Aerobus - Railroad in the Sky

[aerobus photo] This technology has been called a "railroad in the sky". It features a vehicle that is suspended from cables along which self-propelled vehicles travel. The principal inventor of this technology is Gerhard Mueller who did most of his work in the 1970's. He tested the early concepts in Zurich, Switzerland. In 1975, a second generation was built and operated for 6 months in Mannheim, Germany, as part of a horticultural exposition. Six photos of this installation are provided.

During the exposition, it carried over 2.5 million people without mishap over a two-mile route through the city center and across the Neckar River. The third generation involved a test track in Dietlikon, Switzerland which was designed to test several improvements based on operating data gained in the Mannheim application. In 1983, a Swiss firm, Vevey Engineering Works, Ltd., acquired the manufacturing rights and patents for the Aerobus system but was forced to sell the technology after the financing for a large project in Kuala Lumpur collapsed. A fourth generation effort, begun in 1987, is being directed by Fred Parks, a Houston attorney. He purchased the patents and technology from Vevey Engineering and has been working to improve it and make it comply with relevant American transit standards.

The light and modern vehicles would be made of the newest composite materials. They can be constructed using as few as 2 or up to 9 modules with a capacity ranging between 40 and 222 passengers. The vehicles are capable of speeds up to 40 mph, produce virtually no noise and pollution and can be operated in semi-automatic or automatic modes. Aerobus was one of three vendors in the Suspended Light Rail Transit competition conducted by the Federal Transit Administration in 1992-93. Their study was done in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. No winner of this competition has been selected to date and it is not likely that one will be as the FTA does not have the money to support the construction of a demonstration system.

cable suspension diagram Due to a patented guideway suspension system, individual cars travel on an aluminum rail across standard spans of up to 600 feet. Spans of up to 4000 feet are believed to be possible in special cases. The cables are supported by large pylons and the cable suspended overhead guideway uses the weight of the vehicle passing over it to force the track into a horizontal path for smooth trestle passage without noticeable bumps or sways at speeds of up to 40 mph. Two different sets of cables (suspension and runway covered with an aluminum rail interconnected by vertical hangers) are used. There are four cables per track. Electric motors are used for vehicle propulsion.

The largest vehicle (222 persons) would , fully loaded, weigh about 30 tons. Minimum operational headway is about 90 seconds. Maximum commercial speed is 40 mph and the time needed to load/unload is estimated to be 20 seconds. Capacity is pegged at up to 10,000 persons per hour per direction. Grades of up to 8% are believed to be possible and the normal height above ground level would be 16.5 to 19.5 feet. Both people-moving and freight applications are envisioned. No test track exists, so far as is known.

Below is a photo of the vehicle that was in operation at Mannheim. A new design for the vehicle has recently been completed and is also shown below:

[photo of mannheim

[new aerobus vehicle

Aerobus has an excellent video that shows the Mannheim system in operation. It is available from them, upon request. Four additional photos , two of an installation in Quebec and two additional photos of the Mannheim installation are available. 

Further information can be obtained as follows: Dennis K. Stallings , President, Aerobus International, Inc. Additional contact persons are Virginia McClintock at Aerobus International, Inc. of Houston, Texas, and Ben Lamoreaux of Lamoreaux Engineering, located in Salt Lake City, Utah. Aerobus now has a website that provides more details and the latest news. There is also an Aerobus website in Spanish - click here to go there.

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Last modified: December 30, 2002