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Monorails, Many Components

July 20, 2020

There’s a Keystone in every great invention.

The term monorail is used to describe a transportation system in which a chair or carrier (car) is suspended from, or rides on, an overhead rail structure. However, this might not be a clear enough description. Additionally, monorails can be defined as any rail guided vehicle that does not employ the coning action of traditional adhesion traction railways for directional stability, thus excluding rack railways and cable-driven cars.

Monorails depend on a large solid beam as the vehicles' running surface. There are a number of competing designs divided into two broad classes, straddle-beam and suspended monorails, with straddle-beam being to more common type used.

Monorails have driven their way into everything from airports, amusement parks, casinos, shopping centers and zoos to city centers, campuses (both work and university) and high-speed versions that are now connecting cities. Since their introduction in 1825. Celebrating its grand opening June 25th, 1825, the Cheshunt Railway in the UK was the first passenger carrying monorail. It had a one-horsepower engine, as it was a single horse-drawn monorail.

Based on an 1821 patent by Henry Robinson Palmer, the Cheshunt Railway was built to carry bricks, but made monorail history by carrying passengers at its opening.

In 1876, the Philadelphia Centennial was opened as the first steam driven monorail. Developed by General Le-Roy Stone, the lavishly designed double-decker vehicle had two main wheels, the rear one driven by a rotary steam engine.

The first suspended monorail, called The Enos Electric Railway, was demonstrated on the grounds of the Daft Electric Company in Greenville, New Jersey in 1886. It was built of light, open steelwork instead of massive wooden beams that most monorails had previously implemented. Although the demonstration attracted significant publicity, no major system was ever built. The design may have influenced Eugen Langen in Germany, as the Wuppertal Schwebebahn Monorail (seen here) has a significant resemblance to the Enos Monorail. Built in 1901, the Wuppertal Schwebebahn Monorail has operated along the Wupper river for more than 100 years, surviving two world wars.

Additional notable original monorail designs include:

  • Meigs Monorail: 1886 – Fast track monorail that was the first to utilize aerodynamics
  • Brennan Monorail: 1909 – Featured a gyroscopically-balanced car
  • The Bennie Railplane: 1929 - Two electrically-powered propellers delivered 240 horsepower in a short burst for acceleration to the cruise speed of 160 kph

Modern Monorails

Traditional train and monorail designs did not progress significantly during world war II. In 1952, after the war, Swedish industrialist Dr. Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren built a straddle-beam monorail test track designed for high-speed city to city transportation. Known as an ALWEG system, the design would be improved upon in 1957, and has since been the basis for many of the most successful monorails systems in the world.

This ALWEG design was the basis for the famous Disneyland Monorail that opened in 1959. The Disneyland Monorail system captured immense attention of the public, and became a symbol in the park.

Later versions of the Disneyland monorail improved on the ALWEG system, and in 1971 a larger dual-rail system was built in Florida at Walt Disney World. In the 1990s, an Alweg monorail was also built in the Tokyo Disneyland.

Additional notable modern monorails include:

  • Turin, Italy: 1961 – Constructed for Italia 61, which celebrated Italy's national centenary. More than one and a half million passengers traveled on the monorail line for the short period of the fair. 
  • Seattle: 1962 - First dual-rail Alweg line opened for the 1962 World's Fair
  • Nihon/Lockheed Monorail: 1962 - Unique system was invented in the USA, but tested in Japan. Similar to Alweg in that it uses a concrete beam, but the track and wheels are steel.
  • New York: 1964 – Called the Safege Monorail, the I-Beam suspension monorail build for the two-year New York World's Fair.
  • Tokyo/Haneda Monorail: 1964 - The first major system to incorporate the Alweg design and use switches for direction reversal

Today, almost all monorail mass transit systems are in Japan. The Tokyo Monorail is one of the world's busiest, averaging 127,000 passengers per day. It has served more than 1.5 billion passengers since its opening in 1964.

Monorails have unfortunately become a niche form of transportation in all other parts of the world. Mostly being used for short distances to shuttle peopled around airports, malls and amusement parks. Today, almost all monorails are powered by electric motors fed by dual third rails, contact wires or electrified channels attached to or enclosed in their guidance beams, but diesel-powered monorail systems also exist.

Early monorail designs had challenges switching from one line to another. This might be a reason the technology only took off in Japan. 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.

One rail, but many Keystone Components

A wide range of Keystone products can be found in monorail systems. This includes LED holders, spacers and lens caps; fuse clips and holdersPCB test points and terminals; spacers and standoffs; panel hardware and PCB plugs, pins, jacks, and sockets and more.


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