Modern Monorails and Their Electronics
September 19, 2023
There’s a Keystone in every great invention.
History of Monorails
Connecting cities with other cities and popular attractions and destinations has been the purpose of modern monorail systems. But it didn’t start out that way. The first monorail system, the Cheshunt Railway, was introduced in 1825 in the UK based on a patent by Henry Robinson Palmer. While the patent initially proposed a single rail system used for transporting bricks, the single horse-drawn monorail celebrated its grand opening by carrying passengers instead.
Monorails are typically suspended transportation systems that ride on a version of an overhead, guided-rail structure. Unlike rack railways or cable-driven cars that require traditional adhesion traction railways, monorails rely on a large solid beam as the vehicle’s running surface. There are a number of competing designs divided into two broad classes, straddle-beam and suspended monorails, with straddle-beam being the more common type used.
Many of today’s monorail systems have been derived from the works of Swedish industrialist Dr. Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren, who built a straddle-beam monorail test track designed for high-speed, city-to-city transportation. Known as the ALWEG system, the design would eventually be the foundation for many recognizable monorail systems today, including monorails installed in Disney parks around the world.
Technology Behind Today’s Most Recognizable Monorails
Almost all monorails today are powered by electric motors fed by dual third rails, contact wires or electrified channels attached to or enclosed in their guidance beams. Early monorail designs had challenges switching from one line to another, but current monorails are capable of more efficient switching. Suspended monorails switch by moving flanges inside the beam way to shift trains to one line or another. Straddle-beam monorails require that the beam moves for switching. Straddle-beam monorails use one of two systems, a wye or a turntable. Either way, monorails have found their place in providing efficient transportation solutions for cities and theme parks.
Today, there are 16 notable monorail systems in the U.S. currently in use, spanning from use in airports like Detroit and Newark to theme parks and cities like Jacksonville, Seattle, Alea Hawaii, and Las Vegas. And while it might not seem like the most popular form of mass transportation, there’s no debating the positive environmental and tourist impacts monorails have had on the theme parks and the Vegas Strip.
The Las Vegas Monorail
Named the #1 trade show destination in North America and host to nearly 24,000 meetings and conventions every year, Las Vegas provides ample meeting space and hotel rooms, world-class hospitality, entertainment and dining. However, before the Las Vegas monorail was built, you were either waiting in long lines for a taxi or realizing just how hot it really was walking half a block before you turned around or stopped to hail a cab. The Las Vegas Monorail managed to bring the Vegas Strip back down to a manageable size.
Since opening in 1995, the Las Vegas Monorail has transported a total of around 95 million people, averaging five million annual passengers. During citywide trade shows, an average of nearly 67,000 passengers can be expected to use the monorail, essentially erasing around 25,000 taxi trips per trade show.
The Las Vegas Monorail runs on a four-mile-long track that spans from the Sahara Las Vegas Station all the way to the MGM Grand. It sits on an average elevation level of 30 feet, with its highest point being over 60 feet tall. One train consists of four Bombardier Innovia 200 cars, providing one train enough seating and standing room to carry 222 total passengers. With nine trains currently in use, the Las Vegas Monorail has removed more than 38 million vehicle miles from the Las Vegas Strip. The Las Vegas Monorail also saves power consumption by utilizing a regenerative braking system. As the train cars slow down, kinetic energy from braking is collected to provide up to 20% of the monorail’s energy.
Walt Disney World Monorail System
First opened in 1971, Walt Disney World features 3 monorail systems spanning across 14.7 miles. The Walt Disney World Monorail System easily carries the most daily riders in the world, averaging 150,000 riders a day. Disney’s monorail connects visitors in a circular loop, with one line servicing stations in Magic Kingdom, Contemporary Resort, Polynesian Village, and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Transportation & Ticket Center and EPCOT and Animal Kingdom.
Photo By WillMcC - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6644415
The Mark IV trains currently in use are also manufactured by Bombardier, with each train consisting of 6 cars. During operation, speeds may vary from 15mph up to a maximum speed of 40mph. Speed limits are monitored by the train’s computer system, which implements an automatic stop if it senses the train moving too quickly.
Since 2014, the Disney Monorails are automatically operated, with pilots only needing a control panel for supervision or in case of emergency .
A wide range of Keystone products can be found in today’s monorail systems. This includes LED holders, spacers and lens caps; fuse clips and holders; PCB test points and terminals; spacers and standoffs; panel hardware and PCB plugs, pins, jacks, and sockets and more.