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Cable car operators need good reflexes and stamina to perform their duties

Raymond Leung, head of cable car operations at Ngong Ping 360, says the industry is unique. In fact, no courses in Hong Kong specialise in cable car operations and maintenance.

"People who study mechanical, electrical or marine engineering do have an advantage, but whatever a person's background, they need to learn [the basics]. Holders of higher-diplomas or degrees suit our basic requirements," he says.

Running a cable car involves specialist work and, for the most part, requires in-house training. Every year, Ngong Ping 360 recruits fresh graduates from technical institutes as cable car technician trainees. Newcomers to the operations and maintenance teams usually start in the position of operator.

This person needs to work for a year before applying for an operator's licence from the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department. The next step is to obtain a controller licence, which requires a year of experience as a licensed operator.

With five years of experience and a higher diploma in engineering, a person can apply to oversee the operations of the entire system.

Like all mass transport systems, cable cars need consistent check-ups. "Operators must conduct a daily check, an hour or so before public opening hours. We check every carriage and lubricate machinery," Leung adds. 

Operations are closely monitored. "There are four angle stations where cable cars make turns and where operators are stationed to ensure the safe, smooth-running of [service]. After customers have left, we carry out maintenance work. We also halt cable car services at particular times of year. Most works are preventive, but there is no margin for error." 

Staff have to act quickly if issues arise and problems must be speedily fixed. The job is also physically demanding. "Outdoor work is a must. Some of the facilities are in remote places up in the mountains," Leung says. "During summer, it gets really hot, and it is extremely cold in winter. During typhoons, we shut down operations but that doesn't mean that we don't need to work. Staff need to make sure that carriages and other equipment are not damaged."

Working hours are long, with staff on two shifts each day. Operations and maintenance staff can progress to the positions of senior operator, controller, assistant operations manager and then engineer.