Niche Transports

Two pages looking at what are known as 'niche' technologies. This term usually refers to lower capacity and specialist transports which either act as feeders for the more mainstream transports or meet transport needs which other transports are incapable of providing.

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Niche Transports are looked at on two pages.

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This topic is on the other page.

Water Transport

Water transport is actually one of the oldest transports in recorded history, with dug-out canoes being used for thousands of years. According to the Wikipedia online encyclopædia, a ferry is a boat or a ship carrying passengers, and possibly their vehicles, on a relatively short-distance, regularly scheduled service whilst a foot-passenger ferry with many stops, such as in Venice, is called a waterbus.

(Some people may say that the correct name should be riverbus but this term excludes canals, lakes and other waterways which are not rivers).

Many transport advocates would suggest that in the present-day era the benefits of water transport as a form of urban transport (transit) is very much under-rated (and therefore under used), except perhaps by the tourist / leisure orientated industries. One city however where they have little modal choice is Venice, Italy, as here there are few roads and indeed alongside many watery thoroughfares few footpaths either. So even walking is not always an option! (OK so swimming might be another option, but it can be dangerous with the modern day motor boats and polluted water).

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A busy scene on the Grand canal with a waterbus calling at the Academia waterbus stop and freight boats passing by. Many cities globally have a river or two - in Venice there is a network of rivers and other waterways throughout the city - this is a typical "street" scene near to the main bus station.
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Waterbus stops typically comprise of a sheltered waiting room on a floating pontoon which juts out slightly into the canal.
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When there are waterways instead of roads even the local delivery van becomes a local delivery boat! Venice is also famous for its gondolas, which presumably were the water equivalent of the rickshaw or taxi but nowadays are primarily used by tourists.

Perhaps Venice is a special case because it has so many "water streets" that for much of the city boats are the only viable option. Far more cities feature just a handful of watery routes where within the overall scheme of things the water transports perform just a secondary rôle. (Plus, sometimes leisure-orientated tourist services too).

Known as Venice of the East Bangkok, the capital of Thailand also uses water buses in several parts of the city, providing an often faster, inexpensive transport alternative to the heavily congested roads. However whilst at one time the city featured many canals (known locally as khlongs) most of these have now been filled in and converted to roads. Bangkok is also building an extensive urban railway (metro) system, with much of the system being elevated over city streets.

Known as Venice of the North Amsterdam, Holland has many canals which (like Venice) divide much of the city centre into many small islands. However virtually all transport is land-based (mostly trams plus a metro) - with the exception of freight carrier DHL all freight transport has also been shifted to 'dry land'. Waterbuses only exist in one location, this being the main waterfront, which is not part of the canal system.

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Pratu Nam Pier, which is an interchange between the western Golden Mount line and the eastern NIDA line, Khlong Saen Saeb, Bangkok.
Image & license: Hdamm / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Although Amsterdam, Holland, has an extensive canal system its primary use has been relegated to leisure orientated transports, such as seen here.

London is another of the cities where within the overall scheme of things water transports perform just a secondary rôle, although water transport is being used extensively in connection with the construction of the site for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Whilst there is widespread support for riverbuses along the River Thames through the centre of London to take on a more high-profile rôle in the urban travel system the reality (so far) is that the river - as a thoroughfare - is primarily used by the leisure industry. The principal constraint is that the people who allocate funds raised from the London-wide "pay once & ride at will 'Travelcard'" (public transport season ticket) to the transport operators will not give the riverbus operators sufficient money to make it commercially viable for them to accept Travelcard tickets without levying a supplementary fare, and having bought their Travelcards few Londoners are willing to pay extra / supplementary fares for transports which they would have expected to be automatically included in the purchase price of their already very expensive tickets.

London's river buses should not be confused with the Woolwich Ferry which links the north and south riverbanks but does not serve other destinations along the river. This ferry is completely free at point of use - but then it dates from an age when things were done for the social good. (It is funded via local government).

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The Woolwich Ferry which links the northern and southern sides of the River Thames, providing perhaps the most pleasant way to cross London's watery divide. In the days before fixed bridges were built ferries linking rural communities on opposite sides of rivers were commonplace. This example links Lower Kingswear with Dartmouth, in south Devon. The pontoon carries eight cars and is towed across the River Dart by a small tug.
Image & license: Arpingstone / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
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Image & license: mailer_diablo / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
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Image & license: CUMBELEE / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Despite the building of Mass Transit Railway and road tunnels which provide quicker alternatives that also serve many more localities within the urban area (and beyond), Hong Kong's Star Ferry has remained a popular way to cross Victoria Harbour, between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The ferry operates several routes across the harbour, the main and most popular route is between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui, which at the busiest times operates at 6 minute intervals. Fares are slightly higher at weekends and on public holidays than normal workdays.

These views show a Star Ferry boat (left) and the partially enclosed upper deck on one of these ferries (right). Travelling upper deck on the Central - Tsim Sha Tsui route attracts a higher fare.

Water transports are also frequently used for inter-urban travel, linking with offshore islands and remote riverside communities where difficult terrain makes the water an easier option than land transport and where inland lakes mean that the distances to be travelled across the lake can be much shorter than if the journey had been made by travelling on dry-land transports (rail or road). In the modern era some of these boats will also carry vehicles too, depending on local circumstances.

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Some ferries also carry trains, as well as cars and lorries. This car deck has some freight wagons and (not seen) some through passenger carriages on a train linking Germany with one of the Danish Islands. The Norwegians also find that sometimes the easiest way to link remote waterside communities is by boat - especially those communities located within fjords where the option of travelling by land involves negotiating steep mountains.

This page is primarily focussed on local transports for people, which for water transport excludes ferries such as those which cross the English Channel connecting Great Britain with mainland Europe, or those which sail in the Baltic Sea between Finland and Sweden and in many ways are more akin to full-blown car-carrying cruise ships - even though journeys typically last for just one night - than humble "ferries".

However water transport also has much to offer the freight industry, especially for non-urgent goods which at present travels by road, often adding to traffic congestion and air pollution.

Up the advent of the railways, the easiest method of moving goods was by water - inland via either rivers or canals or, where possible, along coastlines. Whilst coastal transport and wider rivers could use boats that were powered by sails or people rowing, the typical motive power for canals came from horses or mules walking along the towpath pulling the barge. Once it became possible the desire was for water transports to be fossil fuel (coal) powered, and whilst this was generally acceptable for coastal and river transports, for the canals there were very powerful reasons for not adopting these methods of propulsion. The reasons included:

  • Steam powered barges needed to dedicate so much space to the engine and fuel that their goods carrying capacity was significantly reduced, raising operating costs and lowering profitability. The same issues applied to the battery-electric barges, once electricity became available,
  • Canals, which typically were formed of large linear ditches, often did not have reinforced banks and whether the barges were towed by steam boats or self powered, the wash of the screw propellers (or paddlewheels) seriously endangered the stability and integrity of the canal banks.
  • The canals were unsuited to the higher speeds that mechanical propulsion offered. This was because typically the canals were only 2 to 2.5 metres (6½ ft - 8½ ft) deep - at their centres, shallower at the sides - and since at higher speeds the stern of a propeller powered boat lays deeper in the water so there were increased chances of hitting the canal's base.

Instead the canals became involved in a variety of specialist solutions, two of which are still used, albeit only at a few locations. Some of these solutions included electrically powered haulage, with the electricity coming from sluices / turbines at the locks, which means that the power came from 100% non-polluting renewable and sustainable sources. Electric haulage mostly started at the turn of the 20th century, primarily in France but also in Germany, Belgium, Great Britain and (only experimentally) in the United States Of America. Rather than use mules the USA eventually rebuilt its waterways to be suitable for self-powered boats.

Funicular / Cable Towing

One method that is no longer used saw the boats being towed from elevated moving cables which ran alongside the waterways. The theme would have been very similar to San Francisco's cable cars, except that the cables were above ground rather than below ground. The elevated cables were held aloft on supports which featured pulleys, with propulsion coming from coal fuelled power houses located on the river / canal banks. Typically the cables extended about 8km (5 miles) each way from the power house, then crossed the canal and returned on the other side, so that both directions of travel were powered.

The barges used protruding arms to reach the moving cables, which they gripped using special devices at the end of the protruding arm. Typically they travelled at speeds of up to 4km/h (2.5mph). There was only one commercial steam powered system, this was on the Aisne-Marne Canal and included the 2.6km (1.6 miles) Mont-de-Billy tunnel. This installation lasted until the 1940's.

The only electrically powered funicular system was on the French Canal de la Marne au Rhin. This opened just before WW1 and replaced an installation which used the steam barge powered chain system. It comprised two separate sections of cable, one line was 7km (4.3 miles) and along its route included the tunnel de Mauvages. The other line was other line was 5km (3miles) in length and passed through the souterrain de Foug. This line lasted until 1933, when it was replaced by electric trolley barges using submerged chains and bank-side mules.

The Funicular Cable towing systems was suitable, without adaption, for any barge that could be towed by horses or mules and did not create a wash. On reaching the end of one section of cable a barge could simply detach and then attach to the next section's cable. The system was compatible with locks, and full two-way traffic. But the need for power houses and staff every 16km made it expensive to operate.

Motor Locomotive Haulage - Canalside Mules

The system which became most widespread was where the animals (horses / mules) walking alongside the towpath were replaced with mechanical locomotives that are known as mules. There were several variants, the busiest routes used mules on rails (essentially small locomotives), other routes used driver steered mules. The mules on rails were seen as being a better option, because maintenance costs were lower and their fixed steering meant that they could be used at night. However the cost of installing the tracks (ie: the initial investment) restricted this option to only busier routes. The driver steered mules sometimes damaged the ground surface and could not be used either at night (the lack of lighting meant that too many were falling into the water) nor in wintry weather conditions.

The advantages of the use of mules included that any barge that was suitable for towing by horse or mule could be hauled by mechanical mule instead - without any modifications. In addition, there was no wash - so the integrity of the delicate canal banks were not compromised and that the canal's water depth could remain as it was.

By 1958 almost every canal in Northern and Eastern France used mules which travelled along the towpath hauling 'trains' of barges from a tow line. The network was 3,731 km (2,318 miles) long, of which 1,047 km (650 miles) was on rails - using 1,700 tractors, and 2,684 km (1,667 miles) was on tyres - using 770 tractors. At one time the mules were electrically powered from two overhead wires (like trolleybuses) although in later years diesel was used instead. The last of these mules ceased being used in 1973.

Especially with rail-based mules which used only a single track on one side of the waterway, when two mules travelling in opposite directions met the drivers simply swapped tow ropes and returned whence they came.

The Germans also used electric mules alongside the Teltow Canal, which is near to Berlin. This rail-based system reached 70km (43 miles) in length and used 22 vehicles. The Russians dismantled it in 1945. Two of the electric mules still exist, in museums.

One location where mules are still used is the Panama Canal. However these mules only guide the ships - to obtain forward motion the ships must use their own onboard engines.

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Panama Canal Mule.
The tracks used whilst piloting the ships feature rack & pinion trackage, the tracks used when not piloting the ships are plain. These mules only pilot / guide the ships; the ships must use their own engines to progress along the canal.
Image & license: Aries Eroles / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Canal tunnel at Mauvages, France. Note the overhead wires. The chain is in the water, so it cannot be seen.
Image & license: Damien Boilley / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY 2.5
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Image & license: Unknown / Historic image now out of copyright.
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Image & license: Peter Wollschläger / Wikipedia encyclopædia /
Kulturbuch-Verlag Berlin - Stern- und Kreisschiffahrt der Teltowkanal AG
Unrestricted free use with attribution.
The electric towing tug Teltow - (left) and one of the electric mules (right) which also used on the Teltow Canal. Other images which for copyright reasons cannot be used here show the electric mules as collecting power from one overhead wire via bow pantographs, which suggests that the rails were used for electric return.


A way of powering barges that did not reduce their carrying capacity was the trolleyboat. This requires twin overhead wires above the canal. Trolleyboats benefit from a near unlimited range, but (as with steam powered barges) suffered from their propellers creating a wash that damaged the canal banks. Of course it was possible to mitigate this by travelling at reduced speed, but this reduced their attractiveness.

For a few years trolleyboats were used commercially on the Charleroi Canal in Belgium. This short (4km / 2½ miles) installation was part of a much longer 47km (29 miles) long electric mule powered section of waterway.

In 1903 the German electric towing tug Teltow was tested on the Teltow canal which is near the city of Berlin. It featured a sophisticated three - propeller power system that created next to no wash, but its energy consumption was three times higher than electric mules, so tug haulage was only used on an approximately 1.3km (0.8 mile) section of canal where the bankside terrain was not suitable for the railway tracks used by the electric mules.

Only one overhead wire electric system is still in use today. This is along the French canal de la Marne au Rhin. Opening in 1933, when it replaced a funicular system, its survival is because it passes through the tunnel de Mauvages which is 4877 metres (3.1 miles) in length. In 1936 the canal was equipped with electric mules, but due to there not being a towpath these could not be used in the tunnel. Nowadays the mules have given way to diesel powered barges, but overhead electric power has been retained out of a desire to avoid suffocating the barge crews whilst passing through the tunnel. The towing barges combine electricity with the chain propulsion system.

Submerged Chain Towing

Used in Germany, France and Belgium, initially with steam towing barges, this system involved a chain that was laid loosely on the canal bed. Traction came by having the chain rise up above to pass through the towing barge via rotating rollers which firmly gripped it, hauling the barge in the process. The rollers were powered by the on-board engine. Some chain barges were powered by electricity which was sourced from one overhead wire (with the chain acting as the return) or twin overhead wires.

A variant of this system used cables, however this text will only refer to chains.

Chain barges did not create a wash and therefore were compatible with the shallow and delicate canals. The chain system was best suited to straight, flat canals which had no locks. Curved canals posed problems, because the chain tended to come very close to the banks, drawing the barges in so that they experienced impact damage. Another disadvantage was that the barges had to drop the chains before passing through lock gates, and re-connect to a chain afterwards. This was a time-consuming process which made the use of chains unattractive on canals which included many locks, and resulted in the chain system not being as widely adapted as it would otherwise have been.

The first electrically powered chain system started in 1894 along the Bourgogne canal in France. Just 6 km (3.7 miles) in length the route included a 3.3 km (2 miles) tunnel in Pouilly-en-Auxois, replacing a steam cable system which had been used since 1867. This was also the first practical commercial use of electricity for boat propulsion. It was also 100% sustainably powered, with the electricity coming from turbines at two locks. Although there were capital costs involved once in use this system benefited from being powered by pollution-free renewable electricity, which being off-grid was also virtually free of charge.

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Image & license: Carl Victor Suppan / Historic image now out of copyright.
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Image & license: Pimvantend / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Schematic of an overhead wire trolley electric chain tow tug as used on the French Bourgogne canal and a preserved example. Click the images to see larger versions in new windows.

British Examples

At one time overhead wire power systems were also used on some British canals, especially though tunnels. A British example was the 1837 Thomas Telford bore of the Harecastle Tunnel, which is part of the Trent & Mersey Canal (just north of Stoke-on-Trent). This tunnel is 2,926 yards (about 2,600 metres) in length and from 1914 until 1954 an electric tug powered from an overhead wire inside the tunnel pulled boats through. Since there were two tunnels here so they operated in opposite direction, and boatmen on barges travelling through using James Brindley's older 1777 tunnel had to leg their way through, lying on the roof of their barges and pushing on the sides of the tunnel with their feet. A photograph of people legging in the Dudley canal tunnel in the West Midlands can be seen on the Leisure page.

The Relevance To Our Present Era

Water transport offers the most fuel efficient way to send goods from one location to another. On a barge one litre of fuel will be sufficient to carry a tonne of cargo for 127 km, whilst by train the distance is 97 km and just 50 km by road. Typically a barge has a cargo capacity that is 15 times greater than a railway goods wagon and 60 times greater than an articulated heavy goods road vehicle. Not all goods are so urgent that they need to arrive the next day. If planned for then it rarely matters if goods take a few days to arrive at their destination.

Even for water transports the use of electricity can be very relevant to our present era. By siting mini-turbines and waterwheels at locks and on rivers it becomes possible to generate totally clean and renewable electricity with which to power the barges, so that even when infrastructure maintenance costs are taken in to account the freight industry will be able to send goods at considerably lower cost than on diesel transports.

Revisiting solutions adopted in historic times (rather than simply using the latest technologies) may seem a strange thing to do, but what is being advocated here is the use of waterways to help reduce road traffic levels and air pollution. At quiet times, when the demand for the electricity generated at locks is low, any excess power could be feed into the national grid, thereby creating a useful income stream to help finance ongoing maintenance costs. Even in the British Isles such micro-generation of electricity using wind, water and solar sources has the potential to be viable in reducing our dependence on expensive and polluting fossil fuels.

Data sources / additional reading: . . . (German Language wikipedia page) ..

Although very rare, overhead wire powered short distance ferries across rivers also still exist!

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The Canby Ferry which links Canby and Wilsonville/Stafford in Clackamas County across the Willamette River in Oregon, USA. The boat, the M.J. Lee II, is an overhead wire powered ferry that is guided by an underwater cable, leaving the vessel relatively unaffected by the river's currents.
Image & license: LarryB55 / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain
The Straussee Ferry (Strausseefähre in German) which crosses the Straussee lake, near the town of Strausberg in Brandenburg, Germany. It is operated by the Strausberg Railway, using the overhead wire powered ferry Steffi.
Image & license: Mr. Wissenschaft / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

At the present time this section does not include battery electric or solar powered boats.

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Another way to 'cross water' is by a bridge. Bridges of course come in many different sizes and shapes, but they normally all have one thing in common, this being that they are 'solid' so that even if it is an opening bridge where the section which actually crosses the water / valley / whatever moves (slides, lifts, tilts) part of it always remains attached to dry land - so do not qualify as being forms of transport. The only type of bridge which actually moves is the transporter bridge.

Transporter bridges are very rare, with there only being about a dozen globally - and not all of them working either. The basic principle is that the 'deck' which is used by people crossing the waterway will hang from a much higher span by wires or a metal frame and will be moveable so that it crosses from one side to another. This makes this type of bridge somewhat akin to a ferry which instead of being on the water's surface hangs above it.

The reasons for building transporter bridges vary. Typically they were built over navigable rivers or other bodies of water where there is a requirement for ship traffic to be able to pass below. In this way they act as an alternative to opening bridges. Often transporter bridges were built where it was seen as being impractical to build the long approach ramps that would be required to reach a high span, or in places where ferries are not easily able to cross - for instance because at low tide the water's edge is too shallow for a ferry - and the requirement for boats to pass along the waterway preclude a fixed bridge.

In the present era transporter bridges have fallen out of favour, because they can only carry only a limited load - often even less than ferry boats - and the rise in motorised personal transport has seen ideas related to bridge approach ramps changing very considerably.

The oldest transporter bridge is the Vizcaya Bridge which was built in 1893. Known as Bizkaiko Zubia in Basque and Puente de Vizcaya in Spanish this bridge links the towns of Portugalete and Las Arenas (part of Getxo) in the Biscay province of Spain. The gondola which can transport six cars and several dozens of passengers makes the 164m (538ft) 1½ minute crossing of the mouth of the Nervion River every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day all year round. There is also a high level walkway at the top of the towers, which are accessed by lifts (elevators). Fares vary depending on the time of day, and with the bridge being located within the larger conurbation of Bilbao can be paid for using Bilbao's Creditrans transport stored value electronic ticket.

There are three transporter bridges in England, plus one in Wales. Of these only the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge which crosses the River Tees is in a fully operational condition. The Warrington Transporter Bridge is disused whilst for safety reasons services on the Newport (South Wales) Transporter Bridge were suspended at the end of 2007. Once / if it receives the required maintenance it is expected to reopen. The other British transporter bridge is the modern Royal Victoria Dock Bridge, which is located in London's Docklands area. However, although designed with the potential to be used as a transporter bridge, it has so far only been used as a high-level footbridge.

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Image & license: Javier Mediavilla Ezquibela / Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0
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Image & license: Javier Mediavilla Ezquibela / Wikipedia encyclopædia.
CC BY-SA 3.0
The Vizcaya Transporter Bridge seen from the quay side and a closer view of the gondola whilst in transit.
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Image & license: Dr Saudade / Flickr CC BY 2.0
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Image & license: Adambro / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
The Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge seen at dusk and the gondola at one end awaiting more passengers plus the departure time.


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Transports For Hilly Locations

Well known, and well proven with many years of commercial use are the rack & pinion 'cog-wheel' and funicular railways which are used in many hilly localities to overcome steep inclines where normal 'adhesion' railway systems would not be practical.

Although perhaps more usually thought of as a type of railway which would be found on rural mountainous railways, there is no reason why these types of railway should not be suitable for urban areas too. Obviously however only on routes which merit them.

One example of an urban rack & pinion 'cog-wheel' railway is to be found in the German city of Stuttgart, where the Rack Railway (Zahnradbahn in German) first commenced services in 1884. Nowadays this urban tramway is 2.2km (about 1 1/3rd mile) in length and has a with a maximum incline on the passenger section of 17.5% (approximately 1:6) - although the line to the depot includes a section of track where the incline is 20% (1:5)

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Line 10 of the Stuttgart (Germany) urban travel network which is a rack & pinion light railway.
Much of the system is on roadside private rights of way, although some sections are completely separate from the roads.
The route is single track, with a passing point at a centrally located intermediate station.
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These images show a train emerging from an off-street section of line and crossing the road for the start of a roadside section of line. The signals seen by road users operate as normal traffic signals except that they do not have a green lamp. The tram driver is provided with tram-style 'white light' signals which here are showing 'go' and the letter 'A' which tells the driver that the signalling system knows that the tram is approaching and that the signals are being changed in its favour. For added security at this blind junction the tram driver can see that the road traffic has red (stop) signals.
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Because of limited sight lines mirrors are located opposite some residential entrances so that the people living there can verify that it is safe to drive out of their driveways. Attached to each vehicle at the 'uphill' end is a bicycle trailer.
Travelling by train with bicycles is looked at on a different page.

The bicycle trailer can carry up to 10 bikes and is free of charge. However, to avoid possible delays at tram stops whilst the cycles are loaded / unloaded they are only carried on full end - to - end journeys when travelling uphill.

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Comparative views showing how the rack bar and wheel rails move at a point / turnout / switch. Whilst it is usually acceptable for the trains' wheels to pass over small gaps in the track where the rails for the diverging directions meet, it is essential that the rack bar remains continuous at all times.

This image also shows how on this system the rack is the same height as the rails used by the wheels.
This is essential for a light railway which includes sections of street tramway.

click me for video A short video which uses footage from the 1990's showing two steep hill light railways in Stuttgart (both this Zahnradbahn and the Standseilbahn funicular) has been placed on the ‘YouTube’ film / video website and can be reached by clicking either the projector icon or this link: ..

There are several different types of rack and pinion system which whilst following similar principles operate slightly differently.

The variations include the placement of the rack and number of rows of teeth.

Some railways use a combination of the Riggenbach, the Strub and the more modern Lamella / Von Roll systems on different portions of their route. This does require that all the rack rails have the same pitch and height of the teeth.

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Some types of rack & pinion trackage.
From left to right: Riggenbach, Strub, Abt, Locher.
Image & license: Rynacher / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain.
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Public domain image from the Wikipedia encyclopædia.
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Image & license: © Armin Kübelbeck / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
These images show the principle behind how the rack and pinion system works.
The image on the right shows the cog wheel (which is located on the same axle as the other wheels)
with its teeth engaged in the rack rail. This is easier to see by clicking the image to see the larger version in a new window. .

It is only the aim of this page to provide an overview of this topic and show some variations - more detailed information can be found at this link: ..

The Riggenbach System. The Riggenbach system uses a ladder rack, formed of steel plates or channels connected by round or square rods at regular intervals. This system suffers from the rack being more complex and expensive to build than some other systems. As the rack is not flexible so curved rack has to be fabricated specifically for the location.

The Strub System. The Strub system uses a rolled flat-bottom rail with rack teeth machined into the head approximately 100 mm apart. Safety jaws fitted to the locomotive engage with the underside of the head to prevent derailments and serve as a brake.

The Lamella System. The Lamella system (also known as the Von Roll System) was developed after the rolled steel rails used in the Strub system became unavailable. The Lamella rack is compatible with trains designed for use on the Riggenbach or the Strub systems, as long as the toothing geometry matches the existing system with which it will operate and the safety-jaws that were a feature of the original Strub system are not used. Lamella rack can also be welded continuously.

Two other systems which are functionally similar are The Marsh System and The Morgan System. Both of these came from the USA. The Marsh system uses rack rails which are similar in theme to Riggenbach rack rail, with rollers that are located between two L-shaped wrought-iron rails. However the pinion wheels feature longer teeth (cogs) so that at least two of them are engaged with the rack at all times, This measure helps reduce the possibility of them riding up and out of the rack. Whilst the Morgan system was also mechanically similar to the Riggenbach / Strub / Lamella rack system, two variants were that sometimes the rack rail was also used as an electrified third rail which powered the electric locomotive and that sometimes the rack was located off-centre, in order to allow clear passage for pedestrians and animals walking along the tracks. The Morgan system was widely used in the early 20th century in mines with steep grades.

With the exception of some instances of the Morgan system and the Blenkinsop system, all other rack systems place the rack rail midway between the running rails. The Blenkinsop System dates from the early days of the railways and was used because it was not believed that an engine could work on adhesion alone. In those days the railways used cast metal "fishbelly" rails that were three feet (one yard) in length, and for this railway the left hand rail included an integral rack on the outer side that was engaged by a large 3 foot (914 mm) diameter cog wheel (pinion) on the outside of the locomotive's left driving wheel.

As with moving gears, railway racks also require lubrication. Since the fat or oils which are used will eventually be lost to the ground (eg: washed into the soil by rainfall) so to protect the environment ordinary petroleum-based machine greases should not be used. Instead the requirement is to use the more expensive - and less temperature resistant - vegetable or animal fats.

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This view shows Riggenbach ladder rack and also one method of ensuring that at points / turnouts / switches the locomotive's cog wheel is always able to maintain contact with the rack.
Image & license: Hapesoft / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
This example shows a mix of Lamella and Riggenbach racks. It also shows that sometimes the rack can be located above the height of the running rail of the route that is not being followed.

This demonstrates a contrasting variation to some of the other rack rail images seen on this page.
Image & license: Kevin Hadley / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Variations the adopted solutions for junctions in the tracks include the height of the rack rail - if the rack is elevated above the running rails then there is no need to interrupt the running rails to allow passage of the driving, pinions of the engines. Life becomes far more complex when the rack is at or below the level of the running rails.

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This example shows a different solution for junctions - both running rails and the rack are semi-flexible and bend to meet the correct tracks. This railway (the Zürich Dolderbahn) uses Von Roll / Lamella rack rails. Von Roll also build monorail trains where this style of flexible track at junctions is well known.
Image & license: Ximeg / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Originally a funicular railway, but converted to a Strub system rack railway in 1973, the Zürich Dolderbahn is an urban service which follows a fully segregated route away from street traffic. There are four stations, including the two termini.
Image & license: Sputniktilt / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
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Marsh rack on the American Mount_Washington Cog Railway.
Image & license: Brian Snelson / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY 2.0
The non-powered variant of the Morgan rack, from the 1919 Goodman Manufacturing Company catalogue
Image & license: / Historic image - copyright expired.

The hilly Italian city of Genoa (Genova) has ten passenger lifts, two funicular railways and one Riggenbach rack & pinion railway. The latter is 1136 metres in length and named Ferrovia Principe - Granarolo (ie: Principe - Granarolo Railway). Because the trains look similar to those used on the funicular railways and a general lack of awareness of the difference many people mistakenly think of this as also being a funicular railway.

The two cabin sized trains date from when the line first opened in 1901. Over the years they have been modified several times, including a major rebuild in 1929. An unusual feature more commonly only seen on funicular railways is that the wheels on one side of the trains are flat and wide broad (supporting wheel), while those of the other are double flanged. These are on opposite sides so that double flanged wheels are always on the outside at the passing loop, this ensures that the trains always use their own track without needing any moving pointwork.

Due to the instability of some retaining walls part of the railway temporarily closed in 2003 and the service was reduced to use just one train. Repairs and line modernisation between 2011 and 2012 saw the entire line reopening, although the service remains operated by just the one train.

There are nine stations, including the termini. Three of these were added during the 2012 major route renovations, which also included making the other stations partially or wholly accessible, wherever possible.

Although mostly on private right of way, there are some road crossings.

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See caption for picture information. Above - Left: Image & license: Friedrichstrasse / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Above - Centre: Image & license: Friedrichstrasse / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Above - Right: Image & license: Walter / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 2.0

Left: Image & license: Ale Sasso / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 2.0
Various views of the Ferrovia Principe - Granarolo in the Italian city of Genoa (Genova).

The Abt system This uses two or three rows of solid bars with vertical teeth machined into them. The rack bars are fixed in place (between the running rails) in a way which ensures that the teeth are offset, as this helps ensure that the pinions are constantly engaged with the rack. Multiple vars also provide a more uniform power transmission, since there is always at least one tooth in engagement with the rack. The cog / pinion wheels can be mounted on the same axle as the rail wheels or driven separately.

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Image & license: Matěj Baťha / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 2.0
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Image & license: Toshinori baba / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Double Abt system rack rail on the Diakofto Kalavrita Railway in Greece left and triple rack rail right on the Oikawa Railway in Japan right.
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Image & license: Trebz / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY 2.0
Abt system variations at junctions on railways which use two rack rails,
the Snowdon Mountain Railway left and the Manitou and Pike's Peak Railway, Colorado, USA, right.

The Locher System. This system has gear teeth cut in the sides of the rail which are engaged by two cog wheels on the locomotive. This allows use on steeper inclines than the other systems where the cog wheel's teeth could jump out of the rack. Another benefit is a very stable attachment to the track, protecting the car from toppling over even under the most severe crosswinds. The Locher rack system is also capable of leading the car, so that even flanges on running wheels are optional. However it is not compatible with normal railway points / turnouts / switches. One of the alternative solutions is to use the same technique as on monorails, where a short section of track bends from one track to the other. This is seen (with a different rack technology) in one of the Dolderbahn images above - left. The other solution is to use a traverser / transfer table. With these the carriage drives onto a section of track which can slide sideways to meet two or more other tracks. As seen below right.

The Locher System is only used by one public railway (the Swiss Pilatus Bahn) although it is also used by some industrial railways.

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Image & license: Roland Zumbühl, / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain
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Image & license: Audriusa / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Left A section of Locher System demonstration rack rail showing the lateral location of the cog wheels on the rack rail,
and right a traverser which slides sideways so that trains can switch from one track to another.

Pure Cog / Mixed Mode

Some railways only need to use the rack & pinion system for part of the route. At other times the trains operate in normal adhesion mode.

The advantage of mixed drives is that higher speeds are possible when travelling on flat sections of track in in adhesion mode. Swiss legislation sets a limit of 40 km/h (about 25mph) for when travelling in rack mode, with even lower downhill speeds being mandated according to the inclination of the ground and the available braking system.

In pure cog railways the drive gear is engaged at all times. Often the wheels of the locomotives are not driven and can not move without the rack. Therefore the entire railway, including flat sections, stations and workshop access routes need to be equipped with rack bars. On flat sections of track the railways which use the Abt system often manage with just a single rack bar.

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A transition location where trains on the Tanvald-Korenov Railway in the Czech Republic switch between rack and adhesion modes. This railway uses the twin bar Abt system.
Image & license: Rolf-Dresden / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Line C of the Lyon, France métro is an example of both an urban railway which uses the rack & pinion system and a rack railway which combines both 'adhesion' and 'rack & pinion' operation along different sections of its route. This is the only métro line anywhere globally which combines these different systems.

The line's origin is in a former funicular railway which in the 1970's and 1980's was converted and then extended (several times) to its present status of being 2.5km (a little over 1.5miles) in length, with 5 stations. The steepest gradient is 17%, which is too steep for either steel wheel or rubber tyred railway transport technologies unaided. It uses the 'strub' rack system.

Lyon metro train on line C, showing shallow graded section that uses 'adhesion' operation. Lyon metro train on line C, showing very steeply graded section that uses rack and pinion operation.
Line C of the Lyon, France métro is unusual because it combines both 'adhesion' (left) and 'rack & pinion' (right) operation along different sections of its route.

The Fell System. Technically this is not a rack railway technology, as it uses a smooth rail without cogs. But it is used on some steeply graded railways. Trains are propelled by wheels or braked by shoes pressed horizontally onto the centre rail, as well as by means of the normal running wheels.

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The start of the Fell track on the Snaefell Mountain Railway, where it is only used for emergency braking. Clicking the image will lead to a dedicated page (on this website) about some of the Isle Of Man's railways. The underside of New Zealand H class engine H199, showing details of the Fell railway system.
Image & license: Optimist on the run / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

The only British railway which uses the rack & pinion system is the Snowdon Mountain Railway (Rheilffordd yr Wyddfa), which operates as a tourist orientated leisure service.

Until 1986 the railway only used steam locomotives, however nowadays the normal service trains are powered by diesel locomotives, with steam locomotives being used on special heritage services for which passengers are charged higher fares. The reasons for switching to diesel traction are not just financial - since the diesels need less preparatory work prior to entering service so they are able to make four return journeys per day - and they only need a single train driver. The extra time needed to coal and water the steam locomotives meant that they only operated three service a day - and of course need a crew of two (driver and fireman).

The lower costs of operating the diesel locomotives has benefited passengers because it has enabled the railway to expand the operating season.

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The Snowdon Mountain Railway (SMR), North Wales, as seen when I visited the railway in 1983.

For more efficient operation on the steep gradients the steam locomotives on this railway were built with angled fireboxes. This is standard practice on mountain railways - it ensures that the boiler tubes and the firebox remain submerged when on the gradient.

For safety the trains always have the locomotive on the downhill side of the passenger carriage, and the two are not attached, so that if the locomotive should derail it will not drag the passenger carriage with it.

The SMR uses the Abt rack system, with twin rack bars on the more steeply graded sections of line and single rack bars elsewhere.

All braking is done using the rack and pinion system. Every locomotive and passenger carriage has a cog wheel (pinion), allowing each vehicle to brake itself. Locomotives and carriages also have hand brakes which operate brake blocks that clasp drums on either side of the cog wheels.

For increased safety, each vehicle is also fitted with an automatic brake that is triggered if it exceeds a specific speed. This system slows the train down using the same brake blocks and drums as the hand brake. The speed at which the automatic brake is invoked is lower for the carriages than the locomotives, this is to reduce the likelihood of a carriage running into a stationary locomotive further down the track.

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Snowdon Mountain Railway track showing the start of the gripper rails alongside the twin rack bars.
Image & license: A.M.Hurrell / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 2.5 CH

Another safety feature is that much of the railway is equipped with inverted 'L' cross section gripper rails on the outsides of the rack rails. These are used by 'grippers' fitted to the locomotives, holding them to the rails to prevent the pinions from rising up out of the rack,

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Image & license: Alan Wilson / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 2.0
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Image & license: Markus Giger / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 2.5 CH
Diesel powered trains and the 2013 passenger carriages.
The locomotives use coupling rods instead of cardan shaft drives to the wheels and engine covers were omitted so that
passengers could see the Rolls-Royce diesel engines. The passenger carriages offer 74 seats plus are also wheelchair accessible.

More information and photographs of the Snowdon Mountain Railway can be found by following this link . which leads to the Snowdon Mountain Railway website.

click me for video Click the projector icon or this link to watch a short film showing the Snowdon Mountain Railway which has been placed on the ‘YouTube’ film / video website. This video dates from my visit in 1983 and includes 35mm slides and super 8 ciné film plus added background music. .

Switzerland is famous for its many different types of hill climbing railways and whilst some of these (nowadays) survive because they provide tourist-orientated services in areas of outstanding natural beauty (and winter ski resorts) there are still some which meet 'real' urban transport needs.

One of the best examples used to in the city of Lausanne, where métro line M2 featured the rack & pinion system. Dating back to 1877 the La Ficelle (as it was known then) was constructed to connect the lakeside resort of Ouchy with Flon in the city centre. There were several intermediate stops, one of which was conveniently located for the Swiss Federal Railways Station (Gare CFF).

There were two complimentary services, with one being a two-station shuttle between Flon and the Gare CFF and the other serving five stations with electric locomotives powering two-vehicle trains. For safety the locomotive was at the 'downhill' end of the train. As with many 'mountain' railways this line was predominately single-track, albeit with a passing loop in the middle. In Lausanne this loop was located at a station (called Montriond) and gave rise to a most unusual arrangement whereby uphill trains were required to enter the station first so that its tracks could then be used as the station 'platform' for the downhill trains. At quieter times when only one train was in service then both uphill and downhill services used the 'proper' platform.

On 22nd January 2006 the line was temporarily closed in connection with a northward extension, a process which included adding several new stations, an upgrade to double-track throughout plus a conversion to driverless automated rubber-tyred "mini-métro" trains which call at stations fitted with platform doors.

Clicking either of these Lausanne images will lead to a dedicated page showing larger and more images in a popup window; alternatively clicking here will open the page in a new full-size window. .

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Two trains pass at Montriond station, which was the midway passing point. A very unusual feature was that the uphill track was also the platform for downhill trains! An additional service was provided by a single carriage shuttling between Flon in the city centre and the Gare CFF (the location of this view). Note the steeply graded other platform which was used by trains descending towards the waterside terminus of Ouchy...

In October 2008 the line reopened after having been rebuilt and extended at the northern end. It now uses fully computerised, automated rubber tyred métro trains which are the same as some of the rolling stock used on the Parisian métro system. The line is now about 6km (approximately 3.7miles) in length and features 14 stations which are much more closely spaced than is normal for an urban metro system. Over this distance it climbs 375 metres (approximately 410 yards) with an average of gradient of 5.7%, although there are places where it is as much as 12% (about 1 in 8). To help cope with the steep gradients this system has some special features which include:-

  • to improve adhesion the 'rollways' used by the rubber tyres are ribbed (so that water wicks away) and where deemed necessary heated in the winter,
  • at each end of the train the horizontal guide-wheels feature downward facing brushes which whisk obstructions, water, snow, etc off the ribbed tracks used by the rubber tyred running wheels,
  • in addition to the regenerative, rheostatic and pneumatic braking systems there are magnetic brakes which to ensure safety at stations 'clamp' a train to the tracks, as well as being used as part of the emergency braking system.

The regenerative braking system is used whenever possible, with three downhill trains being claimed to produce enough electricity to power one uphill train. One quirk is that the constraints in braking distance and deceleration are such that uphill trains are allowed to travel more quickly than downhill trains.

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Montriond station is no more; it was replaced with not one but two new closely spaced stations! To improve adhesion the running rails used by the load bearing rubber tyres are ribbed (so that water wicks away) and where deemed necessary heated in the winter.
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Two views of the station for the Swiss mainline railways (Gare CFF) which were taken on the same platform as the single carriage older system image seen above, showing how it has been rebuilt to the same gradient as the other platform. Note the use of platform doors - a design feature of all stations as a more fully enclosed system reduces the chances of danger from trespassers. Also note the staggered seats and 'bum rests' on the platform wall.

Mini-métro trains are looked at on the Automated 'Driverless' Metro Systems page.

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Funiculars & Cable Cars

Only some steeply graded railways use the rack & pinion system, others use cables.

Cable railways come in two core variants with the principle differences being whether the vehicles run on top of a track (of some sort) and are hauled by moving cables which are below them; or hang with traction coming from cables which are above them.

Cable systems where the vehicles travel on railway tracks are typically called funiculars. Typically funicular railways use two 'cabin' sized trains which are located at at opposite ends of the cable so that the descending vehicle counterbalances the ascending vehicle and they pass at a half way location. A few higher capacity urban systems use larger vehicles, sometimes even two or three vehicles coupled together, as per self-powered railways.

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The two rails / two vehicles funicular railway which links the railway station with the city centre in Lugano, Switzerland, seen where the two vehicles pass each other. The four rails / two vehicles cliff-lift style funicular railway which links the Low Town and the River Severn with the High Town of Bridgnorth, Shropshire.

The section about funicular railways, hanging gondolas, cable cars and other cable powered transports is now large enough to merit a dedicated page, which can be reached via this link.

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Specialist Winter Weather Transport

Whilst the transports seen above are often used in snowy weather they are mostly suitable for all weather conditions. However one form of transport which is rarely seen away from snow and ice is the sleigh.

Sleigh Rides

Sleighs are ideal for wintry weather when snow and ice can make the use of rubber-tyred transports hazardous.

Whether pulled by human or dog power this is certainly a much better option than trying to carry the children / shopping / other goods (etc.,) yourself!

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Children going for a sleigh ride! Seen crossing the tracks at a station on Stockholm, Sweden's 'Nockebybanan' light rail line.

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Seaside Railways

Although sometimes seen as 'leisure orientated' niche transports seaside railways can - and do - also meet real transport needs for which larger railways could be unsuitable.

The first views are of the former electric trains that operated on the 1½ mile long pier at Southend-On-Sea, in Essex. They were introduced in 1949 (replacing older trains which operated a pre-war service) and in all there were four 'trains' each of which consisted of seven four-wheel carriages. The system was electrified at 500v dc using a centrally located third rail and the track gauge was 3ft 6in (approximately 106cm).

The line closed in the late 1970's - some reports suggest 1978 whilst others say that public services ended in October 1976 but for the benefit of the lifeboat crew some occasional trains continued to operate until July 1979. In 1986 a new two-train diseasal (disease diesel) service was opened.

Clicking either of these two Southend Pier (electric) railway images will lead to a dedicated page showing larger and more images in a popup window; alternatively clicking here will open the page in a new full-size window. . In time some diesel railway images will be added to that page too.

Additional Southend Pier railway photographs from when the line was in full use plus much information about services and how they operated (sometimes using four trains at a time!) can be found here:- .
The Southend Pier Museum website can be found here:- .

Former Southend Pier electric train, click to see more and larger images. Inside former Southend Pier electric train, click to see more and larger images.
An electric Southend Pier Railway train (in passenger service) standing in the platform at the pier head station. Inside former Southend Pier railway motor car.
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The two diesel trains are named, as seen in this view which was taken at the station at the landward end of the pier. Inside one of the diesel Southend Pier railway passenger carriages.

A still extant electric pier railway is to be found at Hythe, Hampshire. These trains also serve a 'real' transport function in that they meet the ferry boats which ply across the Solent from Southampton and dock on the pier. This is reputed to be the oldest pier railway "anywhere" globally - the pier opened in 1881, the railway opened in 1909 and was electrified in 1922. The pier is 2100' (approx 640m) in length, the railway is electrified on the third rail principle at 240v dc and the trains run on 2ft (approximately 61cm) gauge track. (This railway is not illustrated).

The Hythe Ferry has a website which can be found here:- .

In Blackpool the North Pier features a short (diseasel) tramway which links the pier entrance with the theatre at the far end. Of special note is that the entire journey from pier entrance to theatre is "weather protected" - either inside the tram or via sheltered platforms and walkways - obviously someone has realised that in inclement weather passengers (OK, in this case theatre patrons) don't want a soaking. Would that similar thoughtfulness applied to ALL British transport systems! The person (people?) responsible for this thoughtfulness should be given a peerage, knighthood, or similar - & made a British government Transport Minister!

Clicking either of these two Blackpool North Pier images will lead to a dedicated page showing larger and more images in a popup window; alternatively clicking here will open the page in a new full-size window ..

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The diesel powered North Pier tramway in Blackpool.

Another seaside railway, but one that travels along the seafront rather than a pier is the Volks Electric Railway (VER). This railway is located at the fashionable British south coast resort of Brighton.

Built by Magnus Volk and with the first section having been completed in 1883, the VER is the oldest surviving operating electric railway anywhere globally. (The first electric railway opened in 1881 in Lichterfelde, Berlin, Germany but it no longer operates). It is electrified at 110v dc using an insulated 3rd rail offset between the running rails for the live, with the return being via both running rails. The track gauge is 2ft 8½in (approximately 83cm).

In its present-day form the VER is just under 1¼ miles in length (approximately 2km). At one time it was longer but for various reasons it has been shortened at both ends. The present-day eastern terminus is near to Black Rock, with the station being about 450yds (approximately 400m) from the Brighton Marina - which with its retail and eating facilities would form an ideal destination for the passengers who at present are deposited on the wrong side of a somewhat uninviting complex road junction and car parking area. The western terminus is near to the Brighton Aquarium and about 240yds (approximately 220m) from the Palace Pier. Unfortunately for the VER this is far enough away for it to not be noticed by those visitors who do not already know about its existence - when it was shortened there was a 20% drop in revenue from passengers no longer taking ‘impulse’ rides on the railway. From time to time there have been proposals to extend the line back to its original length and especially at the Palace Pier end this would enhance the VER's usefulness and ridership as it would also be nearer to this major visitor destination - as well as the town centre - and be more visible to more potential passengers. There is one intermediate station, which is also where the depôt is located.

The VER has a website which can be found here:- .

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Approaching a pedestrian level crossing with the pier in the distance behind it. Waiting to board whilst passengers disembark at Black Rock station (the eastern terminus).
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Warning sign with flashing lamp as at the level crossings. The level crossings are necesary because the line is fully fenced in - as seen here - and although there are a few underpasses there are no other ways to reach the beach from the promenade.
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Another level crossing - with a 'kissing gate' for pedestrians and hand opened double gates which allow authorised motor vehicles to access the pebble beach. As the various images show, services are formed of one and two vehicle trains.

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Land Trains

Not strictly a railway "land trains" are usually used to provide local transport within a specific area at seaside resorts, tourist destinations or special events where large crowds can be expected. Usually they consist of a motor unit pulling half a dozen or so passenger vehicles, perhaps with the entire 'train' being decorated to look somewhat like a steam engine pulling passenger coaches.

Land trains may operate either on a specially reserved lane within the public footpath or on the public highway as is used by other road traffic; in either situation they will travel at a sedate speed because the ride is itself part of the 'visitor experience'. Land trains sometimes come in for criticism from local bus companies because they often offer free (or very cheap) transport and the commercial bus companies see them as providing unfair, subsidised competition.

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This land train was seen in Weston-Super-Mare at the height of the summer holiday season.
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Land train seen outside the National Railway Museum, York. Land train seen in Paris, France in a district popular with tourists close to the Montmartre funicular.
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Image & license: Terence Ong / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
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Image & license: / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
More modern styled 'beach trams' at Sentosa, which is a small island near to Singapore City that has become a recreational resort destination.
These operate over two different routes linking various parts of the island resort with Beach Station, which is the Sentosa Island terminus of the Sentosa Express Monorail - this being one of the transports which link Sentosa Island with the mainland.

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Lifts, Escalators & Moving Walkways

Often overlooked as a form of transport are lifts, escalators and moving walkways.

In addition to railway stations, escalators (moving stairs) and lifts ('elevators' in American English) can frequently be found at large department stores, shopping centres / malls, on cruise liners (ships) and many other multi-floor buildings. Their purpose is of course to provide transport between the station platforms & entrances / exits, the different floors, decks, etc.

Because they are in continuous motion and immediately available escalators are generally better at shifting large crowds than lifts - for which passengers often have to wait. However lifts and moving walkways are more accessible for people who are using personal wheeled transports - a term which includes pushchairs / buggies / strollers and motability scooters. Solutions for special needs access is also looked at on the Accessibility page.

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Multiple parallel escalators (ie: located alongside each other) at a station on London's Underground.
Where there is more than one escalator in each direction at quieter times the station staff often switch some of them off, so as to reduce energy usage.
Crisscross style escalators. Stacking the escalators travelling in the same direction in this way is often used in large multi-floor buildings as it minimises overall structural space requirements.
Image & license: © BrokenSphere. / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0.

To expedite passenger flows many urban transport systems dedicate one side of the escalator (and moving walkway) to passengers who are standing still / just riding and passengers who wish to walk.

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Escalator and moving walkway etiquette on the London UndergrounD. Stand on the right, walk on the left!
As someone who usually walks I say "thank you" :-)
This escalator has a glass side so that visitors to the shopping centre in which it is located can see the foot treads travelling from the pedestrian exit back to the entrance.

click me for video Click the projector icon or this link . to watch a short video which has been placed on the ‘YouTube’ film / video website showing the escalator with the glass sides, as seen above-right, in action.

A variant of the escalator is the moving walkway which is usually located where large numbers of people need transport along a long corridor such as interchange passageways at railway stations or between the terminal and the gate at airports. Depending on where one lives and the variant of the English language that is spoken, a moving walkway might instead be known as a moving sidewalk, a flatalator, a horizontalator, a movealator, a walkalator, an autowalk or a movator!

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The flat moving walkways in an interchange passageway to / from the Jubilee Line at Waterloo Underground station, London, with a 'static' walkway in between. The inclined moving walkway for the Waterloo & City Line at Bank station, London. There is also a 'static' walkway in a different tunnel close nearby.
Image & license: Chris McKenna (Thryduulf) / Wikipedia encyclopædia.
CC BY-SA 3.0.

It is very unusual for anyone to be charged a fee for travelling on these transports - although of course at some locations access to these transports will be restricted to people who have paid to enter the site, such as a museum or use other transports for which these act as links, such as between the street and the other transport (eg: to access an underground railway station platform)..

Although relatively rare there is no reason why escalators (or a series of escalators and / or moving walkways) could not be used over longer distances - although the travel time might be somewhat extended when compared to travelling similar distances on other types of transports. In a few locations experiments have been tried with moving walkways which travel at higher speed and are therefore more suited to longer distance travel, however as is explained further down this page, there have been issues with people falling over when joining / leaving the higher speed walkways.

Sometimes people refer to moving walkways as 'travolators'. However the word Trav-O-Lator is actually a brand name for a moving walkway which has been distributed exclusively by United Technologies' Otis Elevator Company. In many ways this confusion is similar to the situation with vacuum cleaners whereby a brand name (Hoover) has slipped into common usage as a name for a type of product, rather than just one of several rival manufacturers of a specific type of product.

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One of the most significant existing examples of the use of moving walkways and escalators to cover a 'longer distance' is the Central-Mid-Levels escalator system in Hong Kong. With a total length of 800 metres this is the longest outdoor covered escalator system anywhere globally.

Consisting of 20 escalators and 3 moving walkways (as well as fixed stairways and static walkways) it was designed to carry 27,000 people a day, but actually carries over 55,000 people daily. The total travel time is 20 minutes although to shorten this many people walk while the system moves. It operates a tidal flow system running downhill from 6am to 10am and uphill from 10:30am to midnight everyday.

The total vertical climb is 135 metres, this being equivalent to several miles of zigzagging roads if travelled by car. It has been operating since 1993 although the official opening was on 15th October 1994.

This walkway transport system performs a very important role in Hong Kong since it links Des Voeux Road, in Hong Kong's Central district with Conduit Road in the Mid-Levels, passing through narrow streets. It is also a tourist spot, with many restaurants, bars, and shops lining its route.

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Image & license: Seader / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain
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Image & license: WingLuk / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
The Central-Mid-Levels escalator and moving walkway system in Hong Kong.
The reversible nature of the moving walkways and escalators explain the arrow / no entry signs at entry / exit points.
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Image & license: Maucaine / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
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Image & license: WingLuk / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
The yellow hatched area at the entrance areas are to discourage people from congregating there as this causes congestion - which can be a safety hazard if a moving walkway or escalator is bringing people to that location more quickly than they can leave.

Because of the often long distances within / between the terminals and the 'gates' where passengers actually board / alight the aircraft moving walkways have become a well known type form of surface transport at airports.

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Moving walkway at Amsterdam Schipol airport, Holland. This helps passengers who are in a hurry to get to the departure gate of their flight pass through the duty free shopping area. Having reached the gate area there are yet more moving walkways.... This view also comes from Amsterdam's Schipol airport.
Image & license: ** Maurice ** / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY 2.0
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Some airports use moving walkways instead of shuttle trains to link their various terminals. This is Copenhagen airport, Denmark
Image & license: Thierry Caro / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Some airports are so large that they need to use banks of four parallel moving walkways. This is Denver International Airport (DEN), Colorado, USA.
Image & license: Luciof / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Where possible many passengers travel to and from airports by train, and at some airport stations they even allow luggage trolleys on the station platforms.

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Luggage trolleys on the railway station platforms of: Schipol airport Amsterdam Holland, (left); and Geneva airport, Switzerland (right).
See caption for picture information. Having arrived by train passengers at Kloten airport, Zürich, Switzerland are about to wheel luggage trolleys containing their bags onto the exit platform escalators. This rather dark image was sourced from S-VHS-C videotape and is a little fuzzy.

Railway stations at British airports do not welcome luggage trolleys on their platforms and instead feature physical devices to actively prevent this from being possible. The potential dangers are seen as including train and station infrastructure damage should a train impact a luggage trolley and especially in the case of railway services which are powered via electrified rails (at Heathrow and Gatwick airports) the possibility of the luggage trolley short-circuiting the electric power supply rails.

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Metal barricades designed to prevent luggage trolleys from reaching station platforms at London's Heathrow Airport -
Left: The platforms for Heathrow Express / Connect trains at the station for terminals 1,2,3.
Right: One of the platforms for London Underground Piccadilly Line trains at the station for terminal 5.

Whilst the width of the gaps between the barricades is sufficient for passengers to walk through passengers
with suitcases, etc., may find that they need to push their baggage through first and walk through directly behind it.
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Metal barricades also prevent luggage trolleys from accessing the moving walkways which dominate Milan's Central railway station. The walkways link various parts of the station with the subterranean shopping centre and the metro. Whilst escalators would have required less floor space these are not accessible to all, so lifts would have been needed as well.

There seems to be an assumption that lifts installed to provide special needs accessibility at railway stations must be located in dedicated vertical lift shafts. The examples seen below show an alternative solution where the same diagonal access shaft can include a choice of an angled lift - with see-through glass walls to enhance personal safety, steps and an 'up' escalator. If desired then there could be two escalators, one per direction, as well as the stairs and lift.

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Glass-walled accessibility lifts, stairs and (in one image) an up escalator all in diagonal access shafts at light rail stations in Düsseldorf, Germany, as described above.

Away From Airports And Railway Stations...

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Wall climbing glass lifts and escalators at the Exchange Shopping centre, Ilford, Essex.
In many ways this will be typical of many shopping centres globally.
Short escalators at a shopping centre in Kassel, Germany. Despite being so short escalators such as this are installed because they offer mobility benefits to people for whom climbing steps (and ramps) can be a challenge.
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Inclined moving walkways, fixed steps and a double sided glass lift make it easy to enter and leave a food store at west London's Westfield shopping centre. The moving walkway is better for people with shopping trolleys etc., than escalators.
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Normally escalators have a short 'flat' section at each end as it makes for easier boarding & alighting. However they seem to have overdone it here... seen at an subterranean passageway entrance to an office building in the London Bridge area of south London. Inclined moving walkways in a Japanese supermarket, as described below.
Image & license: Tokumeigakarinoaoshima / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain.

Large department stores and shopping centres frequently have banks of escalators linking the various floors, however especially for supermarkets where the shoppers will be roaming the store whilst carrying the goods they intend to purchase in a wire trolley that is on wheels, so an inclined moving walkway allows the shoppers to travel from floor to floor with ease.

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Outdoor escalator and inclined moving walkway at San Roque de Portugalete, Vizcaya, (Bilbao) Spain.
These solutions for conurbations with steep hills makes an interesting contrast with the 'bike lift' seen nearer the top of this page.
Both images & license: Javier Mediavilla Ezquibela / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY 2.5

Dating from before the days of escalators or moving walkways, the 1902 Santa Justa Lift (Elevador de Santa Justa) is a rare example of such a type of transport for which passengers are charged a fee to use. Located in Lisbon, Portugal, the fare is a single ticket such as would be needed to travel on the urban trams, buses, metro and funiculars as seen above. Despite the charge there is nearly always a long queue.

This lift rises 45 metres (148 ft) which is said to be about the height of a building with seven floors. At the top there is a kiosk and lookout which offers a panoramic view of the city.

The lift is decorated in a Neo-Gothic style in iron. Since this was a new material at the time of its construction it represents the culture of the 1900s, when the structure and lifts were considered a magical innovation and portent of a new modern age.

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Left: The Neo-Gothic style Santa Justa Lift, as seen from street level.
Centre: The terrace and walkway, plus upper level kiosk and view of part of the city.
Image & license: Alegna13 / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Right: A close-up image which also shows one of the two lift cages passing by.

Another city which has been built around many steep hills is Valparaíso in Chile.

In the past Valparaíso had as many as 26 funicular railways, most of which dated from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However as of 2013 only 8 are still in active use.

Valparaíso also uses a vertical lift as a way of ascending steep gradients. Called the Polanco Lift it features three stations and rises approximately 60 metres (197 ft). The lower station is reached via a 150 metre (492 ft) tunnel. The upper station is at the top of the tower, overlooking the entire city and connected to nearby streets by a bridge.

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The view of central Valparaíso, Chile, as seen from the top of the Artillería funicular (Ascensor Artillería). At the bottom of the funicular are two trolleybuses at the Aduana terminus of the Valparaíso trolleybus system. The city's remaining funiculars and its trolleybuses have all been declared National Historic Monuments.
Image & license: Javier Rubilar / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC-BY-SA-2.0
The Polanco Lift as seen from the intermediate stop / street level.
Image & license: ffuentes / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC-BY-SA-2.0

The hilly Italian city of Genoa (Genova) has ten passenger lifts, two funicular railways and one rack & pinion railway.

The Ascensore Montegalletto is unusual because it first runs on steel tracks horizontally into the mountain for some 230 metres before going up 70 metres like a normal lift (not illustrated). The horizontal section was a former walkway to the vertical section, and when the lift equipment became life-expired it was rebuilt in this unusual fashion. There are two cabins which start their journeys simultaneously (one descending the vertical pathway, the other travelling horizontally, as a funicular railway). They meet at the base of the vertical lift shaft where they swap travelling modes. For the vertical lift shaft there are two distinct platforms, one for each cabin. This opened in 2004 and another lift - the Elevator Villa Scassi - is scheduled for a similar conversion.

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Lift And Escalator Oddities

Some of the weird and the wonderful aspects of lift, escalator & moving walkway transport.

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Curved Escalators

Also known as Spiral escalators these take up much less horizontal space than straight escalators. However early spiral designs were failures - for example, in 1906 a spiral escalator was installed at the London Underground Holloway Road station but it was dismantled almost immediately and little of the mechanism survives. However this seems to have been a true spiral escalator (similar to the spiral fixed steps used as emergency stairways) and not the gently curved versions seen here.

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click me for video In most circumstances escalators are 'straight' - curved escalators such as these only exist at a comparative few locations. These images come from a shopping centre in San Francisco, USA. The image on the right clearly illustrates the difference between the two types of escalator.

Click the projector icon or this link . to watch a short video which has been placed on the ‘YouTube’ film / video website showing these curved escalators.

Curved escalators are a luxury transport and novelty feature which cost more to purchase and install than straight escalators. So they only tend to be used in prestigious locations - which includes shopping centres / malls, including the location seen below left

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A taste of ancient Rome, complete with curved escalators, at the Forum Shops at Caesar's.Palace, Las Vegas, USA
Image & license: Paulgokin / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC-BY-SA-3.0
Various Escalators at the Yokohama MinatoMirai 21 Landmark Tower. The curved escalator was made by a Japanese company.
Image & license: Gleam / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC-BY-SA-2.0

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Walkway Escalators

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Escalators with flat walkway sections at Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof railway station in Vienna, Austria.
Image & license: Robertk / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain.
A very unusual escalator...

This image of a most extraordinary combined escalator / moving walkway arrived with me via an email message which looks at the bizarre - I think it is in Japan somewhere.
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Double-Deck Lifts And The Sky Lobby

Double deck lifts are lifts designed such that there are two lift cabins attached one on top of the other. This allows passengers on two consecutive floors to be able to board / alight from the lift simultaneously, significantly increasing the passenger capacity of a lift shaft. This arrangement can prove efficient in buildings where the volume of traffic would normally have single deck lifts stopping at every floor.

Architecturally, this is important as double-deck lifts occupy less of the building's core space than traditional single-deck lifts do for the same level of traffic. In skyscrapers this allows for much more efficient use of space as the floor area required by lifts tends to be quite significant.

The latest designs feature a floor distance adjustable device which enables an automatic adjustment of the distance between the upper and lower cabins. This can be useful for locations where for reasons of prestige the lower floors feature higher ceilings than elsewhere in the building.

However, double-deck lifts gives rise to questions such as whether the lower deck only serves even numbered floors (and the upper deck odd numbered floors) or if both decks can access all floors - except perhaps that the upper deck cannot reach the ground floor and the lower deck cannot reach the top floor??. Of course such details can vary from building to building, depending on what is logical and practical for the location and its traffic flows,

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A double-deck lift (elevator in American English).

This example is believed to have been seen in Québec City, Canada, in 1987. Although relatively rare, there are still too many locations which use double-deck lifts to be able to name them all here.
See caption for picture information.
A diagram showing the floor, lift and sky lobby arrangement of the former World Trade Center (towers one and two) in New York City. The clickable large version of the image will be easier to read.
Public domain image from the Wikipedia encyclopædia.

For really tall buildings a solution to serving all the floors without disadvantaging people on the higher floors by making them use a lift that stops at all the lower floors is to emulate the railways and use a mix of express and local lifts.

Typically the express lifts will link the entrance area to designated floor (or floors) part way up the skyscraper, from where people can change to local lifts that serve a group of floors, The area where people interchange between express and local lifts are known as a Sky Lobby.

As seen in the graphic, sometimes buildings will have several Sky Lobbies. Another variable is that sometimes double-deck lifts are used as the express lifts, whilst single deck lifts operate the local service.

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The High-Speed Moving Walkway

Dating from 2002 and originally introduced as an experimental prototype, this high-speed walkway was located at Montparnasse - Bienvenüe métro station in Paris, France. It was known as the trottoir roulant rapide which can be translated as fast rolling pavement (ie: fast moving pavement / footpath / walkway) which was sometimes abbreviated to TRR. It was also nicknamed the TGV, this being a well known term (in France) for the 300km/h 186mph very high speed trains (train à grande vitesse) - although in this instance the initial T stands for trottoir and not train.

The TRR concept is designed for distances between 150 metres and 800 metres in length; this example was 185 metres long and had a rated capacity of 10,000 passengers per hour. At first it operated at 12 km/h but too many people were falling over, so the speed was reduced to 9 km/h.

Using this walkway was like using any other moving walkway, except that for safety there were special procedures to follow when joining or leaving. Staff (seen here in yellow jackets) had to vet who could use it as there was a requirement to have at least one hand free to hold the handrail. People carrying bags, etc or who were infirm had to use the regular walkway to the right.

On entering the TRR there was a 10 metre acceleration zone where the 'ground' was a series of metal rollers - it was very important to stand still with both feet on these rollers and one hand holding the handrail which would be pulling you so that you would glide over the rollers. The idea was that you would be accelerated fast enough to be able to safely step onto the moving walkway belt. People who tried to walk on the rollers were placing themselves at significant risk of falling over.

Once on the walkway you could stand or walk; there was no special sensation of travelling at higher speed.

At the exit there was a deceleration zone where again it was required to stand still and allow the handrail to pull you as you slow down, again whilst gliding over metal rollers. Then you could just walk off it, in the usual way.

The TRR was bi-directional, so in effect the acceleration and deceleration zones were identical and just swapped function according to direction of travel.

According to RATP it was estimated that commuters using a walkway such as this twice a day would spend 15 minutes a week and 10 hours a year less on their overall journey durations... although that also depended on whether the faster walking time meant that they could catch an earlier train (or bus).

With the concept having been proven to be successful in 2007 a similarly themed high-speed walkway was included in the Pier F of Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Canada. However the Canadian installation is of the pallet type rather than the belt type. The pallets "intermesh" with a comb and slot arrangement. They expand out of each other when speeding up, and compress into each other when slowing down. The hand railings work in a similar manner. The walkway moves at roughly 2 km/h when riders step onto it, speeds up to approximately 7 km/h for the bulk of the length, and slows to 2 km/h again at the end.

Meanwhile, in May 2009 it was announced that because of its unreliability and the number of users having accidents, the TRR would be replaced with a standard moving walkway travelling at just 0.8 km/h. The TRR closed in September 2009. RIP.

See caption for picture information.
The high speed moving walkway at Montparnasse - Bienvenüe Métro station in Paris, France.

click me for video Click the projector icon or this link .
to watch a short video which has been placed on the ‘YouTube’ film / video website showing this moving walkway in action. The video is hand held, and at times a little unsteady.

Towards the end of the video note how the other people leaving the moving walkway stand with both feet firmly on the ground and one hand on the handrail whilst passing through the deceleration zone.

Additional information sourced from the English and French language pages at the free online "Wikipedia" encyclopædia . .
the BBC website .
a French language page about the history of the Parisian installation .
and a Canadian article about the installation at Toronto Pearson International Airport ..

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The Self Starting Escalator

Escalators running needlessly when no-one is around consume energy and incur extra 'wear & tear', both of which add to the transport system's operating costs. To find a balance between what is needed and what is just 'convenient' escalators at quieter locations are often configured to only start moving when people are about to travel on them. This facility also makes two-way escalators possible, as seen below.

click me for video Self starting escalators are very difficult to demonstrate by means of static photographs, so to see this in action click the projector icon or this link . to watch a short video which has been placed on the ‘YouTube’ film / video website. Note how the escalator starts from rest as someone approaches it.

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The Two-Way Escalator

At some locations the same escalators can be used by passengers going both up and down.

Normally these escalators are stationary (this also saves energy plus wear & tear) and both the 'two way traffic' and blue 'one way' road signs are illuminated.

To use all a person has to do is walk on - and they automatically spring to life. But, whether going up or down depends on whether the person boarded it at the top or bottom...! At the same time the blue lamp at the far end extinguishes and instead the 'no entry' sign lights up.

It was noted that the escalators seemed to detect the number of people boarding and were very quick to stop when the last person in the direction of travel alighted, which made photographing the 'no entry' sign somewhat awkward, but this is probably good as it means that people waiting to travel the other direction have a better chance of having their turn.

Especially when the escalators are travelling 'down' people wanting to travel up tend to wait rather than use the adjacent fixed steps.

A two-way (bi-directional) escalator. A two-way (bi-directional) escalator.
Two-way (bi-directional) escalators seen at Bad Cannstatt light rail station in Stuttgart, Germany.

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The Example With The Missing Photograph

Escalators tend to reach from one floor to the next. Very occasionally they will extend through one floor, for instance going from the 1st floor to the 3rd floor whilst bypassing the 2nd floor.

A photograph which was not taken on a first visit to an overseas town that would have fitted this page involved six (6) escalators in a single shaft which extended from the ground floor of a shopping centre to subterranean bus and railway stations plus car parking area. There was an inner pair of escalators which went down two floors from ground level to the railway station, by-passing an intermediate level. These were flanked by two escalators which went from ground level to the intermediate level (which is where the bus station and car park pedestrian access were located) and then another pair of escalators which extended from the mezzanine level to the railway station. So passengers travelling from the shopping centre to the trains could either travel on one longer escalator or two shorter escalators.

Alas a return visit a while later found that building works converting an outdoor shopping centre to an indoor shopping centre had included the area being redeveloped - and that entrance to the station was being rebuilt as well.

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