All about cable cars

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2007, 12:00am

Paper 1a

Read the passage and answer the questions which follow. The more difficult ones are marked with an *.

A There are hundreds of cable car systems around the world. (In countries where American English is preferred, they are called 'aerial tramways' because a cable car - a vehicle running along a ropeway - does not need to be in the air. It can remain at ground level, like our own Peak Tram or the famous trams of San Francisco.) Basically there are two cables, or ropeways. One is very strong and carries the weight of the cabins, while the other is attached to a motor and pulls them along. In small systems with only two cabins, the weight of one supplies the force to move the other (eg. the Peak Tram).

B For Hong Kong people, cable cars probably suggest fun and sight-seeing. Most of us have at some point travelled from the lower part of Ocean Park up to the higher attractions by cable car, enjoying - unless we are nervous of heights - the lovely sea view. There is also the Ngong Ping Skyrail, built at a cost of HK$1 billion, to carry tourists in 112, 17-seater cabins, three and a half miles across Lantau and up to the Tian Tan Buddha Statue. Unfortunately, an accident earlier this year when a cabin fell off the ropeway (luckily while the system was not in use) has damaged public confidence in the system.

C It is not only in Hong Kong that cable cars are mainly for pleasure. Since 1929 there has been a cable system to carry visitors up to the top of the Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. The latest cabins on that system each carry 65 passengers and rotate 360 degrees as they rise up the mountain. That way, no one misses any of the spectacular view. The longest and highest system is in the Venezuelan city of Merida, where tourists can take the one-hour trip to the top of the local mountain, the Sierra Nevada. Cable cars can, however, have more practical purposes, and be mainly used by people to travel from home to work and vice-versa, as with the system which runs between Roosevelt Island and Manhattan. The cabins are enormous, holding 125 people, and move at 16mph.

D Nearer home, Chongqing has a commuter system over the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers which pass through the city. In Malaysia, you can take the Genting Skytrain, the world's fastest cable system, which opened in 1997 to go up to the Genting Highlands, a cool mountain region of gardens and resorts. You can also travel most enjoyably from the Singapore mainland over to the holiday island of Sentosa by cable car.

E Unfortunately, that brings us to another aspect of cable cars: accidents. Cable cars are usually safe, but there do not seem to be transport systems that are totally risk-free, and sometimes things go wrong. However good a cable is, there will be a disaster if something comes along and cuts it. That happened in Singapore in 1983 when a ship passing below, towing an oil rig, broke the cable and two cabins crashed into the sea, killing seven people. An American jet fighter similarly cut the cable of an Italian system at Cavalese in 1998. Twenty people died and there was a great deal of ill-feeling as the Americans would not allow the crew to be tried in Italy and handed out very light punishment.

F Sadly, Cavalese was the scene of another tragedy. In 1976 the ropeway failed and 42 passengers were killed. Cabins can collide for mysterious reasons. A recent example was in Scotland where five people were injured when two cabins banged into one another. Or cabins can even fall off as at Ngong Ping. Then there is power. Power cuts are usually unpleasant rather than dangerous (though being trapped for seven hours on the Roosevelt Island system in 2006 during the great New York power outage must have been a real ordeal). A power failure in France in 1965 brought the cabins to such a sudden stop that two banged heavily into each other and the front fell off one, spilling 17 people out; seven of them died.

G Anyway, no more talk of accidents. They are very rare and cable cars are a source of fun and excitement for millions of people.

1 *Why does the writer think 'aerial tramways' might be a better name for 'cable cars'?

2 What does the word 'them' (in green) refer to?

3 Why do cable cars remind Hong Kong people of fun?

4 What good point about cable cars is mentioned in paragraph B?

5 *Why does the writer mention the price of HK$1 billion?

6 Copy the words which tell us the effect of the Ngong Ping accident. ___________________________________________________________________

7 What do 'rotate' and 'spectacular' mean (paragraph C)?

8 Which accident mentioned cost the most lives?

9 How did the Italians feel after the accident in 1998?

10 *What does 'to be tried' mean (paragraph E)?

11 Find two phrases in paragraph F which mean 'a time when there is no electricity'.

12 Fill in the table.

Cable car system No of seats per cabin

13 Fill in the table.

Fastest Cable Car

Longest Cable Car

14 Overall, how worried is the writer about cable car accidents?

15 *What are the five types of cable car accidents the writer mentions?


1. Some cable cars run on the ground 2. cabins 3. They think of holiday places like Ocean Park and Ngong Ping 4. sea view 5. The cost makes the accident more shocking/surprising 6. 'damaged public confidence' 7. turn round (in a circle); wonderful/great 8. Cavalese 1976 9. angry 10. to go to court/to face a judge 11. power cuts/power outage 12. Ngong Ping 17/ Table Mountain 65/ Roosevelt Island 125 13. Genting Skytrain/ Merida 14. Not very worried 15. cable cut/ cable fails/ cabins collide/ cabins fall off//power cuts