Cars Rarunos: Alden staRRcar, combining the best of the car and the train

Today both shared cars as the electric cars are out of fashion but to the mid-TWENTIETH century as it was thought in this system as a form of transport. That system is called Rapid Transport Staff (PRT for its acronym in English) and uses vehicles that are circulating by guides managed by an automated system. These vehicles are small and are intended for individual travel or small groups of passengers, which travel to your destination without scales.

Although there were a handful of proposals from TRP, this concept never had much popularity and, in fact, still today is very unknown. The most successful was an idea of William Alden. This is a former student of Harvard, an industrial engineer, he was convinced that the future of transport was a vehicle of electric propulsion that could be driven by the user or to move to the occupiers of the way semi-autonomous.

In 1955, created by Alden Self-Transit Systems Corporation with the idea to investigate, design and build the vehicle that would revolutionize the transport of mass. The result of this project was to the Alden staRRcar, an abbreviation of Self-Transport Road and Rail Car, a flashy car that was actually your ideas.


In the original concept the staRRcar had two small wheels down to connect to the guide

The staRRcar was a innovative transport system dual, that is to say, with a different use in the city or outside of it. This little car powered by an electric motor travelling from one city to another connected to a network of guide tracks and circulated independently to the destination, without the need of driver intervention. Basically, like a car, Scalextric scale.

Using a button you had to select the station in which should finish the tour and all the occupants were reading, chatting or sleeping carelessly during the entire journey. The idea of Alden is that the car is lease for travel, and once parked, could be used by another user, anticipating the current concept of carsharing.

Electric, autonomous and secure

While flowing through the rail-guide the electric batteries are being recharged. Thanks to the continuous supply of electricity autonomy would not be a problem and the speed reached 100 km/h, also benefitting from his with a sharp point that optimizes the aerodynamics are Impressed? There are still more.


The back was glass to ensure excellent visibility in city driving

With this TRP, on the freeway, there would be no accidents. As the centralized system guide automatically all the cars of the network, no space for carelessness, forgetfulness or unforeseen circumstances. In addition, this would allow the vehicles to travel very close to one another, with a safety distance is very small, increasing the capacity of each pathway and, therefore, making it unnecessary to build roads with many lanes.

Alden staRRcar it was like to travel by train, yes, but eliminating the intermediate stops and with the comfort that went a maximum of four occupants. But this system went much further, there were small trains that seemed to cars: they were actually cars, and that it was all a novelty with respect to the other TRP.

Effectively, the most fascinating of the vehicle, William Alden is not limited to only circular by the automated network: could be driven like any other car in the city. Once it came to the station set as the destination, the vehicle was disconnected from the track-guided and gave the control to the driver to move freely around the urban core. To maximize their autonomy could only circulate at low speed, something that is not supposed to be happy in the traffic of the city.


The design aircraft was fashionable in those years, of a fever by the space race

in the absence of shocks in the road to staRRcar no need for a complex security systems, which is of benefit to their costs of production and the lightness -and therefore efficiency – of the whole. A crash could only occur when the driver is driving, is in city, and these, to occur always happen at low speed.

The ingenious idea of William Alden would get a transport respectful with the environment, without traffic jams and saying goodbye to the accidents. Everything that has not yet achieved the public or private transport today. A fusion of the car and the train, taking the best of each system.

The first prototypes were in operation between 1966 to 1968, and during the testing we were tweaking various aspects, getting big changes. Is ruled out, at least for the moment, the functionality of circular out-of-network guide to reduce costs. Also, we opted for another design of vehicle, a bit larger, which could carry up to 20 occupants to gain in efficiency.


The staRRcar changed markedly in their design and this is how it is devised for commercial use

Morgantown PRT

The proposal was put into practice thanks to the West Virginia University. The school had three campuses in Morgantown separated from each other by a few kilometers. Due to the topography of the area, to access them there was only one road that had suffered great congestion of traffic every day by many students who attended. A system PRT seemed like the ideal solution and the project of William Alden was chosen at the end of the years 60. The pilot phase began in 1970.

The project was so thought-provoking that attracted the attention of Richard Nixon, the President of the united States at that time. Of course, for their own interest. In 1972 I had just the Apollo Program, which marked the space race in the 60’s against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, something that the american population had been excited. In 1974 came the elections, and needed another hook for the masses.

Nixon saw a golden opportunity to win votes by showing the public her support to a proposal for engineering so futuristic and technological like this. But of course, the system had to be ready before the elections and the time was pressing. They did not trust in the small company of William Alden could have everything operating at that time despite the intense political pressure that the inventor received from the newly created Department of Transportation.


the infrastructure of The PRT in Morgantown were a challenge to the engineering

The project was financed through a public grant and, as the one who pays commands, and in December 1970 the Government contracted the services of Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the center of research and development federal projects for the NASA, and of the giant aerospace Boeing Vertol, among other companies.

The Government allocated huge financial resources federal the PTR Morgantown, raising the costs of so formidable and the infrastructure was ready in 1974. For then the initial cost of the project, which was estimated between 15 and 20 million dollars, it ended up resulting in a runaway budget of over 60 million.

The ambitious infrastructure was a reality. The PTR Morgantown was 8,4 kilometres, 45 vehicles and three stations (two on campus and the student residence). Alden had reason and good proof of this is that the system is still used today since it began to be used in 1975.

In fact, in these four decades there has never been accidents and the single interruption took place in 1978 during the expansion works. Currently the network is 13,9 kilometers of extension, 71 vehicles and five stations. But beware, this is not a train. No need to worry about schedules because the electric vehicle arrives on-demand. there is Also no stop at the intermediate stations, the PTR takes you to the destination without any stops so it saves you time because you won’t have to wait for other passengers to go up or down in station intermediate.

How does it work? When you reach the station the user presses a button by selecting your destination and the five minutes it activates a vehicle to pick it up. This is the maximum wait time but it can be lower: if the number of people who expect to travel to the same destination exceeds a predetermined limit (typically 15) a vehicle is immediately activated to collect the passengers. As all of them are going to the same destination are ignoring the intermediate stops.


cars today have hardly changed

As the vehicles are presented on-demand could provide service even in areas with low population density. In addition, the tour is respectful with the environment because each vehicle has a electric motor with a power of 52 kW that allows to reach the 50 km/h during the journey.

there are No drivers, of course, the network is controlled automatically. The system knows the situation of each vehicle at all times, allowing vehicles to go very close to each other if necessary. One of the peculiarities of the facilities of Morgantown is that the control center is a control room of NASA missions from the 70’s.

vehicles are an evolution of the Alden staRRcar. They look like small buses and is built on the chassis of a truck Dodge. It has capacity for a total of 20 people (8 of them sitting down) so don’t suffer any uncomfortable crowding. The system carries approximately 15,000 people in each school year and it is estimated that since its launch have been made 83 million trips.