More Thoughts on Pallets and True Dualmode: A Second Response to Van Metre Lund


Kim Goltermann

It is pleasing to learn that the HiLoMag and MegaRail concepts can now be counted as true dualmode proposals. They are welcome reinforcements to the true dualmode side. It is of minor importance that both concepts operate with pallets as a transition feature of varying importance, as long as the systems are optimised for true dualmode vehicles from the beginning. If on the other hand the designs are initially optimised for pallets it will be more than difficult to change them into good true dualmode systems without replacing almost all elements of the initial designs. I disagree with Van Metre Lund’s idea of converting Autran guideways to true dualmode operation for the same reason. It will turn out to be prohibitively expensive and produce a less versatile system.

That said, I also have to say that I am not the least opposed to construction of a 10-mile Autran system, or any other palletized operating system for that matter. Quite the contrary. It would provide an excellent opportunity to gain some badly needed experience with automated guideway systems and the concept of palletized dualmode. So, if investors and politicians are ready, by all means – build it!

If we, however, are considering an extensive pallet operating guideway network, I would oppose it for two reasons: First, because it would cost more to build and operate than a true dualmode system and it would provide less convenient services to it’s users. Why should we pay more to gain less? Secondly, there is always the risk that the first player on the field will prevent others from taking part in the game. Especially in the field of transportation there is a tendency to play it safe, settling for whatever system that has already proved itself, even if more promising ideas are on the horizon. Thus an extensive (and successful) palletized operating system could possibly preclude true dualmode systems for decades to come.

What I wanted to point out with my comments on the Autran system was simply that I refuse to settle for the second best, when the best is obtainable. I refuse to pin my high hopes for a better transportation future on a system that offers less capacity and convenience at higher prices that would be the case if a true dualmode solution was implemented. Thus my comments of September 13th have no adverse effect on the claimed profitability of the now familiar 10-mile Autran system. However the following comments might have just that, as I still can’t make the numbers add up.

The 10-mile system is supposed to yield annual fare revenue of $37,84 million with average fares being $2,50 for 8 miles long trips. The budgeted revenue equals 15.136.000 trips with paying customers. If we have 422 pallets available (as described) and an 8-mile trip require 530 seconds (480 seconds transit + 2x20 seconds loading/unloading + 10 seconds lost accelerating/decelerating) we will have a theoretical capacity of 25,11 million (3600/530 seconds x 422 pallets x 24 hours x 365 days) trips annually.

Now, this capacity is very theoretical, allowing no routing of "empties", no breakdowns and no time wasted waiting for customers; requiring continuous operation at full capacity 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In that respect, I believe it to be grossly optimistic and totally unrealistic to expect the system to run at more than 60% (15,136 million/25,11 million x 100) of theoretical annual capacity. Even a third of that figure (20%) would be impressive enough. Adding more pallets and more pallet storage capacity could of course increase capacity. Costs would be higher, but if it would have any devastating effect on the profitability of the system is not for me to say.

Returning to the issue of true dualmode: Yes, I do believe that a true dualmode system would be much cheaper to build than a pallet operating system, providing that we are talking about high capacity systems (10.000+ vehicles per direction per hour). And no, the extra capital cost of slightly more expensive dualmode cars would not be included in the cost estimates for a true dualmode system. The dualmode cars are private property and all expenses associated with their purchase, operation and maintenance must be borne by their owners, just as is the case for cars today.

It is true that all things being equal, true dualmode cars will be more expensive to build, so we will have to choose a system that allows technologies that will not significantly increase the price of dualmode cars over conventional cars. Fortunately we can rely on car manufacturer's ability to include ever more technology in cars with no (or little) increase in price. We have already seen the inclusion of catalytic converters, ABS-brakes, power steering and multiple airbags in most cars. Next will be built-in navigation systems or something similar for virtually the same money, and people will still be buying.

As for the operation costs of dualmode cars, it will be a question of pricing policy: How much will it cost to drive on the guideway compared to using the road for the same trip? Will road pricing be a factor to consider? Only time can tell if it’s going to be cheaper or more expensive. Maintenance costs for dualmode cars on the other hand are certain to go down. In the controlled environment provided by the guideways, there will be no uneven roads with potholes, no emergency breaking or wild accelerations, and no car crashes. Thus wear and tear will be reduced and damages due to crashes will be virtually non-existent (allowing cheaper car insurance). So the overall maintenance burden will most probably be lightened.

All in all, the myth that the cost of car ownership would increase if true dualmode were ever to be implemented is ill-founded. It depends on the choice of technology, guideway pricing policies, future fuel prices, emergence of road pricing (a hot topic in many countries) and so on. Who can tell? My personal belief is that costs would be more or less the same, but anybody’s guess is as good as mine.


Last modified: September 26, 2000