The Oakland Airport Connector: Bringing cable cars back to the Bay Area! (maybe)

Cable Car at Doha International Airport (planned)Despite all the controversy, the BART Oakland Airport Connector project in the San Francisco Bay Area is an exciting project. This is because BART, the agency in charge of building the project, is using an open bidding process that allows for anything from maglev trains to cable cars to be used. So, does this mean that BART, ‘the most advanced system in the world’ (at the time it was built) might actually build a cable car? Yep! And this website thinks that’s a good thing. DDC – Doppelmayr Cable Cars, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Doppelmayr Garaventa Group (a company that primarily makes chairlifts and gondolas) makes just the right kind of train for this project.

DCC Cable Car at Birmingham International AirportThere are several advantages to this technology. First of all it is simple, even simpler than the cable cars in San Francisco. That’s because the cables are fixed to the cars. So there is no wear and tear on the cable, or jerky motion, when the cable car needs to stop and go. Because the technology is so simple it’s quick and easy to construct. It is also very reliable and it is affordable too.

One of the biggest advantages of this technology is that the train cars are so light weight because the engine is located at the station rather than in the car itself. This means that the guideway doesn’t require as much concrete reinforcement and is much cheaper to build. The light weight also reduces wear and tear on the cars and the tracks which reduces maintenance costs.

DCC Cable Car at Birmingham International AirportThis technology would require just one or two trains. Because the length of the railway needs to be over three miles, two trains would probably be best for this project in order to decrease headway times (the time interval between trains). This doesn’t mean that two tracks need to be built though – just one track would suffice, except for a short distance to allow the trains to pass halfway between the airport and the Coliseum BART Station. (Although two tracks could be built to make the system even more reliable).

Cable Car at AirportThe trains used in these systems are completely automated, which further reduces operational costs. Additionally, because only one car would pull into either terminus station at one time, it is possible to build very simple, low cost stations. Furthermore, passengers can board and exit the train from both sides, which reduces dwell time (how long the station spends at a station) and lowers headway time.

MGM Cable Car in Las Vegas

© Brian A. Tyler and Switching Modes, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

6 Responses to “The Oakland Airport Connector: Bringing cable cars back to the Bay Area! (maybe)”

  1. 1 anonymouse May 16, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    So with two tracks and an end to end travel time of 12 minutes, the closest headway they can reasonably expect is 13 minutes, but to sync up with BART schedules and for reliability, it’ll probably be 15 minutes. Which is worse than the 10 minute headway of the existing AirBART. How again is this an improvement?

    • 2 Switching Modes May 16, 2009 at 4:38 pm

      The way I proposed that the airport connector could be built would be what is called a “Cable Liner Single Bypass System.” This means that there would be two trains that pass each other halfway along the line.

      Headway times:
      Length: 3.2 miles
      Average Speed: 22 MPH
      Dwell time: 1 minute and 15 seconds
      Headway time: 10 minutes

      Passenger Improvements over Existing System:Level platform boardingReliabilityShorter trip timeSingle fare (no need to go through stalls and then pay for bus)Arrive closer to check in than with busSmoother rideMore comfortable rideNo need to cross traffic when dropped off by bus to enter airportSafer feel – do not have to enter Oakland neighborhood on footBetter station amenitiesElectronic information systems

      Operational Improvements:Lower operating costs (no fuel, very little electricity used, no driver, just two vehicles as opposed to fleet of buses)Greater capacityUnified fare collection systemSuperior branding for BARTLong operational life of rail carsGreat advertising revenue possible

      Passenger studies indicate that unknown waiting time, especially when unreliable, is perceived by passenger as a longer period of time than it actually is. Vehicle ride time, when very comfortable, is usually perceived as shorter than it it actually is. When vehicle ride time is uncomfortable, such as on jerky bus, it is perceived as longer than it actually is. Perception is reality.

      There is significant benefits to this project over the existing bus service and alternative bus ideas.

      Other info:
      *If this system benefits the cities of the Bay Area economically, that will increase tax and sales revenue and will benefit the city in many ways.

      *See this link for the different configurations possible with this system*

      *These systems can approach 30 MPH. For example, the system in Mexico City reaches 28 MPH. (faster is possible)

      *Most systems have only 1 minute dwell times

      *The systems can accelerate pretty fast and maintain the speed. I think 22 MPH average speed is possible.

  2. 3 kdk May 23, 2009 at 1:15 am

    i love rail and cable cars as much as anyone, but this project makes no sense. you would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to improve travel times and reliability on a 15 minute bus ride on uncongested surface streets? and lower operating costs, are you serious? i think as rail advocates, we should pick our battles carefully. this project has been about job creation from day one. although it has its own issues, i’d argue the Central Subway project in SF makes much more sense considering potential benefits (and potential ridership).

    • 4 Switching Modes May 23, 2009 at 11:55 am

      kdk: Personally I don’t like the job creation argument. It’s too short term. However is there is a project that will improve the economic competitiveness of a city, then it can be worthewhile on those grounds. I do think the project discussed here is important for the city of Oakland on economic grounds: a business choosing to located in Oaklnad would not look highly upon the BART AirBus. I mean, Shanghai has a Maglev… (not saying that would be good here though).

      Also, this project does something that may not be very ostensible, but is nonetheless important: it connects another important transit node in the Bay area to the rail network. This might seem like a small, but it isn’t. Even if a person may only use this thing once a year, perhaps even less, it is very important for people choosing to switch modes – to no longer own a car – they know that they can get to far flung places around the Bay such as Airports. AND, that they can do so as, if not more, reliably than taking a car. In other words, this project makes the entire BART system and the transit system, such as the Central Subway, that connect to BART more valuable.

  3. 5 Steven Dale December 7, 2009 at 3:19 am

    Personally I’m a big fan of Cable Propelled Transit (CPT). Luckily, the writer of this post recognizes the value of the technology. Too many people think cable is a “niche” technology that’s too expensive and slow. When you actually look at the research, however, you quickly learn that the exact opposite is true. I’m trying to rectify that disconnect between the perception and reality of cable over at if you feel like checking it out. Great post!

  1. 1 A warm welcome to this year’s new Oakland bloggers. You guys rock! : A Better Oakland Trackback on December 31, 2009 at 10:26 am

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