Last week science fiction writer Ray Bradbury challenged the city of Los Angeles to build monorails to relieve the congested freeways; sometime in the next five years, he wrote, all traffic across L.A. will freeze.
In 1959 Walt Disney opened the first monorail in the western hemisphere. The design was adopted from the Alweg Corporation near Cologne in Germany, where Disney’s engineering group had examined the German monorail system.
Walt Disney had never envisioned his monorail solely as an attraction in his theme park, and was certain of the potential benefit to the community. In 1959 he brought numerous city transportation groups to ride his new monorail, trying to promote the train as a solution to the ever-increasing transit problems of America’s cities. In the 1960s Walt saw that if L.A. traffic got much worse, the locals would be less likely to make the long trip to Disneyland, so he offered to build a monorail line from his park in Anaheim to downtown Los Angeles. Unfortunately, as Southern California’s commuters know all too well now, the offer was declined.
In 1963, the Alweg Monorail Company, which was looking to establish a major foothold in the world of urban rail transit, made an offer too good for Los Angeles politicians to refuse; they offered to construct a monorail transit system of 43 miles in length, free of charge! What happened? Los Angeles supervisors at the time rejected the wonderful offer in favor of no rail. It would be L.A.’s worst transit decision ever.
The world’s oldest monorail is the one in Wuppertal, Germany, which opened in 1901. On the city’s ‘schwebebahn’ (or suspended railway), which covers 13.3 km and has 20 stations, trains swing freely beneath the track.
There are now around forty working monorail systems with multiple stations around the world, spread around North America, Europe and Asia.
The latest monorail addition to Europe is the one in Moscow, Russia, which opened in January last year. Singapore is getting a new monorail this year, which will link the main island of Singapore with Sentosa Island. And Las Vegas is planning to triple their Robert N. Broadbent Monorail; eight new miles of track and 15 new stations are included in the plans, which should be finished by 2010.
Ray Bradbury was a good friend of Walt Disney, and it was through Walt that Bradbury embraced the concept of monorails. Bradbury was incensed when supervisors turned down Alweg’s offer in 1963 to build a free monorail, and he was physically removed from the meeting for protesting. He spent a year lobbying for the Alweg Corporation to try and reverse the decision, but his efforts were unsuccessful. He still hopes that the monorail will once be built in Los Angeles; he concluded his statement in the Los Angeles Times with “Let the debate begin”.
Note: The title (“There’s nothing on earth …”) is part of a song from a 1993 episode of The Simpsons in which Phil Hartman plays Lyle Lanley, a charismatic traveling salesman convincing the city of Springfield to build a monorail.