We’ve all seen the signs.
Whether in TV ads, on billboards or in magazines, one of Albuquerque’s claims to fame is the Sandia Peak Tramway. The twin red and blue cars make their way up the cables to the top of the mountain where tourists, skiers and diners can find magnificent views and a 20-degree temperature drop.
As the Sandia Peak website states, “A trip on the world’s longest aerial tramway transports you above deep canyons and breathtaking terrain a distance of 2.7 miles.” The tram moves at about 12 miles per hour, carrying more than a quarter million people each year. It was completed in 1966, constructed by a Swiss firm for about $2 million. There are four steel cables, each of which is about an inch and a half in diameter, carrying passengers to 10,378 feet.
I’m pretty familiar with the facts-and-figures spiel given by tramway operators during the 20-minute ride from the base to the top. That’s because for four years during college I worked at High Finance restaurant as a waiter and took the tram to work each day. The stats, the tired jokes (“At this point we are about 12 seconds above the ground”), the mind-numbing details about lichens and granite and steep vertical buttresses were all drilled into my brain. I believed what I was told.
Until one day when, out of curiosity, I decided to do a little fact-checking. It’s amazing what a quick look in the Guinness World Records reveals, along with a bit of Internet research. “World’s Longest Tramway?” Nope.
The longest single-cable car system in the world is near Da Nang, Vietnam. It stretches 5,042 meters from the base of the Ba Na Mountain to the peak of Vong Nguyet Hill. The trip takes 15 minutes and can transport more than 1,000 people an hour. My admittedly rough math skills concluded that 5,042 meters is about 3.13 miles, and even my public school education taught me that 3.13 miles is longer than Sandia Peak’s 2.7 miles. The actual, real longest (and highest) tramway system is in Merida, Venezuela, at 12.5 kilometers in length—almost 8 miles—though that trip is done in four stages. And you can’t fool me: Venezuela’s 7.7 miles is more than Vietnam’s 3.13 miles, which is also more than Sandia Peak’s 2.7 miles.
Now, it seems true that it is the longest passenger tramway of its type. You see, the specific system at Sandia Peak is known as a “double reversible jigback aerial” passenger tramway. “Double reversible” basically means that there are two cars that reverse direction along two different tracks; “jigback” means that as one car ascends, the other car descends, using each other as a counterweight. It is one of more than a dozen types of tramway systems.
The claim that the Sandia Peak tram is the longest tramway in the world is simply not true. Saying that the Sandia Peak tramway is the longest tramway of its kind in the world is technically true, but sort of like claiming to be the tallest tattooed Asian soccer player in Sandoval county.
I don’t mean to demolish the significance of a local landmark, and I don’t expect the ads for the tram to be revised any time soon. The tramway is lots of fun and well worth a trip. It’s just not the world’s longest.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
Benjamin Radford has investigated mysterious and unexplained phenomena for more than a decade. He is a columnist for LiveScience.com and managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine. His latest book is Lake Monster Mysteries , available at his website: RadfordBooks.com.