Most of the transports featured on this page require complete 'grade separation', which means that they must be completely fenced in and all interfaces with either pedestrians or other transports must be made with one passing under the other. The only exception to this rule will be at stations, but even here safety will (usually) dictate that passengers must not walk on the 'track'.
Some of the transports featured are fully automated, others will have a driver at the front, however this page is only concerned with types of transport and not how they are driven.
According to The Monorail Society http://www.monorails.org (external link opens in a new window) which is a free-to-join Internet-based pro-monorail promotional body aimed at industry and 'lay' people alike, a monorail is defined as
"A single rail serving as a track for passenger or freight vehicles. In most cases rail is elevated, but monorails can also run at grade, below grade or in subway tunnels. Vehicles are either suspended from or straddle a narrow guideway. Monorail vehicles are WIDER than the guideway that supports them."
As a contrast a 'traditional' railway is actually a 'duo-rail' because its trains run on two rails.
Monorails are often thought of as futuristic "space age" transports, yet instead of seriously proposing their introduction into the modern "real world" cityscape transport planners seem to have condemned them to just 'fun' locations - such as the 1990 National Garden Festival Gateshead, England. There could be several reasons for this, including...
Monorail at the 1990 National Garden Festival Gateshead.
Vehicle looks somewhat like a caterpillar!
|Sydney monorail.||Seattle monorail.|
The view inside one of Sydney's low capacity vehicles (below left) should explain why some people think of monorails as being for 'low capacity' routes only, however the contrasting view inside the high-capacity Seattle vehicle (below right) shows that with appropriate vehicle designs monorails can provide a viable alternative to other transport technologies.
Seattle's "Alweg" trains are 122' (37.2m) long, 10'3" (3.1m) wide, and 14' (4.27m) high. Each train can seat 124 passengers and can carry 326 standing passengers for a total of 450 passengers.
Seattle's monorail opened in 1962 and has been very successful - both financially and in the popularity stakes. Despite their age the "Alweg" trains it uses still look futuristic. They are in fact not tied to any proprietary manufacturer and therefore whilst currently none are being built anywhere there would be no copyright issues if a transit manufacturer (or any other enterprising company) wanted to build more. OK, so the electrics and some other technical specifications would be of a more modern design, but the basic vehicle design could be copied and still remain forward looking.
Unfortunately this is more than can be said about some of the vehicle designs offered by present-day manufacturers, which, with the walk-through interior replaced with smaller, compartmentalised, segmented interiors actually represent a retrograde step in monorail train internal design.
|Inside Sydney monorail which is formed of small compartments seating about 20 passengers.||Inside Seattle monorail showing its high capacity walk-through design.|
Visual intrusion is a subjective issue - certainly for new developments where the transport can be incorporated as an integral part of the buildings (as seen below - left) there should be no problem, although their installation in older, historic, areas could meet with some perhaps justified resistance.
There is more about visual intrusion (including a comparison with a British example) in the section which looks at hanging monorails below.
|Sometimes complaints about visual intrusion can be justified - so when installed within the urban streetscape the optimum solution is to incorporate
the transport as an integral part of the buildings. Of course this is easier when the buildings are new too and therefore designed from the outset to allow for the monorail.
NB: Some of the larger clickable images of the Sydney monorail have been sourced from S-VHS-C videotape and are a little fuzzy.
|Even when in the street scene monorail's take up virtually no 'ground space'.||Monorails are also ideal for pedestrianised areas - seen crossing Pyrmont Bridge which leads to the harbourside area.|
In Britain the period 1991 - 1996 saw a similar monorail being used at the Merry Hill shopping centre and retail park in the West Midlands. The system featured four stations, with a fifth planned but never built. The Merry Hill site is a former steel works and comprises of a large shopping centre plus several stand-alone retail units and restaurants at various locations within the larger retail park. The monorail linked some of the peripheral units (near to Boulevard station) with two stations serving the shopping centre (Times Square and Central Station) with a station (Waterside East) at an offsite location nearby where there was also a large overflow car park.
|Times Square station featured a single bi-directional track and platform.||Waterfront East station featured a double track station with an island platform, although pending a never built extension to Waterfront West station only one of the tracks and platforms were actively used.|
Several videos showing these monorails in action have been placed on the 'youtube' file-sharing website and can be watched (in new windows) by clicking the links below, from where links to further videos can also be found. The Merry Hill films include some comparative views taken in April 2010.
One country which really has taken to monorails is Japan. Unlike most urban railway systems in Britain / Europe / The Americas and Australasia most of these Japanese monorails are profitable in operation - which means that they need neither subsidy nor fares revenue support!
|These trains operate on a 16km line in Tama, which is a western suburb of Tokyo.||These trains operate on a 16.9km airport service linking Tokyo Haneda International Airport with JR Hamamatsucho railway station in the city centre.|
|These trains operate on a 6.6km line to the north of Osaka.||These trains operate on an 8.4km line in Kitakyushu city which is located in the northernmost part of Kyushu.|
|The four images above were sourced from transport manufacturers' promotional material.|
|Monorail 'points' (also known as 'switches' and 'turnouts' in US English) at Kadoma-Shi station which is a terminal (end of line) station on a monorail to the north of Osaka.
The images seen so far all depict 'straddle' type monorails. They are called this because the vehicles sit upon (ie: straddle) the track.
Another type of monorail is the 'hanging' monorail. As the name suggests they are called this because the vehicles 'hang' below the rail. Both Japanese hanging monorails seen below use the Safege system which originated in France.
Images sourced from transport manufacturers' promotional material.
The Chiba City "Townliner" Urban Monorail which links suburbs in the Chiba Prefecture with Chiba's main rail station.
At 15.5km in length the Chiba City "Townliner" Urban Monorail is the longest hanging monorail system anywhere globally. It is also the only dual-beamed (monorail equivalent of 'twin-track') Safege-type system. Long term plans are for this monorail to be over 40km in length. At present it features two lines and 18 stations. It opened in 1988.
A hanging monorail was chosen for this location because the area occasionally suffers wintry weather - so with the running surfaces and train bogies inside the beams this type of monorail enjoys greater protection from the elements.
|More images of the Chiba City "Townliner" Urban Monorail showing a Urban Flyer 0 series train (left) and a 1000 series train on a section of route that is over a river through the urban area..
Another Japanese hanging monorail is the 6.7km Shonan Enoshima Line which links Ofuna railway station to the coastal area of Enoshima (20 miles southwest of Tokyo). Opening in 1970 this was the first fully commercial monorail based on the French-developed Safege system.
This line is predominately single-track, with passing loops at stations. It features sharp grades (up to 10%) and several tunnels.
The Shonan Enoshima Line.
Image sourced from transport manufacturers' promotional material.
|More images of the Shonan Enoshima Line.
Europe's most successful hanging monorail is the German Wuppertal Schwebebahn.
The Wuppertal Schwebebahn. Being elevated makes it immune to traffic delays. The trains travel on the right.
Wuppertal's monorail first opened in 1901, and for most of its 11km route is located above the river Wüpper, however at the western end it runs above a main road where by not requiring any roadspace it very effectively avoids traffic congestion. Admittedly the system is not the prettiest to look at and is a little noisy but the superstructure is from a different era when people just marvelled at the technology.
This system was built by the same person (Eugen Langen) who had previously built the Schwebebahn in Dresden (also Germany). The Dresden Schwebebahn is a short distance suspended funicular railway, it is looked at in greater detail on the Niche Transports page.
|Much of the Schwebebahn's route is over the river Wüpper, however at the western end of the line (in the suburb of Vohwinkel) the line operates over a roadway.||A Solingen trolleybus on route 683 passes under the Wuppertal Schwebebahn at Vohwinkel, which is where both services terminate.|
|Monorails and Visual Intrusion. On Par With Duo-rail Trains!
Whilst it is true that passengers on monorail trains can sometimes see into the buildings they pass (as in the image on the left, which was photographed from a station platform) the reality is essentially no different to the situation with duo-rail railways where it is accepted that passengers will sometimes overlook the back gardens and rear windows of the private residences which are alongside the tracks.
The view on the right was taken from inside a train calling at a British railway station "somewhere in London". To increase privacy some householders use net curtains and erect fencing which completely blocks the view of their back gardens from passengers on station platforms or in passing trains.
|This station platform view shows how the path of the monorail is completely open. Obviously no-one must walk there when a train is approaching, however there is little danger between trains.
|Inside view: the side with the doors is kept clear for standing passengers whilst the other side features forward facing seats.|
A more modern German hanging monorail is the H-Bahn. Located at Dortmund University this demonstration line provides low capacity but very frequent transport between several campuses, the science park, the local S-Bahn railway station and the suburb of Eichlinghofen.
The first section of the H-Bahn opened on 2nd May 1984. Since then it has been extended several times so that nowadays the total length of the system is about 3km (about 1.9 miles) with the most recent extension being a 1.2km route from the S-Bahn station to the science park.
The route comprises of a bi-directional single track over which two independent interleaved services are operated. One train shuttles every 5 minutes between Campus Nord (North) and Campus Süd (South) stations. The service between the science park and Eichlinghofen runs every 10 minutes and is operated by two trains which pass each other whilst calling at the S-Bahn station. These trains also call at Campus Süd.
The H-Bahn is fully integrated into the public transport networks of the city of Dortmund and the regional fares tariff system, so that passengers in possession of a ticket valid for the local trains / trams / buses can travel on the H-Bahn at no extra cost.
Unlike the Wuppertal installation this system is whisper quiet and features fully automatic driverless operation. For safety - especially at the elevated stations - the H-Bahn stations feature platform doors which open slightly in advance of the trains' doors.
The vehicles have a maximum speed of 50 km/h (31mph), a maximum elevation of 16 metres above ground and seat 22 passengers with space for a further 20 standing. Average daily ridership exceeds 5,000.
|An H-Bahn vehicle arrives at Eichlinghofen, which being a terminus station with no further extension planned it was possible for it to be located at grade (ie: normal ground level).|
|The junction near the main university campus where the route splits to serve Campus Nord and the S-Bahn station / the science park.||Eichlinghofen station (without train) as seen from the far side of the road which passes its frontage.|
|The route to the science park and Science Park station are located above a road. The image on the left also shows a sign advising of the 4.5 metre height limit for road vehicles travelling below below the H-Bahn track.|
|With the platform doors almost open the H-Bahn vehicle's doors will now start to open.||View inside an H-Bahn vehicle.|
|The H-Bahn is very well integrated with the local rail services by being located directly above the subterranean Dortmund Universität
S-Bahn station. Indeed with the elevated H-Bahn station straddling the two S-Bahn platforms passengers enjoy the easiest possible interchange in the minimum of walking distance.
This image predates the extension to the Science Park which nowadays continues on to the left of the station, going through the number 3.
Nos. 1 and 2 are steps / escalators down to the east and westbound platforms.
Nos. 3 and 4 are steps and lifts which link the S-Bahn platforms, street level and the H-Bahn.
Small vehicles such as these are often called Cabin transports. Their function is to provide low capacity transports at locations where passengers need frequent services (typically every 2 - 10 minutes). They usually feature fully-automated 'driverless' operation which also makes them what are known as automated guided transits and / or people-movers.
Varying the service frequency is just one way of tailoring overall capacity to demand. Another option is to adjust the train lengths - usually cabin transports will feature trains of between one and three 'cabins' at a time. Whilst longer trains are technically possible it would often be more economic to use fewer but longer vehicles
The most typical locations for cabin transports are airports where they ferry passengers and staff between the various termini and indeed the first full commercial H-Bahn installation is located at the nearby Düsseldorf airport, where it is known as the Sky-Train.
The Düsseldorf airport "Sky-Train".
The Düsseldorf airport "Sky-Train" is about 2.5km in length and features four stations which link the nearby mainline railway station (which is served by local and InterCity trains) and the off-site car park with the main airport terminal building. Travelling between airport and main railway station takes about 5 minutes. Passengers coming from Düsseldorf and Solingen can also take a local train which uses the airports' suburban railway station, this being located next to the airport hotel and just a few minutes walk from the terminal building.
|This system is double-track and uses two-car trains.||Approaching the station for the off-airport car park.|
|Just outside the airport terminal building the Sky-Train flies over several complex multi-level road junctions.
It then goes around the edge of the semi-circular shaped terminal following a route which sees it travelling within the overall superstructure of the building and calling at two stations.
|The view from a Sky-Train vehicle within the airport complex as it approaches a 'point' ('switch' in American) in the overhead trackage.||From within the passenger terminal it is possible to see the Sky-Train travelling above the ticket sales area.|
The introduction of the Sky-Train is reported to have resulted in a significant drop in road traffic levels around the airport. Furthermore by linking the airport to an existing mainline railway (without having to divert the trains along a new alignment) the airport's catchment area has been significantly increased. This also helps reduce air congestion (in the skies) as passengers on shorter journeys can take the high speed 175mph ICE (InterCity Express) train instead of short-haul connecting flights. It is a shame that a similar philosophy could not be followed for other airports, such as London's Heathrow and Luton airports which are both very close to mainline railways too.
Wuppertal, Dortmund & Düsseldorf are cities in the Ruhr area of Germany.
Cable Cars, Gondolas and other Suspended Cabin Transports.
Some hanging or suspended Cabin transports use small gondola type vehicles or even open chairs. Typically these will be used at leisure-orientated locations, rather than as part of an urban transport system. Notable exceptions include New York and Singapore where the hanging transports link the main cities with nearby small islands.
Sometimes the smaller cabins will carry (seat) so few passengers that they will be thought of as being "Personal Rapid Transports" (or "Transits" in the American dialect), which is often just referred to as PRT. However it is not possible for any of these suspended 'mini' cabin transports to be true PRT's - this is because the principle behind PRT is that once aboard the passengers tell the vehicle where they wish to go and it will take them there, travelling via the best route, whilst these systems only serve fixed routes over which the passenger (usually) has no control.
A selection of hanging / suspended cable cars (also known as 'aerial trams' in the American dialect) seen in Singapore (left) and alongside the Queensboro Bridge on a foggy day in New York City (right). As with other transports the cabins often come in a variety of sizes and passenger capacities. This type of transport is looked at in greater detail on the Niche Transports page.
The Japanese Skyrail gondola transport is new variant of hanging gondola. It is a fusion between a hanging monorail, an aerial cable car, and a people-mover. It features driverless gondola-sized carriages which are designed to carry either 25 or 37 passengers (depending on information source), travel at up to 18 km/h and are suspended from a single concrete track. Between stations traction comes via an attached cable whilst in the stations the carriages release the cable and (for acceleration and braking) use linear motors.
With this system the carriages can climb steep slopes like cable suspended gondola systems and follow curves like normal monorails.
Officially known as the Hiroshima Short Distance Transit Seno Line this line is just 1.3km in length it features three stations. It was built to connect a housing development with Midoriguchi station of the JR-West San-yô railway. Originally listed as a Japanese AGT (automated guided transport / transit) it has since been reclassified as a monorail. Different sources suggest that it was opened either on 28th August 1998 or the same date in 1999.
The Japanese Skyrail Midorizaka Line.
A more well known (in Asia) version of this is the Slope Car, which is installed in over 80 locations in Japan and South Korea.
The principle behind Slope Cars is the fusing of monorail and funicular technologies to provide localised and often 'on demand' transports where there are steep slopes or stairways, for instance between entrance gates and buildings. Often they will also be installed to provide 'special needs' access, however as they are normally fairly slow moving so people who can walk may still prefer to do so. Sometimes however they may be used at locations where there is no foot access, so obviously this precludes the walking alternative. Most slope cars com in the form of straddle-beam monorails, but there are also suspended monorail variants too. Unlike normal monorails which generally use rubber tyres running on a concrete track, slope cars use a variant of steel rack rail and pinions. This is what gives them a much greater hill climbing ability.
Slope car systems will typically operate like lifts (elevators) and provide an on-demand service where to start the journey a user pushes a button, and it automatically stops at the destination. The smaller sized vehicles will carry just a few people, but as explained elsewhere on this page they will not be PRT's, because they still only follow a fixed route over which the passenger has no control. Transports for hilly locations are looked at in greater detail on the Niche Transports page.
Some Japanese Slope Cars. These images show the principle and therefore there is one each straddle and hanging type.
The images come from the vehicle manufacturers' website, http://www.kaho-monorail.com. This link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slope_car leads to a page at the free online "Wikipedia" encyclopædia where further information can be found (links open in new windows).
Perhaps one of the most extensive airport Cabin transport systems to have been built is the original 'people-mover' at Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) airport in the USA. Whereas most airport people-movers usually just shuttle to and fro between two stations (and possibly calling at an intermediate station or two) this one was different as it was 15 miles (24km) in length and featured over 30 stations. So it was more like a transit system for a small town(!) providing a variety of services serving different stations and featuring one, two and three car formations.
However, even this was not a PRT, as despite the extensive nature of the system the trains still followed pre-set routes and called at specified groups of stations; plus, the trains were for people who were not always travelling between exactly the same start and end points.
The DFW Airtran APM airport people-mover.
|A vehicle about to arrive at a station which serves a car parking area and hire car collection point located at the outskirts of the airport.||Looking down on the transit from a terminal building this view shows an Airtran APM vehicle on a public 'non-secure' working leaving a station and the front of an airport staff train calling at a staff station.|
|A twin-unit train passes the airport apron with a multi-storey car park in the distance.||Turn left to call at a station; continue straight ahead for the by-pass.|
|A route map depicting the three intersecting passenger services which were operating on this visit in summer 1998.
In 2003 these services were replaced by services provided by contracted-out motor buses.
|A service dedicated to airport and airline staff, which to ensure that the general public did not use called at different stations and used vehicles with doors on
the right-hand side of the cabin - in contrast to the services which the public used which had their doors on the left.
Note the track immediately to my right, this is for non-stopping trains.
|The Skylink people-mover which in 2005 replaced the airside passenger transport function of the former people-mover, as seen from inside an aircraft. This system uses 64 Bombardier Innovia vehicles.
A video of the DFW Airtrans APM has been placed on the 'youtube' file-sharing website and can be watched (in a new window) by clicking the link below.
Additional information: Known as the Airtrans APM it opened in 1974. Services provided varied but at the height of operations it was providing three sets of services for passengers,
airport staff and a special service for American Airlines. The fleet consisted of 68 cabin-sized vehicles which seated 16 passengers and offered standing room for a further 24 passengers. The system had an
overall capacity rated at 9,000 people/hr. The top speed was just 17mph (27km/h). Although there were some initial teething problems it eventually became very reliable. During its 31 years of operation there
were many technical upgrades, some of which took advantage of advancing technology, eg: circuit boards were replaced with microchips and the original eight-track cartridge system which was used for the passenger
announcements was later updated to a compact cassette system and still later to a digital voice synthesizer.
Several British airports also use automated people-movers, including Stansted and Gatwick; at one time the latter even had two of these systems. The installation which is still open links the two passenger terminals and usually uses triple unit trains although sometimes shorter trains are operated. The other installation used to link one of the terminals with a 'satellite' terminal - it used single unit trains. Closure came with the rebuilding and significant expansion of the terminal.
|Triple unit people-mover at Gatwick airport.||View inside the Gatwick people-mover.|
Both Gatwick and Stansted use the Adtranz (formerly Westinghouse) system which dates from the 1960's and for many years was the the most successful people-mover technology globally. It uses simple technology whereby guidance comes from a pair of horizontal guidewheels which grip a central I beam and traction from dual tyred wheels which use a concrete running surface. Whilst primarily installed at airports in Singapore there is also a 7.8km 'line haul' installation which acts as a feeder to the Mass Transit Railway (urban / suburban heavy rail system that links many areas of Singapore Island with Singapore City). One unusual feature of the Singapore line is that where it passes close to a residential area the window glass automatically becomes opaque. This is achieved using similar technology to LCD display systems and is done to preserve the privacy of local residents.
|Stansted airport people-mover seen at a subterranean 'satellite' station used by passengers arriving at the airport by air who need to go to the main terminal building.||A similar people-mover at an unidentified station on the Singaporean Bukit Panjang LRT automatic guided transport / people-mover system.|
Two views of Bukit Panjang LRT people-movers showing the elevated private right of way nature of the system and inside a vehicle. Usually single unit trains are operated, except at busy times when two units are sometimes coupled to increase capacity.
Singapore actually has three such automatic guided transport systems, all of which serve new high rise housing estates and act as localised feeder systems for the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) network. The systems are still being developed, so that some stations (and sections of line) will remain unopened until the residential developments they have been built to serve are populated.
Fully automated rubber tyred airport style people-mover systems were chosen because it was felt that despite the higher initial installation costs fixed infrastructure transports would be more beneficial than motor bus based systems. There are various reasons for this, including that (unlike road-based motor buses) these transports...
In Singapore these are known as LRT lines (light rail transport / transit).
Only the Bukit Panjang LRT line uses the Westinghouse system, although at one time it was also used on the Singapore Changi Airport 'Skytrain' people-mover. The other two lines (Sengkang LRT and Punggol LRT) use a newer Japanese people-mover technology. In addition the people-mover at Changi Airport has been updated with the newer vehicles. This was done as part of a project which included building more terminals at the airport and enlarging the people-mover to serve them.
As the three LRT systems are used as part of urban transport systems passengers must pay fares to travel on them. However there is no charge for travelling on the people-mover at Changi Airport.
|Approaching an unidentified station on the Punggol LRT line.||Thanggam station on the Sengkang LRT line.|
|Two views of Ranggung LRT station on the Sengkang LRT line.|
|One of the Crystal Mover vehicles on the Sengkang LRT line. This view also shows how on the newer system the power supply rails are located at the sides rather than along the centre.||The Changi Airport Crystal Mover Skytrain vehicles are slightly different to those used on the two urban transport systems.|
Because this represents a rare use of this type of 'cabin' transports for urban transports in an urban setting so there are more images from the same locations than there might otherwise have been. These images have been sourced from the free online "Wikipedia" encyclopædia and rather than link to each one individually by following these two links (which open in new windows) it will be possible to access further information and images of the Singaporean LRT systems.
Performing a similar function but very different operationally is the funicular style Italian MiniMetro which can be found in the city of Perugia.
Faced with severe environmental issues related to motor vehicle exhaust fumes the Italian city of Perugia decided that the only solution lay in restricting car and motorcoach access to parts of the city centre. However they also recognised that another part of the solution lay in improving public transport so that fewer people would want to drive their own cars and that visitors who come by motorcoach should also be happy to leave their vehicles outside of the city centre. Therefore, in addition to increasing car and coach parking capacity on the outskirts of the historic city centre and installing escalators between the parking areas and the city centre, they built a new metro system.
Being a small city (population a little below 165,000) on a hilly location they reasoned that they needed a lower capacity system capable of climbing steeper gradients, and wanting to maintain attractiveness by means of a high service frequency they opted to use lower capacity 'cabin' type vehicles which would operate as a funicular railway.
Known as the MiniMetro the Perugia system can operate so frequently that waiting time is almost non-existent. 3.2km (2miles) in length the system currently has seven stations, although a second line with two further stations is planned. There are 25 rubber-tyred vehicles which like normal railways can be added or removed from service as required depending on expected passenger numbers. Five metres long each, they are fitted with eight tip-up and one fixed 'special needs' seats and have a maximum capacity of 50 passengers. Other features include an acoustic 'doors closing' alarm and LED display which provides 'next station' and destination updates. The systems' top speed various between 36-43km/h (22-26mph)
Services are only cable operated between stations, as at the stations they are automatically detached from the cable and conveyed through the station by an independent conveyor system.
Although generally welcomed the MiniMetro has attracted some complaints by people who live close to the route who cite the continuous hum of the cable pulleys as being somewhat noisy.
The name MiniMetro is a registered trade mark, so can only be used on systems developed by the Italian company Leitner, who are specialists in automatic aerial ropeways and chairlifts - so it is not surprising that some practices from these transports (such as disengaging from the cable at stations) have been ported over.
Funicular / cable railway system are looked at in greater detail on the Niche Transports page.
|Being fully automated means that where the line is at or below grade (ground level) safety dictates that it has to be fenced in, with crossing points either above or below - as seen in the distance.||An elevated section of line showing how it has been dovetailed to fit between existing residential buildings. In the distance can be seen one of the cutting-edge designed stations.|
|Part of the system operates as a fully fledged underground railway.||An underground station.|
|Inside one of the MiniMetro 'cabin' sized vehicles showing their bright red colour scheme.||At the park and ride facility on the outskirts of the city centre.|
All the MiniMetro images have been sourced from the free online "Wikipedia" encyclopædia and rather than link to each one individually by following these links (which open in new windows) it will be possible to access further information and images...
In October 2005 it was announced that the British "ULTra" (Urban Light Transit) cabin transport system would be installed to serve the new Terminal Five of London's Heathrow Airport.
The ULTra system uses very small battery electric powered cabins which have a maximum speed of 25mph (40 km/h).
The system formally opened on 16th September 2011. There are 21 battery-powered driverless pods which link the business car park with the terminal, providing a more rapid and frequent service than the more traditional services that use normal motor buses. Passengers arriving at the car park before flying out from the airport are able to summon an ULTra cabin from the nearest 'stop' and after a wait which typically is under a minute are taken directly to the airport terminal - rather than being required to travel on a bus journey which follows an often circuitous pre-set route. Passengers flying into the airport who then wish to collect a car from the car park first use a touch-screen computer to select their destination and then board a pod which is having its batteries topped up in one of the four 'platforms'. Once their destination has been confirmed they can press the buttons to close the doors and start the journey. The system will tell them if there will be a slight delay on starting the journey (perhaps because of conflicting movements with other pods).
The Heathrow installation is 2.4 miles (3.9km) in length and journeys take approximately 5 minutes. It is in operation for 22 hours a day. If it proves to be successful then it could be extended throughout the airport - needing 400 pods!
One unknown issue is that ULTra cabins are designed for just four passengers, but sometimes passengers travel in groups of more than four people (eg: families) and it is not known whether these groups would be required to split up and take a second ULTra cabin or will be able to just 'cram in' with children sitting on adult's laps. Especially if there is just one adult (or other responsible person) in the group it would be felt undesirable to allow children to travel alone. Likewise, expecting children to travel in another cabin with a complete stranger...
|ULTra podcar on the Cardiff, Wales, test track. Image sourced from the ULTra website.
|An ULTra podcar at Heathrow Airport T5 business car park.
ULTra is often called a PRT (Personal Rapid Transport / Transit). This is because it operates on the basis that once aboard the passengers tell the vehicle where they wish to go and it will use its special dedicated track to take them there, travelling via the best route. It is this feature which primarily differentiates PRT from normal people-movers and others types of public transport, as the latter only follow fixed routes over which the passenger (usually) has no control.
A second ULTra PRT system is scheduled to open in Amritsar, Punjab, India, in 2015. This will be 2.1miles (3.3km) in length with 7 stations and 200 vehicles.
PRT is still an emerging technology, with only a few PRT style systems having been created. Some people would question whether PRT can even be seen as true public transport, with instead it being more akin to private cars which are hired on a short time basis (either from a specialist commercial hiring company or a car club) rather than being bought / owned by the principal user or their employer. Another distinction is that typically public transports will carry people who are not known to each other, whilst private transport passengers tend to know each other, perhaps as friends, family, work colleagues, students at the same educational facility, etc.
Below are some images showing some PRT systems.
|One of the ParkShuttle automated vehicles which links Rotterdam's Kralingse Zoom metro station and the Rivium business park. This uses 6 vehicles, there are 8 stations and a 1.8km track.
The route includes at grade crossing points for pedestrians and other traffic, which are negotiated in fully automatic mode.
|Automated driverless vehicles at the 2002 Floriade flower show.
25 such vehicles operated over a 700m route journey at 25 second intervals. Research conducted during the show found that despite being driverless people of all ages were happy to use the system without any reservations.
Image sourced from: http://www.2getthere.eu/.
|Masdar City PRT podcar, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. This new-build car-free community will rely entirely on solar energy and other renewable energy sources, with a sustainable, zero-carbon,
zero-waste ecology. So far phase 1 is expected to be completed in 2015, and the rest of the city some years later.
|Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit, near Beechurst Station, July 2008. See below for further information.
The ParkShuttle, Floriade and Masdar City systems are commercial products of a Dutch company called 2getthere.
The Morgantown (West Virginia, USA) PRT comprises of an 8.2mile (13.2km) route with 73 vehicles and 5 stations. Whilst the system operates as a true PRT at off-peak times of the day, at peak times it operates in a mode whereby the vehicles follow fixed routes of known demand, whilst during low-demand periods the system switches to a mode whereby a small number of vehicles constantly circulate, calling at every station, as per a normal urban public transport people-mover. This system serves a university so is only operational Monday - Saturday when students are attending classes. The system is credited with saving the town of Morgantown from the nightmare of gridlocked streets.
At some stage in 2013 a small two station PRT line will open serving a Garden Expo in Suncheon, (South) Korea. This will use the Vectus system. To avoid copyright infringment this is not illustrated here.
More information about these systems can be found at these websites (links will open in new windows).
Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) Trains.
Opening on 16th August 1984 the Birmingham (UK) airport Maglev people-mover was a global innovation by being the first public transport installation (in the present era) to use magnetic levitation. Linking Birmingham International Railway Station with Birmingham International Airport and the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) it used two 'cabin' sized vehicles which featured electromagnets at each corner (to provide the lift) and linear induction motors (for propulsion). The trains "flew" at an altitude of 0.6" (15mm), carried up to 40 passengers (plus luggage) and with a maximum speed of 26mph (42km/h) the approximately 2000' (620 metre) journey lasted for about 90 seconds.
Because the Maglev system always formed part of the airport's essential infrastructure as the link to the railway station no fares were ever charged for its use.
Maglev technology uses powerful electro-magnets so that the transports float along the track on a cushion of air. This reduces friction, gives a very smooth quality of ride and makes such vehicles relatively quiet. Magnetics are also used for propulsion and braking.
The advantage of this technology over conventional steel wheel technologies is that there are massive savings in maintenance and there is the possibility of full 24-hour service - conventional railway tracks must have every stretch inspected every 72 hours (or even more frequently) and as this involves railway staff walking along the tracks it requires the lines to be closed to moving trains. This is usually done at night - and partly explains why conventional railways cannot offer 24 hours / all-night services. Maglev does not have this issue, as the system should only need periodic maintenance shutdowns - although most travellers and safety officials would probably feel happier if (at a minimum) this was done on a weekly basis.
|The former Birmingham Airport Maglev.|
In addition to meeting a real transport need this 'showpiece' installation was intended as a working demonstration of the new technology of magnetic levitation. However no further systems were built using the same technology and with the Birmingham installation working reasonably well so no need was seen to keep it up to date with newer technologies as they became available. Advocates of magnetic levitation technology suggest that especially the latter was another reason for the system's ultimate demise.
In the end it became a victim of its own success - because it had been so dependable, for so long, that when it finally needed spare parts there was no replacement parts industry. Furthermore its electronics had by then become several generations behind the times (isn't it just amazing that something so technologically advanced as a maglev can become 'old fashioned' so soon!). Closure came on the 19th June 1995.
Some of this information was sourced from a House of Commons Written Answers session, this link should open a copy of Hansard for the relevant date in a new window. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199899/cmhansrd/vo990526/text/90526w08.htm
A video of this Maglev in action has been placed on the 'youtube' file-sharing website and can be watched (in a new window) by clicking the link below, from where links to further videos can also be found.
Instead there is now a people-mover (marketed under the name of "Air-Rail Link ") which uses the Austrian Doppelmayr/Siemens CABLE Liner Shuttle system. This rubber-tyred system features automated cable traction, and apart from here is also used in Las Vegas, USA.
The Birmingham Airport - NEC and International Railway Station 'SkyRail' people-mover.
These trains feature what are effectively two identical cabin vehicles "back-to-back".
Formally opened 7th March 2003 it cost £11 million to install. Services run at speeds of up to 22mph (35km/h) and a journey along the two new 585metre trackways takes about 90 seconds. The system is somewhat like a flat funicular (or horizontal lift / elevator) with trains being hauled by a cable which is powered via a winding house, although in this installation the two vehicles are able to operate independently of each other. Services operate every few minutes so although each cabin has a stated capacity of just 27 passengers (which equates to 54 passengers per train) the system can transport up to 1600 passengers per hour.
Often thought of as a 'magnetic levitation' transport was the (West) Berlin, Germany, M-Bahn. This system used a linear synchronous motor in the guideway which reacted with permanent magnets on the vehicles to provide 85% of the support as well as propel the trains. The vehicles were also fitted with small lateral and vertical rollers which provided 15% of the support as well as helping keep the vehicle within preset lateral limits.
|The former (West) Berlin, Germany, M-Bahn....
Left: at Gleisdreieck, where it used part of a U-Bahn platform which had been closed as a result of the erection of the Berlin Wall.
Right: Berburger Str. which was the intermediate station. On the ground to the right can be seen a flea market / car boot sale (filmed through glass which has a blue tint whilst looking towards the sunlight).
|Kemperplatz was the third station, which is from where these two views were sourced.|
Inside an M-Bahn train.
A video of the M-Bahn has been placed on the 'youtube' file-sharing website and can be watched (in a new window) by clicking the link below, from where links to further videos can also be found.
Of particular interest may be this video which includes many different views.
Very much experimental in nature there were just three stations along a 1.6 km route which took the train very close to the former division between the Eastern and Western sectors of the city.
After Berlin's reunification it was felt desirable to reopen the sections of U-Bahn (underground railway / subway) which had closed because of the city's division and as a result the early 1990's saw it become necessary to close the M-Bahn.
In March 2005 the 9.2km Tobu-Kyuryo Japanese "Linimo" urban maglev monorail carried its first passengers. Unlike previous Japanese applications of maglev technology which had been developed with high-speed long-distance travel in mind, Linimo was intended to develop a variant suitable for urban transport which could provide an alternative to steel wheel and rubber tyred urban railway (metro / subway) systems. In this way Linimo has become both the first application of maglev technology on a monorail and the first commercial automated urban maglev.
The trains are based on the well-tested HSST-100 maglev design. They have a theoretical top speed of 200km/h, although being an urban line with 9 stations in virtually as many kilometres the station spacing is too close to allow such speeds to be reached in practise. On this system the top speed is about 130km/h. Traction comes from linear motors, with the trains floating 8mm above the track when in motion.
As with some of Japan's other urban transports most of the line is elevated, including sometimes directly above city streets, although there is also a tunnel section of about 1km in length. Curiously, services have to be suspended for safety reasons when wind speeds exceed 25 m/s, with (apparently) this being a relatively common occurrence in the area.
Being the first commercial implementation of a new type of transport technology the line has suffered a number of highly publicised technical breakdowns, especially during the 2005 Expo when twice in March 2005 far higher peak hour demand than the line's carrying capacity saw the number of people inside trains exceeding the design capacity of 244 passengers/train with them being unable to levitate. The design capacity of the system with these triple carriage trains is 4000 passengers/direction/hour.
Internally the Linimo trains feature the usual (for Asia) full walk-through facility whilst the fronts are of a novel see-through "gem cut" design which in an emergency will allow evacuation through either end.
Exterior and interior views of the Linimo Maglev Monorail.
Several videos of this maglev can be found on the 'youtube' file-sharing website. These can be watched (in new windows) by clicking the links below, from where links to further videos can also be found.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5RzchADGLc (especially note the trains switching tracks at the end of the film)
Meanwhile, in December 2003 Shanghai, China, become the home of a global innovation with the first commercial high-speed maglev line.
The first commercial application of high-speed maglev is the 30km (18.6 miles) double-track line which connects Shanghai to the new Pudong International Airport. With a peak operating speed of 430 km/h (267mph) and average speed of 250 km/h (150mph), each one-way trip has a duration of just 7 minutes 20 seconds.
Pictures sourced from manufacturer's promotional material. For more information visit their websites at:- http://www.transrapid.de or http://www.transrapid-usa.com.
For information on a proposed application of this technology on the British mainland visit http://www.500kmh.com
Several videos of this maglev can be found on the 'youtube' file-sharing website. These can be watched (in new windows) by clicking the links below, from where links to further videos can also be found.
Street Compatible Cabin Transports.
None of the above transports are "street compatible", which means that they would require extensive (and possibly costly) infrastructure to be built before they could be brought into service. This in itself is not a problem because for many locations such transports will be appropriate and by being away from the street scene they will be able to provide timetabled, reliable services which will offer travellers a viable and environmentally sound alternative choice to driving and the all-too-familiar problems caused by traffic congestion / air pollution, etc...
However there will also be some locations where there is a need for very frequent lower capacity transports which are capable of operating both on their own private right of way and in the "street" domain - whether shared with pedestrians, other road traffic, or both.
Traditionally this would have meant using minibuses (although they would only really be suitable for use on paved roads) these being the cheapest and simplest form of public transport. However, experience with bus deregulation here in Britain has shown that whilst buses are easy to bring into service their lack of fixed infrastructure also equates to a possible lack of commitment to providing a long term service - or, in other words buses which are "here today" can just as easily be "gone tomorrow"! And then there is the question of air pollution... although it is true that battery electric buses do exist this is an option few transport operators seem to want to explore. Electric minibuses are looked at on the Electric Buses page.
|An example of ultra light rail - a Parry people-mover 50 (PPM50) in low floor format suitable for street operation. Image sourced from manufacturer's promotional material - http://www.parrypeoplemovers.com||The first commercial use of a Parry People Mover is as a replacement for a 'heavy' rail service, so uses a variant of the PPM60 railcar adapted for use on a mainline railway, rather than a street tramway.|
By far the most popular street compatible form of public transport is the tram (or streetcar) and these exist in "Cabin" size too. However as ultra light rail is a duo-rail technology it is looked at on the Passenger Train Variations - Trams, Streetcars & Light Rail Vehicles and the Light Rail Fits In pages.