A tram from Manhattan to Staten Island isn't as crazy as it sounds

Renderings of the tram's potential launch site in St. George, Staten IslandSIEDCRenderings of the tram’s potential launch site in St. George, Staten Island

Forget the ferry. An aerial tramway could take you from downtown Manhattan to Staten Island in half the time.

Officials from the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation (SIEDC) unveiled the lofty, $US175-million idea to the public last week, saying the tram would complement other attractions being built on the north shore of New York’s oft-forgotten borough.

That’s right. A 228-foot, 5.7-mile tram isn’t the only thing the SIEDC has in the works to lure you to the least exciting NYC borough. Groundbreaking for the 625-foot “New York Wheel” — the Big Apple’s answer to London’s Eye — is set for this month, provided it doesn’t get postponed again.

The idea of the tram came from outside the United States. “We looked at what other countries were doing,” said Steve Grillo, First Vice President of the SIEDC. “A lot of inspiration came from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.”

New York City already has one tram. The Roosevelt Island Tramway has shuttled commuters across the East River between Manhattan to Roosevelt Island since 1976. About 6500 people ride the tram every day, according to the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation.

Staten Island tram potential landing sites Manhattan battery park SIEDCSIEDCTwo potential landing sites for the tram in lower Manhattan

In it’s currently proposed form, the Staten Island tram could potentially move 15,000 people each day, provided it runs continuously. The ferry currently moves an average of around 60,000 every day.

The only problem? A tramway of this magnitude has never been built before, anywhere in the world, and especially not with private money.

London’s aerial tramway, the Emirates Air Line, was planned to be completely funded by private sponsors, but delays and budget overruns sent financiers to the European Regional Development Fund for assistance. SIEDC maintains that the potential for private investment is sufficient for the Staten Island tram, and that avoiding existing shipping channels in the harbour is simple.

Tom Sanford, an executive at Doppelmayr, the Utah-based company that built the tram in London, told the Staten Island Advance that “the technology for a tram to do this distance isn’t yet there, but as we keep developing the market, things change so dramatically that it will be there.”

Staten island tram launch points st.george SIEDCPotential launch sites on Staten Island, in proximity to the New York Wheel

Deciding on a developer is still several steps away for the potential tramway, but the competition will be a global one. Hundreds of Chinese citizens have been cleared to fund $US150 million of the observation wheel under a controversial green card program known as EB-5, and the wheel itself is being constructed by the same Dutch firm famous for the London Eye.

All of this multinational investment, including hundreds of millions from Europe and China, the SIEDC hopes will lead to the World Expo 2025 being hosted in Staten Island, on top of the world’s largest out-of-service landfill now known as Freshkills Park.

Eventually, the tram could be an integral part of an entire network of trams along the New York and New Jersey waterfront, says Grillo. But for now, SIEDC’s main focus is on finding investors for the project, which they say will be completely privately funded.

“Staten Island will never get a subway, and we’re running out of lanes to put buses on,” said Grillo.

“It’s time to think out of the box.”

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