Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fire Caused Chaos on the WVU Personal Rapid Transit

Yesterday, I wrote that the safety problems of the WVU PRT are the result of WVU's institutional support and cult-like adherence to the PRT ideology that can admit no fault to an obviously, deeply flawed concept:

...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.

As new information becomes available about this recent incident, it will be interesting to see if PRT boosters at West Virginia University will continue to "showcase" the deeply flawed and dangerous system as "the wave of the future."

From The Daily Athenaeum article titled "Electrical fire causes PRT shutdown":

The West Virginia University Personal Rapid Transit system shut down Wednesday due to an electrical fire in the PRT substation between the Creative Arts Center and the Engineering PRT station around 12:30 p.m.

"They were starting to notice anomalies – certain things stopping and (PRT officials) couldn't figure out why," said WVU spokeswoman Diana Mazzella. "Then they discovered the fire, and the system was immediately shut down."

The fire then spread to another break cabinet, according to Associate Director of PRT Administration Arlie Forman.
The Morgantown Fire Department responded to the fire, Mazzella said.

For the students, the experience was chaotic and terrifying:

Max Carozza, a senior finance student, said he was stuck on the PRT for 30 minutes on the track along Beechurst Avenue.

"The lights flickered, and it shut off," he said. "It slowly died. The PRT voice told us to hang tight."

PRT workers then located the car and led the seven people on the PRT tracks to the Beechurst PRT station.

Devin Novak, a sophomore nursing student, said she waited on the PRT for an hour before she was rescued.

"They said it took so long because a girl was claustrophobic and they needed an ambulance for her," Novak said.

Novak asid that before being rescued, another student on the PRT tried to pry the door open herself, but was quickly told over the car's intercom not to proceed.

"You could tell something bad was happening," she said.

After walking to the Seneca Center area on the PRT track, Novak said she waited for 20 minutes to catch a bus before calling a friend to get picked up.

"All of the buses were crazy because there were so many people leaving," she said.

The obvious solution is to shut the WVU PRT down for good and rely on proven, safer modes of transit.

It will also be interesting to see whether the mainstream media continues to publish puff pieces about the Morgantown PRT. Here is a re-post of my 2007 DMO post "New York Times Publishes Puff Piece on the WVU PRT":


In May, I predicted that Mark Olson's pals at the Advanced Transit Association (ATRA) would crank up the PRT publicity machine as a preemptive whitewash for Olson's role in the PRT scam in time for his upcoming trial.

Today, the New York Times published yet another puff piece about the Morgantown PRT... Google News has links to the others.

The Morgantown PRT is an expensive flop. I have collected stories about how students and faculty hate the Morgantown PRT because it is so unreliable and it fries squirrels.

Here's the Times article:

City’s White Elephant Now Looks Like a Transit Workhorse


MORGANTOWN, W.Va., June 4 — During its troubled years of construction and testing in the early 1970s, the Personal Rapid Transit system that snakes through this hilly college town was derided as a fiasco and a waste of money that perhaps should be dynamited rather than finished.

...the article should have stopped there, but it continues with the traditional fluff we've seen in articles about PRT over the years... let's skip to Larry Fabian's quote in the Times:

“This is the only operating P.R.T. system in the world,” said Larry Fabian, treasurer of the Advanced Transit Association, an organization based in Virginia that promotes advanced rapid transit technologies and held a conference in May in Morgantown. “After more than 30 years, it’s still unique.”

... The Times says Fabian is the treasuerer for ATRA, but in a similar, May 31st puff piece, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, said Fabian was the "director" of ATRA:

"There are 130 automated systems worldwide, but only one like this," said Lawrence Fabian of Boston, director of the Advanced Transit Association, which deals with futuristic transit programs. "Its characteristics are unique,"

...and why is the WVU Morgantown PRT "unique"? The Times has part of the the answer:

But it is also expensive.

University and local government officials realize they are not likely to get the federal government to finance the expansion, as it did the original project. They are talking about coming up with local and state financing.

... can't get Federal money? That's pathetic when you consider that the Senator representing West Virginia is Robert Byrd.... it's probably more like hardly any transportation experts think the WVU PRT is worth expanding... the Times quotes one expert saying that:

“The infrastructure requirements are such that it is not realistic to think it could be adopted in highly developed U.S. cities,” Jonathan E. D. Richmond, a transportation expert, said in an e-mail message from Singapore, where he is advising the government.

...there's more fluff in the Times article about ridership etc. and then there's this bit of reality thrown in at the end:

Still, it does not run often enough for people who do not attend the university or work there.

“There’s a real problem,” said Bruce Summers, 64, who has lived in Morgantown for 34 years and works downtown. “When the university is not in session, it’s closed. You can’t rely on it. If you want to get downtown people to use it, you’ve got to do it another way.”

... wait, didn't the article start off by saying the Morgantown PRT was reliable? Recently, the new Mayor of Kansas City had this to say about the Morgantown PRT:

Mark Funkhouser used to ride West Virginia University's Personal Rapid Transit system, which he recalled "was broken down half the time."

Now he'll help develop a light rail system for Kansas City, Mo., population 450,000.

...Funkhouser was also quoted saying the WVU PRT "wasn't really mass transit".

So, why did the Times run this puff piece for PRT? Does all this recent PRT publicity have something to do with Rep. Mark Olson's trial?

ATRA's Larry Fabian, who is quoted in these puff pieces sent me a gloating e-mail after Rep. Mark Olson and Michele Bachmann won last November:

How is that you haven't posted the results of Tuesday's elections yet?

Bucking the Democrat thumping, Minnesota's two PRTistias were reelected, I see. Wouldn't honesty urge you to post that on your lovely website?

Larry Fabian
The One Who You So Kindly Told to %#$@ Off

Larry Fabian has a company that promotes various silly PRT projects like Higherway PRT and Ed Anderson's PRT International (no website yet).

Is it possible that Olson delayed his trial until all this favorable publicity aboout his pet project was published?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Ken Avidor agrees with professionals who say that WVU PRT isn't Personal Rapid Transit but AGT (automated Group Transport.


In 2011, there was yet another puff piece about the Morgantown PRT in Governing Magazine titled "America’s One and Only Personal Rapid Transit System". The article abounds with irony:

In 1995, the computer control system was upgraded and now work is under way to modernize the individual control and propulsion systems in each of the 71 cars that remain in service. The PRT maintenance crew is proud of the fact that of the 80 million passengers who have ridden on the PRT since its start, no serious injuries or fatalities have occurred.

As afternoon traffic builds on the local streets, slowing movement to a crawl, the PRT vehicles continue to glide past quietly and efficiently. “The Morgantown PRT stands as an example of how cities can better cope with pollution, traffic and environmental demands,” Foreman says.

UPDATE: This video shows PRT promoter Larry Fabian talking proudly about the WVU PRT:

Note the emphasis on safety:

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