Welcome (back) to the Roosevelt Island Tramway

It was about nine months ago that the Roosevelt Island Tramway made news by stranding a group of passengers suspended high over New York City. A lot of work went in to rebuilding the service – it is essentially brand new except for the towers holding the cables – and the tram reopened today with a bit of celebration and free rides for the first three hours of operation.

Among the features added to the new service, the overhead cables are spaced wider apart to provide more stability in high winds (something that I was able to confirm on today’s rides) and each of the two cars is now independently powered. This means that the cars can operate in parallel which is especially useful should one be out of service (or for getting cool press video of the system in operation, as it was used for today).

The press conference launching the service was held on the Roosevelt Island side of the tram which makes sense. Among other things there is a lot more space over there and they’re more helped by the tram than the other way around. There were apparently speeches and such – I missed those – but I did arrive in time to hear a band, see some last bits of cake being passed out and grab a cup of bubbly from one of the two massive bottles being poured. Definitely the right attitude to take when celebrating such an event, as were the large cigars that many were puffing away on.

I originally heard that the tram was reopening “this morning” so I assumed that meant it would be operational by 11am when I showed up. Unfortunately it didn’t open until noon which meant a bit of standing around waiting, but it also meant that I was able to be on the first east-bound tram open to the general public. Some folks came west on the very first runs following the press conference in Roosevelt Island so I wasn’t the first to ride it, but pretty close.

It was quite interesting seeing all the employees getting back into the habit after the 9 months that the tram was out of service. Clearly they were happy to be back and their attitude showed it well. On the first of my two rides I happened to be standing next to a woman who was explaining the details of the rescue when the tram broke; it was clear from her knowledge that she was involved in the operations and the rescue portion of that event. Quite an interesting perspective to hear. I’ve got most of that conversation on the audio track of the original video but I’ve sped up the version on display because the run is just over 4 minutes each way and that can be pretty boring.

There were also a bunch of kids riding along. The awe with which they experienced the ride – both in their eyes and in their words – was quite fun to watch. That I was experiencing many of the same feelings somewhat more quietly didn’t hurt the situation either.

Oh, and that segment between the eastern-most tower and the Roosevelt Island terminal is pretty steep. Hang on for a great ride!

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.