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What Is a Ropeway?

Christian Petersen
Christian Petersen

A ropeway is a system by which goods or passengers are transported along a rope or cable. In its simplest and earliest form, used by ships to transport light cargo, it consisted of a rope slung between shore and a ship, with a block and tackle assembly from which the cargo was suspended and moved freely along the rope on one or more pulleys. Lines were used to haul this assembly to and from the ends of the ropeway. Today, the term is also applied to systems that use a similar principle, like cableways and aerial tramways, known as cable cars in Great Britain.

When referring to the naval lifting device, a ropeway is supported at either end by structures called sheers or gyns. A sheer is an inverted V-shaped structure formed by two poles that are lashed together at the point of the "V". One or more guy lines are used to stabilize the sheer. A gyn is similar to a sheer but has an added third leg, forming a tripod-like assembly that requires no guy lines for support, though they may be added for additional strength and stability.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

A block and tackle assembly is suspended on the rope and cargo is attached to it. Smaller ropes called haul lines are attached to the block and tackle, leading to each end of the ropeway. These haul lines are long enough to stretch the entire length of the ropeway, with enough extra length to allow workers to grip the rope to haul the cargo.

In modern times, the term ropeway has also come to refer to any system for transporting people or cargo that operates on the same principles. Many different types of systems fall into this classification, including ski-lifts, aerial tramways, and the motorized ropeways still used in naval yards, mines, and logging operations. Some of these ropeways can stretch for many miles, supported by a series of towers. Primitive ropeways are sometimes still used in undeveloped areas, where bridges are not available, to transfer cargo or passengers across rivers, gorges, and other terrain obstacles .

Modern naval ropeways may be capable of carrying very large cargoes and use heavy steel cables and machinery to move the block and tackle assembly. The block and tackle may incorporate several pulleys and may be suspended from more than one cable. Some cable car systems may also use more than one cable for support. Some of these systems do not use additional cables for propulsion but employ electric motors in the block and tackle or the cable cars themselves.

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