Transport

Self-balancing commuter pods ride old railway lines on demand

Self-balancing commuter pods ride old railway lines on demand
Two of the Monocabs making a trial run – these test models are equipped with extendible "catching devices" that keep them from tipping over in the event of a mishap
Two of the Monocabs making a trial run – these test models are equipped with extendible "catching devices" that keep them from tipping over in the event of a mishap
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A rendering of the planned Monocab system in operation
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A rendering of the planned Monocab system in operation
Each pod can carry four to six passengers – depending on what else is in there
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Each pod can carry four to six passengers – depending on what else is in there
A full-scale Monocab mockup
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A full-scale Monocab mockup
Monocab routes will be integrated into existing urban public transit networks
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Monocab routes will be integrated into existing urban public transit networks
Two of the Monocabs making a trial run – these test models are equipped with extendible "catching devices" that keep them from tipping over in the event of a mishap
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Two of the Monocabs making a trial run – these test models are equipped with extendible "catching devices" that keep them from tipping over in the event of a mishap
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Country folk tend to like the independence offered by their cars, so how do you get them to use public transit? The Monocab system may be the answer, as it utilizes individual on-demand pods that travel on existing abandoned railways.

It's a bit of a vicious circle. Many people in rural areas prefer using their cars for getting to and from urban centers whenever they want, as opposed to waiting for the few buses or trains. This lack of interest in public transit results in even fewer buses and trains being offered, leading to even less uptake by the locals.

As a result, in countries such as Germany, many rural commuter railways are now largely unused. What's more, because not everyone wants to wait for public transit or make a long drive, an increasing number of people are choosing to live in cities instead of the countryside.

However, what if it were possible to hail a small electric vehicle right when you needed it – via a taxi- or Uber-style app – which would pick you up on a nearby railway then autonomously drive you into town? That's the idea behind Monocab.

A rendering of the planned Monocab system in operation
A rendering of the planned Monocab system in operation

The European-Union-backed project began in 2022, and is a collaboration between Germany's OWL University of Technology (Technische Hochschule Ostwestfalen-Lippe), Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences, and Fraunhofer IOSB-INA institute.

The Monocabs themselves are – or will be – four- to six-passenger battery-electric monorail pods that use a gyroscopic system to self-balance on just a single rail of an existing disused railway. That leaves the other rail free for other Monocabs to travel in the opposite direction.

Project founder Thorsten Försterling tells us that the team is working on a track-installed machine that will be able to lift individual pods off of one rail and place them on the other (without passengers in them at the time), keeping them from all collecting at either end of the route.

Monocab routes will be integrated into existing urban public transit networks
Monocab routes will be integrated into existing urban public transit networks

Some of this technology may sound a bit "over-ambitious," but keep in mind the project was inspired by a fully functional self-balancing monorail that mechanical engineer Louis Brennan designed and demonstrated back in the early 1900s.

Test pods are already being trialled on a short section of railway in rural Germany, and Försterling says that a final-version prototype should enter use in 2028. In the meantime, you can see some of the test pods in action, in the video below.

MONOCAB OWL | Ein einminütiger Einblick

Source: Monocab

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11 comments
11 comments
Deres
The concept of Personal public transport on a closed network has already been shown to not work. Stopping vehicles blocks the way for others vehicles. The system is not capable of absorbing rush hours.

But the idea of transforming a unused single lane railway in a two directions light railway seems quite interesting.
Synner
@Deres the PRT in Morgantown, WV was designed to address that very issue.

Anyways loving this rail concept. There is a company in the states that has a patent for this, however they currently just make rail diagnostic bots.
SteveMc
A great idea which would benefit many countries with endless miles of abandoned track. Much cheaper than re-instating a proper rail system with associated platforms to current requirements. There’s been a local campaign here in Scotland to reinstate a closed branch line which would be quickly resolved by a system like this one. I do find the German PR video a tad hilarious though, with the ‘kids bike’ type stabiliser to keep the pods upright. A bit like going to a new hi tech aircraft demo and them ‘flying’ it off a crane suspended on wire cables :p
KaiserPingo
Makes no sense.
Brian M
No good for the UK, or at least too late, thanks to Beeching's axe - Old lines were ripped up and made into bike/walking tracks.
No thought given to using for a downgraded service. Even recently an old railway track was dismantled to make way for a dedicated bus route- crazy

Although to be fair the cost of maintaining the permanent way (tracks) in many cases is still high, think tunnels, bridges, cuttings etc.


Mike Vidal
I would hope that the implemented version is a lot faster than what was shown in the video.
Aross
Great idea, however, not in Canada. While every other developed country in the world is embracing and building high speed rail, here our railway companies are removing track and continuing a slow speed network.
Global
Getting to and from the rails is the real issue we seem to think, that just because something is there it is still practical. If the lines have been abandoned, then a poor track, in the middle of nowhere, there is a reason it was abandoned, population centers, towns, developed around the rails to bring larger centers together, now they may no longer exist, or populations have abandoned them.
Karmudjun
Interesting - it is nice to see that some alternative uses for old train routes or even for existing commuter rails are still being thought through. Especially if the electronic interface does work like elevators controls and keep the availability to first call/first usage. The issue with available sidings for these systems traveling on in-use low use lines means infrastructure costs, but if private vehicle costs continue to increase it certainly improves the outlook of country living in a modern world. These possibilities are just that - possibilities, but they are not ready for the West USA or even the Midwest USA. But who knows when?
Marco McClean
This technology, invented in 1910 (the Brennan monorail), could be used for brooms, and guitars, and other things you normally have to hang on the wall or lean up in a corner or shove behind something, so instead you'd just let go of it anywhere and it would stay standing up right there until you need it again. Also furniture: instead of four legs, one at each corner, that make a dresser or kitchen island or console teevee/record-player/radio hard to vacuum under, it would have only one leg in the middle or two in the back, and balance itself gyroscopically (either with internal gyros or, with a single leg, by spinning the whole thing, or balance using rocket jets or compressed air, or superconducting magnets (over a layer of sheet metal beneath the carpet), like the furniture in Malachi Constant's office in /Sirens of Titan/ so no legs at all. And you could use this principle for military hardware. No more loss of weapons or warships or airplanes in tall grass or heavy seas or a tornado. Wherever you put it, it stays vertical, poised on end, maybe even hopping a little up and down like a cartoon exclamation point, so you can see it from a mile away and go right back to it after you've taken a walk (or a swim) to answer the call of nature. Speaking of which, toilets on a train like the one in the article above would have to squirt out the side to strike between the tracks, not beneath it as in a normal train, to avoid fouling and corroding the rail.
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