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The Truth About Monorails

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The Truth About Monorails
Posted by ontheBNSF on Friday, February 7, 2014 1:26 AM

For whatever reason monorail has become the transportation equivalent of snake oil. Whenever a poorly planned rail project in implement or railfans feel the need to bash rail alternatives both groups bring up "monorail" as a comparison. What is forgotten is that many monorail systems are actually quite successful. Japanese Monorail systems are quite successful, the Seattle Center Monorail earns a profit every year which is shared with the city, and even the poorly implemented Las Vegas Monorail has a farebox recovery exceeding 100% (higher than most rail transit and bus lines in North America). In my view monorails are under-appreciated and valuable, but I don't view them as the be all end all of mass transit solutions (nothing really is). I see them primarily as a lower cost alternative to elevated railways or for areas where labor costs are high.

Some sources

http://www.lvmonorail.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Farebox-Recovery.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monorails_in_Japan

http://marketurbanism.com/2011/01/02/elevated-rail-vs-road-and-monorails/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle_Center_Monorail

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Posted by NorthWest on Friday, February 7, 2014 8:18 PM

The Seattle Monorail is more of a tourist attraction then a transit operation, and charges much higher fares.

IIRC, Las Vegas is the same way.

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Saturday, February 8, 2014 6:48 AM

Monorails ARE snake oil.  The chief attraction to the public is that they look new and futuristic.  However, they lack the flexibility of conventional rail in that they rarely run on the surface or in a subway, switches and crossings are problematic at best, etc.  I've rarely seen them in operation in anything other than a loop or a short point-to-point operation.

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Posted by ontheBNSF on Saturday, February 8, 2014 11:35 AM

CSSHEGEWISCH

Monorails ARE snake oil.  The chief attraction to the public is that they look new and futuristic.  However, they lack the flexibility of conventional rail in that they rarely run on the surface or in a subway, switches and crossings are problematic at best, etc.  I've rarely seen them in operation in anything other than a loop or a short point-to-point operation.

That is actually not true a monorail can indeed be built at ground level, it is just not common to do so.

http://www.monorails.org/tmspages/WhatIs.html

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Saturday, February 8, 2014 11:49 PM

BNSF your sources neglect one particular item.  Monorails have been found to be dynamically unstable laterally  above 25 - 35 MPH.  That is the reason Seattle, Disney,  and others run at 25 MPH MAS. 

Now active controls can be added to stabilize these trains at higher speeds but if the controls suddenly fail it could be disastrous before the train can slow.  Plus these active controls are very expensive even today  ---  just look at F-117, B-2s and others do cost.  

A good example of instability are racing boats when they slightly yaw or even race cars.

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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, February 9, 2014 7:53 AM

Note that it is possible to construct an elevated light railway with no more "shadow-print" than a monorail. Simply leave out crossties, use thin but strong longitudinal girders, one under each rail, have stainless steel low temperture expansion coefficienet gauge-bard every meter or so between rails mounted on continuos hard rubber pads on the girders, without crossties.  The original cable-operated North American rapid transit line, Charles Harvey's West Side Ptent Elevated Railway did not have crossties, which were introduced when steam replaced cable wiith far greater weight and vibration.  If walkways are wanted and fill for safety between the rails/girders, this could be architectural glass, of the type used in Portman's hotel balcony floors.

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Posted by NorthWest on Sunday, February 9, 2014 11:23 AM

With monorails, grade crossings and street running are almost impossible. Conventional two rail is just more effective and flexible.

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Posted by Paul of Covington on Sunday, February 9, 2014 12:26 PM

   I never was comfortable calling these things monorails.   They are big fat beams with wheels running on top of and on the sides of the beam.   If they were to be used more extensively than as a point-to-point novelty ride, the switching arrangements would be unwieldy; you'd have to move a huge, heavy beam a considerable distance.   The only true monorail would be the type where the train is suspended under the rail.   I remember there was one in Dallas back in the early '60's, I think as an attraction at a fair.   I have no idea if it still exists.

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Posted by schlimm on Sunday, February 9, 2014 2:33 PM

daveklepper
Note that it is possible to construct an elevated light railway with no more "shadow-print" than a monorail. Simply leave out crossties, use thin but strong longitudinal girders, one under each rail, have stainless steel low temperture expansion coefficienet gauge-bard every meter or so between rails mounted on continuos hard rubber pads on the girders, without crossties.

The Wuppertal Suspension Railway (Wuppertaler Schwebebahn) has been in operation since 1901, and carries 25 million passengers annually.

http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/featured/germany-incredible-hanging-railway/20672

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Posted by Paul of Covington on Sunday, February 9, 2014 7:39 PM

   Wow!   Thanks, Schlimm.   What a marvel of engineering.   Looks like a beautiful city, too.

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, February 10, 2014 1:44 AM

I rode it in 1960 when there still was a tram line underneith, I think on the south bank of the river, long gone.   It works fine.   But nobody can call it a near-invisible structure!    And compatibility with surface or subway operaton, forget it!  It is a beautiful city, well worth visiting for its own sake.

The trams were the standard German three-truck articualted "Grossrumwagon" "DuWag" types.  Fairly modern, and it was sad to see that they were abandoning the system, with a center-neutral-strip resevation line allready replaced by buses.  Standard gauge too.

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Posted by gardendance on Monday, February 10, 2014 6:43 AM

ontheBNSF

That is actually not true a monorail can indeed be built at ground level, it is just not common to do so.

http://www.monorails.org/tmspages/WhatIs.html

I'm going to bet it's so uncommon as to never have happened. Your link doesn't give any examples of ground level monorails, it just says they can exist.

Are there any ground level monorails? How much of their right of way is ground level, and how does it get along with the rest of our nation's highways?

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Posted by Paul of Covington on Monday, February 10, 2014 11:14 AM

    Regarding the Wuppertal Suspension Railway, something just hit me.   Who on earth thought that putting an elephant in a suspended railway passenger car was a good idea?

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, February 10, 2014 11:39 AM

gardendance
'm going to bet it's so uncommon as to never have happened. Your link doesn't give any examples of ground level monorails, it just says they can exist.

Listowel and Ballybunion.  Boynton Bicycle Railway (admittedly not 'quite' a canonical monorail but sertainly fits for purposes of this discussion!)

Several examples of level crossings on the former -- they worked just like gates.  No more complicated locking mechanisms required than on any movable rail bridge...

Switching a bit more complicated, of course, but even if using a flexible-curve style (where there are multiple support segments joined by a flexible set of contact surfaces) it's not difficult to set up.

You wouldn't build a hump yard, or complicated ladder tracks -- but that's already assumed. 

Meanwhile, the Boynton system works fine with conventional points, although you need 'em top and bottom in some circumstances.

I would tentatively point out that a maglev system can have ground-level crossings, just as a LIM system can -- nobody sane designs them because of the trash and sabotage problems, but they can be done.  No reason why it can't be done at ground-level on separated ROW, just like all those conventional toy light-rail systems that need so much track structure and alignment (and still deliver that wonderful roll-out-the-barrel streetcar ride and noise) for many purposes.

If you are going to dispute BNSF's underlying point -- that some monorail systems can be built and operated at lower cost than a new 'more conventional' alternative -- please address that rather than using straw-man-type arguments that only redundantly demonstrate traumatic equine demise.

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, February 10, 2014 1:18 PM

I don't know what you are talkiing about with roll-out-the-barrel streetcar ride and noise.   I find modern light rail systems quieter than buses and extremely smooth riding.  I cannot think of a single exception in the modern North American systems I experienced before moving to Jerusalem, and the smoothness and quiet of the Jerusalem system, except for a one in a hundred car requiring maintenance that may have unusual gear noise or a flat wheel, is excellent in every respect.   (They are very good about pulling such a car off line when it happens.)

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, February 10, 2014 8:07 PM

daveklepper
I don't know what you are talkiing about with roll-out-the-barrel streetcar ride and noise.

Come to Memphis and ride the Cleveland extension.

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Posted by schlimm on Monday, February 10, 2014 9:07 PM

Overmod
just like all those conventional toy light-rail systems that need so much track structure and alignment (and still deliver that wonderful roll-out-the-barrel streetcar ride and noise) for many purposes.

Try many streetcar liness in Europe for a quiet, smooth ride.

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Posted by daveklepper on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 1:34 AM

Overmod

daveklepper
I don't know what you are talkiing about with roll-out-the-barrel streetcar ride and noise.

Come to Memphis and ride the Cleveland extension.

Heritage lines deliberately simulate the noise and rattle of old streetcars.   As far as I know Mempis has a Heritage line, not a modern line.

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Posted by Paul of Covington on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 11:09 AM

    I love the noise music.

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, February 13, 2014 7:07 AM

daveklepper
Heritage lines deliberately simulate the noise and rattle of old streetcars.   As far as I know Mempis has a Heritage line, not a modern line.

I would make a sarcastic comment here, but I'll refrain.

Memphis has claimed from the beginning that this was a transit system, and the amount spent on the cars is out of proportion to 'historic preservation' (and has resulted in some remarkably non-historical changes, such as the adoption of pantographs on the equipment).  I can assure you that 'deliberate simulation' of noise, vibration, and harshness is NOT part of anything done here, and I find it somewhat hard to believe that any working transit authority that runs streetcars would voluntarily do so.

The issue is that the inherent quality of the trackwork and maintenance on the 'hospital extension' is not sugh as to provide a smooth quiet ride.  I love the delightful noise, er, music as much as anyone (I went so far as to build a portable recording rig to tape the sounds of MP-54s on the line to Swarthmore in the early '70s) but I surely can't say the same is true of the people who live within earshot of the 'experience'.

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Posted by daveklepper on Thursday, February 13, 2014 12:51 PM

I am not saying the operators and builders of the Memphis streetcar deliberately create noise.   What I am saying is they did not apply the noise correcdtion measures introduced to the street and interurban railway industry with the PCC car in 1935 and aplied in almost all really modern, as opposed to retro, streetcars and light railcars today, including resilient wheels and pleanty of use of synthetic and durable rubber in the, now often air-bag springs, in the suspension system.  The Memphis cars use good old established 1920's technology.  I suspect the track structure is similar, with no artificial rubber between rails and concrete below and at the sides.  It was wrong to sell reproductions of historic cars as a transit system.  (Unless they are PCCs!)  But New Orleans did Canal Street diferently.   They basically have modern technologhy in retro-bodies.   And a modern track structure on Canal Street.  They have and are extending a transit system.  They have their genuine moving museum pieces on the St. Charles Street line.

The modern Alstom Citadis series of light rail cars, available in a wide variety of configurations and powering, is a real marvel of quiet and smooth operation, beating any bus (even a Mercedes intercity) and rivaling a deluxe private automobile.   I am fairly certain some competitors, Bombadier and Stadler in particular, have also produts that are excellent in these areas.  I ride the Jerusalem light rail just about every chance I can, and it is a real pleasure.   I also on occasionly enjoy a meal at one of the sidewalk restaurants on Jaffa Road with the light rail cars passing my table at arm's-length.

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Thursday, February 13, 2014 1:42 PM

daveklepper

 But New Orleans did Canal Street diferently.   They basically have modern technologhy in retro-bodies.   And a modern track structure on Canal Street.  

Correct about Canal Street.  When I was there a 6 - 8 block section of the track was being rebuilt with subgrade of crushed rock, some concrete ties,  welded rail.  and rubber pads between ties and rail.

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Posted by 54light15 on Thursday, February 13, 2014 3:10 PM

Here's a good word on Monorails!

Well, sir, there's nothing on earth
Like a genuine, bona fide
Electrified, six-car monorail
What'd I say?

Monorail
What's it called?
Monorail
That's right! Monorail

Monorail
Monorail
Monorail

I hear those things are awfully loud
It glides as softly as a cloud
Is there a chance the track could bend?
Not on your life, my Hindu friend

What about us brain-dead slobs?
You'll be given cushy jobs
Were you sent here by the Devil?
No, good sir, I'm on the level

The ring came off my pudding can
Take my pen knife, my good man
I swear it's Springfield's only choice
Throw up your hands and raise your voice

Monorail
What's it called?
Monorail
Once again
Monorail

But Main Street's still all cracked and broken
Sorry, Mom, the mob has spoken

Monorail!
Monorail!
Monorail!
Monorail!

Mono, d'oh!

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Frank Mula;John Swartzwelder;Conan O'brian;Al Jean;Mike Reiss;John Vitti;Jeff Martin;George Meyer

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Posted by schlimm on Thursday, February 13, 2014 4:43 PM

daveklepper
The modern Alstom Citadis series of light rail cars, available in a wide variety of configurations and powering, is a real marvel of quiet and smooth operation, beating any bus (even a Mercedes intercity) and rivaling a deluxe private automobile.   I am fairly certain some competitors, Bombadier and Stadler in particular, have also products that are excellent in these areas.

Most definitely, Dave!!  Quiet, smooth, comfortable and reliable.

If you get up to Munich, you would find the MVG museum of interest and also, of course, the Deutsches Museum, one of the best technical and transportation museums anywhere.

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Posted by tomikawaTT on Sunday, February 16, 2014 7:51 PM

Re the argument that monorails can't be built at ground level.

What engineer with one functioning brain cell really WANTS to build a system that has to interface with private cars and their frequently inadequate operators?  Why the push toward grade separation in any place bigger than a bucoloc country hamlet on any line with more than five trains a day?

I may be totally wrong, but it seems to me that constructing a monorail for urban transportation, elevated clear of surface street traffic snarl, makes good sense.  As for the restricted speed, I recently read that present-day New York subway trains go about their business at 30MPH - which seems to be fast enough for most purposes.

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Posted by NorthWest on Sunday, February 16, 2014 8:47 PM

tomikawaTT
What engineer with one functioning brain cell really WANTS to build a system that has to interface with private cars and their frequently inadequate operators?

None!

Transit operators have limited budgets, so having a light rail system in dedicated lanes is the limit to some agencies due to expenses. Grade separation costs more!

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, February 17, 2014 2:34 AM

Tos speed of New York City subway cars is 45 or 48mph.  Reached only between stations on express runs.

Also, the elevated light rail concept, returning to Dr. Harvey's original concept for the West Side Patent Elevaed Railway of 1868, has all the advantages of monoral wth none of the disadvantages.

See the 6th posting on this thread, page one.

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Posted by puffy on Monday, February 17, 2014 4:32 AM

To quote the late Dr. Edward Morlok "Monorails are fundamentally unsound".

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Posted by puffy on Monday, February 17, 2014 4:38 AM

Was there not a monorail line created in Kuala Lumpur? Why no mention of it?

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Posted by gardendance on Monday, February 17, 2014 7:20 AM

NorthWest

tomikawaTT
What engineer with one functioning brain cell really WANTS to build a system that has to interface with private cars and their frequently inadequate operators?

None!

Transit operators have limited budgets, so having a light rail system in dedicated lanes is the limit to some agencies due to expenses. Grade separation costs more!

Thank you for your support

Overmod

gardendance
'm going to bet it's so uncommon as to never have happened. Your link doesn't give any examples of ground level monorails, it just says they can exist.

Listowel and Ballybunion.  Boynton Bicycle Railway (admittedly not 'quite' a canonical monorail but sertainly fits for purposes of this discussion!)

Several examples of level crossings on the former -- they worked just like gates.  No more complicated locking mechanisms required than on any movable rail bridge...

...

I would tentatively point out that a maglev system can have ground-level crossings, just as a LIM system can -- nobody sane designs them because of the trash and sabotage problems, but they can be done.  No reason why it can't be done at ground-level on separated ROW, just like all those conventional toy light-rail systems that need so much track structure and alignment (and still deliver that wonderful roll-out-the-barrel streetcar ride and noise) for many purposes.

Am I the only one who sees big contradiction between your saying monorails need only have a moveable bridge for every at grade crossing, yet light rail somehow cannot eliminate the pre-PCC relatively poor ride quality despite having so much track structure and alignment? And your only example is Memphis's line, which despite you saying Memphis touts it as a real transportation system certainly looks like a heritage line, walks like a heritage line and quacks like a heritage line.

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