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How does a cable car, like those in San Francisco, move?

Find out how cable cars work and when the first system was operated.

Cable cars move by latching on to a continuously moving cable located beneath the street. [©Jupiter Images, 2008]
©Jupiter Images, 2008
Cable cars move by latching on to a continuously moving cable located beneath the street.

A cable runs continuously in a channel, between the tracks located just below the street. The cable is controlled from a central station, and usually moves about 9 miles (14.5 kilometers) per hour.

Each cable car has an attachment on the underside of the car called a grip. When the car operator pulls the lever, the grip latches onto the moving cable and is pulled along by the moving cable. When the operator releases the lever and applies the brakes, the grip disconnects from the cable and comes to a halt.

Also called an endless ropeway, it was invented by Andrew S. Hallide (1836-1900) who first operated his system in San Francisco in 1873.

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