This was my web site promoting the Seattle Monorail Project, but the project was cancelled in November 2005.
I am maintaining this site for historical reference.

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Comparison of Light Rail and Monorail

This table is intended to compare the Central Link light rail project from Downtown Seattle to Tukwila with what it could have been like if a monorail line had been built instead, following a similar, but not identical, route. Some of the comparisons pertain to this specific project, but most comparisons apply to surface light rail vs. monorail in general.

IMPORTANT — This table has not been updated since August 2005 because of the cancellation of the Monorail Project. This table is retained because many of the comparisions are still useful.

  Surface Light Rail Monorail
Operating Speed Conflicts with surface traffic, so typical average speed is around 15-30 mph. Elevated above surface traffic, so can average around 30-40 mph.
Right-of-Way Requirements Requires continuous right-of-way wide enough for two tracks plus landscaping. Narrow supporting pylons can be placed down middle of street, utilizing existing two-way left turn lanes if possible. In other locations requires very little land, maybe a five-foot square every hundred feet.
Impact on Cross Traffic The railway is a barrier with crossings every few blocks. Neighbors on opposite sides of tracks are forced to walk several blocks to visit, so visiting is disrupted. Customers can no longer cross the street to shop. The neighborhood is split in two. The spaced out pylons don't interfere with people crossing the street. The neighborhood is intact.
Impact of Right-of-Way Acquisition on Adjacent Property In order to accommodate the tracks down the middle of the street, it is necessary to widen the street, so homes and businesses along the street must be destroyed or yards severely reduced in size. If the pylons use existing two-way left-turn lanes, the street does not need widening. Adjoining property is not damaged. If the street doesn't have two-way left-turn lanes, the street may need to be widened two or three feet on each side. If the monorail crosses other land, the pylons will need about a five-foot square patch of land about every 100 feet.
Noise Steel wheels on steel rails. It sounds like a train going past (because it is a train going past!) Has rubber tires. Sounds more like a quiet bus going past.
Safety We can expect several accidents a year, including smashed cars and a few dead or mangled children and adults. This is something we have to accept in the name of progress, if there is no alternative. There is an alternative. The monorail is “up there” above the cars, trucks, and pedestrians. The monorail is much safer.
Disruption During Construction First, buy up the necessary real estate. Then tear down hundreds of homes and businesses. Then tear up the streets for miles, laying a railroad down the middle and widening the street. This all would probably take several years. First, don't buy real estate except maybe a few small parcels. Then dig holes about every 100 feet and pour concrete for the footings (foundations) to hold the supporting pylons. Trucks would bring in the prefabricated pylons from someplace, and raise them onto the footings. Then trucks would bring in the beams for the guideway that the monorail trains would run on, and cranes would raise them into place on the pylons. The street will remain open most of the time, although some lanes may be closed temporarily. The construction of the monorail would be much less disruptive than that of light rail.
Cost Link light rail has become extremely expensive. This includes a tunnel under Beacon Hill and a station down there connected to the surface with an expensive shaft. In addition light rail requires the purchase of a large amount of real estate, including homes, businesses, and other buildings, in order to make room for the railroad. The monorail won't need tunnels. It can use the free space of two-way left-turn lanes on streets. Very little real estate needs to be purchased. Monorail costs somewhat less than light rail.
Length of Route Link light rail originally was supposed to go south from Downtown Seattle to Seatac Airport, and north from Downtown Seattle to the University District and maybe Northgate. Now, for a billion dollars more, it will stop short of the airport and won't go north. The lower cost of the monorail means that with the same amount of money we should have been able to take it south beyond the airport, and north to the University District or Northgate, or maybe instead up Aurora to Shoreline (and Lynnwood?)
Service to Region (Snohomish, King, and Pierce Counties) The people of the region voted for a region-wide rapid transit system. The initial Link light rail project will serve part of Seattle, a corner of Tukwila, and one edge of the City of Seatac. And light rail isn't even rapid transit — it is too slow! Monorail is fast and is true rapid transit. The lower costs and faster construction time mean that the monorail will serve more areas of the region in less time. Imagine, monorails to Woodinville, Redmond, Issaquah, Shoreline, Lynnwood, Renton, then Everett and Tacoma, all interconnected into a high-speed regional system.
Impact on Visitors to the Seattle Area Visitor’s flight arrives at Seatac Airport. Visitor boards a bus to the Link light rail station on S. 154th St. Visitor rides the train for about 45 minutes, finally arriving in Downtown Seattle. Visitor’s flight arrives at Seatac Airport. Visitor boards sleek monorail train in airport terminal. Visitor enjoys a smooth, quiet ride, enjoying the scenery from the elevated train, and arrives downtown in about 30 minutes.
Effect on Reducing Auto Traffic Rail fans, some people living near the stations, and some other people will favor the train over driving. For most drivers, the convenience of the car and the slow speed of the street car will keep them driving despite the cost of driving, the traffic jams, and the cost of parking downtown. The high speed of the monorail, and for many people the sheer fun of it, will encourage many drivers to drive to an outlying park-and-ride lot and zip to their destination in only a few minutes. As the monorail system is extended further out, even greater numbers of drivers will switch to monorail. (Taking the monorail from a park-and-ride lot at Northgate will attract many drivers, but taking the monorail from north Lynnwood will be much more attractive.)

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©2002 Robert M. Fleming Jr.

This page was last updated on 20 March 2013

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