1990 Tbilisi aerial tramway accident
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A cable car like the one in the 1990 accident.
|Date||1 June 1990|
|Location||Tbilisi, Soviet Georgia|
|Non-fatal injuries||at least 15|
The accident involved 2 gondolas on a ropeway route between Rustaveli Avenue and Mount Mtatsminda. Red gondola number 1 was on its way down from the slope of the mountain, nearing the lower supporting tower, and 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, killing 4 and injuring many others. 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 roof of a six-story building below. This caused even further destruction to the gondola and caused people to fall 20 meters onto the rooftops and ground below. 20 people were killed and at least 15 badly injured. Most were children on a sightseeing tour to Tbilisi from School Number 5 of the regional town of Akhaltsikhe, to celebrate Children's Day. Surviving witnesses from both gondolas say that the brakes did not work in either of the gondolas, despite the desperate attempts of guides and passengers who helped them to pull the brakes.
In 1988, 2 years prior to accident, the cable car underwent major reconstruction under the lead of Head Engineer Vakhtang Lejava. Originally the cable car used 3 supporting towers. Redesigning this meant replacing the 20 metre high lower mast with a new 25 metre high mast. Two short upper masts (10 and 12 meters high) were also replaced by one 20 metre high mast. Prior to this change, the 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), produced in Tbilisi by 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, running from a relocated 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 oversized 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 the original lower station, with the location of the upper station remaining the same. The work will be carried out by Doppelmayr Garaventa Group. The major challenge is to adapt the lower station backyard for a 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 the high density small housing which appeared in the backyard of the lower station throughout the years and the area near the future lower mast being challenging for big lorries with construction materials to approach.
- Cavalese cable car disaster (1976)
- Cavalese cable car disaster (1998)
- Saint-Étienne-en-Dévoluy cable car disaster
- Tbilisi Ropeways. Civil Georgia. 2012.
- Taylor, Alan. "Stalin's Rope Roads". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
- 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.
- "Cable car break kills 20 at Soviet Union tourist site". Wilmington Morning Star. June 2, 1990. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
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