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Wellington Cable Car celebrates 119th anniversary

Wellington Cable Car celebrates 119th anniversary
February 22, 2021

With Wellington’s famous Cable Car turning 119 this month, New Zealand's Wellington Council has shared some of its operating facts and history since it first opened to the public in 1902.

The Cable Car - a funicular railway rising 120 metres over a length of 609 metres - has a normal operating speed of 14.5 km/h, with a maximum load of about 75 passengers. Each car weighs about 13 tonnes when empty and 20 tonnes when full. The Cable Car has two cars - attached to each other by a 30 mm diameter cable - which start from opposite ends of the line and pass in the middle.

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster says the Cable Car has served many purposes over the years, and has, and always will be a popular drawcard to the city.

In pre COVID-19 times, the Cable Car was used by about 1.1 million people each year.

Construction began in 1899 as demand for transport in the area grew with the growing population.

The safety of the original Cable Car system, including its antique carriages, became a major issue in the 1970s. At that time the Ministry of Works concluded that aspects of the Cable Car were unsafe, particularly the use of unbraked trailers, and called for the system to be scrapped. Fortunately, instead the Cable Car was replaced in 1979 with the current design.

Since the replacement, each car has completed over 993,000 trips, which is a total distance of over 605,000 kilometres. That is 15 times around the earth, or 290 trips from Bluff to Cape Reinga.

Cable Car Chief Executive Cesar Piotto says it has survived wars, depressions, earthquakes and now we a pandemic and lockdown – and the dedicated team continues to look after it so it can survive another 100 years.

Piotto notes “for generations, the Cable Car has been a must-do attraction when friends and family visit. Not only do locals share this Wellington taonga with whānau, but it’s ideal to explore the intermittent stations or head directly to Kelburn for the best views of the city and harbour.”

The Cable Car provides sustainable, reliable and affordable access to the Cable Car Museum, Space Place, Zealandia and the Wellington Botanic Garden.

The service is operated by Wellington Cable Car Ltd, a City Council-controlled organisation.

Mayor Foster adds “the Cable Car has been a trusty, sustainable and reliable transport option for over a century, moving millions of commuters, students and tourists from the city to Kelburn and back again.

“Nearly every Wellingtonian will have fond memories of their experiences on this iconic ride, and it’s always top of the list for visitors to the city.”

Additional information:

  • There are three equally-spaced stations - Clifton, Talavera and Salamanca (also referred to as University), all named after the nearby streets.
  • The Cable Car has two cars, which start from opposite ends of the line and pass in the middle. They are attached to each other by a 30 mm diameter cable, guided by 120 rollers, which runs round a pulley at the top of the hill.
  • The original Cable Car railway was built and operated by the Kelburne & Karori Tramway Company. The line opened to the public on 22 February 1902.
  • The designer of the system was James Fulton, a Dunedin-born engineer who had earlier helped build and operate the privately-owned Wellington-Manawatu railway.
  • The Cable Car’s original steam-powered winding gear was replaced by an electric motor in 1933.
  • In the 1940s the Cable Car suffered from increased competition: City Council buses ran to Karori and other western suburbs, bypassing it. The company believed that it was wrong for the City Council to compete with a private company, and a legal dispute broke out. The argument ended when the City

Image top: Wellington cable car courtesy of New Zealand Now and image of Cable Car emerging from tunnel courtesy of

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