William G. Turnbull

We are recently favored with Mr. Goltermann’s view that a true-dualmode system can and must be implemented, and that standards for this must be developed. In this he suggests four premises that underpin his thinking. Let me state at the outset that I completely agree with his fourth. I see little or no advantage to linking the requirements of the United States to those of Europe.

As for the rest, I found it a tad perplexing. He argues strongly for true-dualmode – from the very beginning , no compromise. In support of this view, he cites Francis Reynolds’ "Dualmode and the Facts of Life" and informs us that he "agree[s] with almost every word written, . . .". However, by my reading of Reynolds’ paper, he suggest no such thing. Indeed he specifically states that "Pallet use will be universal initially, and will decline as the guideway network expands and more people acquire dualmode cars. But even in the distant future there will be some need for pallets."

But the issue here is not whether Mr. Reynolds supports exclusive true-dualmode or not; the issue is whether, at this juncture, it makes good engineering sense. Mr. Goltermann seems to believe that the only impediment to true-dualmode is the lack of a sufficient base of true-dualmode vehicles (i.e., the chicken and egg problem). For this, he suggests a rather draconian and massive tax solution . While I am not competent to judge whether it would be appropriate for Europe; I am completely confident it could not be enacted in the United States. Not every vehicle needs to be guideway compliant. I believe it would be bad economics and bad public policy to effectively require it. But again, this is not really the primary issue; Mr. Goltermann totally ignores the far more serious one – do we have sufficient knowledge to make the decisions he wishes us to make.

In a previous discourse ("An Argument for Pallets"), I tried to suggest that the answer is no; that there is not sufficient knowledge to make a final and lasting decision in this matter. As I stated then (and continue to believe now), "Recalling, among others, the Denver Airport debacle, and the early advocacy of light rail, I submit that none of us, either individually or collectively, has the necessary knowledge or prescience to select the optimum technology for the mid twenty-first century." We may wish to revisit this statement after some operating experience with even a single revenue-producing system, but for the present, I believe it to be operative.

The fact that we presently lack sufficient knowledge to establish, once and for all, what would constitute an ideal system does not mean we should not proceed with the design and implementation of initial systems. Quite the contrary; urban transportation is reaching a crisis; we must proceed. What it does mean, however, is that we should proceed in a manner that imposes an absolute minimum of restrictions on future development. Later systems must be free to benefit from earlier ones. A standard for a true-dualmode vehicle is precisely the kind of restriction we must avoid. It forces all subsequent vehicles to be backward compatible with it. It establishes the type of propulsion, the means of communication with the system, the manner of control, and the form of the guideway. In short, it severely restricts future development. I should also note that there is no present consensus on any of these issues.

Interim systems are not evil; they are essential to the development of an optimum system. If we are forced to make basic system decisions now, with absolutely no empirical data from even a single revenue-producing system, we run a serious risk of locking-in a third rate approach. Moreover, these systems need not be torn down if an improved system is developed. They can either be upgraded, or be allowed to operate until they no longer serve the public need. All this provided we have imposed no restrictions on inter-operability.

These systems are essentially local. I see no need nor advantage in being trapped in my private vehicle for the six to eight hours, or more, that it would take to travel from one end to the other of California; and most certainly not for a transcontinental journey. There is no requirement for international, or even national, standards for vehicles or guideways. What is required is that vehicles from various jurisdictions be able to profitably use other systems. Pallets accommodate this requirement, impose a minimum of restrictions on future development, and require no czar.

As a potential user, Mr. Goltermann provided us with his insight on user needs. He did not list what, in my mind, would have been first. - safety and reliability. My "mistake" in suggesting that the system should own all the operating pieces was not from a desire to simplify the operation; because it most assuredly would not. It stems from the absolute and primary requirement for safety and reliability. If the system can not monitor and control all the essential items relating to safety and reliability, it cannot assure these. Moreover, I most certainly do not agree that "transportation careerist and other bureaucrats" should be solely allowed to decide what kind of system we will build. I believe user input is an important consideration, but not the sole one. Issues such as energy usage, profitability, efficient use of guideway space, and safety are also important.

Another of the user absolutes is that access to the system must be immediate. He suggests that absent this, Mr. Arthur’s "hundreds of million potential customers" will not be forthcoming. Frankly, I suspect that given the choice of waiting a short period, or embarking on a lengthy, unpleasant, and overcrowded freeway journey; potential users will opt to wait. There is no question the wait needs to be short, but I am unconvinced that a few tens of seconds is critical. Mr. Goltermann has expressed the opinion that the problems with palleted car ferries are insurmountable and are likely to remain so. It is interesting to note that he appears to be totally confident that we, collectively, have the wisdom and knowledge to anticipate future technology, identify the many problems, solve them, and choose the optimum system for the twenty-first century. That is, except for the singular issue of palleted dualmode.

In summary, I submit it is far too early be considering standards and standardization. We don’t know enough because we haven’t done enough. When we do start "doing something", I believe it imperative that it be done so as to impose as few restrictions on subsequent development as possible. In my judgement, palleted dualmode provides the best opportunity for this. Unlike Mr. Goltermann, I believe the problems associated with palleted dualmode are surmountable. In this connection, I believe a far more difficult problem is providing a reliable, fail safe, and practical control system. The consequence of sending an empty pallet to the wrong place seem insignificant when compared to a failure of the overall control system, or for that matter, a failure in an under-maintained, private, true-dualmode vehicle.


Last modified: January 26, 2001