Monorails still hold promise
Editorial by Keith Walls

Editor's note: Monorail Society Vice President Keith Walls wrote this editorial during the aftermath of the tragic monorail pilot death in Walt Disney World in July of 2009. It was specifically written for Orlando citizens.

July 12, 2009 - Orlando Sentinel

The recent tragic accident at Disney World has rekindled interest in monorails. As monorail enthusiasts, our hearts go out to the family of the young man who died, his friends and fellow monorail pilots. Yet our conviction that monorails are an untapped, proven technology remains undeterred.

Imagine if 10 years ago the proposed light rail project had been monorail instead. Commuters could now be whisking their way from Lake Mary to downtown Orlando in the middle of Interstate 4 on a monorail. Light rail, heavy rail, and commuter rail all have their place, but so does monorail. Non-Disney transit monorails in the United States are few, yet numerous transit-grade monorails exist around the world — and some for over 40 years. Japan, Malaysia, Germany, Russia, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, India, China, and South Korea all have monorails operating or being built.

Light rail, the current favorite of U.S. transit planners, isn't cheap, fast or particularly safe. How could it be — it's designed to share right-of-way with cars and pedestrians. Although monorail fatalities are worldwide news, light-rail deaths are rarely reported beyond the city in which they occur. Did you know two teens died recently in Baltimore County, Md., in a light-rail accident?

Monorails travel completely grade-separated, and never collide with pedestrians or traffic. The Las Vegas Monorail is completely automated and operates without drivers. With total automation, there are sophisticated safeguards to prevent collisions and other types of accidents. Las Vegas includes an emergency pedestrian walkway should evacuation ever be necessary.

Monorail makes a lot of sense in several parts of the greater Orlando area, including downtown, International Drive, and the airport-to-attractions corridor. The most recent monorail systems in the world have been built into cities with very mature infrastructures and narrow corridors. Monorails require very little real estate. Stations can be stand-alone or be inside of other buildings. Monorails can be built very quickly. Major manufacturers ( Hitachi, Bombardier, and Scomi) build monorails and the technology is very mature. Magnetically levitated monorails (maglev) are also increasing in number.

Unfortunately, as we've seen recently with the proposed commuter rail project, politics often gets in the way of transit projects. It is very important for the general public to understand and agree with proposed transit projects if they are ever to get off the ground. For that reason, monorail should be fairly evaluated with other proposed technologies.

Keith Walls is Vice President of The Monorail Society, and lives in Orlando, Florida.

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