1990 Tbilisi aerial tramway accident

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1990 Tbilisi aerial tramway accident
Rittnerbahn 09.jpg
A cable car like the one in the 1990 accident.
Date 1 June 1990 (1990-06-01)
Time 15:15
Location Tbilisi, Soviet Georgia
Coordinates 41°41′57″N 44°47′18″E / 41.69917°N 44.78833°E / 41.69917; 44.78833
Deaths 20
Non-fatal injuries at least 15

The 1990 Tbilisi aerial tramway accident was an aerial tramway accident in Tbilisi, the capital of Soviet Georgia on June 1, 1990, which resulted in 20 deaths and at least 15 injuries.

Panoramic view from Mt. Mtatsminda down on Rustaveli Avenue in 2009

The accident involved 2 gondolas on a ropeway route between Rustaveli Avenue and Mount Mtatsminda.[1] The red gondola number 1 was on its way down from the slope of the mountain nearing the lower supporting tower and the red gondola number 2 was nearing an upper tower, when the hauling rope broke inside the coupler of the upper gondola. Both gondolas rolled down simultaneously. The lower gondola slammed into the wall of the lower station injuring people and killing 4. The upper gondola generated a higher speed (the length of ropeway was 863,3 meters); on reaching the lower support tower, it struck the broken hauling rope which was hanging on the tower, causing the cable to tear the gondola apart. The collision was so strong that the track cable fell off the tower, dangling the cut open gondola above the rooftops. This also caused the cabin to slide further down, striking the rooftop of a six-story building. This caused even further destruction to the gondola and caused people to fall 20 meters onto the rooftops and ground below. Overall, 20 people were killed[2][3][4] and at least 15 badly injured. Most of them were children on a sightseeing tour in Tbilisi from regional town Akhaltsikhe school number 5.Children's Day.[4][5] Witnesses in both gondolas who survived say that brakes did not work in either of the gondolas despite the desperate attempts from guides and passengers who helped them to pull the brakes.

In 1988, 2 years prior to accident, the cable car went under major reconstruction under the lead of the head engineer, Vakhtang Lejava. Originally the cable car used 3 supporting towers. Redesigning this meant replacing the 20 meter high lower mast with a new 25 meters high mast. Two short upper masts (10 and 12 meters high) were also replaced by one 20 meter high mast. Prior to this change, gondolas had a slight climbing angle on the two upper masts. Using a single higher mast caused the new gondolas to run from the upper station horizontal to the mast and then, with a sharp angle, head down. The standard oval Georgian gondolas (with a capacity of 25 per gondola) which were produced in Tbilisi in Tbilisi Aircraft Manufacturing, were replaced by Italian larger rectangular ones built by "Lovisolo" and provided by "Ceretti & Tanfani", providing greater passenger capacity (40 per gondola). The braking system of the new gondolas did not function properly - while climbing over the upper mast, the braking system would incorrectly engage. The service staff would have to climb on top of the gondola and turn it off manually when this occurred. To avoid this inconvenience, the brakes were just turned off. Additionally, on the day of the accident, both gondolas were over-capacity: the lower gondola had 46 passengers on board, the upper gondola held 47 passengers.

Accident investigation documentation does not identify the cause of the hauling rope breaking inside the coupler. Many unanswered questions still remain and the cause of the accident is not known.

The track and hauling cables were dismantled while the damaged gondolas were dismantled after 3 years. The masts and the stations were kept intact. The aerial tramway was never restored. In 2014, the upper station and both supporting masts were dismantled due to planned restoration of the tramway as a reversible gondola cable car from slightly moved lower station. However, the upper station location remained the same. The old lower station, due to its unique architecture, is a cultural heritage object. The planned restoration was abandoned due to local opposition and visual flaws of the new lower station on one of the main squares of the city in front of Radisson Hotel. Another issue with the restoration was the over sized five supporting masts, two of them being located on hilly streets causing already narrow streets to reduce even more in width.

As of January 2017, an aerial tramway is under construction from its original lower station, the location of the upper station will remain the same. The work is carried out by Doppelmayr Garaventa Group. The major challenge is to adapt the lower station backyard for monocable detachable gondola infrastructure, because the lower station was only designed for aerial tramway type of cable car in 1958. Construction has faced problems because of high density small housing which appeared in the backyard of the lower station throughout the years and near the future lower mast being challenging for big lorries with construction materials to get near.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tbilisi Ropeways. Civil Georgia. 2012.
  2. ^ Taylor, Alan. "Stalin's Rope Roads". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2 May 2017. 
  3. ^ Robinson, Wills. "Risking their lives in Stalin's rusting cable cars: Miners forced to ride death-defying 'metal coffins' criss-crossing Georgia town". Daily Mail. Retrieved 2 May 2017. 
  4. ^ a b "Cable car break kills 20 at Soviet Union tourist site". Wilmington Morning Star. June 2, 1990. Retrieved 2 May 2017. 
  5. ^ "Soviet Tram Falls". San Jose Mercury News. June 2, 1990. Retrieved 2 May 2017.