Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Trip to Morgantown

I know I've been absent from Track Twenty-Nine for a while, and I apologize. I've been busy of late, and got out of the habit of writing here.

Yesterday, I took a day trip out to Morgantown, West Virginia, home to America's first Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) System. The line was built as a demonstration project, and opened in 1975.

There are about 3 miles of linear dual-track guideway and 5 stations. The system is linear in nature, with all five stations lying along the course of the main guideway. However, the three intermediate stations are set up so that through trains can bypass them.

When the fare is paid, a set of options on the faregate lights up which allows the passenger to select his or her destination. This sends a signal to the computer, which dispatches a vehicle to the station. The stations themselves are pretty simple. End-of-line stations (Walnut, Health Sciences) are the smallest, and are set up as loop stations. Intermediate stations are much larger, and have station tracks, loop tracks, and bypass tracks. They also have more than one platform, for handling different directions of travel.

Each track at a station has 2 or 3 unloading bays and one loading bay. A vehicle arriving discharges passengers before proceeding to the loading bay. There are 8 seats per car and room for 12 standees. The vehicles are capable of running up to 30 mph.

I was impressed with the system. It works well in this campus setting. Some cars were running empty (shuttling to other stops), others had standing passengers. Wait times were fairly short. I never had to wait more than 5 minutes.

In Downtown Morgantown, I didn't find the guideway too intrusive, but there was plenty of other visual clutter on the landscape to distract from it. It helps that it does not run over streets (except for Walnut Street near that station). It crosses several streets, but just briefly. On the campus it is largely at grade.

The intermediate stations do take up significant space. I think they could probably be made much smaller, perhaps on the scale of the end-of-line stations. I also think that a linear automated guideway system like Miami's Metromover could be a decent substitute in other campus settings.

My visit was an interesting experience. I'm glad I had the opportunity to do it. And I would encourage you to stop by if you find yourself in Morgantown. For $0.50 per ride, it's a pretty good deal.


Tom A. said...

Wow! amazing! I had no idea this even existed.

Michael said...

SOme people go to Disneyland... you go to check out rail-based transportation :)

(Though in a way, Disney WAS a modern transportation pioneer, WEDWay People Mover, Monorail, etc)

Sounds like a fun trip and will look at the slideshow when I get home (it's blocked at work).

Matt' said...

I've never actually been to Disneyland, and were I in the neighborhood, I'd much rather ride the LA Metro, Light Rail, Metrolink, and San Diego's Coaster, Sprinter, and Trolley.

And technically speaking, Morgantown is not "rail-based". The vehicles are rubber tired running on a concrete guideway. But I take your meaning.

Anonymous said...

I went to college in Morgantown and used the PRT regularly for years. The three campuses of West Virginia University have been totally reliant on the PRT system since its inception. The city was edging perilously toward gridlock before the system began regular operation in the 70s, and chaos reigns on the rare occasion that it breaks down.

The cost to maintain and operate it must be enormous, but despite its age, it just works. And while it's tiny in comparison to a transit system like Metro, it's far more dependable, it works when it's snowing heavily thanks to the heated guideways, and as far as I know, it's never killed anyone.

theurbanryan said...

Ever seen this? Someone at WVU made a series of animated promos featuring "Pete the PRT."