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August 19, 2016

14 Real and Visionary Historic Monorail Designs

There’s nothing on earth like a genuine, bonafide, electrified six-car monorail. Or a one-car monorail with a propeller, or a high-speed rail plane, or even an amphibious monorail that can go from the elevated track right into the water. Some of these concepts were doomed from the start, some never got enough support to get off the ground and others still stand today.

1. Mountain Monorail with Propeller, 1936

This fanciful concept illustrated by Kikuzo Ito in 1936, was invented by an American. The airplane propeller and tailfin keep the small car upright as it rides along the track in the mountains. An extra set of wheels extend from the sides to provide stability when it comes to a stop.

2. Wuppertal Schwebebahn, 1901-Present

While most early monorail systems either never made it past testing stages or were dismantled soon after construction, the Wuppertal Suspension Railway in Wuppertal, Germany remains in operation after over a century. It was initially designed to be sold to the city of Berlin; the first track opened in 1901. The cars have been replaced over the decades, but since then, the monorail line has been closed just once. It moves 25 million passengers each year.

3. Bennie Railplane, 1930

The propeller-driven Bennie Railplane, designed in 1930 by George Bennie, was a prototype that aimed to solve the problem of more economical and rapid transport via a high-speed monorail link from London to Paris. A short test track was built in Glasgow, Scotland, but the economic troubles of the ’30s doomed the project. The test track hung around, rusting and abandoned, through the 1950s.

4. Boyes Monorail, 1911

The test track for the William H. Boyes Monorail was built and demonstrated in 1911 in Seattle, Washington, with wood rails and an estimated cost of about $3,000 per mile. When it opened, the Seattle Times proclaimed, “The time may come when these wooden monorail lines, like high fences, will go straggling across country, carrying their burden of cars that will develop a speed of about 20 miles per hour.”

5. Amphibious Monorail, 1934

Twin amphibian cars zoom from the desert into the open sea in this concept, dreamed up by the Soviet Government and featured in Popular Science in 1934. The idea was that the cars, which could reach up to 180 miles per hour, could travel three monorail lines totaling 332 miles in length in order to tap mineral wealth in Turkestan. They were reportedly tested in Moscow.

“The cars would be equipped with Diesel-electric drive, and each would carry forty passengers or an equivalent freight load,” explained Popular Science. “Where the longest of the projected routes crosses the river Amu-Daria, a mile and a quarter wide, it is proposed that amphibian cars be used. On arriving at the shore the cars would leave the overhead rail and cross the river as a boat. Soviet engineers are reported already surveying the route.”

6. Guided Flying Monorail, 1915

Another monorail concept featured in Popular Science was Francis Laur’s ‘guided flying monorail,’ designed in 1915. “Francis Laur would combine the airplane with the railway. An egg-shaped car with short wings is driven in regular airplane fashion. Instead of flying away it is confined to a definite path by a rail. ‘Guided flight,’ Laur, the inventor, calls his idea. Is it practical? Maybe and maybe not. Which is to say that for some things it is and for some things it isn’t.”

7. U.S. Centennial Monorail, 1876

This double-decker, steam-driven train glides along a track at the U.S. Centennial Expo in Philadelphia in 1876. It featured an ornate car with two main wheels, the rear one driven by a rotary steam engine. Designed by General LeRoy Stone, this monorail transported attendees of the expo back and forth between the Agricultural and Horticultural Halls.

8. U.S. Senate Monorail, 1912

From 1912-1961, U.S. Senators didn’t have to worry about walking back and forth between buildings above ground with the plebes. They simply hopped onto “the shortest and most exclusive railway in the world,” an underground monorail that ran through tunnels below the U.S. Senate building.

“The distance between the old Senate Office Building and the Capitol was only a fifth of a mile, but senators needed to traverse it multiple times on a typical legislative day… In 1912, the Senate authorized installation of a double-line electric monorail system that ran on fixed tracks. Built by the Columbia Construction Company, the trains held up to 18 passengers each, in rows of wicker seats. Senators received priority in boarding the cars, and the front seats were reserved for them at all times.” The whole story can be read at the Senate website.

9. Aerial Mono-Flyer of the Future, 1918

Electrical Experimental magazine featured this concept for the “aerial mono-flyer of the future” in 1918, another guided flying device perching precariously on a single line, looking a little less than safe.

10. ALWEG Monorail, 1959

The ALWEG monorail was the original Disneyland Monorail System, which opened in 1959, as well as the Seattle Center Monorail, built for the 1962 Worlds Fair.

11. Pedal-Powered Monorail, 1800s

This drawing from sometime in the mid 1800s, thought to be of French origin, envisions a pedal-powered monorail. The idea is being revived for modern times in the form of the ‘Shweeb.’

12. Monoline Express, 1961

Illustrated for the Closer Than We Think! comic strip in 1961, the Monoline Express of the future is a combination of an automatic highway and a high-speed monorail system in which private cars use a ‘high road’ to commute to town or travel between cities. In this concept, cars could travel almost bumper-to-bumper at speeds of 120 miles per hour or more, and then get off and go about business as usual on the regular roads.

13. Skyway Monorail, Houston, 1956

A pilot monorail line made its debut at Arrowhead Park in Houston in 1956, with a 55-passenger coach making three trips at speeds less than 10 miles per hour. According to the Houston Chronicle, “Reaction to the trip was varied. The most general comment was that it was interesting and had possibilities, but more investigation into the costs is needed.” It was dismantled a few months later.

14. Russian Monorail, 1900

Russia developed a series of monorail systems starting in 1820 with a ‘road on pillars’ upon which horses pulled railroad carriages. By 1900, Empress Maria Federovna approved the building of a .12 mile electric monorail in Gatchina as an experiment. Like many of the other designs, it was never fully funded.

(This original article was written by SA Rogers and published on Urbanist)


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