The idea came from Amtrak commuters looking for an easier way to cross the Hudson river from the Rensselaer rail station to Albany.
(TNS) -- The train station is in Rensselaer. But most arriving rail passengers are heading to Albany. How to get them there?
Why not by gondola?
Next week, engineers will begin studying the feasibility of just such a conveyance, one that would start at the train station and carry passengers across the Hudson River.
Peter Melewski, national director of strategic planning for McLaren Engineering Group, envisions a stop in Albany for those heading to the Capital Center and Times Union Center. The gondola would then continue on to the Empire State Plaza.
"It's one of those things where a lot of people just feel there needs to be a better way to get from Point A to Point B," he said Wednesday afternoon, adding "It's a clean form of transportation."
It's not clear how many travelers the gondola might serve. The Rensselaer rail station is among Amtrak's busiest nationwide, and hundreds of thousands of passengers arrive or leave by rail each year.
Penn Central Railroad moved the station to Rensselaer in the late 1960s as it made way for Interstate 787. The current building is the third to be built on the site to accommodate growing passenger traffic.
McLaren, which has an office in Albany, is self-funding the study and assembling a team that includes Doppelmayr, a manufacturer of ropeway technologies and gondolas, to conduct it. Doppelmayr has a Ballston Spa office.
"The Albany train station, Amtrak's ninth busiest, is physically isolated from the Capitol and downtown businesses," said Malcolm McLaren, president and CEO of the engineering group. "An aerial gondola system will provide a unique, cost-effective transportation mode that will benefit the entire region."
How much would such a system cost? Melewski estimated it in the $20 million to $30 million range, and that operating costs would ideally be covered by fares.
Each gondola car might carry 10 passengers and would comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, Melewski said.
But the study would seek to determine such variables as ridership and fares, and whether the project would be a private-public partnership or a private-sector undertaking.
The gondola's towers would require a "very small relative footprint," Melewski said, avoiding the greater costs of acquiring a right-of-way that a rail line, for example, would need.
He added that maintenance requirements were low, and that "the safety record is really quite good."
"Cities around the country and the world have used gondolas as a cost-effective way to solve transportation challenges and this is the first step in determining whether it is the right solution for Albany," said Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan.
The gondola might even become an attraction in its own right, drawing tourists to the Capital Region and offering them a view of the Albany skyline, Melewski said.
"Certainly it could be a destination," he said.
If the study determines the gondola is feasible, sponsorships might help cover the cost. Doppelmayr was involved in another gondola system over the River Thames in London that cost about $78 million to build and opened in 2012. Air carrier Emirates paid about $47 million for a 10-year sponsorship of what's now called the Emirates Air Line.
©2016 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.