A ride on the Ngong Ping 360 cable car

The other day I posted about the Tian Tan Buddha and the crowds of tourists that now visit it, but what about the cable car that takes them there?

Called the Ngong Ping 360, the cable car route is 5.7 kilometres one way; with two terminal stations, two intermediate angle stations for direction changes, and eight cable towers. A pair of cables makes up each length of the system: a 70mm diameter track rope which carries the cabin guide wheels, and a 42mm diameter haul rope that pulls the cabin along.

Ngong Ping 360 cable car on Lantau Island

Construction of the Ngong Ping 360 started in 2004, with an official opening in September 2006 after a number of delays by operator Skyrail-ITM. In June 2007 an empty cabin fell off the cable during brake tests, leading to Skyrail-ITM being removed as operator, and the MTR Corporation taking over in December 2007 after a number of safety changes were made.

The maximum speed of 25 km/h gives the system a passenger capacity of 3500 passengers per hour per direction, the second highest in the world, but the cable car currently operates at the slower pace of 18 km/h for a one way trip time of 20 to 25 minutes. Each cabin is detached from the cable at stations, and can carry 17 passengers – ten seated and seven standing.

Tung Chung station is the start of Ngong Ping 360: located on the edge of the New Town it is a short walk from the Tung Chung MTR station via footbridge, and the basement is used to stable all 112 cable car cabins at night.

Departing Tung Chung station

Tower 1 is reached soon after the station, with the cable car moving over Tung Chung Bay on the way to the island of Chek Lap Kok.

Apartment blocks tower over Tung Chung New Town

Tower 2A is located on Chek Lap Kok before the Airport Island Angle Station, where the cable makes a 60 degree turn.

Approaching the Chek Lap Kok angle station

The angle station is also where electric motors drive the haul cables via large pulleys, but the passenger cabins are just passing through.

Passing through the Chek Lap Kok angle station

On leaving the angle station the cable passes over the tallest tower on Ngong Ping 360: Tower 2B at 55 metres high, then crosses the longest span: 1.5 kilometres over Tung Chung Bay.

Crossing the water to Lantau Island

Tower 3 is located on Lantau Island atop a tall hill, after crossing the crest the cable continues climbing, with Tung Chung New Town visible down below.

High above Tung Chung on the Ngong Ping 360 cable car

After a few minutes the view of Tung Chung is blocked by the tall hills, but Hong Kong airport is still visible after the cable crosses over Tower 4.

Rising to the top of Lantau Island, Hong Kong airport down below

The climb finishes at Tower 5, which is located at the ridge of Lantau Island. Here is the Nei Lak Shan angle station, where the cable makes a final 20 degree turn. Unlike the previous angle station there are no drive wheels for the haul cables, the motors being located at the opposite ends of the cable due to the remote location. Soon after is Tower 6, the highest point on the cable at 585 metres above sea level.

Lantau Island angle station

The cable then crosses the open area of the Lantau North Country Park, crossing over Tower 7 on the final approach to Ngong Ping.

Tower 7 on Lantau Island

Soon after the final station is reached, located beside the Ngong Ping Village.

Arriving at Ngong Ping station

Two types of passenger cabin operate on Ngong Ping 360: “Crystal Cabins” with a glass floor and a higher ticket price, and bog-standard cabins with normal floors.

Looking through the glass floor: it's a long way down!

As well as passenger cabins, a number of service vehicles also exist: I assume this journey would be very windy!

A bit of a windy ride!

Additional resources

Here are a few links to PDF documents for those wanting some more gory technical details:

  • Ngong Ping 360: an article by John Batchelor and Suresh Tank and published in the Arup Journal, explaining the engineering challenges that Arup encountered during the design and construction phase of the system.
  • Tung Chung Cable Car Project: Supporting Tower Proposal: Report produced by the MTR Corporation detailing the location, construction techniques, and engineering details of the pylons that support the cable car.
  • Development & Implementation of Safety Management System in NP360: MTR Corporation presentation with an introduction to the cable car, and their safety practices. Page 27 has photos of the special self-powered platform used to rescue passengers from a stuck cabin.
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