The 1990 Tbilisi aerial tramway accident was an aerial tramway accident in Tbilisi, the capital of Soviet Georgia on June 1 1990, which resulted in 22 deaths and 15 injuries.
The accident involved 2 gondolas on a ropeway route between Rustaveli Avenue and Mount Mtatsminda. The red gondola number 1 was on its way down from the slope of the mountain nearing the lower supporting tower and the red gondola number 2 was nearing an upper tower, when the hauling rope broke inside the coupler of the upper gondola. Both gondolas rolled down simultaneously. The lower gondola slammed into the wall of the lower station injuring people. The upper gondola generated higher speed (the length of ropeway was 863,3 meters); on reaching the lower support tower, it struck the broken hauling rope which was hanging on the tower, cable tore the gondola apart. The collision was so strong that the track cable fell off the tower, dangling the cut open gondola above the rooftops, and causing people to fall from destroyed gondola 20 meters onto rooftops and ground. 22 were killed and 15 badly injured, some after jumping from the accelerating gondola in panic. Most of them were children on a sightseeing tour in Tbilisi from regional town Akhaltsikhe school number 5.Children's Day. Witnesses in both gondolas who survived say that brakes did not work in either of the gondolas despite the desperate attempts from guides and passengers who helped them to pull the brakes.
In 1988, 2 years prior to accident, the cable car went under major reconstruction with the head engineer Vakhtang Lejava, originally cable car used 3 supporting towers. Redesigning meant replacing the 20 meter high lower mast with a new 25 meters high mast. Two short upper masts (10 and 12 meters high) were also replaced by one 20 meter high mast. Prior to this change, gondolas had a slight climbing angle on the two upper masts. Using a single higher mast caused the new gondolas to run from the upper station horizontal to the mast and then with a sharp angle head down (causing a feeling of a sudden fall in abyss). The standard oval Georgian gondolas (capacity 25 per gondola) which were produced in Tbilisi in Tbilisi Aircraft Manufacturing, were replaced by Italian larger rectangular ones built by "Lovisolo" and provided by "Ceretti & Tanfani", providing greater passenger capacity (40 per gondola). The braking system of the new gondolas did not function properly - while climbing over upper mast, the braking system would engage. Service staff would have to climb on gondola and turn it off manually when this occurred. To avoid this inconvenience, the brakes were just turned off. Additionally, on the day of the accident, both gondolas were over-capacity: the lower gondola had 46 passengers on board, the upper gondola held 47 passengers.
Accident investigation documentation does not identify the cause of the hauling rope breaking inside the coupler. Many unanswered question still remain and the cause of the accident is not known.
The track and hauling cables were dismantled, also the damaged gondolas were dismantled after 3 years. The masts and the stations were kept. The aerial tramway was never restored, in 2014 upper station and both supporting mast were dismantled due to planned restoration of the tramway as a reversible gondola cable car from slightly moved lower station, but the upper station location remained the same. The old lower station due to its unique architecture is a cultural heritage object. The plans were abandoned due to local opposition and visual flaws of the new lower station on one of the main squares of the city in front of Radisson Hotel, as well as the oversized five supporting masts, two of them being located on hilly streets causing already narrow streets to reduce even more in width.
As of January 2017, an aerial tramway is under construction from its original lower station, the location of the upper station will remain the same. The work is carried out by Doppelmayr Garaventa Group. The major challenge is to adapt the lower station backyard for monocable detachable gondola infrastructure, because the lower station was only designed for aerial tramway type of cable car in 1958. Construction has faced problems because of high density small housing which appeared in the backyard of the lower station throughout the years and near the future lower mast being challenging for big lorries with construction materials to get near.