Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Monorail, Monorail, Monorail...

Sao Paulo Monorail 
Monorail fanatics always seem to go on (and on, and on) about the virtues of monorails over other forms of transport, and they can be even more obsessive that Light Rail (LRT) fanatics. So what are the advantages and disadvantages of monorail, and are we ever going to see them in SE Queensland?

Monorails were seen as a futuristic form of transportation in the 1960s, but in reality have become the mainstay of theme-parks, or claustrophobic theme-park style monorails running around a city centre as in Sydney. There are quite a few large scale mass transit monorails operating, mainly in Japan (Tokyo, Tama, Kitakyushu, Naha, and Osaka). There are also some medium sized monorails in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Dubai, and Las Vegas, the latter three being aimed more for tourist traffic rather than commuters. Due to the lack of systems being built, lack of standardisation, and propriety designs, then the purchase of a monorail system pretty much locks the purchaser in with a particular manufacturer. There are also only 3 large straddle beam monorail vehicle manufacturers - Hitachi, Bombardier, and Scomi. The latter of these manufacturers has only completed one system. Due to advantages of fast pre-fabricated construction, and the relatively low cost of monorail construction (compared to underground or elevated heavy rail), Sao Paulo in Brazil (pictured) has just started construction on a 24km monorail line, with many more to follow. Could this be the turning point for monorails?

But does monorail have any chance of being seen in SE Queensland as an alternative to bus, heavy rail, or LRT? Monorail offers the advantage of a relatively minimal and fast to construct elevated structure, with resulting grade separation. The grade separation in turn can allow for a faster journey time than at grade LRT. It is best constructed above the median strip or above the side of existing transport rights of way. Unfortunately, this is where monorail comes across a big stumbling point. The elevated structure is more expensive to build than at grade LRT or bus rapid transit (BRT), with considerably more expensive stations than at grade BRT or LRT. The elevated structure is not a problem in heavily populated high rise cities such as Sao Paulo and Tokyo. But in Brisbane, as soon as the the monorail moves from the central reservation of a motorway, it would become an unpopular aerial eyesore. Due to this issue, BrizCommuter cannot see an elevated monorail fitting in with SE Queensland's low rise urban sprawl.

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