****As of Aug. 23, the RCMP have confirmed the gondola cable has been cut. RCMP say: "Police have confirmed that the main cable was cut and that there are no other natural or mechanical reasons for the cable to have failed."
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Let me preface this by saying that my wife and I have been regular season pass-holders since it opened. We live in North Vancouver, and often take international guests there, and this week we were once again planning on walking up and riding down. Over the years, we never met a single person that has anything negative to say about the Gondola, and cannot think of a motive for anyone deliberately doing this.
As a mechanical engineer with 40-plus years specifying, designing, maintaining, and inspecting lifting equipment, including occasional forensic investigations, it amazes me that anyone could come up with such a quick conclusion that the rope may have been cut. In fact, none of the evidence presented thus far would lead me in that direction.
Statements like the large diameter, or the mass per metre do not in any way point to sabotage.
Of course, sabotage must be investigated, but this investigation must start with determining how the rope was cut. For example, if it was cut using an angle-grinder (which would be the most likely), there would be evidence of this cutting. Conceivably, the suspect may also have wrapped wire around the 55 mm rope, at each side of the cut, for their own safety, providing further evidence. Any such evidence would be relatively conclusive, and maybe it exists, in which case this cause becomes a prime suspect. If the rope was a 6x36 construction (6 cores, each with 36 individual wires, and had a static factor of safety of, say, 1.5,) then it would have been necessary to cut through two of the six cores, or 67% of the total cross-sectional metallic area. This would take a while, and would make a noise that would travel quite far at 4:00 am, so would quite likely have been heard. So, if anyone heard anything preceding the bang, then they should share this with the investigators. A torch, on the other hand, would have been quicker, and would not have made any noise during the cutting process. Given that the strength of the wire rope would be around 2 GPa, one cannot see a hack-saw being a possibility. Scanning electron microscope examination of the fracture surfaces would be the next piece of evidence.
So, let’s not jump to conclusions about sabotage. Yes, continue that investigation, but please also look for what else could have caused it, since there are many other potential causes; the most likely would be a hidden defect in the rope itself. (This is why ropes used for lifting equipment often have a factor of safety of five or more, and even higher for elevator duty). Fatigue, jammed counter-weight, quality assurance, quality control, temperature changes, and design all need to be considered before a definitive conclusion can be reached.
I look forward to reading the final failure report, and of having our much loved gondola back in service in the very near future.
David Frykberg, P.Eng
***Updated Aug. 23 with an additional editor's note.