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find for their automated people mover system have not materialized. Contrary
to some reports, he says, the company has not made any decision to terminate
the program, though he says this is quite likely around the end of the year,
if they cannot find a "strong, early prospect" within the next ten weeks or
(PRT stands for Personal Rapid Transit and describes elevated guideway
carried driverless cars holding 2 to 4 persons each which are designed to
transport passengers non-stop to their destination. Other automated people
movers as used mainly at larger airports operate more like public transport
or transit in that they use bus or train sized cars and stop at all stations.)
[For background on the PRT 2000 project, see a previous article by Peter Samuel]
"We are coming to a critical point, where we have to make a tough
decision. It is not looking very promising, but we remain in dialog with
potential customers," said Gluck, whose title is Manager Surface
Transportation, Raytheon Company Electronic Systems Division. "We are
disappointed but not discouraged. We are still working on this. Interest from
potential customers remains very high. We keep getting requests to see it."
He said that Rosemont, Illinois near to Chicagos OHare International Airport remains
the best prospect for a PRT 2000 initial system.
Raytheon announced it is writing off $6m of the costs of the PRT project
as a loss in its latest quarterly accounts.[see Raytheon press release]
"We remain in discussions in the hope we can come up with an acceptable
financial model that would support construction and operations at Rosemont,"
Gluck said. The Chicago area Regional Transport Authority (RTA) entered into
an agreement with Raytheon several years ago to develop the PRT 2000 system
and contributed $21m towards development. Raytheon has also spent $45m of its
own money to develop the system, which involved a large software writing job,
construction of three full-scale prototype cars and a test track with many of
the curves, slopes and other features of an operational track, and two years
of operations and testing using the three prototype cars. RTAs contract with
Raytheon provides that it will get 1.3% of any future sales revenues. If the
project is abandoned it gets property rights to the technology.
Gluck admits that cost has been a difficulty. Raytheon originally hoped
to be able to develop a system that complete with guideway, vehicles,
stations and all, could sell for less than $20m per km ($30m/mile) - roughly
half the cost of conventional technologies such as light rail.
"We think the system we have now gives greater functionality (than light
rail) at about comparable cost," said Gluck acknowledging that the cost now
runs closer to $30m/km (over $40m/mile). At these costs prospective farebox
revenues would not support bond financing of construction.
"With further development, and value engineering it will probably be
possible to get the cost down somewhat in the future," said Gluck but he
acknowledged it was difficult to see projects being viable without some
degree of support beyond fares, as once envisaged.
The Village of Rosemont and the RTA have said cost has been a factor in
their inability to reach an agreement with Raytheon. Rosemont is prepared to
foot the bill for right-of-way, utility relocations and construction of
stations, but has not been prepared to take on any of the operating or
financial risk. The RTAs chairman Thomas McCracken once an enthusiastic
advocate of the project has grown more reticent about it in the past year. He
told associates late last year that he would not propose a further commitment
of money to the RTA board because he did not think he could get the votes.
Plans have been for a 5km (3.5 mile) long track connecting the Rosemont
Blue Line rail station, a convention center, a theater and two office
complexes. There would be seven or eight stations. The cars which seat four
passengers are designed for a speed of 48km/hr (30mph) and stop at off-line
stations allowing other cars to zip by without being held up. Raytheon has
said the cost of this system would be $124m.
Veteran PRT designer and former engineering professor at the University
of Minnesota, Ed Anderson, who had patented his own PRT design (see TAXI 2000), criticized
Raytheon for allowing their system to grow in size, weight and cost as far
back as 1996, predicting this would make it difficult to develop a marketable
system. He argued for 2 or at maximum 3-person cars and a lighter guideway.
But Raytheon officials said the 4-person cars were necessary to meet
wheelchair carrying requirements and that the longer and wider wheelbase was
needed to provide a smooth comfortable ride and meet safety standards.
Everyone involved seems to agree that the Raytheon system performs as
promised. A 600m (2,000) long test track with one off-line station was built
in the Raytheon grounds in Marlborough Massachusetts, and began operations in
July 1996. Various single car operations including emergency stops and bad
weather tests followed. Small changes were made to improve the ride. The
single car operations were followed by multiple car operations in which
merging and headway controls were tested and refined. Gluck said the present
system operates to a 5 second headway between cars. Development was declared
accomplished late summer last year (August 1998) after five consecutive days
of continuous 16-hours/day operations were successfully performed.
The test track continues to be used for demonstrations but Gluck says
that the company will consider decommissioning it when it reviews sales
prospects around the turn of the year.
Gluck told us Raytheon is willing to license or sell the PRT 2000
technology to any company that is capable of following through with it. But
it is also willing to reconsider its likely withdrawal from the business "if
any prospects rise to the level of imminence" in the next couple of months.
In Amsterdam, Holland and at the Seattle-Tacoma airport in Washington
state authorities have expressed great interest in PRT 2000, Gluck says, but
are firm that they will not be the first to deploy the technology. In South
Korea there are also prospective purchasers of the system, but nothing firm
enough at this point. Gluck says the economic downturn of last year was a
major setback to Korean companies that might have partnered with Raytheon to
develop systems there.
In Irvine, California and at Bostons Logan airport the authorities were
interested in PRT but eventually passed. Boston will make do with shuttle
buses and Irvine will do old-fashioned light rail. Gluck says there a couple
of other prospects that he cannot reveal.
At the Village of Rosemont chief engineer Chris Burke says PRT is a great
concept for the area. In terms of potential ridership he says the PRT project
is "more viable than ever." Expansion of the convention center, new offices
and a proposed casino all offer the prospects of larger passenger loads than
when the PRT studies were done."This is becoming a very dense area, quite suitable for a (PRT) system."
But, Burke says, Raytheon has to take responsibility for maintenance
costs "They are the only ones who know how strongly it is built, how
reliable the system software is. The position of the mayor, the Village Board
and all of us here in Rosemont is that we cant quantify the costs of
maintenance and operations. We arent prepared to take those risks with an
unproven technology. It could well be a lifetime of aggravation and expense
for us. Many of these new systems cost a very significant amount to keep in
operation."Burke said that the Matra people mover system at OHare airport has been
an "ongoing nightmare" for the city of Chicago to maintain and that other
people mover systems that he has been in contact with in Texas and elsewhere
often cost "an order of magnitude" more to keep working than was expected.
He said the cost of Raytheon PRT had gone up significantly "I am sure
that as with a Patriot missile or some other thing they make that Raytheon
really did hope and believe they could make the PRT for the price they
originally quoted. But things often dont work out, and like a Patriot
missile it ends up much more expensive."Burke says that Rosemont and the RTA have not been in touch with Raytheon
for many months "We havent heard from them. They just havent been back
with any proposals. We read in the newspaper here that they were pulling out,
but if they are not, and if they can come up with something new, well
certainly be interested to look at it."
The city engineer said the situation is "most frustrating" because the
PRT concept is good, but there have to be much better cost and performance
warrantees from the manufacturer. Burke said the RTA's position is the same
as the that of Rosemont.Gluck at Raytheon told us if there is a go ahead on an operational system
another $10m to $20m would be needed to refine the design of the guideway and
the mechanical components of the cars to take them from the prototype to the
manufacturing stage. Another subsidiary Raytheon Engineers and Constructors
would probably take on much of this work.
It seems unlikely the company will commit that money without an assured
sale, and it wont make that sale without a more attractive operations,
warranty, and construction deal for the first customer. Given the financial
pressures on the company in its core defense and radar business this seems a
long shot. (Contacts: Steve Gluck, Raytheon, 508-490-1421, GluckS@raytheon.com;
Chris Burke, Village of Rosemont, 847-823-0500, email@example.com), Peter Samuel can be
contacted by phone at 301-631-1148.
Last modified: May 27, 2001