News Brief Archives

News Briefs Archives
March 20 - June 18, 2005


Chongqing Monorail opens! (6/18/05)
Chongqing, China. Today marks the first official day of the Chongqing Monorail. The 13.5-km system opened today with a ceremony that included attending officials from Japan and China. The Chongqing Monorail is the first to open outside Japan with Hitachi monorail technology. The project was largely funded by Japanese loans. Satoshi Iwamura, Japan's vice-minister for land, infrastructure and transport, said in a speech, "We hope that this facility will be used and loved by Chinese citizens for long and will become a bridge nurturing friendly ties between Japan and China." Chongqing Mayor Wang Hongju said at the ceremony, "The monorail provides a range of advantages in that it does not produce much noise and does not take up much land. In addition, it helps ease traffic congestion." The monorail is capable of transporting 200 million passengers annually, and extensions are already in planning stages. The system was built and completed in less than five years, despite enormous challenges along the route. There is a 2.2-km subway section that the monorail negotiates through, as well as giving passengers spectacular hillside views of a nearby river. The Monorail Society congratulates Chongqing and Hitachi on this momentous achievement!

Japan-funded monorail opens in Chongqing. MC website, 6/18/05.
Chongqing Monorail website (in Chinese and sometimes loads very slowly)

  Las Vegas Monorail-what the media isn't saying (6/16/05)
Las Vegas, Nevada. Despite media attention given to every little glitch that the Las Vegas Monorail (LVM) has suffered, the president of the company that led to the development of the system says there is a lot of good news not being reported. Tom Stone, President of Transmax Group LLC, shared some interesting data recently with an online Seattle Monorail discussion group. Since the system's reopening in December, ridership and revenue have been growing steadily. Stone states "Average revenues now are over $100,000 per day, which is more than debt service requirements for the bonds. With just over a four-mile system, average daily ridership is over 30,000 per day, with many days nearing 50,000, which I believe already is far more than the initial ridership of any of the nation's new-start light rail systems over the past 20 years." Not only that, but upcoming efforts by LVM should increase ridership with links to pre-ticketing for the conventions, links to resort guest portfolios, and improved paths to monorail stations. Despite troublesome closures during its debut year of 2004, the monorail is now operating consistently at over 99% reliability. Stone says, "This is a reliability level that is higher even than most airport people movers, an unprecedented accomplishment for an automated urban transit system." Transmax is also responsible for the advertising and corporate sponsorship program for LVM, which has contracted more than $100 million in revenues. Efforts are also under way to extend the monorail without the use of federal funds. Stone hopes to have good news on this within the next few months, but won't go public until it's a "done deal."

SMP readies for intense scrutiny (6/13/05)
Seattle, Washington. The Seattle Popular Monorail Authority (SPMA) is readying for an onslaught of scrutiny as it prepares to release details of its recent completed contract negotiation with Cascadia Monorail Company. The release of the contract may come next week, with pages and pages of details for monorail supporters, interested citizens and critics to dig through. To get a good deal for Seattle, negotiations were held in confidentiality. As if the scrutiny of the public and critics isn't enough, the SPMA is also about to go through its annual audit. Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag sent a letter to the agency expressing "our concerns and those of others about the viability of the Seattle Monorail Project, particularly the ability to finance it and meet projected costs." Sonntag cited concerns of State Treasurer Mike Murphy who is "deeply concerned about overly optimistic revenue projections, about the aggressive project scope, about what they believe has been a lack of openness, and about the potential effect of the project on taxpayers not just in Seattle, but throughout the state." How the SPMA fares in the coming months will result in Seattle citizens finally getting construction started of their long-awaited and voted-for monorail system...or not.

Seattle Monorail: Little train that can? Seattle P-I, 6/5/05.
$2.1 Billion Monorail.
Seattle Weekly, 6/8/05.
Seattle Monorail: Eyeballing the deal.
Seattle P-I, 6/13/05.
Seattle Monorail Project website
Cascadia Monorail website
Hitachi Monorail website


SMP/Cascadia agreement in Seattle (6/3/05)
Seattle, Washington. The Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) has reached an agreement in principle with Cascadia Monorail to build a 14-mile monorail line. According to an SMP press release today, both sides are now reviewing and conforming the contracts and six volumes of documents, a process that is expected to take about two weeks. "The people of Seattle have made it clear they want the Monorail. They want the Monorail for its environmental benefits and for the ability to get around town without a car. It's especially important to have the Monorail running while the Viaduct is shut down," said Joel Horn, SMP executive director. "This has been a gargantuan effort. We are exhausted, but really proud that in just a couple of weeks we'll have final contracts to recommend to the Board." According to a press release from Fluor Corporation, the Green Line is currently the United State's largest rail contract. Per SMP, major elements of the Seattle Monorail Project Green Line agreement include:

  • The entire 14-mile, elevated Monorail will be built along the voter-approved Green Line route for a fixed price of slightly over $1.6 billion ­ which (along with funds for utilities, improvements, oversight and any contingencies) fits within the voter-mandated funding limits.
  • Automated walk-through trains will arrive every eight minutes to accommodate expected ridership on opening day; as ridership grows, trains can be added to run every three minutes downtown and every six minutes in West Seattle and Ballard.
  • Riders will be able to access the Green Line from 17 stations ­ 16 of which are included in the fixed price contracts, with the 17th to be constructed as soon as the property for the station at 2nd & Madison (now occupied by the Federal Reserve Bank) is available for purchase by SMP. Up to three more stations can be added at 35th & Avalon, Elliott & Mercer and Blaine & 15th.
  • SMP's strong commitment to environmental sustainability will be incorporated throughout the contracts, including trains with regenerative braking to conserve energy, minimizing energy use in both construction and operation of the stations, and allowing bicycles on trains.
  • Monorail stations will be convenient to buses, light rail, ferries and other types of mass transit, allowing for travel throughout Puget Sound.
  • Monorail riders will be able to use the Smart Card, a single access fare card being developed for use by passengers on any type of transit throughout Puget Sound.
  • The Monorail is scheduled to open on December 1, 2010, providing needed relief for Seattle residents and visitors when the Viaduct is closed for repair or reconstruction.

Monorail agency reaches deal with agency. Seattle P-I, 6/3/05.
Fluor Corporation press release: Nation's Largest Rail Contract
Monorail agreement reached. Seattle Times, 6/3/05.
Seattle Monorail: Little train that can? Seattle P-I, 6/3/05 (posted 6/3/05).
Seattle Monorail reaches agreement with contractor. Pugent Sound Business Journal, 6/3/05.
Seattle Monorail Project website
Cascadia Monorail website
Hitachi Monorail website


MTrans wins big in Syria (6/2/05)
Damascus, Syria. Syria's Minister of Transport, Makram Obeid, says that MTrans of Malaysia has been selected to build an extensive monorail system in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Monorail has been being selected for several reasons, one of which is the quickness in which a system can be implemented. Another reason is the comparative low cost of building monorail as opposed to other more traditional rail systems such as subway. The plan for Damascus includes three different lines, each differentiated by color; a 16-km Green Line from Mazzeh to Qaboun, a 11-km Red Line from Barzeh to Midan, and a 8-km Blue Line from Abbasid Square to Abdel Rahman al-Dakhel Square. Lines would be built in different construction phases. The Blue Line would be the first and would open within two years. If built to completion, the three lines would include a total of 46 stations, more than any other monorail system in the world. MTrans estimates that the estimated cost for the Damascus Monorail is $16 million per kilometer (USD). The Syrian government will finance the civil works, while engineering, supply of trains and other items will be financed through a Build-Operate-Transfer process (BOT). Damascus has an estimated population of over three million people.

Damascus Monorail on track. AME Info, 6/2/05.


Speedway owner seeks monorail (5/24/05)
Concord, North Carolina. O. Bruton Smith, founder and chairman of Lowe's Motor Speedway, is pledging $50 million of his personal funds to jumpstart a peoplemover system. Smith's concept is for a "monorail-style" transport along state-owned roads to connect a proposed NASCAR Hall of Fame to University City, Lowe's Motor Speedway and Concord Mills. The monorail system would run from the NASCAR Hall of Fame up North Tryon Street through UNC-Charlotte and University City along U.S. Highway 29 to the speedway and across Speedway Blvd. to Concord Mills. He believes that an elevated rail would be more efficient than the proposed Northeast Corridor Light Rail Project (slated for completion around 2018). He also states that it could be built and opened to the public much faster. "The future can be now," Smith said. "With the NASCAR Hall of Fame proposal due at the end of the month, how powerful of a message could we send by including this concept? This month, we are hosting more than 400,000 race fans from 50 states and 12 foreign countries. With this system in place, race fans could ride the monorail from the speedway down to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, visit Food Lion Speed Street and return without turning a wheel." No specific technology has been selected at this point.

Smith pledges $50 million to jumpstart monorail project. That's Racin website, 5/24/05.

  Subway may compete with Las Vegas Monorail (5/22/05)
Las Vegas, Nevada. MGM Mirage is partnering with Jakes Associates, Inc. of San Jose, California, to provide a rubber-tired subway system for the west side of the Las Vegas Strip. Ironically, this same partnership helped produce the first leg of the Las Vegas Monorail in the 1990s. Now MGM Mirage is developing a massive project betweeen Monte Carlo and Bellagio called CityCenter. The multi-billion dollar city within a city will include hotels, casinos, retail and residential space. Construction for CityCenter will begin within two years. The subway system will be reportedly built economically "by reducing the tunnel cross-section by at least 40% compared to conventional subway systems without any compromise to system capacity." When completed, the integrated system will provide full transit service to the west side of the Strip. In a Jakes press release, the company states "as it will likely be free of charge, the system will certainly challenge the current monorail system on the opposite side of the Strip, which is quite expensive to use and inconveniently located away from destinations directly on the Strip." Interesting language, considering the monorail's development was started by MGM and currently serves MGM at the south end of the line. This news comes at a time when the Regional Transportation Commission is severing ties with Las Vegas Monorail to build an extension to downtown, due to lack of Federal dollars for the project. The subway project puts pressure on the monorail to extend, either to the airport or downtown, in order to provide service that the subway won't. How it will compete with a free-ride system on the Strip remains to be seen.

Cascadia 28-member team qualified (5/9/05)
Seattle, Washington. The Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) has qualified the 28-member Cascadia Monorail Company to continue negotiating for the 14-mile Green Line monorail system. The team has been restructured since Washington Group International (WGI) dropped out, citing excessive project risks as their reason. Fluor Corporation of Irvine, California is now the largest partner in the team, which will use Hitachi monorail technology for the Seattle system. Fluor will now supply new project managers that originally would have been staffed by WGI. The SMP and Cascadia are in the final stage of negotiation and are expected to reach a proposed final agreement by June or July. Contracts will then be made available to the public and the SMP Board will decide whether to approve the contracts. If approval is made, Cascadia Monorail Company will complete the design, then construct, operate and maintain the monorail system.

Cascadia OK'd to move ahead on monorail. Seattle P-I, 5/12/05.


Nevada maglev back in the race (5/9/05)
Las Vegas, Nevada. The proposal for a Transrapid maglev demonstration line through the desert may be back on the table, if the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission has its way. If funds are approved, a government/industry partnership would build a $1.3 billion line between Las Vegas and Primm, Nevada. But first, the proposal must beat out two other maglev proposals on the east coast. One is for an airport connector in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the other is for Baltimore to Washington D.C. The Las Vegas-Primm proposal was eliminated from the competition for government funding during the Clinton administration, but efforts by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the chairman of the House transportation committee and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) have brought Nevada back into the game. The Las Vegas-Primm alignment is primarily through desert terrain, as opposed to the eastern proposals, which are plagued with many complaints by NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard). The commission sees the 40-mile Primm line as a starter for a proposed 270-mile Las Vegas to Anaheim maglev system. Congress will decide which of the three projects will be funded with $950 million and that decision may be soon. The maglev is part of the transportation bill that is now in the Senate, which has already passed the House.

High-Speed Train Plan May Move Forward. KTLA, 5/9/05.
Baltimore Washington Maglev
California-Nevada Maglev
Pennsylvania Maglev
Transrapid USA website


USA press coverage of Las Vegas mishaps (5/8/05)
Las Vegas, Nevada. Automobile accidents are responsible for a staggering 40,000 deaths each year in the USA alone. Elsewhere in the world, auto death statistics are even more staggering, yet judging by press coverage, you would think that monorail is one of the most hazardous forms of transit. Unfortunately, Las Vegas Monorail suffered two more brief shutdowns last week. Press stories from Las Vegas on the incidents were quickly picked up and reported by press outlets all around the world. It seems that if you operate a monorail, you will get more coverage when things go wrong, no matter how minor the problem may be. If you have light rail, the scrutiny isn't anywhere near as close. Light rail, which has accidents with vehicles and pedestrians on a regular basis, resulting in tragic injuries and death, more often gets a pass. That pass even includes coverage from their local press establishments. That said, the problems of Las Vegas Monorail are not helping promoters support claims of monorail's reliability. Passengers were stranded on the "Only Vegas" train, two days in a row on separate occasions when a communications problem interrupted service. When problems occur with the automated Bombardier-built and operated monorail, trains are supposed to return passengers to the nearest station. The malfunctioning train stopped on the guideway and didn't return to the station. According to media reports, interior temperatures climbed quickly and passengers contemplated breaking windows just before firefighters opened doors. Las Vegas Monorail officials and Bombardier are working to quickly fix the glitch. The system is currently operating on its regular schedule of 7 AM to 2 AM.

The little train that couldn't. Las Vegas Sun, 5/4/05. Does the press write commentary like this on accident-prone light rail systems in Houston, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Dallas, San Francisco, Portland, Tacoma, Dallas, and elsewhere? How about in cities planning or building light rail?
Temperatures rise inside a trapped Las Vegas Monorail car.
KVBC TV, 5/3/05.
Second malfunction in two days strands riders on Las Vegas Monorail. Las Vegas Sun, 5/3/05 (picked up by Associated Press and reported extensively around the world).
Las Vegas Monorail Opening-TMS exclusive photo essay from July 14, 2004, includes images of "Only Vegas" train.

photo courtesy of Glenn Barney

  Seattle Blue is back! (5/8/05)
Seattle, Washington. After eleven months of meticulous restoration, Monorail Blue has returned to service on the historic mile-long Seattle Center Monorail. The Alweg-built Monorail Blue suffered serious damage on May 31, 2004 when fire broke out below the 1960's-vintage vehicles' floor. Monorail Red's side-by-side ramp and fire truck ladders were used to evacuate the train. Repairs included modifying the trains' electrical systems to eliminate the possibility for the type of electrical arcing that caused the fire. A "hot body" detector and new grounding system were installed; train floors and walls are now made fire-resistant enough to allow safe evacuation; and train gearboxes are insulated. The monorail is slated for removal if the 14-mile Seattle Monorail Project Green Line monorail is constructed. Preservationists are hoping that the Alweg trains are saved for display or possibly put into service at another location. The Seattle Center Monorail carries more than 2 million riders annually. Businesses at both ends of the line noticed around 30% drop in sales when the line closed after the fire. Monorail Red returned to service late last year after similar safety modifications.
  Familiar debate in Bangalore (4/28/05)
Bangalore, India. An all too familiar debate is taking place in Bangalore, India. Metrail Private Limited argued for monorails at a meeting with the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) recently. As a result, KSPCB chairman Bhoomanand Manay submitted a report to the government suggesting Metrail's monorail as the best option for rail transit in the city. On the other hand, Bangalore Mass Rapid Transport Limited (BMRTL) believes that heavy rail metro is the best option. MPL director Rehan Khan recently said ''the taxpayers of this city do not have to churn out their money for the monorail. For the metro they would be paying very dearly for a system that does not cover the city entirely. We are privately aided and we will recover our money if allowed to operate in the city for 30 years. After which it is deemed public property.''

Green board shows red to metro project. Newindpress.com, 4/28/05.

WGI drops out of Seattle project (4/28/05)
Seattle, Washington. Negotiations are in their final stages between Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) and the Cascadia Monorail Company, but Cascadia has lost one its major partners. Washington Group International (WGI) has pulled out for "business reasons," concerned that the risks of the project are too high. WGI has already invested $5 million and spent four years on the project. WGI is a large civil construction firm and would most likely have been in charge of track and structure construction. Cascadia has 28 other companies in the team. Fluor Enterprises is another lead partner and will likely take over WGI's responsibilities. Before a meeting of monorail board members, SMP director Joel Horn stated that he's "99.8 percent, 99.9 percent" sure that a deal can still be forged with Cascadia.

Major monorail partner pulls out of project. Seattle Times, 4/28/05,
Seattle Monorail Project website
Cascadia Monorail Team


"Major step forward: in Seattle (4/6/05)
Seattle, Washington. The Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) has taken a "major step forward," according to SMP Executive Director Joel Horn. At tonight's Seattle Monorail Board of Director's meeting, Horn announced that the Cascadia Team submitted a refined bonded proposal last Thursday. The new proposal is the result of the last eight months of negotiations with the SMP. The project now moves into the final negotiation stage, which SMP staff members said could take 60-90 days, or possibly more if difficulties arise. After the announcement, Board member Cleve Stockmeyer said that "it sounds like we're on track to do what the public has asked us to do." He went on to say "this is very reassuring to me." Most board members made optimistic statements as a result of the good news and no longer believe a negotiation deadline is necessary. The next 60-90 day period will include a staff review of the refined proposal and a pricing review. If all goes well, a final price will be negotiated in May/June. At the end of Horn's presentation a computer simulation video of Hitachi two-car trains quietly cruising through Seattle Center was shown.

Seattle Monorail Project website
Cascadia Monorail Team


Seattle monorail opponents lose another one (4/4/05)
Seattle, Washington. Monorail opponents continue to throw their money into efforts to derail the Seattle Monorail Project (SMP). Ignoring the fact that Seattle voters have voted for the monorail on several occasions, opponents have tried several tactics to stop the monorail from being built. The latest effort was via a lawsuit, claiming that the auto tax that funds the monorail is illegal. Today Judge William Downing dismissed their claims. The lawsuit was filed by eight Seattle vehicle owners, with a legal team including Henry Aronson, a longtime monorail foe. SMP spokeswoman Natasha Jones said, "The judge couldn't have been more clear in dismissing the claims, I think it just really helps us." An appeal is expected. On Wednesday night, monorail board members will consider a deadline for negotiations, which have been under way since last year.

Court upholds monorail tax. Seattle Times, 4/4/05.
Seattle Monorail Project website


Las Vegas Monorail: bad/good news (3/31/05)
Las Vegas. Nevada. Moody's Investors Service dropped $455 million in Las Vegas Monorail bonds to "speculative" grade, also known as junk bond status. Lagging ridership and revenues were sited as concerns that led to the downgrade. Despite the apparent bad news, Anne Van Praagh, a Moody's analyst, stated, "Long-term, we do think that this project has a lot of potential." The downgrade will have no effect on the monorail's day-to-day operations, as the bonds are insured against default. Monorail spokesman Todd Walker said, "This doesn't have any short-term effect on the project whatsoever. It has no impact on the state. It does not impact on the taxpayer." Still, the impact may be to force the monorail to pay higher interest rates to raise more cash for expansion. Moody's report indicates that the system needs an increase in ridership and revenues in order to achieve financial self-sufficiency. "While the ramp-up period ridership through the first quarter of 2005 has shown positive growth, more operating history will be needed to fully assess credit quality," Moody's said. Despite numerous system shut downs from technical problems last year, the system has operated almost perfectly since December 24th. Monorail officials remain optimistic that ridership numbers will increase throughout 2005. Walker said to the Las Vegas Review-Journal "I think the numbers will show a dramatic increase in March ridership and revenue over February." Farebox revenues were over $150,000 on March 15, and 48,000 people used the system on March 16.

Monorail's bonds fall to 'junk' status. Las Vegas Review-Journal, 3/31/05.
Monorail firm's rating lowered. Las Vegas Sun, 3/31/05.


Dubai peoplemover monorail proposed (3/30/05)
Dubai, United Arab Emirates. A new district in the City of Dubai is being developed, the Burj Dubai district. It will be an area of superlatives, with the world's tallest skyscraper and the world's largest mall. Developers expect 40 million people to visit the mall each year. 100,000 people will live in Burj Dubai. A 1.3 km monorail is being considered to shuttle people around the area. It would connect the Dubai Mall to the new Dubai light rail system. Burj Dubai is scheduled for completion by 2009. The monorail project would be acquired via competitive bidding by Emaar Properties, the Burj Dubai developer. If developed, the Burj Dubai Monorail will be the second in U.A.E., following another new monorail to be built on the Palm Jumaeirah man-made island project.

Burj Dubai website


Oxford Street proposal, London (3/30/05)
London, England. A monorail is being proposed to help solve gridlock on Oxford Street. The proposal has the backing of Lord Rogers, the Mayor's leading architectural adviser. Rogers says the monorail would help create a more "civilized" environment and allow Oxford Street to compete with large shopping centers outside of London. Ian Wilder, a Westminster councilor, conceived the monorail to run the mile-length of the street and link it with Piccadilly Circus. The monorail would also serve a new convention center. Wilder points out that monorail is easier to build than a street tram system, which would require underground utilities and water mains to be moved at great expense. "The monorail is also a lot cheaper than a tram. It doesn't rule out doing other things and having vehicles underneath such as taxis," said Wilder.

Monorail for Oxford Street? This is London website, 3/30/05.


Kitakyushu Monorail operating after earthquake (3/20/05)
Kitakyushu, Japan. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook the island of Kyushu on Saturday, killing one and injuring over 500 citizens. The quake's epicenter was west of Kyushu and approximately nine kilometers beneath the ocean floor. Hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed in Genkaijima island, Fukuoka Prefecture and Nagasaki Prefecture. All rail services made emergency stops, including eight Shinkansen high-speed rail trains. Kitakyushu Monorail also came to a halt when the earthquake struck at 10:53 AM. The earthquake magnitude was 4.0 in the monorail area. After inspection of the system, monorail service resumed at 2 PM, only three hours later. The Kitakyushu Monorail opened in 1985 and features the first all-flat floor monorail trains from Hitachi. No passengers were hurt during the earthquake. The 8.8 kilometer system includes concrete beams for most of the alignment, while steel track is used for longer spans. One portion of the guideway is attached to the supports of an automobile expressway that runs above the monorail.

Kitakyushu Monorail website
Monorails of Japan DVD (features a segment on Kitakyushu Monorail)


Futrex tries again (3/20/05)
Charleston, North Carolina. The promoters of Futrex, the monobeam system in which trains share one beam for bi-directional travel, are trying again to get a full-scale demonstration line build. A proposed $35 million line between Charleston International Airport and Charleston Convention Center came up short in funding. $6.2 million was appropriated to the project by Congress from 1998 through 2000. Most of that money remains unspent, and Futrex would like to modify their proposal to a shorter demonstrator line. The company has submitted a plan to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) seeking to use the money for a prototype at the former Navy Base costing approximately $15 million. The FTA would have to approve the change, because the $6 million was earmarked for a prototype to serve the airport. Futrex is attempting to attract private financing for the balance of the project's cost.

Monorail company scales back plans. The State, 3/20/05
Futrex website

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