iPhoneOgraphy – 15 Aug 2016 (Day 228/366)
A monorail is a railway in which the track consists of a single rail. The term is also used to describe the beam of the system, or the vehicles traveling on such a beam or track. The term originates from joining mono (one) and rail (rail), from as early as 1897, possibly from German engineer Eugen Langen, who called an elevated railway system with wagons suspended the Eugen Langen One-railed Suspension Tramway (Einschieniges Hängebahnsystem Eugen Langen).
Colloquially, the term “monorail” is often used to describe any form of elevated rail or people mover. More accurately, the term refers to the style of track, not its elevation, with ‘Mono’ meaning ‘one’ and ‘Rail’ meaning ‘rail’.
The first monorail prototype was made in Russia in 1820 by Ivan Elmanov. Attempts at creating monorail alternatives to conventional railways have been made since the early part of the 19th century. The earliest patent was taken out by Henry Palmer in the UK in 1821, and the design was employed at Deptford Dockyard in South-East London, and a short line for moving stone from a quarry near Cheshunt, Hertfordshire to the River Lea, the world’s first monorail to carry passengers and the first railway in Hertfordshire.
Around 1879 a “one-rail” system was proposed independently by Haddon and by Stringfellow, which used an inverted “/\” rail. It was intended for military use, but was also seen to have civilian use as a “cheap railway.”
Early designs used a double-flanged single metal rail alternative to the double rail of conventional railways, both guiding and supporting the monorail car. A surviving suspended version is the oldest still in service system: the Wuppertal monorail in Germany. Also in the early 1900s, Gyro monorails with cars gyroscopically balanced on top of a single rail were tested, but never developed beyond the prototype stage. The Ewing System, used in the Patiala State Monorail Trainways in Punjab, India, relies on a hybrid model with a load-bearing single rail and an external wheel for balance. One of the first systems put into practical use was that of French engineer Charles Lartigue, who built a line between Ballybunion and Listowel in Ireland, opened in 1888 and closed in 1924 (due to damage from Ireland’s Civil War). It uses a load-bearing single rail and two lower, external rails for balance, the three carried on triangular supports.
Possibly the first monorail locomotive was a 0-3-0 steam locomotive.
A highspeed monorail using the Lartigue system was proposed in 1901 between Liverpool and Manchester.
In 1910, the Brennan gyroscopic monorail was considered for use to a coal mine in Alaska.
The first half of the 20th century saw many further proposed designs that either never left the drawing board or remained short-lived prototypes. One of the first monorails planned in the United States was in New York City in the early 1930s, scrubbed for an elevated train system.
In the later half of the 20th century, monorails had settled on using larger beam or girder-based track, with vehicles supported by one set of wheels and guided by another. In the 1950s, a 40% scale prototype of a system designed for speed of 200 mph (320 km/h) on straight stretches and 90 mph (140 km/h) on curves was built in Germany. There were designs with vehicles supported, suspended or cantilevered from the beams. In the 1950s the ALWEG straddle design emerged, followed by an updated suspended type, the SAFEGE system. Versions of ALWEG’s technology are used by the two largest monorail manufacturers, Hitachi Monorail and Bombardier.
In 1956, first monorail to operate in the US began test operations in Houston, Texas. Later during this period, monorails were installed including at Disneyland in California, Walt Disney World in Florida, Seattle, and Japan. Monorails were promoted as futuristic technology with exhibition installations and amusement park purchases, as seen by the legacy systems in use today. However, monorails gained little foothold compared to conventional transport systems.
Niche private enterprise uses for monorails emerged, with the emergence of air travel and shopping malls, with shuttle-type systems being built.
From 1950 to 1980 the monorail concept may have suffered, as with all public transport systems, from competition with the automobile. Monorails in particular may have suffered from the reluctance of public transit authorities to invest in the perceived high cost of un-proven technology when faced with cheaper mature alternatives. There were also many competing monorail technologies, splitting their case further. One notable example of a public monorail is the AMF Monorail that was used as transportation around the 1964-1965 World’s Fair.
The high-cost perception was challenged most notably in 1963 when the ALWEG consortium proposed to finance the construction of a major system in Los Angeles in return for the right of operation. This was turned down by the city authorities in favour of no system at all, and the later subway system has faced criticism as it has yet to reach the scale of the proposed monorail.
Several monorails initially conceived as transport systems survive on revenues generated from tourism, benefiting from the unique views offered from the largely elevated installations.
From the 1980s, with the rise of traffic congestion and urbanization, monorails have experienced a resurgence in interest for mass transit usage, notable from the early use by Japan. Tokyo Monorail, one of the world’s busiest, averages 127,000 passengers per day and has served over 1.5 billion passengers since 1964. Monorails have seen continuing use in niche shuttle markets and amusement parks.
Modern mass transit monorail systems use developments of the ALWEG beam and tire approach, with only two suspended types in large use. Monorail configurations have also been adopted by maglev trains. Chongqing Rail Transit in China has adopted a unique ALWEG-based design with rolling stock that is much wider than most monorails, with capacity comparable to heavy rail. This is because Chongqing is criss-crossed by numerous hills, mountains and rivers, therefore tunneling is not feasible except in some cases (Line 1 and future Line 6) due to the extreme depth involved. India is developing monorails in several cities for mass rapid transit with Mumbai Monorail being the first one.
In December 2014, the government of Malta proposed a monorail system to the European Commission as an infrastructural project to benefit from EU funding. The network would be 76 km (47 mi) long, which would make it the longest monorail network in the world.
Many cities are seeing Monorails as legitimate mass transit solution. São Paulo, Brazil is building a Bombardier Innovia Monorail system as part of its public transportation network. The 14.9 mile guideway will have 17 stations, 54 monorail trains and boasts a passenger capacity of 40,000 commuters per hour, per direction. Another city installing a Bombardier Innovia Monorail system in an urban centre is Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for its new King Abdullah Financial District.