Friday, December 10, 2010
For some time now I have advocated designing PRT for more than strictly CBD (Central Business District) use. Even though the “flight to the suburbs” in the U.S. has led to the need for urban renewal, and PRT would be a terrific tool for just that, the suburbs and highway fed satellite communities already exist, and need service too.
Companies wishing to get a PRT product to market do not have infinite time and development dollars, and their efforts necessarily must start from the basic building blocks of stations and loops. There is little point in promoting a vision that they are not yet prepared to follow though on. Unfortunately, a scaled-back, slow version of PRT is a lot like a scaled-back, slow version of the Internet. Eighty people being able to dial up a dozen sites won’t exactly make you thunderstruck by the possibilities. Yet that is a stage that was, at one point, a future vision.
So here’s a little peak at a PRT “trunk” line, which, of course, can only happen when there are massive networks on either end to feed it. In this picture there are four tracks going in the same direction. Reversible lanes would offer up to five possible configurations, direction-wise.
Here are some sample numbers. With a one second headway, and vehicles traveling at 60 mph, (88 ft. spacing) and the U.S. average of 1.2 passengers per vehicle, the capacity would be 17, 280 passengers per hour. Not bad for fitting over a strip of grass no wider than a residential driveway! With vehicles that can swing forward from sudden deceleration and bumpered bogies that clamp the track for extra stopping power in an emergency, still shorter headways and higher speeds can be expected without much technological challenge, especially if platoon strategies are employed. I think what is informative here is the capacity vs. the minor amount of steel and concrete needed to achieve it. By the way, with rubber wheels inside of a sound-insulated track casing, the system would be nearly silent.
It occurs to me that when I invent, I frequently start at an endpoint or finished product and work backwards toward the present. In a world of cause and effect, one can start at the desired effect and try to envision the causes that could create it. This is why I have been advocating a standards-based open-source PRT solution. Can you imagine a single company ever being able to successfully scale up to this kind of volume? I can’t. The only way I can see it is if the track is a simple and standardized design, buildable by local firms, the control system is infinitely extensible, and multiple manufacturers can compete for business with certified, standards compliant vehicles. The funding needs to come out of the highway budget, and there needs to be a non-profit organization specifically tasked with organizing and fostering the public/private partnerships to make the whole thing happen, as well as developing and maintaining the standards.
I do not rule out one company building a starter network and growing substantially from there. I just do not think that the design choices that are best for the company’s shareholders in the short or medium term are the best choices for PRT as a long-term technology. PRT can have extremely positive effects on society and the planet and still be the basis for very profitable businesses, but there is no reason to believe that a system designed to be profitable and saleable today will resemble the design that has the most transformative potential. In particular, I think current designs have traded away flexibility in a rush to have a market-ready product. These designs have limitations in terms of speed, station layout, turning radius, scalability, safety, track pitch, and a host of other issues. Once deployed, these limitations become set. If they later become burdensome, there is not necessarily any way to remedy the situation while maintaining compatibility with the legacy system and its installed infrastructure.
P.S. I have added a Table of Contents. Now you can enjoy one-click access to all 110 posts in the archive! Also, there have been no malware alerts connected with this site per se; The one reader who has reported a problem apparently only gets a warning from the use of his “Google Alerts” redirect function to this site and not the site itself, so I’m not going to worry about it.
Posted by Dan at 10:38 PM