A Monorail That Isn't Shit

The problem with monorails is that nearly all of them are shit.

The people who advocate them never seem to be able to realise this, which is a pity, because it's really obvious even if you don't think about it much. The reason for it is very simple: if you put something on only one rail, it falls over. So you have to employ some big frig to stop it doing that. The two most common frigs are either to make it dangle underneath the rail instead of sitting on top, so the rail ends up as a fucking great bridge thing with massive supports that get in the way of the vehicle, or else to use a great big fat-arsed rail so it can hold on to the sides. Either way the supposed advantage of simplicity has gone right out the window before you even start, and it'd be a lot easier just to cut the cackle and put a conventional two-rail track up on stilts and have done.

There is also a third kind of frig which makes it even more obvious, which is to have extra rails to stop it falling over. I don't know why this even gets called a monorail, since it obviously isn't. Indeed it usually has even more rails than an ordinary two-rail railway. So really it's just silly.

Public transport also has the problem that nearly all of it is shit. Again, this is for a very simple reason: it's public. Sitting in your car in a traffic jam not moving is shit, of course, but it's not anywhere near as shit as standing sweatily in an airless Underground carriage with your face pressed into some other bugger's armpit, catching colds and diseases off the cunt who is coughing and sneezing down the back of your neck.

So this is my idea for an urban monorail public transport system which nevertheless is not shit.

It avoids the public bit of the shitness very simply, by using individual vehicles instead of big ones with lots of people in. Each vehicle is a sort of bubble that seats one or two people. The obvious difficulty with such an arrangement - that people will puke and shit in them, either because they are drunk or just because they are dirty bastards - is countered by making the interior a simple moulding of fibreglass or some similar impervious material, with no nooks or crannies or other places where liquids can stand, so a few seconds' blast from an automatic hot water nozzle in the depot is enough to clean out any puke or shit. There is enough space in front of the seat to put luggage or shopping, or a wheelchair, and the doors are hinged at the bottom so they double as wheelchair ramps.

The power source for the propulsion of the vehicles is carried on board. Rather than crappy things like batteries or internal combustion engines, flywheel energy storage is used (as in the Parry People Mover, which regardless of its gruesomely shit name has been demonstrated to work very well). By this means it is straightforward to carry enough energy for several hours' operation, maintenance is straightforward, there is no requirement for large amounts of exotic materials that cause large amounts of pollution to produce as with a battery system, and the number of discharge/recharge cycles is essentially unlimited. Of course, such a system allows for energy recovery on braking and descending gradients, improving efficiency and extending range. Recharging and cleaning depots are provided at suitable points around the network, so that every vehicle can be straightforwardly routed to call at them at suitable intervals to make sure it is clean and the flywheels topped up.

That plural is deliberate. Each vehicle has not one flywheel, but two. They are arranged as balancing gyroscopes, as in the Brennan Gyro-Monorail - probably the best-known of the very rare monorail systems which actually do retain the simplicity of having only one single normal-size rail and so are not shit. Note that the ability of the flywheels to provide stabilising torque is proportional to rotational speed, whereas the energy storage is proportional to the square of rotational speed; as the speed drops from energy consumption for propulsion, the stabilising ability drops more slowly than the stored energy, so it is not a problem to arrange for the vehicles to need recharging for propulsive reasons while they still have plenty of reserve against falling over. Furthermore, a much bigger flywheel is required to provide sufficient energy storage than would be needed purely for balancing, so there is oodles of surplus balancing capacity.

The use of the Brennan system, and the light weight of the individual vehicles due to their small size, allows for a very simple track which genuinely does retain the advantages of simplicity, unobtrusiveness and straightforward installation which are usually claimed for monorails but usually aren't true. In locations where there is plenty of space and not much traffic on the system is expected, a single rail - like a length of scaff tube - laid at ground level will suffice. More commonly, it would be desirable to keep the thing more out of the way, so in most areas the rail - still in the form of a single tube - would be at elevation, supports being provided by replacing lamp-posts with poles that do double duty supporting both the rail and the lamp. And for large spans, such as for crossing a river, a tensioned steel cable would be used in place of a tube. Basically, the track is so simple and unobtrusive that it could be installed more or less anywhere without difficulty finding room for it and without fucking any existing shit up.

Pointwork is no less simple; there are no moving parts on the track at all. One rail simply meets another at a suitable angle. Flangeways are provided to allow unobstructed passage to either route. On the vehicle, a device is provided to impart a steering torque about the bogie pivots on approach to a set of points, causing the wheels to engage with the appropriate flangeway and so to be guided onto the desired route.

Each vehicle is thus self-guiding, and any vehicle can get from any point on the system to any other, like a taxi on a road system; there are no fixed service routes like with buses. The vehicles communicate with a central computer by coupling with a cable inside the hollow track. This provides the overall supervision required for such purposes as routing for minimal congestion and ensuring that vehicles are available at times and places where they are likely to be needed. The vehicles also have proximity sensors so they don't run into the back of the one in front.

There are no stations or defined stopping points (except perhaps at locations where lots of people want to get on or off, where a number of parallel boarding/alighting tracks could be provided). The vehicles are designed with the passenger compartment as a self-contained unit, completely separate from the chassis which carries the balancing and propulsion equipment; the two parts are connected together by a pivoting support which, when unlocked, allows the passenger compartment to rotate about a fore-and-aft axis. As mentioned above, the use of the flywheels for energy storage means that the balancing unit's torque capability is vastly in excess of that required purely for balancing. And each bogie is provided with a set of retractable hooks which, when extended, completely encircle the rail.

So for boarding or alighting, a vehicle simply comes to a halt at any convenient point along a section of the elevated track. The bogie hooks are extended, the pivoting support is unlocked, and the balancing unit then rotates the chassis 180 degrees about the rail until it is suspended underneath on the hooks, the pivoting support allowing the passenger compartment to remain upright. This brings the passenger compartment to ground level for people to get in and out. The process is then reversed; the balancing unit returns the chassis to its normal running position above the rail, the hooks are retracted, and the vehicle sets off. The hooks are not bulky things like crane hooks, but are wide, flat affairs, so that when the vehicle is suspended underneath the rail in the boarding/alighting position, the hooks alter the rail profile sufficiently little that following vehicles can run over the top of them without difficulty and the stationary vehicle does not block the track.

The times being what they are, there exists an unfortunate tendency to make functions like fare payment and route selection dependent on fuck-arsed bollocks like credit cards, mobile phones, oyster cards and other such exclusionary shit. There is a widespread and cunty assumption that people who don't have/don't want/can't even fucking get such items either don't exist or don't matter. So let me state firmly that this is NOT DONE. This system is supposed to be available to everyone, and not just the subset of people who have access to x item of trendy techno/financial shitearsery. It works on something that everyone has and can use - fucking coins in slots. Simple, straightforward and universal. The coin box is automatically emptied whenever the vehicle calls at a recharging depot, so there is never enough money in it for it to be worth anyone trying to smash the vehicle apart to get at it. And the fares are set at a level which does not require putting silly amounts of coins in, otherwise you might just as well drive your car instead. (This is something that public transport operators never seem to get their thick heads round - public transport fares must be cheaper than the cost of petrol to drive the same journey, otherwise there's no point. Cheaper than some fictitious "cost per mile" calculated using whatever variety of accountants' fairy figures gives a convenient answer doesn't cut it, since no normal person works out the cost of driving using made-up shit, they use the cost of the fucking petrol because that's what's fucking real, no matter what any dickhead accountant cunt thinks.)

Route selection is done using a device like those laser-projected keyboard gadgets you can get that make a keyboard appear on any flat surface. This one projects a complete streetmap of the operating area of the system on the inside of the passenger compartment, with the routes of the track superimposed on it. You simply put your finger on a stretch of track passing wherever you want to go and the vehicle is directed to take that route. It should be obvious from the description so far that any destination is available from any starting point; there is never any need to "change trains". When the vehicle gets to where you want to go, you press a Stop button and it comes to a halt and lets you out - since it can stop anywhere along the track, there's no shit like there is with buses of not knowing which stop is closest to where you want to go or even where the bloody things are in the first place.

To initiate a journey, you press a "call" button - one of which is provided on every track support pole - and the system then directs a suitably-located empty vehicle to travel to that location and position itself for boarding. PIR sensors detect the continued presence of the button-presser to avoid the problem of dickheads pressing it and then buggering off. Delays in this process are minimised by having the pool of empty vehicles travelling around the system as opposed to sitting in a depot, and the central computer learns demand patterns to distribute this travelling pool according to where vehicles are likely to be needed.

So there we have it; now who's gonna do it?

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