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NEWS > SEPT 2019

Historic Destination Depends on Wire Rope for Spectacular Views of Natural Wonders

Scenic Skyway
The Scenic Skyway offers panoramic views.

by Jane Haynes, published in the August Issue of Wire Rope & News Technology

Scenic World in the Blue Mountains of Katoomba, Australia provides spectacular views of a dramatic mountain cliff, waterfall, valley, historic mine site, and Jurassic rainforest through three wire rope driven rides: a railway, skyway and cableway with scenic vistas and access to a nature walkway.

The Scenic Skyway provides spectacular views of beautiful sandstone cliffs, the famous Three Sisters rock formation, and Katoomba Falls.

The Scenic Railway or the Cableway take you into the Jamison Valley with its Jurassic rainforest and access to a 2.4 kilometer walkway through the natural preserve. All the rides depend upon wire rope machinery to provide a safe journey for visitors. The funicular was originally built in 1883 by John Britty North to access a coal mine and has been carrying tourists since 1932. Information on the mining operations may be obtained at www.burningmistsoftime.com.au

The Scenic Railway is now up to its 5th generation winder with changes from steam to electric in 1932 and many changes of rope type and rope rollers over the years, all well documented. Operated by the Hammon family since 1945, Scenic World has constantly updated and improved the equipment to maximize safety and enhance the riding/viewing experience. Regular maintenance and inspections are done to ensure optimal performance and safety.

Manufacturer Garaventa designed all the current Scenic World rides. (They also designed the Swiss Schwyz-Stoos funicular written up in the June 2018 issue of this publication.)

Since 2012 Scenic World has invested $30 million AUD in infrastructure, including overhaul of the iconic Scenic Railway, site improvements such as new ticketing and groups booking systems, site recycling, and organic waste management systems. The Blue Mountains tourism industry grew by 9.3% in overnight stays over 2017, and Scenic World’s visitation has increased by 25% between 2014 and 2017. Managing director Anthea Hammon says, “Investing in new infrastructure today will help to drive our visitor economy tomorrow and position the Blue Mountains as a must see destination for travelers from near and far.” She adds, “We recognize the importance of having technology and infrastructure that meets the ever-changing needs of our guests.”

The Scenic Cableway

The Steepest and Largest Aerial Cable Car in the Southern Hemisphere

The Scenic Cableway was installed in 2000 to open up access to the Jamison Valley, descending 510 meters to the valley floor and providing a link to the Scenic Walkway, then returns visitors to the top of the escarpment. Built by Garaventa, a world leading ropeway-engineering company, it and the Skyway are the highest capacity aerial cable cars in the Southern Hemisphere, and the Cableway is the steepest at 53 degrees.

A $4 million AUD upgrade in 2018 provided a more spacious cabin, streamlined loading and larger windows, as well as free Wi-Fi. It can accommodate 84 passengers and is wheelchair accessible. The fully enclosed cabin provides a unique vantage point for viewing the Three Sisters, Orphan Rock, Mount Solitary and Katoomba Falls. The drive was changed from DC to VFD and a dedicated standby alternator was installed.

The first replacement Scenic Cableway haul rope was installed in 2018 and is Fatzer brand, 35mm, 6x19 Seale, polypropylene fibre core, Lang’s Lay RH, with a minimum breaking load of 819kN. The length is 1,170m and since installation has been stretching at a rate of 1m per month. This stretch will reduce to near zero within 6 months.

The old haul rope was Fatzer brand, 35mm, 6x19 Seale, polypropylene fibre core, Lang’s Lay RH, with a minimum breaking load of 808kN. The length is 1,177m. Installed in 2000, the old haul rope was decommissioned in 2018 after 645,528 cycles and 27,490 hours of run time. Maximum LMS (loss of metallic area) was only 1.1%. This haulage rope on this single reversible cable car was replaced in 2018 after 18 years operating on an average 8-minute cycle, 8 hours a day. The rope path has five 180-degree bends and four 90-degree bends, plus saddle rollers at each end and the cliff edge tower. Both ends of the haul rope are terminated at the cabin, with mechanical cone sockets. The uphill one was re-socketed four times to accommodate the rope stretch. The rope sag from the cabin is monitored, and if it exceeds the limit an Estop is triggered and the Cabin Track Rope brakes are applied. Hence the concern for controlling the rope stretch. The possibility of the tension sheave reaching its travel limits is also to be avoided! The twin Scenic Cableway track ropes are Fatzer brand, 57mm, fully locked coil, with a minimum breaking load of 3,438kN. The length of 607m was installed in 2000 and repositioned in 2012 with a 12 meter downhill shift. This moves the rope that has been sliding back and forth across the tower saddle out into the main span. There is rope on the reserve spool for two more shifts like this. The ropes are terminated at the top station with friction hubs 5M in diameter and whitemetal sockets at the bottom.

The Scenic Skyway

Australia’s Highest Suspended Cable Car Glides 270 Meters Above Jamison Valley

Celebrating its 60th anniversary last year, the Skyway was built in 1958 by founder Harry Hammon with an original bright pink plywood cabin. An upgrade in 2004 installed a new cable system and AC drive with a new signature yellow cabin with the world’s first switching glass floor. It is the largest aerial cable car in the Southern Hemisphere.

This unique cable car offers 360-degree views of the Three Sisters, Katoomba Falls and the Jamison Valley stretching to the horizon on its journey 270 meters above the Jamison Valley. Imagine watching the ancient rainforest beneath your feet through the electrosceniglass cabin floor. Seating and solid flooring are also available for visitors who seek a slightly less thrilling ride. The rope span is 406M with a 22M fall from West to East.

SKYWAY History:

The original 63mm flattened strand track rope was installed by hand, utilizing trucks for rope end towing and a tractor and 8 fall block for tensioning to 36 tons. The span was originated by manually guiding ex Scenic Railway haul ropes down each side of the gorge while being braked by trucks at the top end. The ropes were clipped together at the creek and then the trucks pulled and tightened the ropes to above the trees. This had to be done twice as the haul rope had a separate return track. These ropes were then used to pull the haul rope across and back and through the winder. The winder and trucks were then used to pull the track rope across the gorge.

A $3 million AUD upgrade in 2017 increased capacity by 30% from 65 to 84 passengers, lengthened and re-configured the cabin for more streamlined loading and unloading to reduce queuing times during peak periods. Free Wi-Fi was installed in response to feedback from international visitors. The Skyway’s East station offers access to lookouts over the valley along with bush trails to Echo Point.

The Scenic Skyway haul rope is Fatzer brand, 25mm, 6x19 Seale, polypropylene fibre core, Lang’s Lay RH, with a minimum breaking load of 417kN. The length is 980 m and it was installed in 2004. By 2018 it had completed 225,000 cycles. Both ends are terminated at the cabin with cone sockets and a tension monitoring system to operate the track rope brakes. It is a horizontal span and there is a tension sheave at the non-drive end, and a pick-up roller at midspan clipped to the track ropes, and unusually, return rollers on the cabin to pass the return haul rope through the cabin hangers.

The twin Scenic Skyway track ropes are Fatzer, 42mm, fully locked coil with a minimum breaking load of 1,896kN. The length is 503m, installed in 2004 and repositioned in 2017. Because of the nearly horizontal span, these ropes are tensioned by a 58 ton tension weight at the Eastern end, which was increased by 5.6 tons for the upgraded load and still remain inside the safety factor for the ropes. The ropes are terminated with whitemetal sockets at the Eastern end and a 2.8m diameter friction hub at the Western end. There are spools of spare rope attached to the hubs for shifting. Because of the short distance between the saddle and the hub, there is very little sliding of the rope across the saddle, only bending, but a shift of 8M was deemed necessary at this upgrade. An extra 400 kg was added to the haul rope tension block to provide extra friction at the drive sheave.

Scenic Railway
The Scenic Railway plunges 310 meters into the valley, with glass top affording views of the scenery above.

The Scenic Railway

Steepest Railway/Funicular in the World at 52 Degrees or 128% Incline

The Scenic Railway dates back to the 1800s coal-mining era. The current train is the 5th generation passenger train to ride the tracks, and carries more than 1 million passengers each year, totaling 25 million since its inception.

History: From Coal Miners to Tourists

In 1883 a Sydney based entrepreneur called John Britty North took out a mining lease on a large section of land at Katoomba to include many miles of cliff faces below which coal outcropped. A convenient slot in a gully which opened out to a gorge 10 meters wide, enabled, with a daring feat of incline tunneling through the sandstone, a 12ft wide and 8ft high tunnel to be built at 45 degrees to carry two 2ft gauge tramlines 1350ft down to below the level of the coal outcrop — A vertical drop of 650ft. This twin reversible tramway was to serve the mine for the next 20 years, carrying thousands of tons of coal. The bankhead or upper end of the incline was then serviced by an over-rope tramway, which carried the coal skips another 2.2 kM to the railhead across a long inclined trestle and a suspension bridge.

The Sydney based consulting engineer for the mine, Norman Selfe, went to the US in 1882 to view the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and learn about suspension bridge design.

The original supporting ropes for the bridge are still where they were dropped after decommissioning of the bridge about 1903. The ropes are 1¼" Lang’s Lay 6/7 RH. Where they are above ground they are in very good condition, two broken wires from their original use on the incline are clearly visible.

The flattening of the wires is also clearly visible. Ropes from this era were sourced from England, and made from plough steel. Bessemer steel was still working its way into the rope manufacturers catalogues. The ropes have a very long lay length of 11" or 280mm compared to modern ropes of a similar size 7¼" or 184mm.

Two Lancashire boilers supplied steam to the endless rope winder and the incline winder, feeding to a 20 meter high square brick chimney.

The mine was built in what today we call a “green field site”. There was nothing there! No roads, water, surveys or maps. Everything had to be brought in. The mine was only feasible because of the proximity of the railway connecting it to Sydney, even though it was 2kM away across 4 creeks and 3 ridges with a total 100M lift. A dam had to be built to supply water for the boilers and the miners.

Funding was of course an issue, and a company was floated on the newly formed Sydney Stock Exchange, called “Katoomba Coal and Shale Ltd.” Enterprises like this were readily financed by English money, gold mines in particular attracting get rich quick investors. However most of the funds for the mine were sourced from Sydney based investors ranging from lawyers to tailors and land auctioneers.

This mine was being built just as many changes in equipment were coming into the mining industry in Australia. Bridge rail was being replaced by web rail. The incline was initially fitted with bridge rail, the lengths of which are joined at a cast iron “Slipper” which aligns the ends and fixes the gauge.

Preventing bridge rail from sliding down the incline was very difficult as the low height of the bridge rail made the rail dog heads foul the wheel flanges. It was replaced with web rail within a few years. The bridge rail continued to be used within the mine itself due to the ease of changing its location as the work faces moved.

Rope grips for the overrope tramway were also being introduced, the old chain and hook method having “seen off” many fingers.

Twenty-First Century Develpments

The Scenic Railway

A $30 million AUD overhaul in 2013 won multiple awards for commercial redevelopment, steel, construction, tourism, infrastructure, innovation and engineering.

The enclosed cars have a glass ceiling so visitors can enjoy the scenery above them and the custom designed adjustable seating can be changed up to 20 degrees. This allows visitors to choose the adventurous “cliffhanger” angled ride at a steep 64-degree incline, or less adventurous “laid back” options. The “original” angle would be 52 degrees. The train’s capacity is 84 passengers and departs every 10 minutes.

The train descends 310 meters of track through a cliff-side tunnel, emerging into the ancient rainforest at the Jamison Valley floor. The steepest part of the incline is 52.2 degrees (for US readers, 128%). Passengers can disembark at the bottom station to access the Scenic Walkway and stroll through 2.4 kilometers of Jurassic rainforest. The Scenic Walkway is an elevated boardwalk designed for minimal impact on the environment. It offers a glimpse of the valley’s coal mining history, with the mine entrance, replica miners’ hut and a talking bronze sculpture of a miner and his pit pony. Visitors can sample pure Blue Mountains water straight from Marrangaroo Spring. Local fauna includes the Superb Lyrebird, Whipbird and colorful parrots. Various walks ranging from 10 minutes to a full hour and provide a wheelchair accessible link between the bottom of the Scenic Cableway and Scenic Railway stations.

The twin Scenic Railway Haul Ropes are Casar brand, 28mm Turboplast left-hand Lang’s Lay. The minimum breaking load is 629 kN. Each is 540m long. They were installed in 2013 and to May 2019 have run for 220,000 cycles. They were cropped and repositioned on the winch and train ends in June this year, after 140,000 cycles, when the entire installation underwent a major service. The ropes are terminated at the train by two friction drums 687mm in diameter. Movement of either drum triggers an Estop of the winder through the failsafe loop communication system.

The Parent Company: Hammons Holdings

Scenic World’s parent company is Hammons Holdings, a cornerstone investor in the Sydney Zoo, and it was recently appointed to operate tourism activities on the Sydney Harbour Bridge following a rigorous tender process driven by the NSW State Government. Managing director Anthea Hammon says, “We recognize the need to move forward with new ideas and infrastructure that appeals to visitors from across the globe and retain our leading position in a competitive market. ”

For more information about Scenic World, go to: www.scenicworld.com.au.

 

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