MicroRail -- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Responses prepared by Kirston Henderson, MegaRail Transportation Systems, Inc.

Where would you park a dualmode MicroRail vehicle if 
going to downtown?

At stations at or near downtown, the MicroRail system will allow MicroRail dual
mode cars to stop at PRT stations where the occupants can exit the car and
have it automatically moved to a system storage facility. The cars can then be
recalled to any PRT station by the owners for boarding for the next trip.  The
service would be equivalent to automated valet parking.  The storage facilities
would be located outside, but near the downtown or major activity center too
enable rapid delivery of stored cars when called.

Automatic car storage and retrieval can be provided that moves cars from MicroRail
passenger stations where drivers would leave the cars. They would be stored nearby
storage facilities outside of the downtown.  Cars could be recalled by their owners at
any MicroRail station for reboarding.  The car designs can be made to allow such car
exits and entries at the same gates as PRT cars.

In order to implement this automated valet parking, the MicroRail
dualmode cars have the same side door configuration as the PRT cars for
"elevator-stop" type fast stops.  The front driver's seat can be rotated from a
forward to a rearward facing direction to enable the same fast "step-in and
sit" entry and "stand and exit" exit as in the PRT cars.  See the Automobile
Use section of the www.megarail.com website and look for MicroRail dualmode

Will it be possible to mix cargo and passenger traffic with MicroRail?

We plan to restrict cargo movements to late night hours because might be
difficult to provide an emergency walk space through the center of some of
the cargo containers. In such cases, you would probably want to restrict use
of such containers to times when there would be very low numbers of passengers
on the line. For containers holding packaged cargo only at the sides of a center
aisle of the cargo container, these containers would not need any time-use
restrictions. Such containers would have the same emergency doors as the
passenger vehicles and would have a walk-through aisle in the center. There is
no reason that such container cars could not be highly useful for large amounts
of cargo. It would also be possible to design a shallow, lift-off container with
crawl space beneath the container for emergency use. I am not sure just what
sort of a configuration we will eventually develop, but I feel confident that we can
provide a suitable container.

What  will the MicroRail dualmode car be like?

For information and some drawings of the MicroRail dualmode car, click

The MicroRail dualmode car is a small, low-speed electric
vehicle.  It is a major step up from a golf cart with a top speed of about
35-mph and a range of only 10 to 15 miles.  This car is designed to serve
as a local use only car and for travel to and from the automated guideway
system.  This car is not intended for use on freeways or other high-speed
roads and we have no intention to make this vehicle capable of such use.  
The three-passenger MicroRail dualmode car is about the same size and
weight as the four-passenger MicroRail PRT car.

We have preliminary designs at this point and plan to build a demonstration
version of the car as a part of our full-scale prototype project. The car design
is very similar to that of the MicroRail PRT car and has common drive train
elements, but will need different suspension for street use.

We do not plan to design a production car, but will try to license a car company
to develop such a car for use on MicroRail guideway. However, if no car company
shows interest when the time comes, we will do it ourselves.

As to speed, we will limit it to 25-mph if that becomes necessary in the US.
It will still be a highly useful car. I believe that this car would be adequately safe
with a 35-mph capability with air bags and passenger restraints. The car has a
low CG, relatively wide track and should not present a significant roll-over
hazard on city streets.

Would disabled persons be able to use MicroRail dualmode cars?

We have a preliminary design for a special MicroRail dualmode car version
designed for people in wheelchairs.  As a matter of fact, this car can even be
driven by a person in a special electric motorchair designed as a part of the
system.  This car provides a power operated entry ramp.

This car will be made an option as a part of the dualmode capability for MicroRail
and one that MegaRail will probably design, build and produce as a public service
rather than a profit making venture.  Patents are pending on this wheel-chair
mobility system.  We have drawings but are not ready to release them at this time.

In addition to the above mentioned car, we plan to have recharge provisions
for electric wheelchairs in the special ADA compatible captive PRT vehicle
that is described on on the MicroRail portion of the megarail website.

How would cargo be handled on a MicroRail system?

Our small urban use only MicroRail is intended as a combination PRT and
dualmode system, but also has a capability to carry small cargo containers
between cargo stations.  These cargo containers can carry only 1,000 rather
than 6,000-lbs of cargo.  Any use of the system for cargo would likely be
limited to a few hours late at night when not many passengers are using
the system.  The cargo capability could be valuable as an in-city delivery
method to large stores and shopping centers.

Our larger inter-city MegaRail system is able to carry up to two tons of cargo
in special container vehicle with a gross weight of 6,000-lbs.  This cargo
would be carried only between cargo terminals and is expected to be a
major use of MegaRail. It should allow MegaRail to replace many, if not
most, of the large over-the-road trucks now used.

What would a dualmode station look like? Would it consume a large
amount of land? Would adjacent streets be overwhelmed?

A system would not need to use nearly as many dualmode ramps as
PRT stations because users of dualmode cars can travel much greater
distances to a ramp than PRT riders can walk to a station.  If we use small
dualmode cars such as the MicroRail cars that are ten feet long and a little
over five feet in width, we do not need ramps much wider than the cars and
such ramps can easily be fitted into the parking lanes of many streets.  Such
ramps do take up some ground space and would need to be located where such
land use would be acceptable.  We have designed some station layouts, but
don't have anything available to publish yet.  You can get an idea of the general
approach by looking at the "easy road access" page on the www.megarail.com
web site.  Typically, most such ramps would be located along existing
freeway access roads or along major streets.

Since a dualmode network would have only a few stations, wouldn't
the traffic volumes at each station be quite intense?

Yes, they would.  However,  a dualmode ramp can easily handle a lot of traffic
because there is virtually no delay in entering or leaving the guideways.  It is about the
same situation as freeway entry and exit ramps.

Won't dualmode guideways will always be larger than single-mode
guideways, because the dual-mode vehicles will need to be larger
and heavier to withstand being driven on conventional roads and
be safe in case of collision

Look at MicroRail at the www.megarail.com web site.  You will find
that the dualmode cars and the PRT cars use the same rather small guideway.
The MicroRail dualmode cars are not really any heavier than the PRT cars.
These cars are small, local-use, low-speed electric cars not intended for
high-speed use on high-speed freeways and roads.  The are for low-speed
(30-mph) use on local streets only. 

Such small cars are clearly no match for large SUVs,
such as Ford Expeditions, in a collision.  By the same
token, neither is a bicycle, electric scooter or for that matter,
a  large Chrysler.  Moreover, a large SUV is no match for
a large truck either.

What kind of deployment strategy would be most feasible, economical and
desirable for MicroRail?

It is not economically feasible to place PRT stations at close enough intervals for them
to be within easy walking distance of large numbers of people.  Hence, a dualmode
system that allows far more people to use the system, serves much higher numbers
of people. Thus a dualmode system will be able to generate much greater revenue
to repay its initial cost than a PRT system alone.  However, it does not have to be
an either-or situation.  There is no good reason that we cannot have systems that
provide both PRT and dualmode within the same system and over the same guideway. 
As a matter of practical economics and politics, we are far more likely to be able to
build systems that start as pure PRT and grow them into combined dualmode systems
as the network is built out to cover a larger area.

Starting as a PRT system with growth into a combined system solves the chicken-or-egg
problem by first providing a guideway network grown as a PRT system an then adding
dualmode cars as the system reaches a critical mass that makes it worthwhile for
people to purchase dualmode cars.  At that time, the system usage and revenue will
grow rapidly.

Because most PRT networks will not be very large, it is very likely that a
system must first operate as a GRT line-haul system with coupled trains and then
be converted later to a PRT system.  In this way, it is probably easier to sell the concept
to those city transit systems that insist that line-haul systems are what they want
because that is that is compatible with their embedded thinking.  We are taking this
approach with our MicroRail systems, because it is a better entry point than just trying
to step out initially as a PRT system.  A coupled train with an operator in the lead car is a
little easier for some people to accept because that is what they are in the habit
of dealing with.

It is perfectly possible and reasonable to build systems that include both PRT and
dualmode.  If officials insist, we can even include GRT in the form of short trains
forever to provide a lower cost ride option!  Dualmode will not, as some contend,
eat up all of the guideway capacity and leave nothing for PRT.  If the guideway starts
to get that busy, it is an easy matter to add more routes and guideway.  The money
to do so would clearly be there from operating revenue generated by the heavy use.
We couldn't ask for a better situation!

Providing both PRT and dualmode in the same system using the same guideway
is not difficult at all.  Both our small, in-city MicroRail and the larger inter-city MegaRail
are being designed for dual capabilities. (www.megarail.com)  I don't believe that these
designs really compromise either the PRT or dualmode function in any manner nor do
they increase the cost to users.  The dualmode use does require car entry and exit ramps,
but the cost of these ramps is easily overcome by the added revenue from dualmode
car use.  Land use for the ramps is not a major factor either as most ramps can be
accommodated easily within parking lanes of most streets.

What is meant by MicroRail being operated in "manual" mode?
Who is in control of each vehicle? Is there one "pilot" vehicle leading
the others?

In the manually operated "train" mode, the vehicles are equipped with spacer hitches
that link the vehicles together and provide hard-wired controls from the lead vehicle
to the other cars of the train.  An operator in the pilot vehicle that looks a lot like our
MicroRail Dualmode vehicle, controls speed, braking and door operation control to
all of the vehicles making up the MicroRail "train."  The control system of the pilot
vehicle reads vehicle position and speed and provides information to the human
operator as well as information via the system communications system to a central
dispatch and control center.  All of the automated control systems are present in the
vehicles, but are not used for the manual operations.

In the manually-controlled "train" operation, MicroRail operates in almost exactly
the same manner conventional light rail trains operate. Consequently, the risk level
for an initial MicroRail installation is about equivalent to that of conventional light rail
systems.  No one has to worry about the chance of what most people assume are
"high-tech" systems not operating properly

We are planning to operate early MegaRail systems in exactly this same manner
to avoid the problem of being deemed too risky by customers and their highly-paid
professional engineering consultants.  In doing this, we will be able to offer MegaRail
systems with passenger and cargo service to become operational in about 30-months
with a plan to update these systems to fully-automated operation about a year later
after full qualification of the automated control system is achieved.  Automobile ferry
service will be possible about six months later.  The MegaRail materials handling
system will operate in the automatic mode from the start.  A system carrying only
cargo does not need to undergo the same level of testing and certification that is
necessary for carrying people.

How much noise will MicroRail vehicles generate?

Rubber tires operated inside enclosed rail tubes as in MicroRail and MegaRail
should make far less noise than any other form of elevated transportation we
know about. In fact, the noise outside of the guideway should be much less than
a car driving on a smooth city street.  The noise outside the rail tubes per vehicle
should be closer to that made by a bicycle on a street.

We believe that the quiet is a highly important feature and easy to achieve with the
enclosed rail design.  Rubber tires running on smooth, dry flat steel traction surfaces
produce only a small amount of noise. Furthermore, the noise tends to be contained
within the rail tubes and the amount that exits filters out through the narrow slots on
the side of the rail tubes.

We plan minimize tire noise by careful selection of tread design.  As our vehicles
always operate on dry traction surfaces, we will probably use a smooth tire without
and tread grooves, etc.  We have not yet looked at sound resonance frequencies
for the guideway.

Is the MicroRail guideway designed to withstand earthquate hazards?

We do not believe that the guideway design would need to be changed for an
earthquake prone area.  However, the support piers and the uprights would be
increased in size and a spring mount would probably be used at the base.  Each
section of guideway weights only about 2,000-lbs for a 48-foot long section and
the maximum carried load is also about 2,000 lbs.  It is all steel and can't shake
apart like concrete.  The structure design is far beyond that necessary to support
the load.  It is "over designed" in order to minimize the deflection when cars move
over it.

Won't using stainless steel wheel/ track covers present difficulties
when forming  curved guideway sections? Wouldn't aluminum be
a better material?

The power rails are stainless steel and they are at both sides of the guideway. 
They are stainless steel tube, not copper.  Power rails with sliding contact shoes
must be very hard metal, not soft copper.  We feed the steel rails with copper
at close intervals.

Aluminum is not nearly as strong as steel and does not hold up well when exposed
to many elements in the general environment.  Any guideway made of aluminum
would not last for nearly long enough.  We are using stainless steel so that the
guideways will have long life and will not have to be shut down for repairs or
refinishing.  Stainless steel is harder to form, but we can do it.  Just look at
the section of guideway that we just built.  We can also bend the rail tubes
into gentle curves of the type that we need for curves.

How would you avoid or reduce sytem overload using the autopark
concept at nearby locations and possible human queues at the PRT
stations by people waiting for their personal dual mode cars?

Line capacity should not be a problem given the  total line capacity and the probable
highest passenger PRT traffic on any given line.  If lines become too busy, additional
lines can be added.  With a traffic load that would require added lines, the economics
would clearly justify the added cost.

The dualmode autopark feature would not cause human backups at stations. An adequate
number of passenger gates would be provided to handle the passenger traffic at any
given station.  Dualmode car passengers would be advised as to which gate to enter
as their cars approached the station and would wait away from the gates for their call
to enter a specific gate.  This approach is no different than calling passengers in order
of arrival at the station and requesting service for cars that they have called for in the
event that cars are not waiting at gates when they arrive.  PRT passengers would be
directed to specific entry gates for PRT cars in the order that they arrive at stations
and call for service.  The system would prevent line jumping by only admitting passengers
whose fare cards match those used to call for service.

Would rubber tires operated at high speed inside a steel Megarail
guideway under the hot sun be likely to fail at high rate?  How
would you change a flat tire?

Rubber tired inside the steel MegaRail guideway are not in contact with hot
pavement heated by the sun and operate in the shade with plenty of air flow
to cool them and thus present less, rather than a greater, failure rate.  Furthermore,
the tires operate at much higher pressure than ordinary automobile tires and
hence are subject to significantly less heating from tire flexing and thus run cooler. 
Blow-out and flat proof tires are used, thereby reducing the chance of
tire failure.  Because these tires run on smooth steel surfaces rather than rough
and often broken pavement, they are far less prone to the types of damage that
causes most tire failures.  Tires are monitored so that vehicles can be routed off
of the guideway before a failure occurs.

Steering rubber-tired vehicles in such a guideway to keep them
off the sidewalls (and blowing out) looks difficult.
What's the steering mechanism?  Has it been patented, tested?

The wheels are steered by tight servo controls that operate at the center of the
traction rail surface and well away from the sides of the rail tubes. The steering
is based upon a system that closely follows the side mounted power supply rails
and is not considered especially difficult.  The steering and switching system is
covered by the basic MegaRail patents and has been tested with a
small-scale version of the system.

In the dualmode version, conventional vehicles sit on a platform. How do
you insure that the drivers follow proper procedures - setting the
handbrake, keeping the windowns and doors closed, etc. - for safety?

Conventional automobiles ride on automated car ferries.  The car wheels are
guided into wheel channels on the tops of the ferries by special loading provisions
at the ramps and the cars are prevented from moving either forward or backward
during transit by automate wheel stops that prevent the front wheels from moving
forward or backward.  Setting the parking brake is not necessary.  As for keeping
the windows and doors closed, the wind noise at high speeds makes opening the
windows pretty unpleasant.  Although one could partially open the doors of the car,
the edges of the doors would drag on the upper weather guards before they
opened very wide and serious damage would occur to the doors.  We don't think
that this would be any real problem.  Of course, if someone wants to open the
windows and throw something out, the wind currents will take the object to the
center mesh area below the vehicles between the rail tubes, making it unlikely
that the objects would strike anything below the guideway.  With 50-ft car spacing,
there is little chance of a thrown object striking a following car with sufficient force
to cause any serious damage.

What happens to the street-car "ferry" or "sled" after a
streetcar has disembarked?  How do you keep them from
piling up at off ramps and how do you prevent having shortages of them
at on ramps? Do they re-enter the flow of traffic and exit the flow of
traffic as needed? If so, how long might you wait for one to become
available? Do they slide under the track to the on ramp side? Do they
get stacked somewhere?

 After a car has exited a ferry vehicle to the down ramp, the ferry
immediately proceeds under the upper side of the platform at the top of
the ramp and returns the main line guideway where it is dispatched by the
system control system to an entry ramp where it is likely to be needed
based on established traffic patterns.  The ferry is accelerated to main
line speed while on the access guideway to match main line speed and an
available space in the traffic on the main line.  Thus entry of ferries
into main line traffic never slows main line traffic or causes traffic
backups.  Please bear in mind that the guideway will have more than
sufficient traffic capacity at all times.  If traffic on a particular
guideway starts to reach full capacity, additional parallel guideways will
be installed.  Ferries do not get stacked but my be routed to storage
sidings when traffic levels do not require as many ferries.

What if you have several cars in a row exiting the megarail?
What keeps them from getting piled up? How do you know how long to make
your deceleration lanes if you are not sure how many cars will exit at a
given time? Do the cars on the main track slow down to correct for this?
If so, then aren't you right back to what causes traffic in the first

 A limited number of cars can be queued up on the siding just prior to
the down ramp is exit traffic become too heavy at a particular exit.  The
system will not allow main line traffic to slow down, but will divert cars
to the next available exit if the maximum number of exiting cars is

What happens if there is traffic right after the down ramp
ends, like a traffic light or accident or something? Will the down ramp
and deceleration lane get filled up and cause the main rail again to
behave like normal traffic does by stopping anyway?

 In the event that some sort of traffic backup develops on surface
streets that causes cars to back up on the exit down ramps, the system
will automatically divert traffic to the nearest available exit ramp.  The
system never slows down traffic from full speed on the main line guideway
except in some sort of system internal failure


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Last Modified: September 02, 2006