Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group 





The expression, "never look a gift horse in the mouth", could well be a suitable remark to fit the contents of this fact sheet. A project with no financial strings attached in local government circles is rare indeed and no doubt welcomed by a budget strapped City Council. A monorail is often the first choice for trendy planners but just as often badly mauled at subsequent environmental assessments. Many a public funded scheme that failed at the feasibility stage could well have succeeded if the proposal had been gift-wrapped like that proverbial Trojan Horse at Troy.


Although elevated tracks give an impression of avoiding congested traffic areas by simply going over the top of them, they simply create many environmental concerns. One disadvantage of elevated tracks is the ease with which areas underneath can suffer blight and take on an air of gloom and dereliction. Monorails in particular tend to press against facades and obscure architectural detail. Integration with elevated services tends to compound the need for ancillary structures for disabled access. As a rule, this problem combined with noise reduces elevated rail operation to consideration only when there are compelling operational reasons.


Subsequent events elsewhere were obviously responsible for serious questions on evacuation and one method quoted was a series of ceiling trapdoors and a walkway down the centre of the roof. Another quoted example, this time Japanese, had end doors and either a special beam available as a walkway or offering the possibility of a transfer to another vehicle. A need for evacuation studies though has to be taken seriously with an actual example on one of Britain's monorail systems at Merry Hill in the West Midlands. "Merry Hill train terror" was the headline (4) as 20 shoppers waited to be rescued from the monorail jammed 50 feet above ground. Firemen using turntable ladders eventually rescued them from behind the electronic doors.


Built in 1988 at a cost of AUD70m (private finance), it consisted of a 3.6km elevated track with trains running in an anti-clockwise direction at 3 minute intervals. A number of train breakdowns, not unlike that at Merry Hill, met with a similar response from the fire brigade, a body that had already complained about the monorail structure and its potential obstruction to fighting fires. When TNT decided to sell the monorail in 1998 the NSW Government was put under extreme pressure to buy it as a gift to Sydney, and then to dismantle it.


Most British examples of monorail operation were at leisure-type locations and a monorail system at a German Garden Festival in Stuttgart was no exception. This was a difficult site with gradients of 20% as well as sharp bends needing to be negotiated. Because monorail systems on the market at that time could only negotiate 9% gradients, engineers were set the challenge of redesigning the train for these new parameters. A brief description of the final design revealed that each propulsion bogie was equipped with a pair of motors and gear boxes mounted on a common axle. Each ten bogie train had nine propulsion bogies which needed ten power collectors, arranged in a fail-safe configuration. Although the normal curve radius is 25m, the minimum radius is 15m and must be negotiated at low speed. Because the object was panoramic, the normal running speed was kept low at 18km/hr. The trains, being fully automatic, did not need a driver and had an hourly capacity of approximately 3,500 persons.


Briefly mentioned earlier, this monorail, Von Roll Mark III, was opened on the 1st of June 1991 at a cost of GBP22m. With its claim of 70 standing passengers per train, a maximum flow of 1800 passengers per hour per direction was possible. Its main purpose was to carry shoppers from their cars to the Merry Hill retail centre. The actual opening of the monorail was delayed somewhat because the Railway Inspectorate was unhappy at emergency evacuation. In 1992 the line closed for essential maintenance and in 1996 was reported as being up for sale (8).


This proposed 11km line with its 11 stations would start at Port Solent and terminate at Southsea. The line would cost GBP46m, be served by 10 trains, have a capacity of 3000 passengers per hour and see actual construction start in the Autumn of 2001. It is expected to be carrying passengers by the end of 2002, well ahead of the South Hants LRT scheme which is not expected to open until 2005. The programme put forward for the monorail may prove extremely optimistic from both cost and time points of view.


Because the Portsmouth Monorail will be fulfilling a very important tourist role it is vital that its designers thoroughly research the Merry Hill failings and Sydney's hostility towards the monorail structure. It may be of interest to note that Blackpool has for years operated a tourist type monorail in its Pleasure Beach complex and an even more interesting to note the coincidence that all the places mentioned in this fact sheet have (will have or did have) light rail tramway systems for urban use and monorails for either leisure or shopper type facilities.


  1. A plan outlined by a Private Sector Consortium - LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - 4th October 2001.
  2. A synopsis of the Royal Fine Art Commission's report on LIGHT RAIL SYSTEMS was recorded in LRTA UKDG FACT SHEET No 93. February 2000.
  3. By E-mail - USA origin - Re Monorail evacuation - by Bill Volkmer - 1st October 2001.
  4. BIRMINGHAM POST - 20th April 1992.
  5. House of Commons - Eighth Report by Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee - LIGHT RAPID TRANSIT SYSTEMS Annex B - item 28 - 24th May 2000.
  6. Roy Vocking, Vice-President, INTAMIN AG, Switzerland - THE URBAN TRANSPORT INDUSTRIES REPORT - page 99 - 1993.
  7. Midland Metro Awaits Decision - Michael Ballinger in LIGHT RAIL REVIEW No 3. - page 50 - Published by Platform Five Publishing Ltd & Light Rail Transit Association - November 1991.
  9. TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - page 404 - November 1999.

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