Your report on an Interstate 270 monorail (News-Post, Jan. 8) exaggerates its feasibility. It gave the misleading impression that a monorail is less expensive to build than extra highway lanes because the $3.4 billion for the monorail was compared with the highway at $11 billion. But the $11 billion includes additional capacity on the whole of I-270 to the Beltway and the Beltway itself, some 70 miles. The 25-mile Frederick to Shady Grove highway widening would be somewhere around $2.5 billion.

A monorail is essentially a continuous bridge over its whole length. Given the rolling topography and winding nature of the route, every one of the 1,300 or so 100-foot spans would have to be uniquely formed to couple together to provide a smooth ride. Switching monorail trains between tracks requires an enormous beam to be moved laterally. All the stations are elevated so there are elevators and escalators. The train cars are custom-designed. Expensive!

Usually monorails are built as short shuttles at airports or in amusement parks. As transit they are an alternative to the costs of tunneling a subway in the older centers of a metro area with a dense population of millions. Never on the fringe.

For the I-270/I-495 express toll lanes, the state is now committed to allowing commuter buses to run free of charge. So the extra highway lanes will work for transit as well as for toll-paying cars and trucks.

Just as important as cost is who pays the bills. Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan is to find investors to foot the upfront cost of 270/495 lanes in return for toll revenues so that non-transit users will ultimately pay for the facility.

Monorail man Bob Eisinger told a Chamber of Commerce meeting last June that his monorail too would pay its way in fares. He spoke of a $5 fare and 50,000 riders/day. That compares with about 120,000 people traveling I-270 in Frederick County and 5,000 MARC daily. Planners and progressives have been talking forever about getting people out of their cars and on to transit. And failing. People stubbornly make their own decisions about their travel mode. Many like the idea of transit for other people, but not for themselves.

Maybe a “cool” monorail could attract 10,000 riders a day out of the 125,000 travelers. But 50,000?

Like all transit systems, a monorail presents potential riders with the challenge of getting to it to start the journey coming from homes spread around a low-density county and suburbs, and the challenge at the other end of the monorail trip of getting to work destinations that are dispersed around the Washington, D.C./northern Virginia metro area. Personal vehicles, which can provide door-to-door travel, seem certain to continue to be the dominant mode. As for transit, buses that can be staged from numerous park-and-rides will be more convenient for many more commuters than the monorail with its single stop off East Street in downtown Frederick.

A monorail based on 50,000 riders a day out of 125,000? That’s a Manhattan transit share. Is this someone trying to sell us a very long bridge?

Peter Samuel


(41) comments


Pay very close attention to FNP Commenter Collin Smiths writing style and use of words. Does it look familiar? I think YES.


To the monorail naysayers. Was that your great grandparents that were heard yelling "get a horse" at the early car drivers? Is that you today?


Do you work for the tire industry? Sounds like the sort of negativity and BS that killed the streetcars and rail in LA. There are numerous NEW monorails in other countries that are wildly successful, including the 45 station 41 mile Chongqing line in China, the 13 mile Wuppertal Suspension Railway in Germany, 28 mile Osaka Monorail and many others if you took no more than 2 minutes to actually do a bit of research. I've been on some that are long and decent overseas and the only reason they aren't workable now is scale. The US needs scalability and it has to start somewhere. Roads aren't the answer, period. Build a road, it will be clogged. I was there when Sears moved from the tower to the burbs...they built a new 12 miles of added road and exits and I said it would be clogged as soon as Sears opened. is and another 20 miles past that since that move opened up a whole new era of cloggery between Chi-town and Rockville that hadn't been there or even a commutable distance before. Nope...they just made it all tolls and upped the cost...again and again. Take a drive to Wisconsin sometime. It's almost $60 in tolls now. Rail is the answer now and in the future. It can be electrified easily as well and cut down carbon. Get yourself out of the mentality that the horse and buggy should have stayed...and so should cars. We don't need any more stinking cars, tolls or houses in this area.


Great comment collinsm. [thumbup]

Even those who promote 'digging the hole deeper' must admit that the rights-of-way are only so wide. We are bumping up against those hard limits. Then what?

Building more lanes whether traditional 'free' lanes, fixed toll lanes, or Lexus lanes for the rich has been shown to be a temporary solution at best over and over again in our area and around the country.

Building more lanes and expecting a different result is the textbook definition of insanity.


collinsm65. A correction. for you: monorail cars ride on rubber tires. A monorail car typically has 4 large pneumatic running tires that bear its load and 16 horizontal guide tires that guide it laterally. Here is a description in with British terminology (carriages for cars): "The straddle-beam design is the most widely used. The carriages have pneumatic rubber tyres, which drive along the top of an ‘I’-shaped beam. To prevent side-to-side swaying of the train, a series of smaller tyres clamp around the beam, providing general stability and also helping to guide the carriages."

Also for your information I write on my own behalf. No one pays me.


This letter is courtesy of Governor Hogan's buddies in the road-building business.


The entire tire industry actively and intentionally killed rail in LA because they wanted to sell more tires. Cars gotta have tires and tires wear out quickly enough that they will have repeat demand. It's a racket.


But monorails ride on pairs of large tires and are kept on their elevated beam-way by horizontally mounted guide tires. "Most monorails run on rubber tires..."


You got that right stjohn! [thumbup]


Rubbish, StJohn42. I have no connection to anyone in road building. My views are my own. I think you might be more persuasive if you tackled what I wrote rather than slandering me.


Wider roads beget more traffic:

I don't know if a monorail is the solution, but we need to be focusing on how to get cars off the road, not how to fit more of them on. I could be for widening 270, if that extra lane was a BRT lane used exclusively by buses for the commuters that need to get south of Germantown.


No conceivable amount of bus traffic can justify an exclusive bus lane from Frederick on 270. There would be plenty of space for buses in the mixed traffic toll express lanes.


Great article TheBackburner! [thumbup]


Carpenters often say "Measure twice and cut once." And before we spend large amounts we need to count twice and spend once. How many riders in an hour? How much money? Has the price gone up or down with new materials and systems? There are many factors to consider and the more we discuss it the better we should find the results. "Half-asked" is not the way to go. "We have never done this." may comfort some, but really does little to bring us to a decision. And we may even come to a point where we do some of a monorail and some road additions and even another track or two on the rail line. It will all come down to the numbers and what we want to accomplish. I hope it is not based on who shouts the most or who says "never spend a dime of my money."


I270 was built without tolls and without a "payback". The same should be the case for further developments to manage traffic in this corridor.


Excellent point shiftless!

We have yet to hear a reason why -- if Lexus lanes for the rich are truly economically feasible -- they cannot be constructed by the state of Maryland and funded with bonds, based on anticipated revenue from wealthy motorists.

I am in no way suggesting that Lexus lanes should be built -- all I am saying is that if a project makes economic sense, there is no reason the builder must be a private, for-profit corporation.

In fact, one might ask why anyone in their right mind would want a profit-seeking corporate entity to operate a toll road. It would be guaranteed to cost drivers more than if the state built it.


That is not the experience with the toll express lanes built around the country. For-profit companies are able to design and build them more efficiently than government. In Virginia on the Beltway VDOT did the initial designs and costing of the four express toll lanes. The state found that private operators were able to make substantial savings of money (hundreds of $-millions) and reduce impacts on neighboring properties. State agencies were not able to build a real highway between the end o the Dulles Toll Road and Leesburg. It got built by private sector initiative -- the Dulles Greenway. The world's first toll express lanes built on SR91 in the west of the LA metro area were also a private initiative, of a French company. Opening in 1995 they were operated as a business for a number of years but were later brought out by a County transportation agency.


Shiftless: you advocate managing the traffic on 270. I'm with you on that. The only known way to manage traffic is to have a variable toll, the price to travel being varied according to density of traffic. In free lanes there is no traffic management and so when density reaches a congested level people get uncomfortably close to the vehicle ahead and have to hit their brakes. And this produces stop-&-go, creep-&-crawl. With a variable toll indicated any entry ramps when road sensors see density threatening to get to congestion levels the toll charges go up and discourage enough drivers from entering to allow free-flow densities to be maintained. That is a 'managed lane.' All around the country you have freeways built originally like 270 with federal grants adding toll-managed lanes that serve two purposes -- first they provide the assurance of a future revenue stream to fund the addition of the toll lanes, second they help manage the traffic for that deal of a quick, reliable uncontested trip in return for the toll, while maintaining no-toll in the old free federally funded lanes.


I do not expect public transit to pay for itself.


Public transit is paid for ( socialist) the public. Derrr.


Absolutely right collinsm.

I like the idea of free market capitalism whenever and wherever it makes sense. The fact is though, in America, we have many "socialist" services:

* Public schools

* Libraries

* Parks

* Police and fire protection

* The military

* VA hospitals

* Medicare/Medicaid

* Social Security

* And yes, transportation

We have decided as a society, that some things are basic needs/necessities. That even though we personally may not have children (or school age kids anyway) we all benefit from public schools -- so we all pay. Same with all of the above. I've never needed to call the police or fire dept, but I recognize they are vital to our society, so I don't mind paying for them.

Likewise with public transportation. My wife and I are retired. Whatever happens with transportation along 270, it will not affect us. We never travel that direction, but I realize a lot of people do. I also know it is important to get some cars off the road. So I'm willing to pay a bit higher taxes to help with the construction and maint. of a monorail or commuter rail.

Little in life is black and white -- 100% "socialistic" or 100% capitalist/free market. As intelligent, rational humans we select what is best under the circumstances. Much is best left to private enterprise, but some things are best undertaken by the gov't -- for the benefit of everyone.


If common benefits are "socialist" we ought to divide them into those that make sense and those that do not. Just say the good ones are "sociable."


To begin with you have not addressed light rail which does not have have to be elevated and require escalators at stops. How you or anyone can determine use is beyond me and you have not addressed the toll fees. What are they going to be?


Do you really think they'd go ahead without some way of addressing that? How on earth do we ever move forward with anything with people that constantly bicker and that don't look outside the USA for success stories about the monorail? I really don't care what you think about it since it would benefit tens of thousands and get cars off the road and cut pollution all with one system...and someone will think of a way to benefit the few that have to transfer from one to the other...we have ADA to thank for that assurance. Costs aside of that, monorail can and would easily work, even in short stretches where a transfer would be needed...even better the longer distance traveled. The airlines and cheap gas are why we don't have that now between major cities like China is building so quickly they'll pass us by like we're standing still.


Good question Dick!

What will the range of tolls be?

No one seems to know.

The US DOT says the current max for Lexus/HOT lanes is NINE DOLLARS ($9) per mile. Since the Lexus lane proponents are very secretive about the amount, it's safe to assume they will be toward the high end of that range.


The statement about the monorail paying its way in fares sort of kills all the credibility. Just like Metro, right? Hahahaha! Just like development pays its way in taxes!


Metro would have been fine if someone would not have fell asleep at the maintaining of facilities aspect of things. Just like the oil thought to upkeep the pipes until there's a problem, but then beg for money in higher gas prices and subsidies when they have to shut them down to fix them...shifting their mismanagement onto the consumer.



Many Americans use services without paying the full cost:

People with kids in public schools; people who use parks and libraries, etc, etc.

Ideally, yes, everyone would pay the full cost of every gov't service they use, but we know that is not possible.

Even motorists (who pay the fuel tax) do not pay 100% of highway const. & maint. costs. It's more like 60% -- because the fuel tax hasn't been raised in so long.

Every person riding a monorail or commuter rail is one less car on the road. To the motorists on 270, that's worth something. Not to mention reduced pollution and CO2.


Well said Sir. All we have to do is pause for a moment and think, how many significant monorail systems have been built worldwide - in the last 50 years? Just get the bus fleet rolling and forget about MARC, there's too much pushback from CSX and buses are so flexible.


The problem with buses is that they get stuck in the same traffic. You need a transit system to be reliable and timely.


Stuck in the same traffic? That could happen without extra lanes or less traffic. Then what?


gary; this is why something outside of the roadway is what allows for a reliable commute. If the MARC went straight from Frederick to Rockville it would certainly be more heavily utilized (currently takes more than an hour. This is why a monorail (which takes up less space than a ground-based train) is a good option for our specific situation.


Shift - I am agreeing with you. [smile]


[thumbup]Shiftless. We have commuter busses, but they are slow, and expanding them to weekends and more weekday runs might not be enough. A lane mainly for subsidized busses, electric vehicles, and others who pay a hefty fee (Lexus lane) should be considered.


The whole point of toll express lanes is that they keep the traffic moving. They do this by continually monitoring the density of traffic with traffic counting sensors. When the density is approaching congestion levels algorithms raise the toll rates at the entries to the lanes to discourage some drivers and keep the traffic density from. passing that threshold into congestion. Only by being able to offer drivers the assurance of an uncongested ride can they earn toll revenues in competition with the free lanes alongside. Called 'dynamic pricing' or 'congestion pricing' this is the routine followed at most of the 50 or so express toll lanes around the country. It would transform bus transit between Frederick and the DC area at zero cost to transit buses. No monorail can compete with that.


"All the traffic can bear" was the phrase used in the "Gilded Age" of Robber Barrons for the railroad prices. And it was roundly disliked.


You don't need to's a fairly comprehensive list. There is a thing called Google, you know.


collinsm65, thanks for the link. However, these are all either urban systems, amusement park systems, or airport systems, where the topography is flat. Most are very short (airports, and amusement parks. I have ridden the Sentosa Express in Singapore). Only one is 40 miles. Three are between 25 and 20 miles. The three longest are in China (BTW, I have ridden the Shanghai system), and the 4th is in Japan. None of these systems cover undulating land, which would require high trestles, excavations, and tunneling. Do you really believe that such systems are appropriate for intercity commuting, given our topography in Frederick county? If so, why?




Actually monorails do better on steep grades than steel wheel on steel rail. Monorails' rubber tires provide better traction. But because of their cumbersome switching they have been used most in shortish shuttles and circuits. Recently a bunch of big cities in Asia have built them as longer transit systems. They make some sense in dense developed cities when the only real mass transit alternative is a subway. They are cheaper to build. For all the talk of them being sleek and low impact I think there might be strong pushback at running them down city streets. No one has commented here on the point that to attract riders those riders have to be able to get to the downtown monorail station. Downtown Frederick has such small population we can't even support a grocery store. Who thinks we can support a $3.6 billion monorail.


Go visit China where regular rail can get you 130MPH plus from province to province...I rode it...and know. It's efficient, clean and fast. We are missing a big boat here in the mindset that high speed rail is NOT metro and metro can work if it is made better and more efficient like other countries already are doing to bypass the USA. Bicker as you will, but rail can do far better to transport people than cars. Ask a country with billions of people that has rail and that it works.

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