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Suspension railway

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A suspension railway is a form of elevated monorail in which the vehicle is suspended from a fixed track (as opposed to a cable used in aerial tramways), which is built above streets, waterways, or existing railway track.

The Memphis Suspension Railway


Experimental demonstrations[edit]

Palmer System and Cheshunt Railway[edit]

The British engineer Henry Robinson Palmer (1795–1844) filed a patent application for a horse-drawn suspended single-rail system in 1821, and constructed a demonstration at Woolwich Arsenal, in England soon afterwards.[1]

German industrial pioneer, thinker and politician Friedrich Harkort built a demonstration track of Palmer's system in 1826, in Elberfeld, Germany, at the time commercial centre of the early industrial area Wupper Valley. The steelmill owner had the vision of a coal-carrier railway between Wupper Valley and the nearby coal-mining region of Ruhr, which would connect his own factories in Elberfeld and Deilbachtal. Due to protests from mill owners that were not integrated along the line and from the transporting branch,[clarification needed] this idea could not be executed.[2]

The first suspended railway was opened at Cheshunt, England, United Kingdom on June 25, 1825, using Palmer's patent. It was built to carry bricks, but as an opening stunt it carried passengers.[1][3]

A work, Description of the suspension railway invented by Maxwell Dick: with engravings By Maxwell Dick, published in Irvine, Scotland, in 1830, refers to an aerial tramway/cable car system.[4]

Enos Electric Railway[edit]

The Enos Electric Railway, an electric-powered monorail with wagons suspended from an elevated frame of open steelwork, was demonstrated in the grounds of the Daft Electric Company in Greenville, New Jersey, in 1886. It was built out of lightweight steel construction and worked well, but was never expanded.[5][6]

The design of the rail-frame appears to have influenced Eugen Langen, as his Wuppertal Schwebebahn framing bears a remarkable likeness to the Enos construction.[citation needed]

Russian Empire experiment[edit]

Monorail by Ippolit V. Romanov

In March 1895, Russian engineer Ippolit Romanov (originally from Tbilisi, Georgia) built a prototype of an electric monorail in Odessa, modern-day Ukraine. In 1897, he presented a functional model of his monorail at the meeting of Russian technological society. This idea was approved by the society, and an experimental electric monorail was built in 1899. In 1900, Empress Maria Fedorovna approved the building of an 0.2 kilometres (0.12 mi) long electric monorail in Gatchina. The monorail was tested on 25 June 1900. The monorail carriage could be loaded with up to 25 kilograms (55 lb) and moved at a speed of 15 kilometres per hour (9.3 mph).

Introduction of operational lines (1900s)[edit]

Wuppertal's Electrical Elevated Railway or "floating tram"[edit]

Section of the Schwebebahn installation in Wuppertal, Germany

During the 1880s the German businessman and engineer Eugen Langen experimented in his Cologne sugar factory with a low one-track suspension railway system for the transportation of raw materials.[7] He was a business partner of Nicolaus Otto, the inventor of the internal-combustion engine, and probably knew the Palmer Railway. In the nearby expanding industrial zone of Wupper Valley, entrepreneurs and governors were looking for a modern urban transportation system. A cooperation between politicians and businessmen from the Barmen-Elberfeld industrial area around 1890 led to the implementation of an electric powered elevated railway system from the factory of Otto and Langen, now Deutz. The official name was Anlage einer elektrischen Hochbahn (Schwebebahn), System Eugen Langen Köln or Electrical Elevated Railroad ("Floating tram") Installation, System Eugen Langen Cologne.[8] The installation and stations were built by three companies, among them the company of Friedrich Harkort.

In 1901 the first track of the Wuppertal Schwebebahn opened, and still runs today. In 1903 it was extended to the final length of 13.3 kilometres (8.3 mi). This system is still in operation as a means of public transport, moving over 20 million passengers each year.

Dresden Suspension Railway[edit]

Langen also designed the Dresden Suspension Railway, a short funicular railway using the same suspended monorail technology, which opened in 1901 and is still in operation.


A unique demonstration electrically powered suspension line was built by the Scottish engineer George Bennie near Glasgow. Two propellers delivered 240 horsepower (180 kW) in a short burst for acceleration to the cruise speed of 160 km/h.[3] It was not a true monorail as it used an overhead running rail and a guide rail below.


In 1947, Lucien Chadenson became interested in the Bennie Railplane experimental line, and the Paris Metro Route 11, which uses rubber tyres. A test track operated in Chateauneuf, south of Paris from 1958, but attracted no further interest in France. However, the Japanese have built two successful SAFEGE lines, the Siemens Company of Germany has developed a smaller scale system similar to the SAFEGE Monorail. Aerorail of Texas and Sky Train of Florida were promoting steel-wheel versions of SAFEGE as well but both appear to have ceased trading without having installed a system. Japan would later adopt the ALWEG and SAFEGE monorail systems including the Shonan Monorail and build more transit monorails than any other country in the world.[3]

In 1956 Monorail, Incorporated built a short test track of their suspended system at Arrowhead Park in Houston, Texas. The single 55 seat car was called "Trailblazer". Its promoters claimed it could reach speeds of 160 km but no installations were ever built. The system was unusual because the driver's position was on top of the bogies, not in the same cabin as the passengers. After eight months of testing, the track was dismantled and rebuilt at the Texas State fairgrounds where it ran until 1964[9][10]

The Ueno Zoo Monorail

The Ueno Zoo Monorail is a 0.3 km (0.19 mi) long suspended monorail operated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation (Toei). It is similar to the Wuppertal Schwebebahn, but has rubber tires rather than steel wheels.[11] The line began operating on December 17, 1958. After 60 years of operation service was suspended on 31 October 2019, with the operator citing the high costs of replacing the aging trains.


In the 1960s in the United States a large number of suspended monorails systems were opened but none were for transit. These included 1962 at the LA County Fair (closed late 1990s),[12] 1964–1965 at the New York World's Fair,[13] in 1964 at Houston International Airport (closed 1966)[10] and in 1966 at two Busch Gardens parks at Van Nuys in California (closed 1979),[14] Tampa in Florida (closed 1999).[15]

At the end of the decade, in 1969, a prototype test track of track of the Vero Monocab personal rapid transit was built in Texas. This design was sold to and developed by Rohr, Inc. as the ROMAG system with a new test track built in California.

1970s and 1980s[edit]

Based on another new design using small capacity cars, the Jetrail system opened in 1970 at Dallas Love Field Airport taking passengers from a carpark to the terminal. It closed in 1974 when Braniff International Airways moved most of its operations to another airport.

Based on the SAFEGE design, the Shonan Monorail opened in 1970 in Kamakura, Japan—part of the Greater Tokyo area. It continues in operation today.

The Chiba Urban Monorail, also in Japan, is the world's largest suspension railway; it is owned and operated by Chiba Urban Monorail Co. Ltd, established in 1979, and the monorail began service in 1988.

Two further H-Bahn suspension railways were built in Germany in 1975, at Dortmund University campus and Düsseldorf airport. The Memphis Suspension Railway was opened in the United States in 1982.

1990s and 2000s[edit]

The Skybus Metro

The Skybus Metro was a prototype suspended railway in Goa, India. The system consisted of an elevated track with the cars suspended below the track, like the Wuppertal Schwebebahn or H-Bahn systems in Germany. A 1.6-kilometre (0.99 mi) test track in Margao, Goa started trials in 2004, but on September 25, one employee was killed and three injured in an accident.[16] No progress was made after the accident.[17] In 2013, the metro was dismantled.[18][19]

2010s and 2020s[edit]

Four new SAFEGE style suspended railway prototypes, with test tracks and vehicles, have been developed since 2010. In China three have been created, by CRRC Qingdao Sifang in Qingdao,[20][21] by China Railway Science and Industry Group in Wuhan[22] and by Zhongtang Air Rail Technology in Chengdu.[23] A SAFEGE based test line was also constructed in the Krasnogorsk District, Russia in 2016.[24] As of 2021 no revenue service systems have been completed although one short system began construction in 2020 in Enshi City China[25] and a number of other projects have been considered in both China and Russia.[citation needed]

List of suspension railways[edit]

List of suspension railways
Name Location Country Started operations Status Technology Track length
Schwebebahn Wuppertal Germany 1901 Operating Eugen Langen design 13.3 km (8.3 mi)
Schwebebahn Dresden Germany 1901 Operating Eugen Langen design 0.274 km (0.170 mi)
H-Bahn TU Dortmund Germany 1984 Operating SAFEGE-derivative, Siemens SIPEM 3.16 km (1.96 mi)
Sky train Düsseldorf Airport Germany 2002 Operating SAFEGE-derivative, Siemens SIPEM 2.5 km (1.6 mi)
Strela Monorail Glukhovo near Krasnogorsk Russia 2016 Operating SAFEGE-derivative, STRELA 1.0 km (0.62 mi)
Ueno Zoo Monorail Ueno Zoo, Taitō, Tokyo Japan 1957 Not in service since 2019 Eugen Langen design 0.3 km (0.19 mi)
Shonan Monorail Kanagawa Prefecture Japan 1970 Operating SAFEGE 6.6 km (4.1 mi)
Chiba Urban Monorail Chiba Japan 1988 Operating SAFEGE 15.2 km (9.4 mi)
SkyTrain Chengdu China 2021 Operating SAFEGE-derivative, Zhongtang Air Rail Technology 1.2 km (0.75 mi)
Optics Valley Suspended Monorail Line Wuhan China 2023 Operating SAFEGE-derivative 10.5 km (6.5 mi)
Qingyunya Sightseeing Little Train Project Xiajiaba near Enshi China 2024? Under Construction SAFEGE-derivative 2.1 km (1.3 mi)
Red Rail Xingguo China 2022 Operating SAFEGE-derivative 0.8 km (0.50 mi)
Skybus Metro Margao, Goa India never Dismantled in 2013 1.6 km (0.99 mi)
Higashiyama Zoo
and Botanical Gardens
Chikusa-ku, Nagoya Japan 1957 Dismantled in 1975 SAFEGE 0.5 km (0.31 mi)
Memphis Suspension Railway Mud Island, Memphis United States 1982 Not in service since 2018 Eugen Langen-derivative 1,700 feet (520 m)

Farm, mining and logistics applications[edit]

Mining monorail

Aside from a multitude of indoor uses in factories, suspended railways are also used for number of outdoor applications other than passenger transportation.

In the 1920s the Port of Hamburg used a petrol powered, suspended monorail to transport luggage and freight from ocean-going vessels to a passenger depot.[27]

Very small and light weight systems have been used widely on farms to transport crops such as bananas.[28][29]

In the mining industry suspended monorails have been used because of their ability to descend and climb steep tunnels using rack and pinion drive. This significantly reduces cost and length of tunnels, by up to 60% in some cases, which otherwise must be at gentle gradients to suit road vehicles or conventional railways.[30][31]

A suspended monorail capable of carrying fully loaded 20' and 40' containers has been under construction since 2020 at the Port of Qingdao, the first phase of which was put into operation in 2021.[32][33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The Industrial History of Broxbourne". www.Albury-Field.Demon.co.uk. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  2. ^ "Friedrich Harkort - Referat, Hausaufgabe, Hausarbeit". Referate und Hausaufgaben - Lerntippsammlung.de!. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  3. ^ a b c "History of Monorails". www.monorails.org.
  4. ^ "Ayrshire Uncovered". Irvine Times. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  5. ^ "Zoo Design and Consultancy: HKS Designer and Consultants Co. Ltd". www.hksconsultants.com. Archived from the original on 21 August 2008.
  6. ^ "Images of America - Winthrop", page 38, Winthrop Historical Commission, Charleston SC, 2002, ISBN 978-0-7385-0952-5
  7. ^ "App". Archived from the original on 25 August 2011. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
  8. ^ "Denkschrift betreffend die Anlage einer elektrischen Hochbahn (Schwebebahn), System Eugen Langen Köln für Berlin". „Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz AG“, Köln 1894. Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 20 November 2001. to be found in the collection of the AG Sammlung Deutsche Drucke.
  9. ^ "Monorails in History - Part II". Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  10. ^ a b "ABC13 Vault: Houston's two monorails". YouTube. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  11. ^ "Ueno Zoo". Retrieved 30 March 2007.
  12. ^ "L.A. County Fair History". Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  13. ^ "AMF Monorail". Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  14. ^ "What Happened to That Monorail That Ran Through a Brewery in Van Nuys?". September 2020. Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  15. ^ "Busch Gardens Africa – History". Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  16. ^ "National : Sky Bus Metro resumes after 3 months". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 23 December 2004. Archived from the original on 14 January 2005. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  17. ^ Pandey, Vineeta (15 March 2005). "Skybus project: Fantasy or reality?". The Times of India. Retrieved 7 June 2006.
  18. ^ "Its final! Konkan Railway Corporation to scrap skybus project - The Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
  19. ^ "ACD article 20th july 2010". docs.Google.com. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  20. ^ "Monorail prototype unveiled". China.org.cn. 25 July 2017. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  21. ^ "CRRC unveils China's first high-tech monorail train powered by magnet motor". China Daily. 30 May 2016. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  22. ^ "Wuhan tests driverless suspended monorail". International Railway Journal. 16 November 2020. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  23. ^ "China unveils transparent, suspended "Sky Train"". New China TV. 20 March 2019. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  24. ^ "Russian suspended monorail - "STRELA": The Test range". YouTube. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  25. ^ "China's first air rail commercial operation line starts". Seetao. 9 June 2020. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  26. ^ Demery, Leroy. "Monorails in Japan: An Overview" (PDF). www.publictransit.us. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 June 2006. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  27. ^ "Passengers' Luggage Handled Speedily by Monorail Line (Jul, 1929)". Modern Mechanics. July 1929. Archived from the original on 11 August 2014. Retrieved 9 August 2021.
  28. ^ "Far north Queensland gets a monorail... for bananas". ABC News. 17 April 2012.
  29. ^ "Banana Field Monorails Exist!". Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  30. ^ Besa, Bunda (July 2010). "Evaluation of monorail haulage systems in metalliferous underground mining". p. 390. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  31. ^ "Monorail Suspended Transport". Mining Technology. 23 February 2018. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  32. ^ "Qingdao Port smart system a world first". China Daily. 17 November 2020. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  33. ^ "World's first smart container transport system put into use at east China's Qingdao Port 全球首個智能集裝箱運輸". YouTube. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 4 July 2021.

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