Report on the History and Status of the Rosemont, Illinois PRT 2000 Demonstration Project

(as of April 22, 1997)

(author unknown, but probably someone from the Village of Rosemont, Illinois)


Update: It was reported in the Daily Herald newspaper on May 13, 2000 that the Rosemont PRT project was terminated by the Chicago RTA on May 12 (almost 7 months after Raytheon announced it was getting out of the PRT business). See Raytheon press release of October 19, 1999.  Here is more information from Raytheon about the project.


Regional Transportation Authority Structure

The Regional Transportation Authority of northwest Illinois was created in its present form in about 1983 and is an umbrella body overseeing three service agencies. RTA's twin missions are to channel funds to the service boards and to pursue new technologies in transportation (emphasis added). The three service agencies are Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) which provides bus and rapid rail service in the inner areas; Metra which supervises the extensive commuter rail system on various freight tracks, and PACE which provides suburban bus service.

The RTA's annual operating budget is about $500-600 million; its five-year capital budget is in the range of $80 million and its service area covers the entire metropolitan area. The RTA Board is comprised of 13 members nominated in part by the village of Chicago (5 members) and in part by the suburban counties (8 members).

PRT Project History

In about 1990 the RTA began exploring PRT as a new technology that could address one of its primary problems: suburban congestion. They knew that with more suburban jobs, and more suburban housing growth, the traditional line-haul rail technologies could not address the needs of the suburbs.

The RTA's exploration of PRT is planned to be in three phases. Phase 1 was selection of a technology and site. They held a competition to see which communities might like to be the testing ground for PRT. This approach avoided a possible NIMBY-type reaction and resulted in 22 communities responding, some offering significant enticements to get PRT. Around the same time, they conducted a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for PRT vendors and heard from about a dozen. From among these, they picked two to whom they awarded $1.5 million each to come up with analyses, models of the selected site (the village of Rosemont) showing track and stations, and public information materials. Both finalists offered track systems; during the Phase 1 screening, gondola-type suspended systems had been screened out for a variety of reasons.

One of the two vendors was a Swiss team, Intamin AG , well-known for skilifts, cable cars and the like. The other was Stone and Webster, a large US engineering firm. In 1993, Raytheon assumed the lead for the Stone and Webster proposal, with the concept advanced by Taxi 2000 as its focus.

The Intamin proposal involved small vehicles hugging a single track, with switching to close and open track segments and direct the car to go where the customer had chosen. By contrast, the Raytheon concept has routing instruments embedded in each car, so the track never has to move. With the hoped-for 2-3 second car spacing, the RTA decided that moving the track would be too slow and also potentially unsafe, which was a major reason why the Raytheon team was selected for Phase 2.

Phase 2 involves a joint effort between RTA and Raytheon to build the test track in Marlborough , MA. The RTA committed about half the funds and has so far spent $26m toward this. Raytheon has spent about the same, for a more than $50 million investment so far. To sell this up-front expense, the RTA made an agreement with Raytheon for 1.3% of the gross sales over the next 25 years, for any future PRT installations. This unusual private-public venture enabled the RTA to justify to its stakeholders an early expenditure equal to about 3.5% of its capital program.

Phase 2 is designed to last until early 1998 and will not only allow for extensive product testing of a multi-car system, but also help refine the true costs.

Future Steps

Phase 3 has yet to be scoped and funded and will depend on the outcome of Phase 2. The RTA Board would be asked to commit further funds for the construction of the 3 mile Rosemont system, estimated to cost about $100 million ( see diagram ). No federal funds are being sought because the red tape is not felt to be worth the hassle and because of the anticipated future revenue stream. An unknown is the potential contribution from the village of Rosemont which would at least be asked to provide rights-of-way. It appears likely that the RTA will put a Phase 3 funding request in its 1998 budget. Budget work began in August and the budget will be adopted by December 15, so assuming there is enough data from Raytheon on performance and costs, it seems likely that the staff will be able to justify at least a "placeholder" budget request, with an actual Rosemont construction start being approved some time in 1998.

While the track and station locations are already largely determined, the level of elegance in station design is not yet resolved and it seems likely that the RTA will provide a modest, no major frills design with Rosemont's public or private participants being invited to pay for de luxe features, if desired. However, this is not yet resolved.

Another unresolved issue is who will operate the system. The options seem to be as follows:

While Rosemont is clearly an informal partner for Phase 3, there is as yet no written agreement between it and the RTA. The village did however, recently pay for and conduct a $400,000 ridership study with Wilbur Smith and Associates as the consultant.

Technical Issues

A major aspect of Phase 2 is the exploration of reliability, safety and service issues. Much progress has already been made in both hardware and software areas. For example, the RTA has gained a waiver from FTA to rate the PRT 2000 vehicle as complying with ADA even though it has only 1 wheelchair tie-down instead of 2. This was deemed acceptable because of the small car size.

PRT 2000 lends itself well to safety. If there is a problem, all related guideway traffic will be halted till the system clears. If a car breaks down, the elevated guideway can be reached by a cherry-picker to bring repair people on to the track. The cars can be opened on the nose from outside; there is a emergency hatch door in that location. The power supply is well-embedded in the wall of the guideway, so the actual guideway can be used as a walkway in the event of an emergency evacuation. The power to the guideway will be shut off if the emergency hatch in the vehicle is opened. In critical areas such as over a highway, there could also be a parallel catwalk if desired.

Inside the car there will be a PA system and a panic box for emergency communications to the control center.

Reliability is enhanced by the use of two motors in each car, with the vehicle capable of near normal performance with one motor operational. Extensive work has gone into ensuring that the two motors can communicate successfully. The car switch mechanism depends on Radio Frequency (RF) responders on the track marking track distance, and the rotation of lateral support wheels which "count" how far the car has traveled between RF responders. It has been discovered on the Marlborough track, that the computed and actual distances were not quite the same; the difference turned out to be caused by wheel wear, resulting in an adjustment to the computation methodology.

Much time has been spent on fail-safe mechanisms. For example, the car will have sensors that observe whether there is an overweight condition in the car before it leaves. This would prevent any unsafe operating conditions resulting from exceeding the payload of the vehicle.

The RTA is in the process of developing technical specifications with Raytheon, based upon industry norms such as the breakdown rate per 1,000 hours of operation, and using the results from Phase 2 to craft standards specific to PRT.

Under normal circumstances, four people with luggage can easily be accommodated by a PRT 2000 vehicle. Average transit party size is about 1.3.

The expectation at Raytheon is that even though the Marlborough system of one station and three cars will enable many "bugs" to be identified and fixed, more will surface in the larger Rosemont system. It's planned to carry no paying customers on the Rosemont system for the first six months, while real-world debugging takes place.

Costs

The cost is always high for a new system. In part, R&D costs have to be spread over only a small number of units. Secondly, parts have to be made in small production runs and economies of scale cannot be realized. In this, PRT development is no different than the early development of faxes, phones, computers or the automobile.

At present Raytheon is doing some value engineering. Independent value engineering has been discussed but is not yet being planned. In 1990 the original estimated cost was about $15 million per mile and the current $25 million or more per mile is largely due to inflation.

The RTA has already set some financial goals for the project:


Performance and Service Specifications

As mentioned, the RTA is developing performance specifications. So far, the system requirements have been emerging from a variety of areas and include the following:


RTA's Phase 1 specifications can also be obtained.

The Rosemont PRT Market

Rosemont is a village of 7,500 people on the northeast side of O'Hare International Airport. It was incorporated 40 years ago and has had the same mayor throughout its history. The village has focused on developing its land for hotels and also a major 4,400 seat theater, opened last year, a 20,000 seat stadium (the only one nationwide to operate in the black), and a very large convention center (whose garage, regularly completely full, has 5,000 stalls). Thus Rosemont has several large trip generators without even including airport trips.

The first phase of Rosemont PRT has three loops serving these sites but does not go to O'Hare. The airport, which is run by the village of Chicago, has shown little interest in PRT. About 4 years ago a three-mile airport/remote parking lot People-Mover known as Airport Transit System (ATS) was built. This is an automated guideway system from the French vendor (MATRA). This replaces a good deal of airport shuttlebus service. The People Mover maintenance facility and control room are housed together and employ about 75 people.

Rosemont's PRT would serve the Blue Line CTA rapid rail station (which serves the airport). A new suburban commuter rail line also passes through Rosemont and could be served. These combined traffic generators would generate about 6,000 PRT trips per day.

RTA staff were very helpful in providing information for this report. They are extremely interested in PRT exploration in other cities (not only because the RTA has future revenue at stake) and have expressed a desire to continue sharing information as their project evolves.


For more information about the RTA part of this project, contact the Departments of Public Affairs and Planning, Regional Transportation Authority, 181 West Madison Street, Suite 1900, Chicago, Illinois, 60602. The RTA Communications Division publishes a progress report called PRT Update periodically. Chris Robling is Director of Communications for the RTA. Ph: 312-917-1415; fax: 312-917-1344.

For more information about the Rosemont part of this project, contact the village of Rosemont at (708) 825-4404 or the Rosemont Chamber of Commerce at (708) 698-1190.


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Last modified: November 07, 2011