Dualmode and the Facts of Life


Francis Reynolds

Richard Arthur, President, CyberTran, recently wrote all of the following italicized statements. I find the dual mode concept to be intellectually quite attractive. If we accept as a given two key facts: that automated fixed guideway transit is inherently superior to freeway congestion but that it is never going to provide everyone with door- to-door access to their split level ranch in the woods, then dual mode systems such as have been presented on this site have some inherent benefits that are hard to beat.

Welcome to the dualmode debate group Richard.

Despite all the logic and rhetoric, I still haven’t seen a convincing rebuttal to the John Hopkins critique that: "Sorry boys, it just ain’t gonna happen like that." I find the Hopkins critique to be fully supported by my experience in trying to raise money for CyberTran. The grand plan is not going to leap into reality regardless of how wonderful it is because this country doesn’t work like that any more. Like it or not, marketing people run the country, not engineers.

Sad but true. Most of us innovative transportation promoters started out with starry-eyed optimism, but we were ignoring (either out of ignorance or self-delusion) the painful facts of present society and government, which Dr. John Hopkins and yourself have stated so well. The result is that when many dualmode promoters become aware of all of the problems that would face the implementation of a dualmode system, they lose heart, give up, and drop out. But some of us have more perseverance or more personal concern for the future of humanity and the world (or we are more irrational) than most people. We retain our revolutionary transportation convictions, and continue to strive toward our goals.

As I said in my Aspen talk, the initial applications of this technology (and by this technology I am referring to a broad category of technologies including PRT, GRT, dual mode, etc. ) will be in fairly crowded corridors characterized by relatively few high volume origin-destination pairs. In this context, dual mode applications may not be the most effective or cost effective solutions.

I also have some concern regarding the efficiency of building guideways for dualmode vehicles. It seems to me to be a somewhat complex, inefficient use of guideway space, space that could be more productively used by multi-passenger vehicles."

Many of us envision a dualmode system that will carry not only private and commercial true dualmode and palleted vehicles but also all of the single-mode multi-passenger transit, PRT, and freight that will profit by using the guideway system. Our highway system now accepts a great many types of vehicles, and so must our guideway system if it is to live up to its potential and be cost effective. Single-purpose light rail and PRT systems would have very poor use factors by comparison. Like the builders of our roads and highways system, we wish to provide a multi-use thoroughfare. And like the roads and highways, within limits what vehicles the customers put on the guideways will be up to them. I'm sure they will find ways that we haven't thought of yet to profit (financially or sociologically) by using the guideways.

Obviously an automatic guideway system, regardless of how the vehicles and pallets are supported, can accept only vehicles that are compatible with the guideway design. But similar constraints apply to streets and highways: Highways won't accept airplanes, railroad cars, Caterpillar tractors ™, maglev vehicles, boats without trailers (trailers are highway pallets), or excessively high, wide, long or heavy trucks.

Dualmode cars and car pallets are the most important kinds of traffic that an optimum guideway system can carry. Important because of the huge number, great popularity, and door-to-door usefulness of private cars. Automobile travel is by far the largest segment of our transportation. But dualmode will not only restore the effectiveness of travel by private car; it will also allow us to use types of cars that will greatly reduce damage to the environment; and it will almost eliminate our ground-transportation needs for nearly depleted petroleum resources. (Dualmode can't provide alternate energy for airplanes, but it can eliminate a lot of petroleum-guzzling domestic passenger and freight airplanes.) So as things turn out there are three distinctly different areas in which dualmode will help us. To me any single one of the three would make private vehicles the most important traffic to include on our guideways.

I have noticed that quite a few of the dualmode systems now being proposed started out as single-mode systems several years ago. But as the dualmode concept has been discussed (largely at our host Jerry Schneider's website), and its advantages more broadly seen, many proposed transit and PRT systems have metamorphosed into dualmode systems. Excellent. We are making progress. But a big task ahead of us is to describe these dualmode advantages to the driving public, the politicians, automobile companies, transportation boards, environmental groups, energy groups, et al.

Dual mode applications may not be the most effective or cost-effective solutions.

It seems to me to be a somewhat complex, inefficient use of guideway space, space that could be more productively used by multi-passenger vehicles.

Please! You've got it backwards. A wisely designed multipurpose guideway system for single-mode, dualmode, and palleted vehicles should cost little more than a single-mode-only guideway system. Won't the multipurpose system result in more efficient use of guideway space, and be more productive and cost effective? Transit now carries about two percent of the people who travel. Assume that with enough governmental and environmental pressures we could get that number back up to five percent. Which will be more cost effective, to build a highly-subsidized system for the five percent, or build a self-supporting one for the five percent plus the ninety-five percent? The ninety-five percent will readily pay guideway tolls in order to get faster, less frustrating and safer transportation.

I have been asked why we would need such a high-capacity system as I propose. We need it to carry the ninety-five percent as well as the five- percent on a single-lane system. No one has yet convinced me that we can't build a 60-mph single-lane guideway that could carry twelve highway lanes of traffic, or carry forty lanes of highway traffic on a 200-mph guideway.

A high-speed close-headway guideway will cost more than a lesser guideway, but speed is demanded these days. And surely one lane with 20,000-cars-per-hour capacity (HiLoMag at 60 mph) will cost less than two lanes of 10,000 car per hour capacity, and less than four lanes of 5,000 car per hour capacity. And it will certainly cost less than the equivalent twelve lanes of highway at 1,700 cars per hour each. And don't forget the dollar and social costs of land, condemnations, environmental considerations, and court battles associated with the constant addition of more highway lanes. Also don't forget that the guideways will greatly reduce the number of airport-expansion projects.

We have ample proof that more of the same old fixes do not work; things keep getting worse rather than better. We have huge and multifaceted transportation and environmental problems, so we must think boldly and innovatively. And we must accept the fact that this huge job is going to require a huge investment. But "huge investment" doesn't equate to unwise investment. Dualmode can be profit making while most transit-only systems can no longer be. Further, there are several factors in the transportation equation that are more important than money. "Return on investment" from a dualmode system will also be positive in a number of very important sociological ways.

Richard Arthur went on to write, There is another factor to consider: Initial financing. Francis Reynolds asks us to "Get out of the subsidized-transit-system mindset." I heartily agree. We should all get out of the "subsidized-transit-system" mindset, but. … … .

If this were a normal business venture I would agree with your list of "buts," Richard. Dualmode guideway ventures would be losers. But this is not a normal situation. When we include all three of the trouble areas discussed above, it becomes almost a question of the survival of modern civilization as we know it. Our rapidly growing energy, environmental, and transportation problems are perhaps as crucial to us and the rest of the world as was World War II. We had to declare war then, and now we have to do something much more intelligent than we have been doing about these major current problems.

As far as visibility goes, the war and dualmode are quite different. The Holocaust and the attack on Pearl Harbor were seen and condemned. The one and only solution was obvious—declare war. People now see our transportation, environmental, and energy problems, but they don't see that there is an answer. Again there is only one answer that will work—Dualmode. As of yet most people haven't heard of dualmode transportation and how it will solve a high percentage of our problems.

Nor does the public and our leadership recognize the lead-time that is going to be required to implement an intelligent solution. They haven't adequately recognized how much more serious these problems will be in twenty years. By then we will be in very big trouble. It is vital that we implement dualmode transportation as soon as possible.

But the reality is that there is no private sector source of risk capital in the quantities required to adequately develop, test, demonstrate and prove these technologies.

I wouldn't argue with that statement, Richard, if we assumed that private-sector risk capital is limited to the usual sources. What about the people themselves? They—almost all of them—are going to be using this system personally, and they—once they understand it—will have great interest in having it built so they can start using it as soon as possible. But I question the use of the term "risk capital" in this case.

I see two major types of risk ordinarily facing "risk-capital" lenders: risk that the proposed technology and manufacturing methods won't pan out, and risk that the anticipated market won't be there. There is very little risk from either of these sources in this case. I have no concerns whatsoever about the practicability of a national dualmode system. We have seen a half dozen or more different ways by which we could build a viable system with state-of-the-art technologies. And almost all automobile drivers (a rather large number) will become guideway customers. Since the guideway system will become an indispensable utility-like service, its customers will pay whatever they have to, the same as we continue to pay for telephone, electricity, water, sewer, and fuels.

At the end of my basic HiLoMag article, which you will find under "Dualmode Quicklinks," is a collection of quotations from various people on what they think of dualmode transportation. The quotes are most encouraging. People will not only want to use dualmode, many of them will invest in it because they will trust it as being financially sound.

During WW II we called such private-citizen investment in that vital and universal cause "War Bonds." They sold and were a good investment, for more reasons than one. There can be the same kind of patriotism behind buying long-term Dualmode Bonds. And by the time Dualmode Bonds are available the great incentives for supporting such a system will be markedly greater than they are now.

First we must get the attention of the media, the public, the political structure, industry, and the US Departments of Transportation and Energy. We have already found out how difficult those goals are; they are our biggest challenges. However, my optimism still tells me that once the ball starts rolling the project will really take off—as did the world-war effort, the development of the atomic bomb, and getting men on the moon. But first we need a few small study contracts from the USDOT and the USDOE to establish more credibility for this dream than our small group can give it.

Many of the present start-up dualmode businesses will find profitable niches for themselves in the massive development ahead, but no one business will have all of the answers or all of the resources needed. We are talking about one of the largest most important projects and final products the world has ever seen. It is so revolutionary that there would be almost no hope for it unless it can be made a special public and private-sector project with political and social power behind it.

The power it needs is the enthusiastic support of the people (the car drivers), the transit riders, the businesses that need to transport produce and products, and the retail stores that want their customers to be able to get downtown. Remember that the automatic parking system directly from the guideways will eliminate much of the downtown street traffic and street parking.

I note that both Richard Arthur and John Hopkins spent years working in Transit Authorities and Departments of Transportation. Both of them have learned first hand the things the system as a whole won't let us do. In essence they are saying that no matter how badly we need dualmode, we can't have it because the system won't let us. I think that the dualmode revolution in transportation is practically essential to the survival of civilization as we know it, and that it offers major therapy for the planet itself. Therefore we must not—can not—give up on it without a fight. If bureaucratic systems have stultified to the point where they won't let us survive, then it is time for some changes in the offending parts of the bureaucracy. Revolutions are possible in both technical systems and in politico-social systems. But be warned that the latter revolution will be most difficult.

Also, let’s not forget that virtually all of the technologies presented in these electronic pages require the use of public rights-of-way. As unpleasant as it may seem, this means that the final arbiter in the development of these technologies is going to be those highway agencies which call themselves Departments of Transportation. Francis Reynolds calls forth for Heaven to help us. He is correct. It will take something awfully close to divine intervention to convince the servants of the highway industry to buy into our solutions, given the inherently risk adverse nature of the careerists who people these agencies.

Richard's choice of words indicates his feelings toward dictatorial, somewhat-blind, career-oriented bureaucrats. But the State and US DOTs work for us (in theory anyway). The USDOT reports to the President. If the President can be convinced that we must have dualmode, then he will shape up his DOT troops, and we can build the system. If the Secretary of Transportation doesn't support a dualmode system wholeheartedly, the President should appoint one who does. I feel that we also need a Dualmode-System Czar: One with enough authority and power to knock down stupid bureaucratic hurdles. We will need the equivalent of Oppenheimer in the race for the atom bomb, and of von Braun in the space race.

It behooves us to think incrementally. For example, I think that I am making some progress with the New York State Department of Transportation. But I am doing so by arguing that there is NO innovation in the solution that I am proposing which is a slow speed, steel wheel, steel rail shuttle system linking two stations. In fact, if a CyberTran system gets built in the proposed corridor, it will be for one reason only: that it will improve the likelihood that a hotel will be built in the district of the Senate Majority Leader. As my lobbyist, the former speaker of the State Assembly explained to me. "Eliminating traffic congestion, cleaning the air, reducing out dependence on imported fossil fuels, eh, who cares. Making the Majority Leader look good by getting a hotel built in his district? Now that I can sell."

Now I want to be clear here that the Senate Majority Leader, Joe Bruno, is a very smart fellow. He knows what he is doing in proposing a CyberTran application. He understands the risks and the implications of going with an "unproven" technology. He also realizes that there may be some major benefits for the state and the citizenry down the road. But he needs to explain it to his colleagues and constituents not all of whom share his vision and concern for the environment. So disguising the project as an economic development project just makes good political sense.

I understand what you are saying, Richard, and I agree that the kinds of self-interest and local-interest problems you describe are real. But let me present the arguments for not thinking incrementally. I see two rather distinct camps within our dualmode group: those of you in companies that need to develop, sell, and deliver hardware, and those of us with nothing to sell but free ideas.

My personal interest is in the promotion of the most logical standardized national (and eventually worldwide) multi-use dual and single-mode automatic electric-powered guideway system. (Need a few more adjectives there). A couple years ago I thought I knew just what the best possible system would consist of. Now I am more humble—I don't know all of the answers. That is progress. More narrowly, I want to promote the idea that we must have a national dualmode system. Many brains, far beyond our group, will contribute to the final design choices.

I am one of those who believes that this industry has the potential to be profitable. However, I also believe that at least initially, any fixed guideway system will have excess capacity. So I have no compunctions whatsoever about adding services, be they palletized car ferries, automated freight transport or whatever which might increase the utilization of the guideway and help defray capital costs.

I agree that our guideway industry will be profitable, and I am pleased to see you support the addition of further services on the guideways. But we must come up with a standard national guideway design. If we end up having CyberTran operating in New York, RUF in Denmark, Biway and ULTra in England, Autoshuttle in Germany, SwedeTrack in Sweden, Flexitrain in New Zealand, InTranSys in the Southwest, MegaRail in Texas, Monomoble in Ohio, plus Higherway, Autobus, Segway, Carbus, Autran, Autotrans, NAP, and a few others, we will have chaos. We don't want problems like we had with different railroad gages, or both AC and DC power systems. A nonstandard guideway mix would be much worse than having both PCs and Macs, different power voltages and frequencies in different countries, driving on different sides of the road, or using both metric and English weights and measures.

I don't wish any of my dualmode colleagues bad luck, but in my mind there should eventually be only one worldwide standard multi-use guideway system. The chance is remote that it will be HiLoMag or any of the above as they are now proposed. I think this group is making progress in comparing and critiquing the different system proposals, but obviously we will never completely agree. When more powerful forces than we get to work on actually designing the national system they may or may not agree with some of our convictions at that time.

As Richard Arthur and William Turnbull suggest, getting a few local interim dualmode systems into operation would help acquaint the public with the merits of dualmode guideway transportation. But if they are truly interim they will someday have to be ripped out and replaced with national-standard guideways. Only if we standardize will the final true dualmode cars be able to travel on any guideway in the country, and from one guideway to another without interruption. If we standardize, the dualmode cars will be built in mass production and their price will become much more affordable. But I envision many different types of dualmode cars built to that standard, just as we now have many types of automobiles and light trucks.

I agree that only palleted vehicles plus single-mode make sense on interim systems. The systems that make the most sense right now are the pallet systems that use existing railroad tracks; so the permits, land acquisition, and guideway-construction costs are eliminated.

Even on the final guideway system, the early dualmode operations must be mostly if not entirely with the use of pallets, since it will take time for a significant percentage of the driving public to invest in dualmode vehicles. And in the transition period we must still have IC-powered cars for operation on highways where the guideways are not yet provided. The sky-high price of gasoline and diesel oil by then will provide plenty of incentive for people to buy or lease electric dualmode cars as soon as the guideways are available.

In recent months I have argued that the guideways must be designed to accommodate both palleted vehicles and true dualmode vehicles. Or if you prefer, both the pallets and the dualmode vehicles must be designed to operate on the same guideways. Pallet use will be universal initially, and it will decline with time as the guideway network expands and as more people acquire dualmode cars. But even in the distant future there will be some need for pallets (On our highways we still need flatbed trucks and boat trailers.)

In summary, I find Kirston Henderson’s (see MegaRail) basic arguments to be compelling. The problems with palletized car ferries are not insurmountable whereas the political/financial/marketing problems of Reynolds’ visionary system seem overwhelming. But this doesn’t mean that the ultimate system may not resemble Reynolds’ vision more closely than Henderson’s. But in the near term, Henderson seems to be a better bet. In fact, I would contend that the possibility of HiLoMag being successful is greater if MegaRail succeeds than if MegaRail never gets off the ground.

I don't accept the argument that the cost of MegaRail or the sizes of its political/financial/ marketing problems are significantly different from HiLoMag or some other "visionary" system. All dualmode guideway systems are visionary at this time. The costs in the different designs will be for the same requirements, and all factors considered the different systems are apt to have fairly comparable bottom lines. Why do you see one as "overwhelming" and another as doable? That opinion should not be based on the question of dualmode cars vs. pallets. As argued above, we should have both. On the two systems you mention,  both Kirston Henderson and I are currently proposing both dualmode cars and pallets.

But if two different systems require different guideways, and the implementation of the first one to be built is extensive, we could never afford to rip out all of the guideways and start over with an "improved" system. We have to design and build most of the thousands of miles of guideway right the first time. We must standardize, and the standardization must come about quite early.

If initiatives like MegaRail or Autrans or CyberTran for that matter which focus on minimizing up front technology risks and costs can’t succeed in demonstrating the attractiveness of the concept of a [dualmode] transportation network, then ultimate systems such as Reynolds’ will never make it past the societal barriers presented by Hopkins.

The technology risks you speak of on the ultimate system will be minimal, because it will use mostly technology that has been used for years on other projects. I consider the use of LSM propulsion important, because it will simplify the system and make it safer. But LSM isn't exactly new. It is in use on robotic-assembly and material-handling systems in factories, on amusement rides, on aircraft carrier airplane launchers, is being developed for space launches, and has been used on maglev trains.

The "ultimate" dualmode system may or may not use magnetic levitation, but maglev is not untried either. Developmental maglev trains have carried two and two-thirds million paying passengers without an accident. But new technology or old, there will be extensive guideway development and testing before the first mile of revenue guideway is built. (The interim dualmode systems, if any, will have to pass the same extensive and expensive test program as will the final system.) If exceptions were granted in the qualification of an interim system, then there would be greater risk of accidents that would sour the public on the dualmode concept.

But I agree that successful use of interim local palleted systems would be valuable in overcoming the societal barriers to a national system. My main concerns there are the double expenditures of time, materials, and energy, and the public opposition to tearing up the early systems in order to build the final system (if the interim guideway standards are significantly different from the final guideways). Interim systems could create more societal barriers than they would overcome.


Last modified: December 17, 2000