The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

Our Mission: Monkeywrench the Anti-Transit Forces

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Monday, October 07, 2002

Japan: Standards Adopted for Suspended and Supported Monorails (Monorail 21)

From the Cabalmaster:

"Let One Hundred Systems Bloom; Let One Hundred Suppliers Contend."

Here we have the essence of the American approach to new technology. "Benefits" include competing proprietary systems, each of which has the all-important right (or freedom) to fail, and the possibility that the "winning" system will not be the "best" (remember VHS vs. Betamax?) or most efficient. Jacksonville purchased one supplier's proprietary technology for the first stage of its "Automated Skyway Express." When the time came to build the second stage, the original supplier's bids were so high that the operator scrapped the original system -- and purchased a replacement proprietary system from a different supplier.

Things are done differently in Japan, where monorail and AGT technology are not "proprietary," at least not in the American sense. Any supported monorail, suspended monorail or AGT facility, at least one built with any public investment, must conform to nationwide design standards for that mode. (As a practical matter, this is probably true for any line licensed as a public carrier by the Transport Ministry.)

Imagine that U.S. personal computer, videocassette recorder or cellular telephone suppliers had banded together to develop a uniform set of standards, and criteria for application. Now imagine that this took place during the formative years, with the encouragement and cooperation of government officials. However unlikely in the American context, this is routine practice in Japan.

To give another example, related to public transit history: Imagine the (U.S.) federal government persuading the Electric Railway Presidents' Conference Committee to share PCC-car technology with carbuilder J.G. Brill . . . and persuading Brill (and customers such as San Francisco Muni) that paying royalties for same was reasonable and proper . . . and also persuading bus builder Yellow Coach (later GMC) to work together with the carbuilders to see whether bus-building techniques could lower carbody construction costs.

No? We didn't think so, but this is how things are done in Japan.

It's true that supported monorail is Hitachi's domain, and suspended monorail is Mitsubishi's domain, but the relationship among suppliers, operators and government transport and finance agencies is much different than in the U.S. Jacksonville's experience would almost certainly not happen in Japan. The central government is in a position to dictate ("persuade" is a better choice of words) that suppliers cooperate with each other "for the good of all concerned" -- that is, to secure lower costs.

(Japan was once described by columnist James Fallows as a "benign totalitarian bureaucracy." Whether or not this is exaggerated, it is true that Japan has been run by avowed conservatives since the end of WWII.)

Monorail suppliers and operators organized the Japan Monorail Association (see: and began serious research and development in 1967 (at May 2002, JMA had 129 member organizations, including suppliers and construction companies). The goal was to establish design and application standards for monorail technology in Japan. The first major result was establishment of standards for supported monorails in 1968. These include rubber tires, bogies with two driving axles at either end of each vehicle, and passenger compartment mounted entirely above driving and guide wheels to maximize interior space.

The first Japanese monorail line built to these standards was a 4.3-km single-beam loop built for the Expo '70 world's fair in Osaka. The line had six four-car trains. Technical features included automatic train operation (ATO) and centralized traffic control (CTC). Although closed and dismantled after the fair ended, this set the stage for subsequent applications. Standards for suspended monorails, adopted thereafter, were based on the Shonan Monorail.

Comments: Post a Comment