Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit

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Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit
West Virginia University logo.svg
Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit.jpg
Morgantown PRT vehicle near Beechurst Avenue
Overview
Locale Morgantown, West Virginia,
United States
Transit type Personal rapid transit/People mover
Number of lines 1
Number of stations 5
Daily ridership 16,000[1]
Operation
Began operation 1975
Operator(s) West Virginia University
Technical
System length 3.6 mi (5.8 km)[2]
Track gauge concrete guideway
System map
Medical
Towers
Engineering
Maintenance facility
Beechurst
Walnut

The Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit (WVU PRT) system is a personal rapid transit/people mover system in Morgantown, West Virginia, United States. The system connects the three Morgantown campuses of West Virginia University (WVU) and the downtown area.

Developed from the Alden staRRcar, the Morgantown system was built, starting in 1970, by a consortium led by Boeing Vertol as a government-funded experiment in personal rapid transit (PRT) systems. It had a fitful start, and entered operation in 1975 with three stations, three years behind schedule and at a cost 3-4 times more than had been estimated. The system was expanded in 1978 to its current size of five stations, two maintenance depots and over 70 vehicles. Vehicles leave the main guideway to stop at the stations which allows for three modes of operation - "demand", "schedule", and "circulation" - and permits, in "demand" mode, express trips between any two stations, which is not possible in non-PRT people movers.

While the PRT achieved reliability upwards of 98% for most of its life[3][4] in the 2000s this started to decline, reaching 90% by 2015, and it became a system that worked most of the time but could not be depended upon.[5] In response, in 2012, a renewal project was approved which has so far replaced the vehicles' control and propulsion systems, replaced parts of the power supply and repaired other infrastructure. A new vehicle control system is due to be commissioned by 2018 and, in the final phase not yet commenced, the vehicle fleet will be replaced.[4]

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

Morgantown is a small city with about 30,000 permanent residents. West Virginia University adds another 28,000 seasonal residents from August through May.[6][7]:3 Estimates from 2009 place the Morgantown metropolitan area population near 120,000. The city sits in a mountain valley along the Monongahela River, and as WVU expanded in the 1960s, its geographic constraints forced it to build a second campus two miles (3.2 km) away in Evansdale. Free busing was offered to move students between the campuses, but all the roads led through the city center, creating gridlock more typical of a megacity.[6]

In the late 1960s, Samy Elias, who led WVU's industrial engineering department, learned of the PRT experiments being carried out in the U.S. after the HUD reports were published. A minor PRT craze was being set off by a combination of federal funding and estimates that showed a PRT system would be far less expensive to build and install than any other form of mass transit. Elias felt a PRT would be a perfect solution to the traffic problems in the city.[6]

Gathering support from WVU, the City of Morgantown, and West Virginia's congressional delegation, Elias arranged a $50,000 development grant from the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) for a comparative study of three PRT systems: the Monocab, Dashaveyor, and the Alden staRRcar. The Alden staRRcar was found to be the most suitable system for Morgantown.[6]

Political pressure by Senator Robert Byrd led Secretary John A. Volpe of the new United States Department of Transportation to propose that Morgantown be used as an experimental site for PRT development. President Richard Nixon had expressed strong support of the PRT concept, and Volpe was trying to arrange to have an experimental system well underway before the next presidential election, in November 1972.[6]

Examining the proposals, the UMTA decided that Alden was far too small to be able to handle the job, and arranged for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to take over the system management role, signing a contract with them in December 1970. Boeing Vertol was selected to build the vehicles, Bendix Corporation supplied the control systems, and F.R. Harris Engineering would design and build the guideway, stations, and other facilities.[6]

Construction[edit]

The original estimates for the system were $15–20 million.[7] But having set a deadline based on political considerations, rather than technical, the system had to be rushed through to completion as soon as possible. JPL, used to running large engineering projects with a stepped approach, had to abandon the study stage and move the project directly to engineering tests.

Numerous problems cropped up as a test system was set up at Boeing's plants, notably the requirement to heat the tracks to melt the snow that collected in the U-shaped guideways, resulting in costly changes to the design. By the time the original deadline passed, the system was already massively over-budget and nowhere near ready for buildout. Instead of a feather in Nixon's cap, the system became a political chess piece and was derided in the press as a white elephant.[7]:3

It was not until 1974 that the system had matured technically. Construction of the first guideway in Morgantown started that year, and was completed the next. The Phase I system consisted of 5.2 miles (8.4 km) of guideway, 45 vehicles, 3 stations and a maintenance/control facility and cost $62 million.[8] There were large cost overruns during the development of the system.[9][7] The system began operations in 1975, with a total expenditure over $60 million, four times the estimate.[7]:3[9]

There was a later interruption in service during the 1978–1979 school year, to allow for system expansion. During the extension work, WVU provided bus service between the campuses. The expansion added a length from the "Engineering" station towards new stations at "Towers" (dormitories) and the WVU Medical Center/Mountaineer Field. This expansion, "Phase II", expanded the system to 71 vehicles, 8.65 miles (13.92 km) of guideway, and 5 stations. One station was expanded and a second maintenance facility was added. Phase II cost $64 million,[8] bringing the total for the entire system to $130 million.[7]:3

Although the system's construction ran far over budget, it still proved to be what its designers had claimed: a reliable system of automated transit that was inexpensive to operate. It has offered on-time service rates far better than the bus services it replaced, and eliminated the gridlock that had locked up the city center. Moreover, no injuries were reported for the first 42 years of operation, until the first reported accident in November 2016. From July 2005 to June 2006, about 2.25 million rides were taken on the PRT.[9] As of November 2007, the PRT transports about 16,000 riders per day.[1] The record for most riders in a day is 31,280, set on 21 August 2006. In 2003, about 60% of costs were covered by the 50-cent fares.[8]

Morgantown's economy boomed in the 2000s and the city was noted for having the lowest municipal unemployment rate in the U.S.[10] Mayor Ronald Justice said, "We're a small town with big traffic issues, and the PRT could be the reason we're able to continue our growth."[9]

There have been several proposals to extend the line from both ends. One would extend southward to the new commercial and shopping area being developed as part of a riverfront revitalization project, while a longer extension is being considered to the northwest to connect a new research park. If both extensions were completed, at an estimated $30–40 million a mile, the system would be almost doubled in length.[9]

PRT track and station (background)

Accident[edit]

On November 30, 2016, the system had its first reported accident when two PRT cars were involved in a crash between the Beechurst and Walnut stations. There were six passengers on board and two were treated for minor injuries. Service to Walnut station was suspended for several days while the incident was investigated.[11][12]

Description[edit]

Vehicles[edit]

Interior of a PRT car
A PRT car in the Medical station

The PRT system includes 73 vehicles resembling small buses.[13] They are 15 feet 6 inches (472 cm) long, 8 feet 9 inches (267 cm) high and 6 feet 8 inches (203 cm) wide and weigh 8,760 pounds (3.97 t), powered by a 70 horsepower (52 kW) motor that allows them to reach 30 miles per hour (50 km/h).[7]:9 It has five off-line stations that enable non-stop, individually programmed trips.

The vehicles have automatic doors on both sides that open to the platform, and are accessible for people with mobility disabilities. The cars have eight seats; four each in a "U" shape at the front and rear. In the center of the cars is standing room designed for twelve passengers, who are provided with four poles to grasp. Vehicles are designed for a maximum passenger load of 20. A yearly event called the PRT Cram takes place in which student organizations try to pack as many individuals as possible inside a modified PRT car. The record of 97 was set in 2000.[14]

The cars are powered by three-phase 575-volt alternating current rectified to drive a 70 horsepower (52 kW) direct current motor.[13] Electric pickups are fixed on both sides of each car, which connect to electrified rails on one, or both, sides of the guideway. The vehicles' wheels steer slightly toward whichever side is powered, so the cars stay in firm electrical contact with the rails.[citation needed] Each car has four-wheel steering to help negotiate the tight turns in the PRT trackways, especially around stations.[citation needed]

Route layout[edit]

The system connects the university's campuses with five stations (Walnut, Beechurst, Engineering, Towers, Medical) and a 3.6 miles (5.8 km) route.[1] When a car approaches a station it can either continue straight past, bypassing the station, or the wheels can turn and follow the electrified rails into the station.

The track consists of concrete pathways with magnetic induction loops for providing system data. Due to Morgantown's snowy winter climate, the concrete pathways feature embedded piping containing a glycol solution used to melt snow and ice. Several stations along the track help to heat the glycol solution.[7]:9

While portions of the PRT track are at or below ground level (35%), much of the system is built on elevated bridges and viaducts (65%). The viaduct spans are approximately 30 feet (10 m) in length. There are two styles of viaduct in use on the system, with those constructed for the first phase being noticeably heavier-duty than those built for the second phase extension.[7]:9

Modes of operation[edit]

The Morgantown system uses automated control and operates in three modes, "demand", "schedule", and "circulation".[7]:6

Demand mode operates during off-peak hours and reacts dynamically to rider requests. After pressing the button to call a car, a timer starts. If the timer reaches a predetermined limit, typically 5 minutes, a vehicle is activated to service the request even if no other passengers have requested the same destination. Also, if the number of passengers waiting to travel to the same destination exceeds a predetermined limit, usually 15, a vehicle is immediately activated.[7]:6 In this mode the system operates as a true PRT.

During peak hours, the system switches to schedule mode, which operates the cars on fixed routes of known demand. This lowers the waiting time for a car traveling to a given destination and is more efficient than demand mode. During low-demand periods, the system switches to circulation mode, operating a small number of vehicles that stop at every station, like a bus service. This reduces the number of vehicles traveling on the network.[7]:6

Performance[edit]

In the 2006 fiscal year, the PRT system broke down 259 times for a total of 65 hours and 42 minutes, out of a total of 3,640 hours and 15 minutes scheduled running time, which equates to about 98% availability. Of those 259 breakdowns, 159 were caused by vehicle-related problems. In 2007 the PRT system received funding to improve efficiency by reducing this vehicle downtime.[citation needed]

Since the system's completion in 1975, technology for such systems has advanced considerably, while the control equipment for the Morgantown PRT has changed very little. The control room is said to resemble a NASA mission control room from the 1970s, though the underlying electronics are more modern.[3]

In a presentation given in 2015, WVU Parking and Transportation said the cost per trip was $2.01, the third cheapest for any fixed guideway system in the United States after New York and Boston.[4]

Operation hours[edit]

Morgantown PRT operates chiefly as transportation for WVU's students, so it runs primarily during class days. During the fall and spring semesters, it operates from 6:30am to 10:15pm weekdays and 9:30am–5:00pm on Saturdays, and is closed on Sundays. When the day before classes begin falls on a Sunday, the system will run on Saturday hours. During the summer semester, it operates 6:30am–6:15pm weekdays and 9:30am–5:00pm on Saturdays, and is closed on Sundays. When major WVU events, notably football and men's basketball games, are scheduled to end outside of normal operating hours, the system will run for at least an hour after the end of the event. The system is closed on holidays and during semester breaks.[15]

Modernization[edit]

When it opened, the PRT was controlled by DEC PDP-11 computers installed in 1971. Due to difficulty in procuring replacement parts, these older computers were replaced in 1997-1998[13] with Intel Pentium computers.

A 2010 study recommended renewal of the system given declining reliability caused by its age and the lack of access to replacement parts for key components, such as the vehicles and the control system. The report considered replacement of the PRT with buses but concluded they would be unsatisfactory given the extra traffic congestion and poor travel times that would result.[16][17] By 2015 reliability had fallen to 90%.[4]

In 2012 the university Board of Governors approved $15 million as part of renewal and modernization project. The total cost is projected to be $100–$130 million. The three phase plan is to replace the control and propulsion systems in the current vehicles, installation of a new automatic train control system, upgrade the power supply, repairs to the infrastructure and finally replacement of all the vehicles.[18][19]

Part of the phase 1 work to upgrade the vehicles' control and propulsion system was completed by early 2014 and resulted in improved operations.[20]

On April 29, 2014, Thales Group was selected by WVU to install its SelTrac Communications-based train control (CBTC) system, as well as new systems for fare collection and passenger information.[21] Upgrades occurred during the summer breaks in 2015 and 2017 while the system is normally closed.[22] Replacement of the train control system will continue during the fall 2017 and spring 2018 semesters in preparation for full scale testing and commissioning during the summer of 2018.[23]

For the vehicle replacement in phase 3, which has not commenced as of September 2017, the university has said it will look for vehicles which weigh 2,500–3,000 pounds (1,100–1,400 kg),[18] about one-third of the 8,760 pounds (3,970 kg) for the current fleet.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Booth, Colin (November 1, 2007). "The rails of Morgantown; PRT beginnings". The Daily Athenaeum. pp. 1–2. Archived from the original on August 24, 2015. Retrieved 2007-11-06. 
  2. ^ "Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit Statem - System Operation Description Manual". West Virginia University. Archived from the original on 3 December 2014. Retrieved 2013-07-16 – via http://transportation.wvu.edu/prt. 
  3. ^ a b Wright, Jeff (November 10, 2005). "PRT sets trends across the globe, transports thousands at WVU". The Daily Athenaeum. Archived from the original on 16 November 2007. Retrieved 2017-09-04. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Modernizing the WVU Personal Rapid Transit System (PRT)" (PDF). Department of Transportation and Parking WVU. Retrieved 4 September 2017. 
  5. ^ "The unreliable PRT says a lot about this University". September 20, 2010. Retrieved 4 September 2017. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Anderson, J. Edward (August 4, 1996). "Some Lessons from the History of Personal Rapid Transit". University of Washington. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 2009-11-24. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Raney, Steve; Young, Stan (November 15, 2004). "Morgantown People Mover" (PDF). TRB 2005 Reviewing Committee: Circulation and Driverless Transit (AP040). Archived (PDF) from the original on 22 May 2015. Retrieved 2008-12-18. 
  8. ^ a b c Schneider, Jerry. "Morgantown Group Rapid Transit (GRT) System". University of Washington faculty. Archived from the original on 1 October 2012. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Hamill, Sean D. (June 11, 2007). "City's White Elephant Now Looks Like a Transit Workhorse". The New York Times. Archived from the original on August 24, 2015. Retrieved 2008-12-18. 
  10. ^ Corio, Emily (2009-02-20). "Morgantown, W.Va., Bucks Unemployment Trend". NPR. Archived from the original on 1 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-24. 
  11. ^ "Minor injuries reported in WVU PRT crash". November 30, 2016. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  12. ^ "WVU investigates PRT collision between Walnut and Beechurst stations". Dec 1, 2016. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  13. ^ a b c Gibson, Tom. "Still in a Class of Its Own". Progressive Engineer. Archived from the original on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 2008-05-30. 
  14. ^ Yeager, Codi (November 3, 2010). "PRT Cram: one tight squeeze for WVU students". The Daily Athenaeum. Archived from the original on August 24, 2015. Retrieved April 8, 2013. 
  15. ^ "PRT Operating Schedule, August 2014-December 2014" (PDF). West Virginia University. Archived (PDF) from the original on 8 November 2014. Retrieved November 7, 2014. 
  16. ^ "PRT Facilities Master Plan". noexperiencenecessarybook. Gannett Fleming. p. 13. Retrieved 4 September 2017. 
  17. ^ "A Revolution That Didn't Happen: Personal Rapid Transit". NPR. October 3, 2016. Retrieved 5 September 2017. 
  18. ^ a b "PRT modernization to have 3 phases". February 13, 2016. Retrieved 3 September 2017. 
  19. ^ WVU Transportation and Parking - PRT Modernization
  20. ^ "PRT improvements paying off". The Dominion Post. February 14, 2014. Retrieved 4 September 2017. 
  21. ^ "Thales Awarded Turnkey Contract for Personal Rapid Transit System at West Virginia University" (Press release). Thales Group. April 29, 2014. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved June 9, 2014. 
  22. ^ "PRT suspends service during summer for modernization". April 26, 2017. Retrieved 4 September 2017. 
  23. ^ "West Virginia University's PRT resumes operation Aug. 10". WVUToday. August 3, 2017. Retrieved 4 September 2017. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 39°38′33″N 79°57′50″W / 39.6424°N 79.964°W / 39.6424; -79.964