9 Abandoned Cableways, Aerial Tramways & Ropeways of the World

abandoned-simons-town-cableway-south-africa-4 (Image: Google Street View; abandoned cableway in Simon’s Town, South Africa)

Aerial lift: throughout the decades, this rather fun mode of cable transportation has been employed all over the world. And, as such, it’s developed several different names and terminology can be confusing. Cable cars, for instance, may refer to elevated transportation systems or street-bound trolleys that use a continuously-running cable for propulsion. Focusing on the elevated kind, these three-rope pulley systems are sometimes known as aerial tramways, ropeways or cableways, and may be used to transport goods or passengers. Terminology aside, as fans of all things abandoned, we decided to take a look at a selection of forgotten aerial lift systems that once shuttled passengers and cargo to destinations that might otherwise have been inaccessible at the time. Join us on our exploration of abandoned cableways, aerial tramways and derelict ropeways across the world.

Nickel Plate Mountain Aerial Tramway, British Columbia, Canada


abandoned-aerial-tramway-nickel-plate-mountain-2 (Images: Tjflex2; abandoned aerial tramway at Nickel Plate Mountain, BC)

Nickel Plate Mountain was developed at the turn of the 20th century, and for around 50 years it was at the heart of a bustling mining operation based at Camp Hedley. While the building of the camp itself relied mostly on heavy horse-power, the scale of the gold mining operation soon demanded a more energy-efficient mode of transportation up and down the mountain.

After several claims had been exhausted, a new one was explored in the 1930s. But it was on a sheer cliff face along Twenty Mile Creek, and establishing an efficient operation for this new claim meant a major engineering achievement. The aerial tramway was built with a staggering descent, around 10,000 ft-long at an angle of nearly 70 degrees. Ore was transported down the cliff face from the Nickel Plate Mine to the lower mining camp, where workers laboured to extract the precious gold from what amounted to many tons of rock.

By 1947, the raw ore was giving up less and less gold. Originally yielding about half an ounce for every ton of rock that was processed, the weight soon dropped to about .39 ounces. A collapse at the Nickel Plate Mine showed just how dangerous it was becoming, and in 1949 it was decided that the remaining equipment, including the aerial tramway, would be abandoned.

Pioche Aerial Tramway, Nevada, USA




abandoned-aerial-tramway-pioche-4 (Images: Jasperado; Pioche, Nevada’s abandoned aerial tramway)

When mining operations in the American and Canadian West folded, prospectors typically packed up anything useful and abandoned what was left over to the elements. That means there’s a few abandoned aerial tramways left from the golden age of mining, and the one that still crosses above Pioche, Nevada is something of an oddity.

Built in the 1920s, the Pioche aerial tramway made silver mining possible, in a town that legend says saw 72 men die from gunshot wounds before they had their first death of natural causes. The tramway ran from the optimistically-named Treasure Hill to Godby’s Mill, where workers would labour to extract the most valuable of minerals.

Today, it’s still remarkably intact, with one abandoned aerial tramway station still standing along the desert highway near the modern-day business district. Look up as you’re cruising down US 93 and you’ll see the old cables still crossing the blue sky. There’s even a few cars left – cars that once carried ore at a steal of a price: 6 cents per ton.

Abandoned Okutama Ropeway, Japan


abandoned-ropeway-okutama-6 (Images: Jordy Meow; Japan’s abandoned Okutama Ropeway)

The Okutama Ropeway has apparently been abandoned for decades. Built in 1961 and having a useful life of only a few years, the abandoned ropeway’s one-time purpose was simply to take people on a short ride across a nearby lake. It’s off the beaten path and on only infrequently-run bus lines, making it no real surprise that it lasted only as long as it did.

When Michael John Grist headed there for an afternoon of exploration, he found a station and ropeway overgrown by climbing vines and buried in dead, blowing leaves. The abandoned ropeway car still sat docked in its bay, still hanging and still held by the weighted wheels that were once responsible for keeping the rope taunt and the car’s passengers safe. Once called Kawano Station, it’s now not only hidden but, like so many abandoned places scattered across the world, it’s also largely forgotten.

Abandoned Simon’s Town Cableway, South Africa



abandoned-simons-town-cableway-south-africa-3 (Images: Google Street View; abandoned Simon’s Town Cableway)

During its heyday, the Simon’s Town Cableway would have offered incredible views out over the ocean waters surrounding its South African location. Those that were riding the cableway wouldn’t be in a position – or condition – to enjoy the view, though, as its purpose was both military and medical.

The abandoned cableway once transported sick and injured members of the South African Navy, taking them from the docks to the nearby convalescent hospital and the naval sanatorium. The medical facilities were located at the top of the nearby Upper Mount Pleasant, and the only access was via a steep and winding footpath comprising hundreds of steps – or the cableway. The remote location allowed sick patients to be effectively quarantined.

The 87-bed facility was opened officially in 1904, and the cableway was only completed at the end of that year. Both the hospital and the sanatorium were fully functional until 1957, when the navy moved its facilities elsewhere. Today, the hospital buildings are still in use by the military band as practice halls and instrument storage, while the abandoned cableway still haunts the hillside.

Cwm Bychan Mine’s Abandoned Cableway, Wales




abandoned-cable-way-cwm-bychan-mine-4 (Images: Phil Champion (1, 2, 3); Jeremy Bolwell; abandoned cableway to Cwm Bychan Mine)

The abandoned Cwm Bychan Mine sits in North Wales, an area of the world that had been prized for its rich copper mines for centuries. A relatively small-scale mine, those who venture to Cwm Bychan can still see the remains of one of its most crucial pieces of equipment: its abandoned cableway.

As we’ve seen elsewhere, the now-abandoned cableway was used to transport numerous buckets of metal ore from the mine to the nearby processing plant. Unlike many of the other systems, though, this one is surprisingly intact. The cable itself lies on the ground, but the pylons that provided the support for the entire structure still stand, tracing its old route though the countryside.

Cwm Bychan and the nearby Sygun Mine date back to around the mid-19th century, and standing at the upper terminus provides an almost surreal glimpse back into a different age. The terminal pylon stands with a line of sight to several more, a reminder of this industrial age and the knowledge that it wasn’t until that long ago that the abandoned cableway’s work would have been done by human hands.

Asmara-Massawa Cableway, Eritrea


Asmara-Massawa-Cableway-abandoned-2 (Images: John Brantley; Reinhard Dietrich; Asmara-Massawa Cableway then and now)

As its name suggests, the cableway connected the port city of Massawa with Asmara, 75 kilometers away. When it was opened in 1938, it was the longest cableway in the world, built in 30 different sections and each powered by diesel engines. As many as 1,540 transport gondolas made the trip back and forth through countryside as dangerous as it was beautiful, stretching over mountainous terrain that made more traditional transportation options less than plausible.

When the abandoned cableway was still functional, it came under Italian control and was used primarily for the transportation of military equipment from the port city deeper into the African continent. After the 1941 conflict at Keren, the British took control of the cableway and thus began its slow dismantling. While much of the equipment was re-used for the British war effort, the iron towers stood until the 1980s, when they were finally scrapped. Today, the only significant traces of the (record-breaking) abandoned cableway are its foundations.

Abandoned Cable Car Station, Pedra de Lume, Cape Verde


abandoned-cable-car-station-pedra-de-lume-cape-verde-2 (Images: Cayambe (1, 2); abandoned cable car station on Pedra de Lume, Cape Verde)

Since the 18th century, the island of Pedra de Lume has been known for its salt production. A part of Cape Verde, the small island’s wealth was due to a series of natural occurrences. The Pedra de Lume crater is an extinct volcano, and the salt fields that made the island famous came from the sea water that leeched through into a natural salt lake.

The area has a number of salt evaporation ponds, also known as salt pans or salterns, designed to allow for the evaporation of water and the collection of the salt that’s left behind. While the salterns on Pedra de Lume are no longer active, evidence of their past activity abounds.

Some of the salt facilities still stand near an abandoned cable car station that was once an integral part of this industrual process. Now little more than a shell of its former self, the cable car station stands against a landscape that’s almost alien, with is shallow pools and traces of colour contrasting with an endless sea of brown and blue.

Dinas Ropeway, Wales


abandoned-ropeway-dinas-wales-2 (Images: Nigel Davies (1, 2); remains of abandoned ropeway to defunct Dinas quarries)

Silica mining in the parish of Penderyn began in the first decade of the 19th century, and continued until around 1965. The Dinas Silica Quarries gave their name to the Dinas Bricks, a type of fire-brick made from the area’s silica rock. The demand for them was international, and the method, pioneered by William Weston Young, created some of the best quality high-temperature materials of the day.

The characteristically-rugged Welsh terrain, with steep hills, rivers and waterfalls, all made transportation of the ore a challenge. Therefore, in the 1930s a ropeway was installed on the topmost level of the mine, allowing for the easy transport of the raw material from the pithead. The foundations of the abandoned ropeway are still there, though most of the equipment was removed in the 1970s.

Along the path of the abandoned ropeway lurk other signs of the area’s former industry, including pieces of wood and metal far removed from their original uses, now left to be reclaimed by the land that they once helped to work.

Abandoned Gondola Graveyard, Japan



zenkoji-ropeway-abandoned-gondolas-3 (Images: FUMYU32 (1, 2, 3); abandoned gondolas in Japan)

We were unable to find much information on this small gondola graveyard in Japan, though it may be connected to the Zenkoji Temple Ropeway – perhaps the final resting place for the abandoned ropeway cars that have outlived their useful life span.

With their broken windows, rusting bodies and once-bright paint faded and weathered by the elements, the abandoned gondolas are a sad, lonely reminder of our relationship with the things we create. Once valued for their strength and stability, trusted with the lives of thousands of passengers, and tasked with escorting them over some of the most vertigo-inducing heights, here they lie discarded with little more than a second thought – empty, outdated shells, worn with age, and with no part left to play.

Related – 20 Eerie Train Graveyards & Abandoned Locomotive Cemeteries



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