14 NOVEMBER 1958, Page 11


By REX MALIK THE recent proposals for a monorail service between Victoria and London Airport are intended to provide a rapid and economic link which should be able to cope with the expected Weight of future traffic. Speed and cost are also factors • in the calculations of the many other crowded, sprawling cities faced with similar prob- lems. Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacra- mento and a dozen more North American cities are considering monorail proposals of some sort : while in Brazil, the city of Sao Paulo has already awarded a fifty-five-million-pound public trans- port contract to the German Alweg Corporation.

The problems of access to London Airport, however, are not only those of speed and economics, but also those of passenger and freight handling facilities, storage, and car-parking space. A passenger flow of three and a half million in 1957 is expected to top the twelve million mark by 1970, while the demand for freight facilities (fifty thousand tons handled in 1957) is increas- ing proportionately even faster. The sightseer Problem alone is already creating a considerable strain on the car-parking facilities of the central complex, a strain which the newly proposed South Wales radial road with its spur link to the airport is expected to increase. , But the main problem of the future—if London'. Airport is not to bog down in utter chaos—will be to move passengers and freight through with the minimum of handling, and in the minimum amount of time—and it is here that the Air Rail solution has no competitors, for its coaches are fitted with ground wheels to carry the coach around the airport, and passengers and freight direct to the aircraft.

Monorails fall into two classes. Firstly, sus- pended systems with the coach hanging from the rail, the wheels either an integral part of the body Or in bogies. Secondly, the monorail with the coach or car running either on top or astride the rail. Into the first class comes the fifty-eight-year- °Id, electric-powered, eight-and-a-half-mile-long commuter traffic system at Wuppertal in the Ruhr (Which has so far carried over eight hundred mil- lion passengers with only one fatal casualty—a drunk). Into the first class also come Tokyo's test suburban commuter system, and the petrol-driven Skyway installation of Monorail Inc.—formerly 44 Houston, Texas—who are now carrying out a feasibility survey at New Orleans, Louisiana and expect to start construction by the end of this year. Into the second class comes the electric-powered Alweg system, and Air Rail.

Air Rail is a diesel-powered coach, constructed of ultra-light alloy and plastic. Pneumatic- rubber-tyred, it will run—non-stop—on a pre- stressed concrete elevated beam the seventeen miles from Victoria to London Airport and will travel at speeds between seventy and one hundred miles an hour; where space is available, the beam will come down to ground level. The system can be best envisaged as one of flying buses operating (where necessary) above road and rail traffic con- gestion.

With an eye to the further future, the beam has been designed for speeds of up to two hundred and fifty miles an hour, a limit which at present car nist be `reached and • maintained due to the performance of available tyres. Coaches run ,on centred wheels, the sides of the coach overhang- ing the side of the beam; mounted in the overhang are lateral wheels which run on the side of the beam and are used for stability and guidance.

Air Rail estimate journey times of fifteen or less minutes, as opposed to a journey time which fluctuates between thirty-five minutes and one hour from existing terminals. Air Rail's time, however, could include delivery of passengers to the aircraft, cutting out the airport handling gage. Coaches will carry fifty passengers, or can be made up in aircraft loads if that is smaller; where the density of tratlic warrants, they will be coupled in two- to four-coach trains; this can be done without any loss in operating efficiency as far as speed is concerned. They estimate that at peak hours—with only thirty coaches—they would be able to lift 4,000 passengers in one direction.

What's all this going to cost? Air Rail's initial estimate for capital cost was eight million pounds, a figure which included one million compensation to British Railways for the use of their facilities— it was planned to build the track over the Southern Region line as far out as Feltham. There is a great difference between this and the cost of an orthodox railway, which in July the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport estimated at between sixteen and a half and eighteen million.

What comes • after London Airport? Given cross-country conditions, comparative cost per mile could come down even farther—in some cases as low as one-sixth. They are helped in this by the lack of earthworks required, by the gradients Air Rail can manage—up to one in ten, and by its turning circle—limited only by the comfort of the passengers and the length of the coach. A number of inquiries have been received from overseas places requiring a high-speed, economical link between specific points.

In England, with a little luck, Air Rail should break a sixty-year-old hoodoo on monorail opera- tions; for monorail proposals are not new. There were proposals at the turn of the century to con- nect Liverpool and Manchester, London and Brighton, Putney and Charing Cross. There were even proposals for a 'Round London' service— going as far south as Crystal Palace. After the First World War, there were proposals to connect North and South Shields, and in the 1930s to connect Blackpool and Manchester (this was a suspended system, electric-powered and propeller- driven). It was this system which brought forth a London-Folkestone, Boulogne-Paris proposal. Even the idea of a town-airport connection is not new, for this was also proposed for both Heston and Croydon when these were London's main airports; while in 1956 International Monorail Ltd. proposed a connection with London Airport. —this time from Paddington. Though this is also now being considered, it has the speed limitations of all suspended systems in which the body hangs from bogies. This means a maximum possible safe speed in the region of seventy miles an hour, while the initial capital cost is high—some fifteen mil- lion pounds. The French Government, however, seems to be very impressed' by 'it for they are paying half the cost of a test line to be built at Chateauneuf-sur-Loire, which should be ready by July next year.

What happens now? The consortium forming Air Rail Ltd, includes John Mowlems, Associated Portland Cement Manufacturing Ltd., and Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Co. Ltd., and half a dozen other large companies. They are quietly confident that their system will commend itself, especially on the basis of the prototype which they are preparing to build. Should it do so, it could make all the difference to our future in what may Well become a thriving export industry for Britain.

Among the many words spoken about access to airports—most of them uncomplimentary—the following stand out. They were spoken by the Duke of Edinburgh to the Guild of Air Pilots at the Mansion House in 1955 : It is quite certain that as the years go by, the air will prove more and more useful to London's merchants and businessmen. However, there is one snag which must be overcome fairly soon if the city is to reap any real advantage from the air. At the moment air terminals are too far away in time. It is had enough trying to get to the stations .in London. Just imagine how much worse it would be if they were ten miles out. How about it, Mr. Watkinson?