Funicular not fun for city to maintain during first year

Funicular cost $716,468 to operate in first year of service, but the project had an issue with the emergency stop button being pressed more than 300 times.

Emergency stop button in funicular pressed in error more than 300 times last year

A set of stairs with built-in seating runs parallel to the funicular. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

The ups and downs were more than just rides on Edmonton's funicular during its first year of service.

An annual review of the project shows the city had a problem with people pushing the emergency stop button 322 times in the funicular.

Juanita Spence, supervisor of river valley parks and facilities in Edmonton, said those emergency stops were made in error.

"The emergency stop buttons are a safety requirement ... It will shut down just as a safety precaution until somebody can verify that it is OK to resume operation," said Spence.

Although they weren't real emergencies, the report says non-emergency breakdown response and repairs cost $112,641 last year. Emergency breakdown response and repair cost just under $60,000.

Annual budget on target

The funicular is just one portion of the entire Mechanized River Valley Access project. It includes a set of stairs, viewpoints, a pedestrian bridge and an elevator.

The review says maintenance of the entire area cost $716,468 last year, which is in the range of the projected annual operating budget for the project.

"The original forecasts were that it would be two to four per cent the total project cost, so we're right in the middle of what was forecast for operating costs," said Spence.

Preventative maintenance and daily start-up took the lion's share of the costs at $345,483.

The annual cost is on top of the $24,000,000 price tag it cost to get the project up and running.

The review notes the project is a challenge because it's the first of its kind in the city.

A table from the City of Edmonton's funicular review shows a breakdown and total operating cost during the project's first year in service. (City of Edmonton)

Upgrades ongoing

Spence says the city shut the funicular down in December to make upgrades that would improve functionality, like preventing ice build-up on doors and creating better instructions about how to use the funicular.

"We know that pushing the emergency stop button sometimes happens because people aren't really sure how the funicular works," said Spence. "We need to improve familiarity and help make it a little easier for people to understand how to use it."

An on-site survey at the funicular found that 22 per cent of people use it for commuting to work, while 31 per cent use it to access the river valley. Another 35 per cent said they have been using the funicular for six months or more.

About the Author

Tanara McLean is a producer and journalist at CBC Edmonton. She grew up in Red Deer and has spent her entire career in Alberta, working in print, radio and television.

with files from Natasha Riebe