Response to True Dualmode Vehicle Commentary by Reynolds, from a MegaRail Point-of-View

by Kirston Henderson

MegaRail Transportation Systems, Inc.

June 22, 2000

Francis Reynolds is correct in his assertion that the empty vehicle distribution problem can be quite large in cases where a large majority of traffic is into a single concentrated area such as a central city. In such cases, large numbers of empty ferry vehicles must be returned to points where they are needed to pick up additional loads. Such a situation also creates a need for large numbers of ferry vehicles to handle the traffic demand. As Mr. Reynolds correctly asserts, the same problem exists for PRT and other public transit vehicles as well. However, that part of the problem is relatively minor because the numbers of such vehicles are expected to be far smaller than the number of ferry vehicles.

The problem is not really new. Public transit systems have always had much the same problem in that transit buses and trains must essentially deadhead on one direction much of the time with very low load factors. Railroads have similar problems with many rail cars. A good example is empty coal hauling cars that are returned to coal mining regions. In both types of cases, the people operating the systems have managed to handle the problem, even with rather crude, manual means. The problem is a lot easier to manage with computer controlled systems in which accurate traffic pattern models can be made and then rapidly adjusted upon the basis of continuing data gathered by the control system. This problem is clearly one that that can be handled without major difficulty.

In most cases, the traffic unbalance is not excessive and all traffic does not go only to a cental city as was the assumption by the designers of most rapid transit systems. In the days before the automobile, the traffic mostly ran to and from downtown areas. This is generally no longer the case with modern cities. Hence, the problem is no longer as severe as it once was.

The most serious problems with traffic unbalance are that (1) more ferry vehicle assets are required, (2) some energy is used in moving empty ferries to the needed locations and (3) more storage rail space is necessary to store ferries not in use during off-peak times. These problems represent added initial cost to the system plus added operating cost to ferry vehicle users.

In the case of MegaRail, we have attacked the added initial cost items by designing (1) very low cost ferry vehicles and (2) designing low cost storage rails. The energy and vehicle wear costs associated with moving empty ferries to the points needed for users are included in the use cost to ferry users. Use of very light-weight, low-cost ferries with low aerodynamics drag will maintain the added ferry costs to an acceptable minimum.

The ultimate and preferred solution to the problem is to avoid the need for ferry vehicles by use of dualmode automobiles. The MegaRail system is designed to accomodate both ferry vehicles and dualmode automobiles on an interchangeable basis on the same rail system. MegaRail expects to eventually offer an affordable dualmode electric automobile capable of street and guideway use. Unfortunately such a vehicle is completely impractical until a large network of rail is available in a particular area.

We expect that that automobile ferry use will gradually decline as more customers switch to dualmode vehicles. However, it is essential to provide the ferry capability in order for the system to generate sufficient revenue to make it practical to build and operate the systems. If MegaRail is to succeed, we must offer sound economics that do not depend upon massive infusions of tax based funds. MegaRail has devised a practical route to building and operating systems that can operate on a profitable basis and be funded without tax based funds.

If we were to wait for a large network of rails to be put in place and then wait for customers to purchase dualmode cars, the economics of the situation would preclude ever building a system. The chicken and egg situation would rule and nothing would be done. From any practical economic standpoint, looking for a dualmode vehicle only system amounts to a totally impractical and impossible dream! To assume that some government agency is going to find the money to fund such a system is to assume that that agency has an unlimited souce of wealth. Unfortunately, such a weathly government is not likely to be found.

The MegaRail dualmode vehicle is designed to require very little special provisions for rail use. The added cost of the special rail provisions is more than balanced by elimination of the IC engine drive train. Because the rail system provides power for rail operation and recharging of batteries during rail use, the size and cost of the batteries can also be minimized. We expect that the purchase cost of this vehicle will be slightly below that of a comparable gasoline powered automobile. The operating and maintenance costs should be signficantly less. The rail use costs will also be less because the ferry costs will not be included. Energy costs will be less because the mass of the ferry vehicles will not have to be moved with dualmode automobile use.

As a direct result of the total cost of ownership differences between dualmode MegaRail automobiles and conventional automobiles, we would expect a rather rapid conversion from conventional to dualmode vehicles. The continuing pressure of more and more costly air pollution measures may be expected to constantly increase the purchase and operating costs of conventional automobiles. The conversion rate is also likely to accelerate as a result of expected constantly increasing prices of gasoline with time. Consequently, MegaRail is likely to rapidly evolve to an almost totally dualmode system.

The MegaRail approach is to build an affordable system in the very near future that can accomodate current automobiles and then allow it to evolve into a true dualmode system.

Incidentally, MegaRail has no plans to convert to any sort of MagLev system such as that so strongly advocated by Mr. Reynolds. Although MegaRail has devised what we believe is a relatively low cost MagLev system design, the cost is not likely to ever match that of the current wheeled system design being used by MegaRail. Reynolds is correct in his statement that one simply could not shut down a working system for such a conversion. Furthermore, we suspect that it would not be practical to develop any sort of dualmode vehicle for this MagLev design. MagLev vehicles are probably destined to be guideway-only vehicles. Such a system may prove practical for very high speed travel only.


Last modified: June 25, 2000