Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wacky Skytran Pod People Invade Detroit, Australia and Canada

The most ridiculous PRT system ever conceived has been getting press in Canada, and Australia and Detroit. Detroit is one of the few major cities in the United States without an LRT line. PRT and other gadgetbahn concepts like the very wacky Interstate Traveller get press coverage in Detroit to muddle and misinform the public about what reality-based transit is all about. This week, Detroit Free Press editor Ron Dzwonkowski in a column titled "SkyTran offers Detroit new idea for mass transit" complains about the cost of LRT and concludes with this sentence:

So before this train leaves the station, maybe somebody in the city or region should see whether there isn't a better idea.

Ron Dzwonkowski could have easily Googled Skytran and learned that the Skytran hucksters have been around a long time and their "better idea" is totally ridiculous.

Skytran was first proposed towards the end of the last century. The supposed inventor of Skytran, Douglas Malewicki gave up on his concept years ago and stated his reasons for why he quit working to build Skytran on his website:

Aaaarrrrgghh! Ain't no such animal - yet. It is still just a concept that makes a lot of theoretical sense. It needs money to tear into it properly - a lot.

"Why it hasn't happened yet is mostly my fault. I detest paperwork and details. I can't see myself applying for any government energy or innovation grants because of all the bureaucratic crap that I would be stuck with. If they supplied paperwork bozos along with the grants to take care of their required paperwork, it might be more appealing. I guess I also don't want to deal with all their other silly rules either. If I want to hire all black engineers (and I know a bunch of dam good practical ones), to the exclusion of Hispanics, Women, Polaks, etc. the government won't let me. I start reading the grant application forms and rules and never finish - because I toss it all in the garbage first in disgust. Basically, I'm selfish. I prefer to think and create. I have plenty of other non-hassle projects I can be involved in to feed my brain endorphins or whatever. I am definitely not the right kind of personality to carry this project to fruition in the real world!"

That statement and other information was recently removed from the Skytran website, but is still archived at the Internet Archive:

Skytran's promoters claim that it is much cheaper to build than conventional transit modes because it can be built with a guideway extruding robot:

How can SkyTran per-mile costs be so low?

Because of the minuscule vehicle weight, an elevated guideway can be built with minimum materials for less than $1 million per mile and still exceed all static, dynamic and seismic structural criteria. This is much less than the cost of any paved road, rail transit or monorail system simply because the structure is highly specialized to carry 600 pound People Pod vehicles and does not have to safely support the 80,000 pound trucks that share the roads with all automobiles. The light weight per foot of the track design also allows the use of a semi-automated track forming manufacturing robot (much simpler than the Robosaurus machine) that enables a two shift crew to deploy one mile of two way track per day. This can be compared with proposed monorail trains (weighing 100,000 pounds) which require guideways costing well over $40 million per mile and many years to build.


A Phoenix New Times article from March 09, 2000 implies that Skytran is merely a stalking horse used by opponents of mass transit to distract voters and policy makers:

Opponents of a proposed Phoenix mass transit system would like you to picture their own pie-in-the-sky people-mover -- an overhead sky-rail system, where a computerized chauffeur zips you along at 100 mph in your private SkyTran vehicle.

No unnecessary stops. No congested freeways or brown cloud of air pollution. And no sharing a ride with total strangers, some of whom might give you the creeps.

The fare would be about 10 cents a mile.

And the taxpayers' cost to build this futuristic system over the streets of Phoenix?

Absolutely nothing, thanks to private investors whom SkyTran backers say will pay for the whole thing.

One problem. SkyTran is the brain child of an inventor whose biggest accomplishments are a fire-breathing giant robot and a flying beverage can cooler.

That hasn't stopped transit opponents from boosting the project in the hope of derailing the Transit 2000 proposal that will go before voters next week. In recent weeks, on talk shows, in local debates, in letters to the editors of various newspapers and even in the official voters pamphlet, SkyTran is being touted as the ideal alternative to the Valley's planned light rail system.

At this point, however, compared to the painstakingly crafted Transit 2000 plan, SkyTran simply won't fly. The company, based in Southern California, has never built such a complex transportation system. The company, not to mention other firms trying to develop similar personal rapid transit vehicles, has no demonstration projects and no prototypes to showcase. In fact, all it has is a Web site with sci-fi illustrations of how such a system could work. Two-person pods, which resemble the front of an airplane, zoom along elevated monorail tracks, with passengers entering and exiting every half-mile at portals.

Douglas Malewicki is SkyTran's inventor and chief proponent. He has proposed a 1,500-mile system of overhead freeways that would span not only the Valley but the state. And he says he could build it for $1.7 billion. But first, he wants to build a quarter-mile prototype track in Phoenix. He promises to accelerate a SkyTran pod to 130 mph on that short stretch of track.

Malewicki says a Valley company, which he won't name, is exploring using the system to transport its employees to the airport. That project will prove that SkyTran is not some wild idea, but is based on existing technology, combining electricity and magnetic levitation, he says.
"We're not real, yet," Malewicki admits.

Although his Web site first identifies Malewicki as a "mildly sane" creature from outer space (complete with an illustration depicting this), his résumé reveals more serious educational and professional qualifications, including a master's degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Stanford University. Malewicki concedes he has no experience in civil engineering or public transportation. But he points to other of his inventions as proof he can deliver the SkyTran system for Phoenix.

Like Robosaurus, a 40-foot-tall, 30-ton, car-eating robot that has entertained spectators at car shows and other events, including drag races at Firebird International Raceway off Interstate 10 south of Phoenix. The robot, which is operated by a human hiding in its head, lifts cars, crushes them between its metal jaws, then spits fire.

Or Canosoarus, a small cylinder that slips over a beverage can to keep it cool, then can be turned into a far-flying variation of a Frisbee later.
Some of the inventions that Malewicki had a hand in do involve vehicles, but most are for record-book contests or pure entertainment value, like the Kite Cycle that appeared on the TV show CHiPs and is scheduled to be on an upcoming I Dare You: Ultimate Challenge on UPN.

SkyTran's Web site ( refers to company "activity" in Arizona, Southern California and the National Park System. But those turn out to be simply proposals to bring the SkyTran system to those areas.

This is from a more recent, August 2nd, 2007 Arizona Republic article about Skytran:

Jerry Spellman thinks it's about time Mesa met the future.

"The future," as seen in generations of TV shows and comic books, is a time when people whisk around modernistic cities in modernistic conveyances without having to worry about traffic jams and bus or train schedules. The future is clean, energy-efficient and cheap. Spellman thinks the future should be now.

That's why the Mesa resident has spent the past decade serving without pay as the Arizona coordinator for Unimodal, a California company promoting a transit system called SkyTran.

"The technology is here. We're finally at the point where we can actually demonstrate it," Spellman said. He believes Mesa would be a great place for that because the city is not yet locked in to its long-range transit options.

Spellman is waiting for Mesa's official answer to a proposal SkyTran floated this spring to build a 25-mile line between the light-rail terminus on Main Street and Williams Gateway Airport in southeast Mesa.

The cost: $225 million.

SkyTran figured Mesa could kick in $150 million from its share of regional transportation funds, and SkyTran would dig up the rest from transit-oriented lines of credit. Spellman said the money is but a fraction of what it would cost to lay light rail along that same route.

But it doesn't look like Mesa is ready to shake hands.

Kyle Jones, chairman of the City Council's transportation and infrastructure committee, said the idea is more "pipe dream" than reality.

"We're always willing to take a look," Jones said. "But . . . we just can't expend money for something that's an unknown. They'll partner with us for a test deal? We just can't gamble with funds that way. People criticize us enough already."

What Spellman is advocating would look right at home either in Disneyland or on The Jetsons.

Bullet-shaped two-passenger vehicles would be suspended from overhead tracks. Instead of riding on wheels or bearings, they would be elevated and propelled by magnetic levitation at speeds up to 100 mph in city, and 150 mph between cities.

About every quarter-mile, there would be a station. Passengers would climb to the boarding platform, pay for their rides, punch in their destinations and jump into waiting cars.

A computer would guide the cars as they merge into the high-speed upper rail and then slow to a stop at the destinations.

Eventually, SkyTran advocates say, a city could be covered with a grid of lines, making it all but unnecessary to use cars for local trips.

"You don't wait like you would at a bus stop or a train station," Spellman said. "The vehicles are sitting there waiting for you. You just walk up and you get in and you go to wherever you want to go that's on the line."

There's nothing new about the concept, which some sources date to the 1930s. Companies have been tinkering with SkyTran-like ideas for years.

But although the company's literature speaks of SkyTran in the present tense, the idea has yet to get off the ground, literally.

Mike James, Mesa's senior transportation planner, said SkyTran "is an idea on the Internet, but that's about the only place it exists."

Only now, Spellman said, is the company building two prototype vehicles and some sections of rail. It hopes to put enough actual equipment together to erect a test loop of about 1,000 yards. Spellman said Williams Gateway would be an ideal location for the first test run.

James said that probably won't happen.

"We're really focusing in on what the federal government would call proven technologies," James said.

And as far as personal transportation, he said, "We as a city already have a good personal transportation system in our road network."

As Mike James says, Skytran is an idea that only exists only as a concept on the internet... and it is likely to stay that way. If you look carefully at the slick, computer-generated pictures of Skytran, you will notice that there is no accommodation for people with disabilities. The elevated guideway and the thousands of stations required for a regional system would create visual pollution that would face tremendous environmental opposition, particularly in historic neighborhoods and scenic areas. For those regulatory reasons and many others, Skytran has a nearly zero chance of being chosen as a preferred mode of public transport in any city.

Skytran is featured in this video titled "Phoenix light rail is Trash!"... keep it klassy PRT guys!

More posts about Skytran invading other cities and towns at the Dump Mark Olson blog.

More news about the ongoing, worldwide pod boondoggle:

Another Crackpot Personal Rapid Transit Proposal Bites the Dust (Almelo)

Strange Minnesota industry - 3 Proposed PRT Projects, 6 PRT Companies and 2 PRT Lobbyists.

Former Rep. Mark Olson Returns to Capitol as a lobbyist for would-be PRT vendor proposing $100 million pod project in Coon Rapids.

The CPRT table at U of M Jobs Fair. Convicted felon is spokesman for the CPRT.

Daventry citizens say "Pods Off" to PRT TWICE!

Duluth News Tribune article about Taxi 2000 trying to restart Duluth pod project - hilarious comments.

The Pawlenty administration wasted thousands of taxpayers' dollars promoting personal rapid transit .

PRT is so not happening at Heathrow.

Pod people invade Newport News ( the article quotes retired professor Vukan Vuchic)

Bizarre hearing for wacky Jpods proposal for Hull, Massachusetts. Video: Bill James Pitches Jpods Resolution to Hennepin County.

Taxi 2000 Corporation spent nearly $80K on lobbying in Minnesota in 5 years. Taxi 2000 lobbyist and Bachmann pal Ed Cain also lobbied for the phony U.S. Navy Veterans Association charity.

Federal Funding Nixed for Winona Personal Rapid Transit Project

The Swedish/Korean PRT prototype malfunctioned in front of the media.

The Masdar PRT (actually computer-guided golf carts that follow magnets imbedded in the roadway) has been scaled way back, This setback got a mention in the NY Times and confirmed in this Bloomberg article. New post-mortem: "Masdar City Abandons Transportation System of the Future".

The so-called Morgantown PRT (not a true PRT system) was the subject of a student newspaper editorial after a malfunction created a "fireball" and filled a vehicle with smoke. The cost of fixing the Morgantown boondoggle is $93 million. Twitter Reveals Morgantown WVU Personal Rapid Transit's Frequent Breakdowns.

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