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Monorail Musing - RonO's Ramblings

Nov. 9th, 2009 06:17 pm Monorail Musing

Last night, I watched most of a show on The Travel Channel about Monorails. After this I've had some various musings.

The program gave a pretty good, albeit brief, overview of the history of Monorails. It featured profiles of more than one-hundred-year-old hanging monorail in Germany, the ALWEG monorail in Seattle, the new Las Vegas monorail and a new system in Singapore.

They also mentioned a couple of others, including a test system in Malaysia that is a diesel-electric system instead of all electric system, and a system that uses a rail on the side instead of above or below.

One thing that I did notice was that the show didn't bring up any drawbacks of monorails, or ways in which other methods of local or regional public transport might be better. But I cannot say I minded too much, since I think that monorails are a pretty neat form of transit.

One thing that the program brought up was that in 1963 the ALWEG company -- who had already started turning a profit on their toy system in Seattle -- offered to build and operate a system in Los Angles without any cost to the government. But, at least according to the show due to pressure from automotive and tire lobbyists, LA turned them down.

Of course this has me wondering how the city, and probably the rest of the country, might have been different. I suspect that cars would still be a significant part of the LA transit picture, if not still the main way a majority of people get around. But having more than forty years of a public transit option other than buses wouldn't have a zero impact.

I do suspect that the shape of the LA Metro would be somewhat different. By "shape," I'm referring to the general layout of the city. Having good transit would lead to houses and businesses being concentrated near the lines and stations. Without knowing where the initial 40 or so miles of lines would have gone, or any idea how the system might have expanded (someone on the show speculated that by now there would be 60 or 80 miles of line), I have no idea where the metro might have a higher density than it does now, and where it might have a lower.

Also, had the LA monorail system been a success, I suspect ALWEG would have expanded to other cities, and might today be a major corporation building and running systems all over the country or even world. If it had continued to be successful, it may even have kept the balance from tipping to most public transit being government run -- but I'm not so sure about that. I suspect that shortly the systems would have quit being quite a profitable and they would have sold them to the government.

Back in May, I speculated about adding rail transit to fill a gap in the urban San Diego county system. At the time I decided to suggest a monorail line connecting along the I-15 corridor with some cross-connects to head out to the coast near La Jolla or Sorrento Valley.

Thinking about it, and looking over what I wrote, I still think that a monorail would be a good solution. While I'm not a civil engineer, I have to expect that constructing an elevated monorail line would use less material -- and thus less expense -- than a more traditional dual-rail system. This would make the system more affordable, and so it could be paid off sooner.

This morning, I started thinking: "Is there a way to make a car that could operate on either a monorail line or a traditional light rail line?" My initial thoughts is that this could not be done with a monorail that rides on top of the guideway. But, it should be doable either with an overhead rail system, or a side rail system. There would need to be some way to make sure that during the transition that the cars connect to the new rail correctly.

Why did i think of this -- it would allow a new monorail system to share part of its route with an existing line without requiring new infrastructure. But I suspect that doing so might make the system too much of a compromise to make it practical.

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