- The Table Mountain Cableway reopened on 28 August after being shut down for five weeks for annual maintenance work.
- A team of specialist riggers from the cable car and rope manufacturers in Europe, together with local electricians, fitters, and engineers, undertook the dangerous and gruelling work.
- Some of the team spent more than three solid weeks atop Table Mountain, contending with harsh and unpredictable weather a thousand metres up.
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The Table Mountain Cableway recently reopened after a five-week shutdown period which allowed for annual maintenance work to be carried out. Highly skilled riggers and technicians slept on the mountain, enduring wild weather and the near-constant risks associated with working a thousand metres up.
Since its first trip in 1929, when its tiny cabin was made of wood and its roof of tin, the Table Mountain Cableway has ferried more than 29 million passengers up the iconic natural wonder towering above Cape Town.
This amount of traffic adds considerable strain to the thick steel wire cables carrying the weight of the cars, the various braking systems, and hanging gears. To ensure the safety of all passengers and visitors, the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMACC) conducts rigorous annual maintenance during a shutdown period, in addition to regular checks throughout the year.
The most recent annual maintenance shutdown – which began on 25 July – is the first since 2019 because of the Covid-19 pandemic and its associated lockdown restrictions, which greatly limited the number of passengers transported by the cableway. Under normal passenger loads, a shutdown period is required every year.
The annual maintenance work is carried out by a team of specialist riggers from the cable car and rope manufacturers in Europe, together with the TMACC’s internal Technical Team consisting of electricians, fitters, and engineers.
During the recent five-week shutdown, this team focused on various aspects of the cableway, including shifting the four track-ropes – the thick cables carrying the weight of the cars – to eliminate the most stressed sections sitting on the supports at the Lower Station.
“The track-ropes were each shifted by feeding in 40m from the spare reels at Top Station, pulling out and cutting off 40m of each rope at Lower Station, and re-attaching the ropes to the main anchoring points [counterweights] at Lower Station,” Emile Streicher, the executive manager of technical at TMACC, told Business Insider SA.
“Careful coordination is required every second between the team feeding rope in at the Top Station, and the team feeding rope out, and cutting excess rope off at the Lower Station.”
The maintenance crew also replaced the main brackets from which Cabin 1 is suspended, with Cabin 2’s bracket replacement due in 2023. Additionally, slack carriers were overhauled, the haul rope was shortened, and the hydraulic brake system in the Lower Station plant room was serviced, with various safety inspections completed.
“As with most technical work, hazards are always present. Working at heights and the associated risk of falling is usually the main risk factor,” explained Streicher.
“Electricity is also a major hazard, thus all electrical work is executed by TMACC’s qualified electricians. The unpredictable and wild weather on the mountain increases the severity of all hazards, and thus it forms part of the Risk Assessment on a daily basis. Training, physical fitness, correct clothing and other tools are very important for working safely in these conditions.”
All maintenance personnel involved, including TMACC’s own team, are Institute For Work At Height (IWH) Certified Fall Arrest Technicians, well-experienced, and equipped with the best safety equipment, added Streicher.
While undertaking this hazardous work, a six-person team slept on Table Mountain for more than three weeks while performing maintenance at the Top Station.
“[The] TMACC’s food and beverage department kept the team fuelled for the gruelling work, including almost 600 meals consumed by technicians at the Top Station, and many more at Lower Station,”
“Because the cable cars were completely disabled, any unforeseen spare parts or tools required on the mountain, had to be carried up by team members, even including bags of special cement from Germany to repair bollard surfaces.”
The Table Mountain Cableway resumed regular operations on 28 August.
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