Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Monorails: Trains of the Future - Now Arriving by Kim A. Pedersen -Book Review

Review by Jeff C. 

Monorails: Trains of the Future - Now Arriving by Kim A. Pedersen, published by The Monorail Society, 1st ed., 248 pages.

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In the interest of full disclosure, this is one of the rare times I have had personal correspondence with the author prior to publication. A while back, I wrote The Monorail Society (TMS) during DC Metro's Silver Line expansion to ask if anyone was lobbying for a connecting monorail loop in and around Tysons Corner, Virginia. The answer was "No" and now we have four new mass transit stations with inadequate commuter parking and "last mile" problems interlinking to nearby malls and office parks.
I have also been following TMS for years at Finally, I purchased my autographed copy of the book directly from the website.

If one has been to the website, much of the book's material is already there, but this sizable volume smartly packages and organizes the information very logically. It begins with the definition of a monorail and how to recognize the difference between monorails and other similarly configured systems. Then, it proceeds through arguments in favor of them, their history (which has been disappointing at times), catalogs of systems, additional technical aspects, the people behind the machines and, of course, the future.

The "future" part always seems to be a sticking point. The title explicitly states "Arriving Now," but there have been many setbacks trying to get "on the beam." For the most part, the author is frank about this. There is also more than a fair share of cheerleading which is to be expected from an enthusiast.  Conversely, why is chapter two entitled "Why Not Monorail?" instead of "Why Monorail?" if it is promoting the positive?

Even though I have been to the website of TMS at least weekly for news briefs and construction updates, I made a number of discoveries while reading through the chapters. For instance, Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren from whom Alweg monorails derive their name made his fortune in vacuum cleaners, specifically the Electrolux brand.

The discussion and history are all good, but what sells this compendium are the pictures. Gorgeous color photos and concept art adorn nearly every page and even the dust jacket. It would be a shame to use a comprehensive reference such as this solely as a "coffee table" book for its images, but one could if so inclined. In flipping through various pages, one will most likely lock in upon certain visuals. For me, I started noting my favorite types and looks of monorails. I favor straddle over suspended models which is not too much of a surprise because they are the ones primarily used by Disney.

Suspended Model

Straddle Model

Pop Quiz: In what land is Disneyland's first monorail located? The answer from page 72 is Fantasyland because that is where Peter Pan's Flight uses a suspended monorail system. It arrived in 1955, four years before Tomorrowland's Mark I.

Suspended Monorail

Straddle Monorail

So, where else does Disney fit into all of this? It's pretty much everywhere and it's a double-edged sword. Walt Disney hugely promoted monorails, but that association led to arguments that they were not serious means of transportation. Instead they were supposed to be for amusement. This is ironic considering the number of passenger miles logged at the Disneyland, Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland resorts. In general, the adoption rate for monorails has been higher in the eastern hemisphere where the amusement park connection was not quite as strong. There is a great debt owed to Disney for keeping this type of vehicle in the public eye. The author makes these points well and repeatedly.

I mentioned earlier that I have personal preferences for certain monorail designs. As for aesthetics, I like either extremely retro like the century-old Wuppertal Schwebebahn (suspended railway) or extremely futuristic like Transrapid's magnetic levitation train.

Old School

New School
Thus, it is no surprise that my personal favorites in the entire collection are Disneyland's retrofuturistic Mark VII trains.

Stunning Achievements
I even mentioned this preference in a previous Blue Sky article too.
They capture the spirit of the pioneering Mark I, II and III models while incorporating the advanced designs and capacity of the Mark V's. Some proposals may have been easier to sell to reluctant cities if their vehicles had the sleek, sensuous lines of the Mark VII's. Flat-faced trains do not say "smooth"; they say "chunky." They can and should be attractive. That is why I consider the Walt Disney World and Disneyland monorails transportation and attractions unto themselves.

"Monorails: Trains of the Future - Now Arriving" will become a unique, invaluable reference for anyone researching or reviewing this means of conveyance. There are areas that could have been better. The images really should have had dates or there should have been a photo index. Both the bibliography and main index are undersized for such a comprehensive approach to a subject. I would have also appreciated a significantly larger technical section. Of course, I'm an engineer, so that's what would naturally appeal to me the most.  Is it still a worthy effort? Of course it is. Could it be better in a revised edition? Absolutely.

Please feel free to send me any questions that you may have. Thank you!

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