ULTra Rapid Transit

filed under | technology | green


ULTra (Urban Light Transit) is a personal rapid transit system developed by ULTra PRT, (formerly known as Advanced Transport Systems). The first public system using ULTra has been constructed at London's Heathrow Airport, and has now opened to the public. To reduce fabrication costs, the ULTra uses largely off-the-shelf technologies, such as rubber tyres running on an open guideway. This approach has resulted in a system that ULTra believes to be more economical; the company reports that the total cost of the system (vehicles, infrastructure and control systems) is between 3 million and 5 million per kilometre of guideway. In the case of ULTra, the guideway can consist of as little as two parallel rows of concrete barriers, similar to the bumpers found in a parking lot. The vehicle uses these for fine guidance only; it is able to steer itself around curves by following the barriers passively. No "switching" is required on the track either, as the vehicles can make their own turns between routes based on an internal map. Since the vehicles are battery powered, there's no need for electrification along the track. Instead the vehicles recharge when parked at the stations. As a result, the trackway is similar in complexity to a conventional road surface - a light-duty one as the vehicles will not vary in weight to the extent of a tractor-trailer. Even the stations are greatly simplified; in the case of ground-level tracks, the lack of any substantial infrastructure means the vehicles can stop at any kerb. Stations at Heathrow resemble a parking lot with diagonal slots, with a rain shield similar to the awnings at a gas station. The electric-powered vehicles have four seats, can carry 500-kilogram payload, and are designed to travel at 40 kilometres per hour (25 mph) at gradients of up to 20-percent, although the company has suggested limiting operating routes to 10-percent gradients to improve passenger comfort. The vehicles can accommodate wheelchairs, shopping trolleys and other luggage in addition to the passengers. Construction of the guideway was completed in October 2008. The line is largely elevated, but includes a ground level section where the route passes under the approach to the airport's northern runway. Following various trials, including some using airport staff as test passengers, the line opened to public usage in May 2011. At that time it was described as a passenger trials. As of September 2011 it is fully operational and bus service between the business parking lot and Terminal 5 has been discontinued. The developers expect that users will wait an average of around twelve seconds with 95-percent of passengers waiting for less than one minute for their private pod which will travel up to 40 kilometres per hour (25 mph). If the pilot project is successful, BAA have indicated that they will extend the service throughout the airport and to nearby hotels using 400 pods. [READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE]

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