Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) is the way of the future. A PRT system has been proven to be the most convenient, safe, and efficient way to move masses of people. It is “personal” because each vehicle is private, comfortable, and contains only one or at most a few riders. It is “rapid” because the on-demand vehicles take riders directly to their destination in a fast and efficient manner while avoiding traffic congestion.
Modern PRT systems have:
- Fully-automated vehicles that operate without human drivers
- Simple guideways placed above, below, or at ground level
- Small vehicles that accommodate 1 to 6 passengers
- Numerous convenient stations within a grid-like network
- Direct origin-to-destination service without transfers or stops
- On-demand frequency vs. fixed time-schedules
Image Credit: West Virginia University • www.wvu.edu
First Generation PRT
Various PRT systems were developed internationally in the 1970s. In the United States, a First Generation PRT system serving the community of Morgantown, West Virginia and the West Virginia University campus was installed by the United States Department of Transportation. Since 1972, the system has carried over 63 million passengers. The system has a spotless safety record, proving that the automation software is extremely reliable. On a typical day, the Morgantown System serves up to 15,000 passengers with a peak capacity of 30,000 passengers. The system has a vehicle availability rate above 98.5%. This Morgantown System statistic proves that PRT works better than rail or buses, as it shows passengers never have to wait to board a vehicle most of the time. It uses automated, low speed, wheeled vehicles propelled by electric motors using contact power brushes. The vehicles are accessed through automatic doors from a platform serving both arriving and departing passengers.
Image Credit: Federal Highway Administration, US DOT, • www.fhwa.dot.gov
Second Generation PRT
Second Generation Systems like Vectus, Ultra, Sky Web Express, Coaster, and Mister share the basic technology used in first generation systems like Morgantown. All of these systems use wheels driven by electric motors and consequently are restricted to low operational speeds of 28 mph (45 kph) and under. While second generation PRT systems appear to be a bit more streamlined and hi-tech than their older first generation counterparts, they really aren’t; they still use antiquated “golf-cart” technology. The most notable of this generation is at Heathrow Airport in London. It carries passengers between Terminal 5 and a remote parking area. Its development and deployment was funded by the British Airports Authority, which bought a controlling interest in the company that developed the system.
Next Generation (skyTran) PRT
skyTran is a “Next Generation PRT System” that benefits from the lessons of first and second generation PRTs. Thirty years of operation of the Morgantown system has demonstrated that the use of wheels is a major technical weakness in PRT design. Wheel maintenance is a major operational cost as wheels are subject to constant friction, wear, and periodic failure. Furthermore, the use of wheels limits the safe maximum speed and, therefore, the range of the vehicles is limited to local areas. skyTran addresses this problem by using magnetic levitation (maglev) instead of wheels. skyTran has successfully demonstrated that its unique passive magnetic levitation systems can be commercially deployed. In skyTran’s maglev system there is no physical contact between the vehicle and the guideway so there is nothing to wear out or fail. When combined with a tested and proven high performance linear synchronous motor, skyTran’s maglev system makes safe, reliable high speed travel possible at up to 150 mph (240 kph). This rapid transporting allows for large local, regional, and national networks to be built.