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Faster monorail on trial in China

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Adlington

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From the Railway Gazette:
Test running has started with a prototype 100 km/h monorail train, equipped for driverless operation, developed by CRRC Qingdao Sifang.
Operating on an 850 mm wide guideway beam, the vehicles are carried on two-axle bogies, providing the ability to negotiate curves as tight as 50 m radius and climb gradients of up to 6%. Moving the wheelsets to the outside of the guideway is intended to simplify replacement of the rubber tyres, reducing the whole life maintenance cost of the running gear by a third
I just wonder whether monorails will ever catch on, apart from amusement parks, connecting airport terminals and similar one-off use.
 
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edwin_m

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I just wonder whether monorails will ever catch on, apart from amusement parks, connecting airport terminals and similar one-off use.
If they're judged by the same standards, such as the requirement imposed on competing modes provide evacuation walkways where monorails usually get away without them, a monorail has very little to recommend it over steel wheel light rail or a rubber-tyre peoplemover.
 

dutchflyer

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In Shanghai to the intern. airport there they have that german-type rubber wheels superfast trainlike thing, of which I forgot the name. There was a try-out track for it just east of dutch border in Niedersachsen/DE. Its a few mins. faster as the metro/underground, but you loose that in the exchange and waiting for the next train.
Apparently as even the still quite new high-speed railline Beijing-Shanghai gets saturated they have plans to build yet another brandnew superfast such thing-might be monorail or zerorail or whatever. Just like the Japanese are planning for Tokyo-Osaka.
 

edwin_m

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In Shanghai to the intern. airport there they have that german-type rubber wheels superfast trainlike thing, of which I forgot the name. There was a try-out track for it just east of dutch border in Niedersachsen/DE. Its a few mins. faster as the metro/underground, but you loose that in the exchange and waiting for the next train.
Apparently as even the still quite new high-speed railline Beijing-Shanghai gets saturated they have plans to build yet another brandnew superfast such thing-might be monorail or zerorail or whatever. Just like the Japanese are planning for Tokyo-Osaka.
That's a maglev - the train hovers by magnetic force so there are no rubber wheels involved (except maybe at low speeds). A monorail is essentially just another rubber-tyre mode but with extra horizontal tyres for steering, all hidden under cowlings so it looks sleek and futuristic.
 

MarkyT

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That's a maglev - the train hovers by magnetic force so there are no rubber wheels involved (except maybe at low speeds). A monorail is essentially just another rubber-tyre mode but with extra horizontal tyres for steering, all hidden under cowlings so it looks sleek and futuristic.
China has some low-speed maglevs as well, aimed at the same ~100kph metro market as this rubber-tyred monorail. Seems like they're backing all the horses.
New Middle-to-low Speed Maglev Trains Ready for Mass Production in Dalian
A new generation of China's home developed middle-to-low-speed maglev trains (magnetic levitation trains) has completed a series of tests conducted in Shanghai and is ready for mass production.
The new maglev train independently designed and developed by the Dalian Locomotive in northeast China's Liaoning Province is comprehensively improved in terms of acceleration, running speed, and curve capabilities as compared with its first-generation counterpart operating in Changsha, Hunan in 2016...
 

hacman

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If they're judged by the same standards, such as the requirement imposed on competing modes provide evacuation walkways where monorails usually get away without them, a monorail has very little to recommend it over steel wheel light rail or a rubber-tyre peoplemover.

In a bitter twist of irony, one of the busiest monorail systems, certainly in the western world, is not only attached to a theme park (Walt Disney World) but also successfully transports numbers of passengers each day that many smaller subways or light rail systems would be envious of.

That said, the issue you mention of the track having no evacuation walkway has proven to be problematic on many occasions. The original design and plans include having passengers climb through a hatch on the roof and shimmy along to the next car if they need to evacuate to a safer part of the train; or if the full train needs to be evacuated all passengers are expected to do this and then climb down the nose with the help of a rope attached by the pilot, before walking to safety along the beam!

In practice, if the issue can't be fixed allowing the train to move to a station, there is usually a long wait inside the train, sometimes without AC, until the Reedy Creek Fire Department can arrive and evacuate people via a ladder/platform.

I'd be interested to see if (as in that Simpsons episode) aircraft-style inflatable escape slides could be used to improve this process, especially if replacement trains for the system were walk-through.

Meanwhile, Disney has recently decided to use a gondola system for its new transportation expansion in Florida, which suffers the same flaws in terms of evacuation. As one of the biggest supporters of monorail technology in the western world, even they seem to be unsure of its' continued benefits!
 

edwin_m

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In a bitter twist of irony, one of the busiest monorail systems, certainly in the western world, is not only attached to a theme park (Walt Disney World) but also successfully transports numbers of passengers each day that many smaller subways or light rail systems would be envious of.

That said, the issue you mention of the track having no evacuation walkway has proven to be problematic on many occasions. The original design and plans include having passengers climb through a hatch on the roof and shimmy along to the next car if they need to evacuate to a safer part of the train; or if the full train needs to be evacuated all passengers are expected to do this and then climb down the nose with the help of a rope attached by the pilot, before walking to safety along the beam!

In practice, if the issue can't be fixed allowing the train to move to a station, there is usually a long wait inside the train, sometimes without AC, until the Reedy Creek Fire Department can arrive and evacuate people via a ladder/platform.

I'd be interested to see if (as in that Simpsons episode) aircraft-style inflatable escape slides could be used to improve this process, especially if replacement trains for the system were walk-through.

Meanwhile, Disney has recently decided to use a gondola system for its new transportation expansion in Florida, which suffers the same flaws in terms of evacuation. As one of the biggest supporters of monorail technology in the western world, even they seem to be unsure of its' continued benefits!
Thanks for this.

I presume the number of passengers is only over much shorter distances than typical for subways and light rail, which may put that into perspective. It obviously helps that the surface beneath the monorail is suitable for a fire truck to access if necessary, but such a system of evacuation would be totally unacceptable in any modern transit system where the needs of people with reduced mobility must always be taken into account.

I've wondered about escape slides for monorails, but if deployed in an urban environment there would have to be enough space to the side, or some way of ensuring they were deployed on the correct side or not at all if space as limited. There would also be a risk of them injuring bystanders, or vehicles damaging the ramp or injuring the evacuating passengers if they landed in a traffic lane. Very different from an aircraft escape situation where you're probably on an airport where anyone on the ground has been suitably trained.
 

hacman

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Thanks for this.

I presume the number of passengers is only over much shorter distances than typical for subways and light rail, which may put that into perspective. It obviously helps that the surface beneath the monorail is suitable for a fire truck to access if necessary, but such a system of evacuation would be totally unacceptable in any modern transit system where the needs of people with reduced mobility must always be taken into account.

I've wondered about escape slides for monorails, but if deployed in an urban environment there would have to be enough space to the side, or some way of ensuring they were deployed on the correct side or not at all if space as limited. There would also be a risk of them injuring bystanders, or vehicles damaging the ramp or injuring the evacuating passengers if they landed in a traffic lane. Very different from an aircraft escape situation where you're probably on an airport where anyone on the ground has been suitably trained.
I believe the total length of the system is about 15 miles, though this is split into two parts - the circle around Seven Seas Lagoon, which calls at Magic Kingdom, several hotels and the Transportation and Ticket Center, and the spur from the TTC to Epcot. The trains can reach about 40mph in places, so they certainly move. I think on the Epcot spur they actually go over 50mph!

The circle section is much more heavily patronised, with the most common flow being the TTC to the Magic Kingdom, and then back via the other side of the loop. This is a total distance of about 3 miles round trip. Basically, anyone who visits Magic Kingdom and arrives by car has to use the monorail via this route or a ferry across the lagoon to get to the park entrance. It's actually considered to be the worlds largest "park and ride" scheme!

The system, if memory serves, carries just shy of 1 million guests per week. Though this will mostly be estimates based on resort bookings and park ticket sales (and perhaps some sort of APC), as the system has no fare collection in place - it's totally free to use, even if you don't have a park ticket or hotel booking.

Much of the system passes over clear, grassy areas, so a slide situation may work here, though for any new build sections I'd imagine a walkway between the two beams wouldn't be that much of an extra ask, though would ruin the aesthetic somewhat. For the slide option to work though you'd need to ensure that it was only able to be deployed by the crew, and would rely on the train being fully walk-through and of a decent length, so as to be able to select a most appropriate place to deploy it from.
 

Backroom_boy

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I believe the total length of the system is about 15 miles, though this is split into two parts - the circle around Seven Seas Lagoon, which calls at Magic Kingdom, several hotels and the Transportation and Ticket Center, and the spur from the TTC to Epcot.
Does it go anywhere near Disney springs where the new Brightline station is planned?
 

MarkyT

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Does it go anywhere near Disney springs where the new Brightline station is planned?
The monorail mainline might plausibly be extended from Epcot Center to Disney Springs, which is a major attraction node in its own right with its own terminal on the internal bus system, and close to Interstate Highway #4. I believe Brightline and thus their station will be built in the I4 median strip.
 

hacman

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Does it go anywhere near Disney springs where the new Brightline station is planned?

Currently, it doesn't, and I'm not sure there are plans to do this either. Disney have been very keen to avoid expanding the monorail for some time now, as shown with the decision to build the SkyLiner to link some of the previously bus-only resorts and parks.

Extending the Epcot spur to Disney Springs is not likely to be easy, as it would require substantial reconfiguration of the line around the entrance of the park and the "World Celebration" area, which has just been heavily refurbished. It might even require the station to be rebuilt, as it is currently only a single platform. There is also not an awful lot of options in the way of a clear path between a potential location for a Disney Springs monorail station and the trackwork at the entrance of Epcot - it would pretty much have to be via Epcot Center Drive, and then onto either I4 or Buena Vista drive to reach a station sat somewhere near the parking garages. Whilst this would be acceptable, it does also limit options for the Epcot end.

The other aspect of this could also be that Disney currently charge guests $25 per car or motorcycle per day to park at any of the Walt Disney World theme parks or water parks. Disney Springs has no parking charges as it is a retail location, and people got wise to this, parking at Disney Springs and then taking the free bus to the parks.

To this end Disney actually stopped all but a handful of bus services between Disney Springs and the various parks, meaning if you wanted to use this "hack" now, you need to take a bus from Disney Springs to a hotel, then another bus from the hotel to the park.

Extending the monorail to Disney Springs would bring this issue back, and could sadly cause all sorts of other issues. Retailers in Disney Springs would object to the introduction of parking charges there, and would likely be less than happy about any sort of validation-by-purchase type system being introduced, and would be very unhappy if their customers couldn't get parked because the parking was full of park guests wanting to avoid paying.

(Parking charges are a MAJOR source of revenue for Disney in Florida, with parking rates for "preferred" parking (i.e. close enough that you don't need to use the courtesy tram service to get from your car to the entrance/TTC) being $45-50 per day, and anything larger than a car or motorcycle being $30 a day. With many thousands of cars parking on any given day, you can see why they've always been keen to avoid making it too easy to reach via public transport, etc.)
 

MarkyT

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(Parking charges are a MAJOR source of revenue for Disney in Florida, with parking rates for "preferred" parking (i.e. close enough that you don't need to use the courtesy tram service to get from your car to the entrance/TTC) being $45-50 per day, and anything larger than a car or motorcycle being $30 a day. With many thousands of cars parking on any given day, you can see why they've always been keen to avoid making it too easy to reach via public transport, etc.)
Like scamming greenwashing airports then and their premium public transport fares. Why don't they just be honest and rollup their charges into park entrance fees, in this case paid at the bus/monorail transit terminal for transfer or at exit from the transit into the attraction areas. Clearly, the evil empire has no intention of attempting to reduce its carbon footprint or improving the local air quality for their patrons and employees.
 

hacman

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Like scamming greenwashing airports then and their premium public transport fares. Why don't they just be honest and rollup their charges into park entrance fees, in this case paid at the bus/monorail transit terminal for transfer or at exit from the transit into the attraction areas. Clearly, the evil empire has no intention of attempting to reduce its carbon footprint or improving the local air quality for their patrons and employees.

To be honest, I think that's perhaps a bit unfair to them.

Disney has done vast amounts in Orlando (and worldwide) to help with their environmental impact, including ensuring that a certain percentage of their landholdings will never be built on, reducing their water use substantially and protecting the hydrological environment around their resorts, ensuring that they grow as much of the produce as they can for the parks and resorts on-site using environmentally sustainable methods (they actually have a full section in Epcot devoted to the research of new methods and technologies for food production!), reducing power use and sourcing more of their electricity from renewables (Mickey-shaped solar panels!), using bio-fuel in their fleets of busses and other vehicles, and more.

They also take part very actively in a number of environmental and wildlife conservation programmes, and fund many others. Some more information can be found here: https://thewaltdisneycompany.com/environmental-sustainability/

I'm personally a Disney fan and have visited many times. I've also been lucky enough to see "behind the scenes" on many occasions, and to get an idea of what it actually takes to run the place. It's nothing short of incredible, to be honest, and operating at the scale they do costs insane amounts of money.

The parking charges do annoy me to be honest, especially since they have risen $6 in the last 5 years, and in some cases, you're not actually parking anywhere near where you're heading. But as you say, the other option is just including it in the park ticket prices - but many would argue that then means those who arrive without a car are paying. The fact remains that Disney is a for-profit business, and whilst I'd argue they are generally one of the more ethical ones out there, they are still there to make money, so all costs must be covered. It's not a cheap place to go to. Parking charges are also just more of a "thing" in the US than we're used to in the UK, and other local attractions including SeaWorld, Universal Studios, Kennedy Space Center and more also charge similar rates for parking.

The other aspect of this is that the greater Orlando area gets VERY spread out once you leave downtown, and there are vast amounts of low-density "R1" single-family home development. These are the places people tend to stay when they are not staying at a Disney hotel, and sadly these types of development are a nightmare for any sort of transport planning to start with. Add to that the fact that building things in Florida is already a challenge to start with, and that for non-locals the heat and humidity can be oppressive, and as such you'll struggle to get people out of their (hire) cars and walking to a bus/tram/train stop, especially at the end of a busy day.

Even for the locals, SunRail has now been in operation for a bit over 5 years, having just been extended south to Poinciana. It has been heavily invested in with new or as-new equipment, brand new stations and lots of publicity, it goes through downtown Orlando, connecting with the central hub for the Lynx bus network, and many other bus routes and commercial and residential areas along the way. It still struggles to get more than 6000 passengers a day, and so far has only been able to support a weekday service - trials of weekends and public holidays fell completely flat. The Lynx bus network faces similar issues, and both Lynx and SunRail require incredible amounts of public money just to keep operating.

Improvements are being made in the area, both Disney and wider, but they take time and have to be carefully thought out - as the makeup of the area is such that many aspects of traditional demand modelling and urban planning go right out the window.
 

MarkyT

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To be honest, I think that's perhaps a bit unfair to them.

Disney has done vast amounts in Orlando (and worldwide) to help with their environmental impact, including ensuring that a certain percentage of their landholdings will never be built on, reducing their water use substantially and protecting the hydrological environment around their resorts, ensuring that they grow as much of the produce as they can for the parks and resorts on-site using environmentally sustainable methods (they actually have a full section in Epcot devoted to the research of new methods and technologies for food production!), reducing power use and sourcing more of their electricity from renewables (Mickey-shaped solar panels!), using bio-fuel in their fleets of busses and other vehicles, and more.

They also take part very actively in a number of environmental and wildlife conservation programmes, and fund many others. Some more information can be found here: https://thewaltdisneycompany.com/environmental-sustainability/

I'm personally a Disney fan and have visited many times. I've also been lucky enough to see "behind the scenes" on many occasions, and to get an idea of what it actually takes to run the place. It's nothing short of incredible, to be honest, and operating at the scale they do costs insane amounts of money.

The parking charges do annoy me to be honest, especially since they have risen $6 in the last 5 years, and in some cases, you're not actually parking anywhere near where you're heading. But as you say, the other option is just including it in the park ticket prices - but many would argue that then means those who arrive without a car are paying. The fact remains that Disney is a for-profit business, and whilst I'd argue they are generally one of the more ethical ones out there, they are still there to make money, so all costs must be covered. It's not a cheap place to go to. Parking charges are also just more of a "thing" in the US than we're used to in the UK, and other local attractions including SeaWorld, Universal Studios, Kennedy Space Center and more also charge similar rates for parking.

The other aspect of this is that the greater Orlando area gets VERY spread out once you leave downtown, and there are vast amounts of low-density "R1" single-family home development. These are the places people tend to stay when they are not staying at a Disney hotel, and sadly these types of development are a nightmare for any sort of transport planning to start with. Add to that the fact that building things in Florida is already a challenge to start with, and that for non-locals the heat and humidity can be oppressive, and as such you'll struggle to get people out of their (hire) cars and walking to a bus/tram/train stop, especially at the end of a busy day.

Even for the locals, SunRail has now been in operation for a bit over 5 years, having just been extended south to Poinciana. It has been heavily invested in with new or as-new equipment, brand new stations and lots of publicity, it goes through downtown Orlando, connecting with the central hub for the Lynx bus network, and many other bus routes and commercial and residential areas along the way. It still struggles to get more than 6000 passengers a day, and so far has only been able to support a weekday service - trials of weekends and public holidays fell completely flat. The Lynx bus network faces similar issues, and both Lynx and SunRail require incredible amounts of public money just to keep operating.

Improvements are being made in the area, both Disney and wider, but they take time and have to be carefully thought out - as the makeup of the area is such that many aspects of traditional demand modelling and urban planning go right out the window.
A fair analysis, unlike my exasperated rant! I realise the main problem is that American land use is basically totally and utterly car-oriented outside a handful of huge cities to the exclusion of all other options, even walking in many cases. I'm very encouraged by Brightline though and pleased they have come to an agreement with Disney to provide a station, which makes little sense unless that is tied in effectively with the parks, hotels etc with good last-mile distribution. The easiest thing to do would be to integrate the bus terminal with the station and run more vehicles, relocating the bays if necessary. I will await developments with interest, and perhaps as a committed non-driver I may actually visit some time!
 

Bald Rick

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Like scamming greenwashing airports then and their premium public transport fares. Why don't they just be honest and rollup their charges into park entrance fees, in this case paid at the bus/monorail transit terminal for transfer or at exit from the transit into the attraction areas. Clearly, the evil empire has no intention of attempting to reduce its carbon footprint or improving the local air quality for their patrons and employees.

A significant number of Disney ‘guests’ stay in Disney hotels, and don’t use a car at all on their stay. Would seem unfair on them.

Also the main Disney parks have what are essentially their own private motorways to access them. Not long, granted, but some of them have had new junction built recently and that needed paying for.
 
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