Out with the Trains

In this op-ed, Michael Andregg touts Personal Rapid Transit over 'financially unsustainable' light rail, which he blames politicians for encouraging.

"The old technology was light rail and the new technology Personal Rapid Transit, or PRT. Engineers at the U showed that PRT could do a superior job for about a third of the cost in energy and money compared to buses and trains, including "light" trains. It could do this because it involves very light electric vehicles carrying only one to three passengers on nonstop, one-way trips above existing transportation grids on 3-foot diameter guideways. They showed that PRT could operate 24 hours a day over entire areas rather than be confined to schedules on high-density corridors because it requires no drivers and that it could be built without tearing up neighborhoods or businesses for years. Per mile, it would cost about one-tenth as much to build as light rail.

These are not 'hard numbers' but careful estimates, because vested interests quickly got a provision written into law forbidding consideration of any technology not fully proven. Engineers and the U wanted to prove it.

But that requires permission from politicians, and 'light' rail was busy spending millions to prepare the political ground for their old streetcar technology. Some among them recognized the peril the new PRT represented to their selfish interests. They could not hold our region hostage to a system that requires vast annual subsidies to operate if the U's invention became well known. So they did all they could to strangle it in the crib."

Full Story: Fascination with trains costs Minnesota plenty



We already have PRT

We already have a personal rapid transit system in this country. It's called cars.

PRT has the same issue as

PRT has the same issue as cars, they bunch up during peak hours. Rush hour travelers will be waiting forever for a "car", or they'll need thousands of "cars" at an astronomical cost. A taxi voucher system makes more sense.

Why not scooters or motorcycles for PRT?

If scooters and motorcycles had a safe route (exclusive lanes) we would have a personal mobility system that utilizes existing technologies at a fraction of the cost of PRT or rail. Additionally, electric scooters and e-bikes are already commercially available so the efficiency of this sysem would be hard to beat.

Exclusive Motorcycle Lanes (EML)

Where do you live...

Scooter's and motorcycles? You must live south of 40degN (or north of 40degS). Where I come from, we have something called winter.


In Copenhagen, the most common method of commuting to work is by bicycle, even though they have something called winter.

Needless to say, Copenhagen would be much less livable and the commuters would be colder if they replaced the bicycles with scooters and motorcycles.

Charles Siegel


Great point. The reasons I think scooters and motorcycles would be such a good fit in the US is because we are already spread out so much that bikes are only an option for the very fit or for those that live very close to work. Scooters and motorcycles would provide affordable, efficient mobility for the suburban commuter.

I would also argue that while Copenhagen would be less livable with scooters and motorcycles, US suburbs would be More livable with scooters and motorcycles. It is much more personal to pull up next to someone on a scooter than a SUV. Ever wonder why motorcycle riders wave to each other as they pass? There is a certain camaraderie between riders that you would never see between SUVs.

Exclusive Motorcycle Lanes (EML)

I live in Raleigh

Nobody said you had to ride your scooter in shorts.

Exclusive Motorcycle Lanes (EML)

Motorcycles in London Bus Lanes

London also has winters but Transport for London has had success with its new pilot program to allow motorcycles in bus lanes: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/finesandregulations/10151.aspx

Exclusive Motorcycle Lanes (EML)

strict modalism is for the narrow-minded

Why is it that everyone latches on to one particular technology and thinks it will save the world? Some technologies fit to particular situations and not others. A diversity of circumstance requires a diversity of approaches. There is an essential tension between "mass" movement which is the source of congested peak conditions on every type of infrastructure and "rapid" movement which is desired to improve productivity. There is always a balancing of efficiency for the whole or convenience to the individual as well as cost for both. Sometimes you need to pick one side or the other of the equation, but other times there is an overlap of the goals for volume, speed and affordability (and safety?) and planners should note those instances and seek them out. Can we please all understand that there are many solutions to play a role in our future mobility, not one silver bullet!

PRT is old news for West Virginia University

There has been a successful PRT system linking two University campuses, a large research hospital, and the downtown of Morgantown for over 30 years in West Virginia. The system runs on the same principles that have been heralded in the UK and MN as new and revolutionary. A new multimodal center/ parking garage is planned at the Medical Center station to allow passenger to park and then commute within the town on the PRT. The system is even free to use for University students and faculty/staff. If you want to see a functioning PRT systemit in action all you have to do is go to good old Morgantown, WV and you'll see the Blue and Gold cars buzzing back and forth all day long.

Tim Halbur's picture
Blogger / Alum

PRT examples

It surprises me that PRT is being sold as a valid mass transit option when it is clearly only working as a connector in a closed loop, i.e., between terminals at an airport or two fixed poinst (a garage and a campus). Implementation on a large scale hasn't happened, and seems infeasible.

PRT In Masdar

They are planning to use PRT running underground as the only powered transportation mode in Masdar. In 10 years or so, we will see whether it actually can work.

Charles Siegel

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