Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit
Morgantown PRT vehicle near Beechurst Station
|Transit type||Personal rapid transit, People mover|
|Number of lines||1|
|Number of stations||5|
|Operator(s)||West Virginia University|
|System length||8.7 mi (14.0 km)|
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), as well as the downtown area.
Originally developed as 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. The system entered operation in 1975 and, except for a short closure for a major expansion, has operated continually with 98.5% reliability for over thirty years.
Morgantown is a small city with about 30,000 permanent residents. West Virginia University adds another 28,000 seasonal residents from September through May. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
The original estimates for the system were $15 to $20 million. 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 expired, 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.
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. There were large cost overruns during the initial development of the system. The system began operations in 1975, with a total expenditure over $60 million, four times the estimate.
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 as well. Phase II cost $64 million, bringing the total for the entire system to $130 million.
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 have been reported since operation began. From July 2005 to June 2006, about 2.25 million rides were taken on the PRT. As of November 2007, the PRT transports about 16,000 riders per day. 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.
Morgantown's economy boomed in the 2000s and the city was noted for having the lowest municipal unemployment rate in the U.S. 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."
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 to $40 million a mile, the system would be almost doubled in length.
The PRT system includes 73 vehicles resembling miniature buses. 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). It has five off-line stations that enable non-stop, individually programmed trips.
The vehicles feature automatic doors on both sides that open to the platform, and are handicapped-accessible. The cars contain eight fixed 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.
The cars are powered by three-phase 575-volt alternating current rectified to drive a 70 horsepower (52 kW) direct current motor. 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. Each car has four-wheel steering to help negotiate the tight turns in the PRT trackways, especially around stations.
The system connects the university's disjointed campuses with five stations (Walnut, Beechurst, Engineering, Towers, Medical) and an 8.65 mile (13.9 km) track. 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.
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 distinct 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.
Modes of operation
The Morgantown system uses automated control and operates in three modes, "demand", "schedule", and "circulation".
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. 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.
The PRT was originally controlled by DEC PDP-11 computers installed in 1971. Due to difficulty in procuring replacement parts, these older computers were replaced in 1997-1998 with Intel Pentium computers.
In the 2006 fiscal year, the PRT system broke down a total of 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.
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. Despite these factors, the overall availability of service (98%) exceeds the original design specification of 96.5% availability.
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, being 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, again being 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.
On April 29, 2014 Thales Group announced plans to install its SelTrac Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) system on Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit. The PRT closed from June through August 2015 for modernization budgets at nearly $21.7 million for its first phase.
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- "PRT Operating Schedule, August 2014-December 2014" (PDF). West Virginia University. Archived (PDF) from the original on November 8, 2014. Retrieved November 7, 2014.
- "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 July 14, 2014. Retrieved June 9, 2014.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Morgantown PRT.|
- "Transportation & Parking - Personal Rapid Transit (PRT)". (official page) West Virginia University. Archived from the original on January 13, 2013. Retrieved April 5, 2013.
- "WVU's Morgantown PRT". Morgantown, West Virginia, US: West Virginia University. Archived from the original on 2007-06-22.
- West Virginia University Campus Map. Includes PRT Track]. Morgantown, West Virginia, US