Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Another WVU Personal Rapid Transit Electrical Fire

Press Release via WVU Today:

An electrical fire in a Personal Rapid Transit substation at West Virginia University has interrupted service to passengers.

Some time after noon, an electrical fire disrupted power to the PRT system. The fire was extinguished and the damage is being assessed. All passengers have been evacuated from the PRT.

The exact cause of the fire is being determined, but it appears to be electrical in nature. Passengers were in no immediate danger and no injuries have been reported.

PRT employees are working to get the system operational by 5 p.m. today (Wednesday, Jan. 11), according to Hugh Kierig, director of Transportation and Parking at WVU.

While the PRT is out of service, students, faculty and staff may use the Mountain Line bus service or the WVU shuttles that have been provided for use between PRT stations. Those with WVU ID’s may ride the Mountain Line for free.

Nothing new - this is from a 2010 editorial in the WVU The Daily Athenaeum:

t's pretty safe to say anyone who has ridden West Virginia University's PRT system has some kind of horror story.
Typically, it's the same complaint – it breaks down or it's is late getting to one station over another. However, recent incidents have proven to be more serious.

We've had multiple reports from riders about seeing a PRT car filled with smoke and a fire erupting in one of the cars Thursday.
Students in the car were then forced to walk the tracks as the system came to a complete stop – a safeguard for such incidents.
However, these incidents have been downplayed by the University.

The issues were attributed to "minor problems" and "arching electrical phases on track" that "caused a flash and cloud of smoke," according to Director of Transportation and Parking Hugh Kierig, by way of Becky Lofstead, assistant vice president for University Communications.

As reported in Monday's edition of The Daily Athenaeum, University spokesman John Bolt said there had been several electrical problems but none were major.

The PRT is synonymous with its problems, despite continual reassurances from University-provided statistics of high reliability and constant uptime.

The system is a flawed behemoth. There isn't enough money to completely overhaul the system, despite constant funding being poured into it for upgrades.

Most recently, the University closed the system for an entire summer, spending $2.5 million on track and system issues.
These upgrades weren't designed to fix all issues, and they haven't.

This is what I wrote back in 2010 about the so-called WVU PRT:

The PRT hucksters will often cite the so-called West Virginia University's Personal Rapid Transit in Morgantown as a successful example of PRT "technology":

A heavy weight PRT network opened in Morgantown, WV in 1975 and has delivered 110 million injury-free passenger miles.

But the WVU PRT is neither PRT (it's really an ordinary, automated people-mover similar to what you see in airports) or successful.

The Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit breaks down so often, the University has a Twitter account that keeps track of the breakdowns for students.

In an editorial published Monday in the Daily Athenaeum titled "The unreliable PRT says a lot about this University" WVU Graduate student Michael Levy tells the truth about the deeply flawed system:

In the best of times, I can leave my office in LSB 20 minutes before class starts in Evansdale and be on time. That makes a total round-trip travel time of 40 minutes.

That's certainly not convenient, and multiplied across everyone who uses the PRT, it's a huge inefficiency, but it's not totally unreasonable.

However, at least three times already this semester, my daily PRT adventure to Evansdale has been delayed by more than 15 minutes.

I'm not talking about times when the platform is extra full, and it takes a couple cars to get going. Three times in the first four weeks of the semester, the PRT has been down when I tried to use it. Each time, I end up walking into class with my head hung low, muttering an apology for being late. Sometimes I'll add, "Sorry, the PRT was down," but it feels like such a cliched, used-up, one-size-fits-all excuse that it's not even worth saying.

Michael Levy goes on to describe how frequent delays cause problems with recording student attendence. But, he is also concerned about the ecological cost:

Last week, a resource management professor had a meeting with a consulting firm downtown.
Being ecologically minded, he decided to take the PRT instead of driving.

But the PRT was down, and he showed up 20 minutes late, uttering the same excuse that I'm sure he's so tired of hearing from students.

As a result of this, people are more likely to drive, even when traveling a route serviced by the PRT. And the traffic and the air pollution get even worse.

Just a couple of years ago, the PRT received around $1.5 million to improve efficiency and reduce downtime. Was it even worse before that?

That the PRT is broken doesn't just mean reduced efficiency on campus.

Students learn more from what they see than what they're told. The PRT sets an example of a system that works most of the time, but it can't be depended on. Is that what we want to instill in our students?

Levy pleads with the administration:

Whatever it will take, WVU needs to do an honest accounting of the problem and figure out how to address the issue.

Sorry Mr. Levy, they won't.

The reason is the WVU PRT was created to monkey-wrench conventional modes of transit and will be expected to function as a paragon of "gadgetbahn" for as long as they can keep it going.

It is about the triumph of anti-transit ideology and futuristic fantasies over reality and common sense.

See also: Editorial - Morgantown PRT "Horror Story" & "Flawed Behemoth"

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