Navigant Research Blog

Monorails Race Ahead of Hyperloop

John Gartner — August 29, 2013

While the ambitious Hyperloop is merely theoretical for now, several other projects for lifting travelers out of traffic jams are taking shape.  Less ambitious than Elon Musk’s grand plan for hurtling humans at high speeds between San Francisco and Los Angeles, a blueprint for connecting Boulder and Longmont, Colorado would employ above-the-fray magnetic levitation pods.

Private venture SkyTran claims to have raised $250 million for the 15-mile monorail, which would link rustic Longmont with the growing tech hub of Boulder.  SkyTran says it will finance and run the people mover as a private enterprise, at a fraction of the cost of light rail, and could have it up and running by 2016.  But even if the Colorado Department of Transportation greenlights the project, commuters might balk at the full fare ($15 round trip) for the short city jaunt.

SkyTran, which presented the plan to officials in Boulder on August 22, envisions launching similar projects in Mountain View, California, plus Tel Aviv, and several other cities.

Studied to Death

Easing traffic congestion with non-polluting monorails can make sense if the trip is short and straight along a route that connects popular endpoints.  SkyTran claims that it can fully power the monorail with solar panels, and that the system will produce hydrogen with the surplus of electricity.

India has several projects in varying stages of development, while a project in Indonesia looks to reduce traffic going to the airport.

Monorails are far from a sure thing, though.  A line in Sydney, Australia is being torn down due to lack of ridership, and Seattle infamously spent more than $100 million in tax dollars to study a monorail before deciding to do nothing.  Colorado has also considered a monorail to connect downtown Denver with the ski resort town of Vail (a mountainous 150-mile trek along the infamously congested Interstate 70), but voters smartly said no to spending $50 million to study the proposal.

It’s a good sign that many alternatives to building more lanes and highways – such as monorails, light rail, bike lanes, and bus rapid transit – are gaining traction.  Many won’t be successful, but it beats repeatedly following the same failed logic for reducing traffic.

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