Posts Tagged: autotram



Techno-Squabbles and Dual Mode Vehicles – RailBus, BusRail

DMV vehicles were developed based on a collaborative effort between Nissan and Japan Rail Hokkaido. Image from Wikipedia.

Last Thursday, we briefly looked at AutoTrams – an attempt to combine the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) of both worlds in rail and bus technology. We’ve had a fairly robust debate in our comments section on the benefits and limitations of such a configuration. Then I thought, what would happen if you take this idea to the next logical step?

To my surprise, such a concept exists and it’s called the DMV (Dual Mode Vehicle) – a vehicle capable of running on both rail tracks and rubber wheels. Apparently, this concept is not entirely new and  first attempted during the 1930s in England but failed due to excessive time required to switch modes (bus to rail and vice versa) and costs related to develop system.

A DMV vehicle can switch between modes in less than 15 seconds. Image by Hokkaido Railway Company.

But this time around, the DMV is experiencing substantial success. First started in 2005, the vehicle is now under testing in Japan and has enabled Japan Rail Hokkaido to continue providing convenient, point-to-point and profitable (important because existing rail services have been in debt due to low ridership) transport for small, rural towns with declining populations. According to some new sources in Japan, the system is expect to go public sometime this year.

Given the flexibility, uniqueness, and innovativeness of these vehicles, they’re surprisingly not that expensive and within the right context, may be able to fulfill a niche within the urban transit market. According the Miami Herald, it costs USD $250,000 for a 28 passenger vehicle with low fuel and maintenance costs (for immediate comparison purposes – light rail vehicle: ~$3,000,000 (link 1, link 2); trolley bus: $850,000-1,300,000; standard regular bus: $250,000-400,000; hybrid bus: $480,000-750,000 (link 1, link 2).

The best part of this vehicle lies in its duality. The flexibility of a bus, but the comfort and appeal of rail. Well… maybe not appeal, the design needs some work, but it’s not impossible to fix. You may exclaim, what about capacity!? It’s too low!! Based on online sources, vehicles can be linked. See for yourself.

2 vehicles at 28 passenger capacities = 56 passengers. Image by

3x28 = 84 passengers (in case you were wondering if three vehicles can be linked). Image by

So could the successful implementation of a DMVs put an end to some of the meaningless technological squabbles? Since it’s both a bus and rail vehicle, maybe some transit specialists and decision makers can set aside their differences and instead, concentrate on improving transit service.

It’s hard to argue for BRT or LRT if the vehicle is both rail and bus at the same time. But then again, given the techno-zealotry that exists in transit planning, it could spawn an entirely new ball game. BRT vs. LRT vs. DMV anyone?

For more pictures of this system, click here.

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Transit Aesthetics – AutoTram / BusRail

Can the AutoTram revolutionize the way we think about transit planning? Image from

When a city plan is planning a new transit infrastructure project, a lot of time is often spent deliberating over which technology should be implemented. This discussion generally floats back and for between bus and rail (and more recently, sometimes even CPT). For many cash-strapped cities looking for quick wins and cost-effective mass transit solutions, the debate often settles on the mid-tier options, namely bus (BRT) and lightrail/streetcar opportunities (HRT tends to be too expensive and time-consuming to construct.) Amongst the many debate points — capacity, aesthetics, speed, cost, etc. — proponents of both technologies claim their technology is superior.

From my personal experience (your experience may be different), based on conversations with transit planners, engineers, operators and average joes, one of the biggest arguments in favour of LRT is its aesthetics. You can go on and on about all the capabilities and characteristics of modern bus technology, but in the end, a bus is still a bus.

But what makes a bus, such a bus? Its shape? Size? Look? Smell? Other than rubber on road vs steel on rail, what if a bus could be completely remodeled and redesigned to look and feel like LRT? Would this make it as attractive as LRT, and therefore able to attract just as much new transit riders as the rail systems claim?

The Fraunhofer Institute decided to find out. In 2005 they introduced the AutoTram — essentially a road-based LRT. The makers of this technology describe it as:

“… [it] combines features of conventional buses (e.g. high flexibility, low infrastructure costs and moderate life cycle costs) with the advantages of trams like high transport capacity, driving comfort and the possibility of partial emission-free operation.”

Could the AutoTram succeed and if it does, what does this mean for the future of light rail and transit planning?

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