂 took an hour there

Riaz Haq said...

From Google Gen AI:

On May 23, 2021, a cable car on the Stresa–Alpino–Mottarone Cable Car crashed to the ground after a cable snapped.

The cable car was taking visitors to a mountaintop view of northern Italy's lakes. The cable car plummeted to the ground and tumbled down the slope, killing 14 people. The lone survivor, a young child, was hospitalized in serious condition with broken bones.

Investigators say the accident was caused by cable and brake failure. Charges including manslaughter and negligence are being considered. Three people have been arrested in connection with the accident.

The sole survivor of the crash was six-year-old Eitan Biran. His parents, brother, and two great-grandparents were among the 14 people killed.


Zen, Germany said...

Even in European alps, where safety standards are highest, there are some accidents (that seems to be your point). But number of accidents as a percentage of passengers may be very low I believe. On the other hand, national carrier of Pak. are banned from flying to Europe which is scandalous.

Riaz Haq said...

Zen: "Even in European alps, where safety standards are highest, there are some accidents (that seems to be your point). But number of accidents as a percentage of passengers may be very low I believe. On the other hand, national carrier of Pak. are banned from flying to Europe which is scandalous"

You have to compare the relative safety of Pakistani cable cars with other means of transportation. We know how unsafe railways and roads are in India and Pakistan.

As to the PIA ban in Europe, it was a self-inflicted wound when a Pakistni minister made an unfounded claim about Pakistani pilots licenses. Prior to this, PIA had been flying to America and Europe for many years with an acceptable safety record. American First Lady Jackie Kennedy flew PIA back in the 1960s.

EP said...

Interestingly, many of the cable car accidents have happened in Italy


Pakistan has had only one tragedy of these improvised cars.


Zen, Germany said...


What kind of comparison is that? Italy is using its since decades, at much higher dimension. But you have a point about Italy in general which is a corrupt country in Europe. Last major accident there was caused by operator trying to mess with the machine to go home earlier.

EP said...


Pakistanis have been using cable cars since at least as far back as the 1960s, may be longer.

Some have been installed by the government while the vast majority are built and operated by local residents.

Scores of cable cars safely carry thousands of passengers everyday in Pakistan's northern regions. Accidents are rare. Most result in successful rescues of all aboard.