Monorail Costs
by Van Wilkins

excerpted from "Monorail," by Van Wilkins, The New Electric Railway Journal, Winter, 1992, used by permission of Mr. Wilkins.

[Editor's note: The study here is old and applies only to Dallas, however, we feel that it helps answer some of the nagging questions on monorail costs.]

How does monorail compare in cost with light or heavy rail? Data comparing these modes in a single situation appear in a study completed in 1983 for Dallas. [We feel that although the absolute costs have changed in the last 17 years, the relative costs haven't... ed.] The study examined monorail, light rail, "pre-metro" light rail (light rail vehicles on grade-separated right of way), rapid (heavy) rail, and UTDC's linear induction Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS) [now Bombardier's SkyTrain] now operating in Vancouver.

Capital and operating costs for each mode were considered at peak hour capacities of 5k, 10k, 20k, and 30k (the latter only for pre-metro and heavy rail) in existing railway and highway corridors. (LRT was not considered in the highway corridor; pre-metro was.) For monorail costs the Hitachi lines at Haneda and Kitakyushu were studied, along with a WED [WED was still marketing their systems in 1983, now Bombardier does...ed.] proposal for redesign of the Mark IV system called the Mark V. This was a much larger vehicle, 10 feet 7 inches wide, compared to the Mark VI's 8 feet 8-1/2 inches, and required a heavier beamway. A suspended monorail was not evaluated. Subway, surface and elevated installations in the downtown area were examined.

The study results cannot be provided in detail..., but at the risk of oversimplification some of its conclusions can be noted. Light rail capital costs were significantly lower than the other modes in the rail corridor, primarily because LRT could be constructed mostly at grade [italics mine...ed.] Pre-metro was next lowest for the same reason. The LRT advantage was greatest at the lowest capacity level and decreased at the higher levels.

In the highway corridor, where about 90% of the guideway had to be elevated for all modes, capital costs were higher, with monorail least costly by a small margin at the 5k and 10k levels. Heavy rail became less costly at the 20k level, because monorail's slightly higher fleet costs offset its advantage in guideway costs. Pre-metro was higher than either. In both corridors, ICTS [SkyTrain] costs were judged to be significantly higher than any of the other modes, although UTDC took exception to some conclusions.

The study found that annual operations and maintenance costs were nearly independent of the type of corridor. At the 5k level, light rail had a slight advantage, closely followed by monorail, rapid rail, and pre-metro. There was but a 7% difference between the lowest and highest. At the 10k level and above rapid rail was lowest, followed by pre-metro, monorail, and light rail. At the 10k level monorail was about 7% higher than heavy rail; at 20k 12%-15% higher. At the latter level light rail was 24% higher than rapid rail. Rapid rail was favored at the higher levels primarily because of greater vehicle capacities.

The study also calculated total annual costs, including operating and annualized capital costs. In the rail corridor monorail was third or fourth lowest at all levels. In the highway corridor, with its requirement for elevated trackage, monorail was lowest at the 5k level, second at 10k, and third at 20k. (Recall that light rail was not evaluated in the highway corridor.) Monorail's less expensive aerial structure gave the advantage at the lowest level, but the higher capacity of heavy rail vehicles gave that mode the advantage at the higher levels.

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