So What's The Difference - A Transit Reference

October 21, 2015 9 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Just when you thought you've heard it all, Metro Jacksonville's Robert Mann takes another look at transportation alternatives being advanced in Florida, a critical look at the differences in mass transit modes, and the possibilities afforded Jacksonville by the Skyway; with some of the positives and negatives of each.


The carousel terminals in Medellin's 'Metro Cable System,' are as simple as those at any amusement park. The aerial route over the city, cutting across curves and bypassing traffic signals makes up for the fairly low speeds. The investment is about as low as it gets in a basic metro system.

Up and over the river, in New York City, the Roosevelt Island Gondola system is a well known component of the regional mass transit system. The benefits being a low cost start, but the major drawback is that they remove the passenger from the pedestrian experience. However, they are an excellent choice as a component of a more complex system. A Jacksonville example might be imagined as connecting a St. Augustine commuter rail train station on the Southbank with the Stadium/Shipyards development area.


Automated People Movers or APM systems are the go-to mode for single point to point operations or dedicated and limited distance shuttle service such as Miami's Metromover or Detroit's People Mover. The cost of building a elevated highway for the rubber tires, a railway to guide the same, and a horizontal elevator as far as command and control systems make these rather expensive toys. Early failures to meet schedule/service demands in urban settings seems to have limited the market for the APM but the technology isn't dead. This new APM system serves the Beijing Capital International Airport Terminal 3. Tampa, Orlando and Miami International Airports also operate these systems.

This is the APM at the San Francisco International Airport was designed and built by Bombardier, the same company that built the current Jacksonville Skyway cars.


Note the width of the monorail vehicle in this scene from Mumbai, these are massive capacity and massive cost systems unlike anything found in the states with the exception that they do operate on or are suspended from a single beam. $183,000,000 dollars (about 345,000,000 in 2015 dollars)  for little over 2 miles of Jacksonville's Skyway is the key to understanding why monorail is not and never has been the 'train of the future.' An actual monorail metro system would cost much more, going to the beach could easily jack up that tab to the neighborhood of $2 billion dollars.

In Japan or in China, Sao Paulo, Mumbai, where overcrowded streets leave little room for vehicles and pedestrians, a full size monorail metro might make sense. Anywhere smaller (Jacksonville, Seattle or Las Vegas for example) and it's a guaranteed fail. The advantages of speed, above traffic, cutting across curves or corners and a massive passenger capacity can make these systems attractive in the right setting.


This is a artists conception of the Orlando International Airport-International Drive Mag-Lev train. Not to pour water on someone's dream, but as of this date, Mag-Lev trains are among the worlds most expensive toys. The German technology using attracting electro-magnets was employed to build this first ever commercial Mag-Lev system. Shanghai's Maglev Train, launched in 2004, has the maximum speed of 431 km/h. It runs between Shanghai Pudong International Airport and Shanghai's Longyang Road Metro Station at intervals of 15 to 20 minutes.

While construction techniques might have been reported to the US Government that would keep mag-lev within the cost boundaries of conventional high-speed rail ($50-$100 Million dollars per mile), the fact is, it hasn't been done. The German system cost in excess of $300 Million Euro's per mile. Not unlike a futuristic national monorail grid, don't expect to travel between Jacksonville and anywhere else on one of these trains.

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