One of the four cabins at the top station of the historical Laber Cable Car
Photo: Roman Gric
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The Laber Cable Car: the world’s last large-cabin bicable gondola ropeway

In Oberammergau (DE) the world’s last large-cabin bicable gondola ropeway is still operating. The Laber Cable Car, which was built in the 1950s, combines the advantages of a reversible with those of a gondola ropeway. With its 11-passenger cars, it was originally classified as a large-cabin ropeway. In spite of the repairs and modernization measures performed over the years, the system and design have remained unchanged.

Created by Roman Gric

Oberammergau in the Ammergau Alps is a municipality in the Upper Bavarian district of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It is world famous for the Oberammergau Passion Plays. The villagers of Oberammergau reenact the last five days in the life of Jesus in a performance lasting several hours. Since 1680 the Passion Plays have been held every ten years, usually in the last year of a decade. The performance scheduled for 2020 has had to be postponed to 2022 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After the Second World War, with several ropeways already operating in nearby Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a group of Ammergau citizens decided in 1955 to build a ropeway on the Laber. This 1,684 m high mountain, which is known as the “Balcony of the Pre-Alps”, offers splendid views of the Ester and Wetterstein mountain ranges and of the Ammergau Alps. Today, the Laber is the starting point for five signposted hiking trails, while the summit restaurant, with 150 seats on the terrace and 50 inside, is an attraction in its own right. The Laber is also a mecca for paraglider and hang-glider enthusiasts.

The contract for the construction of the ropeway was awarded to the relatively unknown and long since defunct Peter Seilbahnen company of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The Laber Cable Car opened on February 21, 1957 as the third ropeway built by the company after the Graseck Cable Car in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which is still operating today, and the Kranzberg Summit Lift (both designed as reversibles). The system chosen for the Laber Cable Car combined the advantages of a reversible with those of a gondola ropeway. It operates with four 11-passenger cabins continuously circulating on a 2 km line. The cabins have eight-wheel carriages for travel along the track rope and are attached to the haul rope with cast sockets, so that the haul rope consists of four sections, each about one kilometer long. Although modern tricable ropeways operate with cabins for up to 35 passengers, 60 years ago a cabin for eleven persons was considered a large cabin.

Photo: Roman Gric
A cabin exiting the top station
Photo: Roman Gric

The Laber Cable Car features a unique system for the turnaround in the top and bottom stations: Each carriage is guided from the track rope onto a rail mounted on a swivel arm, which pivots round the haul rope deflection sheave in the bottom station and the bullwheel in the top station and delivers the carriage to the track rope on the other side. The swivel arm, which is located coaxially with the deflection sheave (bullwheel), is engaged by the moving haul rope for passage round the sheave and then returned to the incoming position by means of a weight-loaded rope after the cabin has left the rail. It is geometrically impossible for the carriage to run off the swivel arm rail as long as there is a frictional connection between the haul rope and the deflection sheave (bullwheel). It is of course essential to monitor the correct position of the swivel arm before the arrival of the next cabin. Reverse operation with cabin turnaround in the opposite direction is not possible under normal operating conditions. (German-language source: Glasers Annalen, Zeitschrift für Eisenbahnwesen und Verkehrstechnik, Bericht: “Neue deutsche Seilschwebebahnen”, July 1957)


Although the ropeway system and its looks have remained unchanged over the years, many of the components have naturally been replaced. The two track ropes, for example, were replaced in 2002 and the two towers in 2004 and 2005. The most challenging operation was the construction of a new midline portal tower, where two of the cabins have to wait during loading/unloading of the other two cabins in the stations and where they are parked when the system is not running. It was necessary to move the footings for the new tower without changing the position of the tower head on the line. This could be done because the old tower was a vertical structure, whereas the new portal tower stands at an angle in the line of the resultant of the rope forces, so that the track rope shoes are again practically at the midpoint of the line. In autumn 2011 a new haul rope was installed, and in November 2012 the electric drive was refurbished.



Oberammergau – Laber large-cabin bicable gondola ropeway

Elevation of bottom station900 m
Elevation of top station1,684 m
Line length2,021 m
Vertical difference784 m
Number of towers2 + 1 pressure frame
Track rope diameter 25.5 mm
Haul rope diameter19.0 mm
Drivetop station
Rated output 98 kW
Haul rope tensioning systembottom station
Track rope tensioning systembottom station
Number of cabins4
Cabin capacity 11 persons
Maximum line speed6.0 m/s
Rated transport capacity130 pph
Manufacturer, construction period Peter Seilbahnen, 1955 - 57


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