Tram System

 
A black and white drawn comic image of three circular tram cars, each filled with cartoon people.
The tram system was custom-made for the unique constraints of the Gateway Arch. There is nothing else like it anywhere in the world!

NPS Photo

The highlight of a visit to Gateway Arch National Park is a ride to the top of the 630-foot Gateway Arch, for a panoramic view of the surrounding area. The trams are a one-of-a-kind invention, conceived in just two short weeks by an amazing man who never received a college degree. His name is Dick Bowser. For the complete story of Dick Bowser and the Arch's Unique Tram System, read the essay by former park Historian Bob Moore and this page about Mr. Bowser's life.

The Criteria
The transportation system was required to move 3,500 people in an 8-hour day, or up to 11,000 people in a 14-hour day. In no way could the conveyance system distort the exterior of the Arch.

The First Attempts
Before arriving at the tram solution, many other options were considered, including the following, but each posed problems rendering the ideas either impractical or impossible.
• Elevators
• Escalators
• Ferris wheel

Bowser's Unique Design: Finally, a combination of the elevator principle and the Ferris wheel principle was developed into a train of capsules, and Bowser had his solution:
• Eight small capsules, used in each of the two Arch trains.
• Each train capsule has a 5-foot diameter barrel that is open on the front and closed on the back.
• There are five seats in each barrel, so the weight of the passengers helps keep the capsule in an upright position.
• Each capsule rotates approximately 155 degrees during the trip to the top of the Arch. These rotations occur as gentle pivots, similar to what you might experience on a Ferris Wheel.
• Each of the Arch trams carries 40 passengers and is capable of making a round trip with passengers in around 9 minutes, including loading and unloading passengers in both directions.
• When running near capacity each train typically carries 200 to 225 passengers per hour.
• The trains have been operating for over 25 years, traveling a total of approximately 200,000 miles and carrying over 18 million passengers.

What to Expect on Your Ride to the Top: Riding the tram to the top of the Arch is like stepping into the future as it was envisioned in the 1960's. Each of the 16 tram cars, or "pods", can hold five seated persons. There are eight tram cars on the north tram and eight on the south tram. While taking the 4-minute journey to the top, riders may look out a small window for a view of the Arch interior. The car will gently pivot during the ride to keep visitors in an upright position. Once at the top, visitors stay in the observation area for one tram cycle (around 8-10 minutes). This viewing area features 16 windows looking east over the Mississippi River and the Illinois communities and countryside, and 16 windows looking west over the city of St. Louis. When it's time to go back down, visitors will go back in the same tram car number they rode up in.

The Fact Sheet contains more facts about the tram, and other interesting information about the structure of the Arch.

 


Last updated: July 16, 2022

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