The Thames Cable Car is the cool new London transport facility that won the race to open before the Olympic crowds descended on the capital this past summer. An ambitious project planned by Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, to put the metropolis on the map alongside other world cities that already possess cable car systems – Toronto, Barcelona, and New York amongst them – his plans looked gas though they might hit the buffers early on when costs escalated. Dubai-based Emirates Airline stepped in to sponsor the cable car project to the tune of £36m, and the speed and efficiency with which construction was then completed was as impressive as much of the delivery of 2012 Olympics projects. London managed to surprise itself!
The cable car, otherwise known as the Emirates AirLine, was officially opened by the Mayor on June 28th 2012 and his comment, as he took the first car across the Thames, was “This is a stunning piece of engineering, absolutely beautiful, and a must-see destination in its own right”. His prediction was certainly accurate, for passengers flocked to use the new cable car during the Olympics. The cable car system links the O2 arena (where the gymnastics and basketball finals were held during the Games) and the ExCel exhibition centre, which hosted seven Olympic events.
Inevitably numbers using the new aerial Thames crossing dipped after the excitement of the Olympics, and the system now has the challenge of establishing itself with Londoners as a fast and efficient link in the transport system, as well as a tourist attraction to rival the London Eye. It is certainly succeeding in both, as who would pass up the chance to start their working day with the spectacular 360° views of the city that travelling in one of the cars provides? Emirates AirLine swings over a wide loop of the Thames to link Greenwich Peninsular with the Royal Docks, and links North Greenwich station on the Jubilee Line with Royal Victoria station on the DLR at its northern end. The journey takes five minutes, and apart from offering stunning views over the capital, can also shave significant time off a commute for people working in Docklands or the City. There are concessionary fares for “frequent flyers”, and a single journey costs £3.20.
London has certainly led the way in pioneering a new cable car system, and many cities are now following in its wake. France is waking up fast to the advantages of cable cars as a form of transport, with the cities of Toulouse and Grenoble planning new projects, and Paris taking a look at installing an aerial system linking two underground stations in the suburbs. As transport chiefs are discovering, cable car systems are a cost-effective way of spanning natural obstacles like a river, or scaling mountains, and are environmentally friendly, safe, and require little expensive infrastructure. Although they can’t hope to rival the metro in the numbers carried, the Thames Cable Car, for instance, can take up to 2,500 passengers an hour, and many people will find it a much pleasanter way to travel, sailing over the jams and the crowds, than crushed into a metal tube with thousands of other commuters underground.
As so often in the UK, grumbles about the initial cost of major projects in the capital are already turning into a pride in the beauty of the system spanning the Thames and the magnificent feat of engineering that the Emirates AirLine represents. Within a year the cable car will become a much-loved and admired part of the London scene, and high on the “must-see” list of any visitor to the capital. As you travel in one of the cars, and look down on the barges and little ships chugging along the Thames 300ft below you, at the city spread out on the horizon, and the dramatic outline of the O2 arena ahead, you can only admire the energy that translated a vision into this stunning reality.
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