Personal Rapid Transit System

Personal rapid transit vehicle

During the 1970s, Boeing Vertol designed personal rapid transit (PRT) system rubber-tired, electrically powered vehicles that were silent and emission free. They traveled on computerized concrete guideways. During busy times, they had a scheduled route. Otherwise, they arrived according to passenger request. Essentially, the system allowed vehicles to wait for people rather than forcing people to wait for vehicles.

A Boeing PRT is still in service at West Virginia University, Morgantown, W.Va.; by November 2007, the cars were transporting about 16,000 riders per day.

The concept started in 1962 when President John F. Kennedy asked the U.S. Congress to provide federal capital assistance for mass transportation "to conserve and enhance values in existing urban areas." Two years later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964 into law and created the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) (later the Federal Transit Administration).

In 1970, UMTA decided to implement the idea at West Virginia University in Morgantown; Boeing won the contract and proceeded to develop and test the cars at the Kent Space Center, Wash.

By the end of 1975, 45 vehicles, a central control and maintenance facility, guideways and passenger stations were serving the university's campus community. The same year, the International Oceanic Exposition opened in Kobe, Japan, with a similar Boeing-designed personal rapid transit system. It would carry 3 million people by the year's end but was no longer running by the end of the 1970s.

In 1979, Boeing began work on a fleet of 12-passenger vehicles, called the Advanced Group Rapid Transit project, and set aside 45 acres at its Kent, Wash., facility for a one-mile guideway and control center for the AGRT test program center. Although this effort did not lead to further contracts, it did lead to improvements to the still-rolling Morgantown system.

Morgantown cars serve five stations on a 8.65-mile track. Steam heating keeps the elevated guideway free of snow and ice. The workers of the control station, nicknamed the "PRT gods," can interrupt service and even remove students if they break the PRT rules, such as bouncing a ball on the PRT platform or stepping on the PRT track.

Currently, interest is growing in the "green" PRT systems, now sometimes know as personal automated transit (PAT). In 2007, a report prepared for the New Jersey Legislature explored the potential viability of implementing a PRT system in New Jersey. In 2008, Heathrow International Airport started work on phase one of a PRT system, which will be deployed across the airport, and Vectus PRT has an operating test track in Uppsala, Sweden.

Entered service: July 20, 1975
Description: Computer-controlled individual rectangular cars with rubber wheels on a concrete guideway
Length: 15 feet 6 inches
Width: 6 feet 8 inches
Empty weight: 8,750 pounds
Body: Fiberglass
Top speed: 30 mph
Capacity: 8 people seated, 13 standing
Guideway: Elevated and at grade reinforced concrete and steel
Power rail: 575 volts, three-phase electric
Interface: Wayside communications using embedded inductive loops