In various other transit oriented blogs, the myth that automatic operation of trains saves operating costs is perpetuated ad nauseum. Those who try to set the record straight are subjected to a sort of ‘Spanish Inquisition’ and are treated as latter day heretics. What is so Monty Pythonish about this is that back in the 1980’s and early 90’s several papers were published and many studies done comparing LRT to AGT (Automatic Guided Transit), showing that LRT tended to be not only cheaper to build, but cheaper to operate. Only on transit routes with extremely high traffic flows is automatic operation warranted.
It is in France, where the greatest scrutiny of LRT and AGT, has taken place, where the Central government sponsored VAL mini-metro system competed against LRT. At the time, VAL was manufactured by MATRA, a leading French arms manufacturer and the French government felt that if VAL was rejected in favour of LRT in French cities and towns, it would reflect badly on international arms sales. Behind a background of extremely generous government funding (sound familiar?) for initial VAL installation, scores of studies were done done comparing the two modes. The studies tended to show that LRT was cheaper to build; cheaper to operate; and better able to attract new ridership than AGT. This intense debate over AGT (VAL) heralded an unprecedented expansion of LRT in France, making the country a leader in both modern transit design and operating philosophy.
In North America, trying to promote AGT transit, including SkyTrain, instead of much cheaper LRT is like promoting a Boeing 707, instead of a Boeing 787 DreamLiner.
The following may provide some interesting reading.
A COMPARISON OF SOME NEW LIGHT RAIL AND AUTOMATED-GUIDEWAY SYSTEMS
Abstract:The past decade has seen dramatic developments in urban rail transit, particularly in the field of light rail transit (LRT). At the same time, several proprietary automated systems have been developed and deployed, often claiming superior levels of service and cost-effectiveness. Data are now becoming available that make it possible to check, for the first time, how well the new automated-guideway transit (AGT) systems are meeting their promoters’ claims, and to compare such systems with the new conventional LRT systems. Methodologies are presented to collect and screen performance data from different systems in a uniform manner, and examples are developed to show how these data can be used to compare modes using actual operating information to the maximum extent. When new AGT systems are compared with new LRT systems, or when AGT and LRT are compared on identical alignments, it appears that the cost of additional maintenance and supervising staff and additional “non-staff” budget may exceed the savings that AGT systems achieve by eliminating operators. Although the new AGT systems represent a further advance in the development of urban transit technological capabilities, and reflect great credit on those who have built and financed them, they may also contain the seeds of future problems. Having a significantly higher construction cost per mile than LRT, urban areas with AGT will tend to have smaller rail networks than equivalent areas selecting LRT. Being proprietary systems in limited use, they may experience future procurement problems, particularly if the promoter goes out of business. Being a contemporary, high-technology product, there is also a high risk of obsolescence in future years.