For some people, when they think of Morgantown, three letters come immediately to mind. No, not W-V-U, but P-R-T.
The Personal Rapid Transit system’s blue and gold cars have ferried students and others from one West Virginia University campus to another for 35 years, carrying more than 2 million passengers a year over nearly 22 million miles.
Now, the time has come for this iconic system – one of the first of its kind and still unique – to undergo a major overhaul, replacing cars and systems to improve reliability and reduce costs.
A public hearing on the PRT Facilities Master Plan, developed over a year of study by PRT staff and consultants, is scheduled for Wednesday, May 5, at 2 p.m. in the Shenandoah Room in the Mountainlair. The needed upgrades would cost an estimated $92.8 million, most of which officials hope will be covered by federal funding.
The plan advocates replacing worn and outdated technologies to maintain and improve the efficient alternative transportation system for WVU and the greater Morgantown community.
“The PRT was a federal demonstration project – an experiment – that has turned into a successful transportation system,” said Arlie Forman, associate director of transportation and parking. “It’s the only public transit system in the world that provides direct destination-to-destination transportation, but in order to keep serving our customers with over 98 percent reliability, improvements have to be made.
“The PRT is a system, and it’s only as successful as the sum of its parts,” he said.
PRT staff work diligently each day to maintain the aging vehicle, power distribution and automatic train control subsystems to keep up to 30,000 riders moving along the guideway – and off the roadway – between WVU’s downtown, Evansdale and Health Sciences campuses.
When there is a failure in any of the subsystems, reliability drops and traffic backs up. These episodes are known as a loss in system availability. A 2 percent drop in system availability equals 20 minutes of system downtime – passengers literally stopped in their tracks.
The PRT Master Plan identifies main factors that cause downtime and significantly affect ridership, including outdated analog systems, miles of 30-year-old wiring, rusted power distribution support structures and cracked vehicle components, to name a few, and outlines improvements to modernize the PRT and establish maximum reliability within the system.
The focus of the plan is to fully integrate digital components across all subsystems, upgrade the 40-year-old vehicle fleet and refurbish stations and guideways to improve service, save maintenance costs and become a highly efficient, reliable and aesthetically pleasing form of transportation.
Moving from a complicated guideway to simplified radio communication between vehicles and stations will eliminate glitches that cause much of the current PRT downtime. Replacing aircraft-grade vehicles, averaging 380,000 guideway miles, with newer, transit-grade vehicles will bring the PRT up to industry standards and lower repair and maintenance costs by opening up a larger pool of potential vendors. Possibly moving from a three-phase power conversion system to alternative battery technology will allow the PRT to reduce the amount of power rail common throughout the nine miles of guideway.
And, best of all, replacing rusted panels along the guideway with newer ones made from non-corroding composite materials will give the PRT and WVU some much-needed visual punch. In addition, improving station design, signage and lighting will greatly enhance usability.
Although the PRT is primarily a transportation operation, a portion of the organization’s mission is academic. As part of the proposed upgrade, PRT staff would like to dedicate part of the system to research and design in order to do work on experimental, alternative concepts in partnership with other University departments.
CONTACT: Arlie Forman, Associate Director of Transportation and Parking
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