Paradigm Shift Creates New CyberTran EV
by Clare Bell
Imagine an EV that was almost as convenient as a personal car, was even more efficient, cost less to install and operate, had even less impact on the environment, used less energy, and, to top it off, was three to five times faster!
Suppose this EV provided greater security than an automobile, equivalent privacy and greater safety?. And, if its use was integrated with the individually-owned electric auto, it would functionally extends traveler's range by hundreds or thousands of miles.
Suppose that such a system did not seek to supplant the personal EV, but instead encouraged it into the niche where it is presently most comfortable and effective - short-distance errand-running, grocery-getting and shuttling.
Such an EV, or fleet of EVs is emerging from the drawing boards and workshops of engineers at CyberTran International, a development company quartered at CALSTART's Hangar 20 business incubator at the former Alameda Naval Air Station..
The EV is called CyberTran (for Cybernetic Transportation) and its designers have, as the Rocky Mountain Institute described their achievement, "re-invented the rails."
The concept of this EV involves a radical paradigm shift -- the vehicles run on rails, but the system is NOT a train. CyberTran is a fleet of small, lightweight, demand-responsive, rail-running EVs that operate independently. The entire system is under computer control. It also uses the minimal rolling resistance of steel wheels on steel track, a system that far exceeds the efficiency of any LRR tire.
Its design makes CyberTran far more flexible and responsive than conventional heavy railroads or even modern light rail systems such as BART or the San Jose LRT.
It also embodies the idea that has been used for years by EV designers - reduction in weight makes a better EV
Working with a concept developed by Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, CyberTran International's core team, consisting of Dr. John Dearien, Neil Garcia-Sinclair, Richard Struthers, Kent McCarthy and Richard Arthur, is striving to commercialize it. Their vehicles are not just lines on paper, but working prototypes that have been tested at the INEL in Idaho and at CALSTART Alameda.
Having many vehicles and making them smaller and lighter is one key to CyberTran's economies of cost and energy use. Reducing size and weight in the rail vehicle itself is a positive factor that propagates its way through all associated parts of the system including rail line hardware, power consumption, and land area needed for right-of way.
Traditional railcars can weigh up to 100,000 lb. each and require massive supporting structures such as trestles or elevated guideways. They also need heavy duty power. It isn't surprising then to find that 70%-80% of the capital expense is the track, the roadbed, bridges and power lines. Modern light rail reduces this somewhat, but costs remain high. Because of the cash that must be sunk into the hardware, heavy and light rail systems must be heavily subsidized. The idea of running mass-transit rail for profit has so far remained unattainable.
One can reduce the weight of passenger railcars by using lighter materials, but the improvements only go so far. To really knock the weight down, the designers at INEL found that they had to reduce passenger capacity. CyberTran's vehicles are designed to carry 6 to 32 people. Such a drastic size reduction flies in the face of traditional concepts of economies of scale. It has long been thought that the more bodies you could stuff into a vehicle, the more efficient your system would be. Taxi services that carry one to three people are expensive. Six to nine passenger shuttle vans are less costly on a per-passenger basis, and the city bus is known as the poor person's transport (although again, heavily subsidized, but for different reasons).
There is a continuum from taxis through buses to trains that makes use of economies of scale. However once you start enlarging railcars to take more people, you run into diminishing returns. The heavier the rolling stock, the heavier the required infrastructure, as pointed out above. CyberTran's Dr. John Dearien realized that the taxi-to-train cost curve was really a "bathtub" with a minimal or optimal point and he used that information in designing the ultra-light (for rail) CyberTran vehicles.
Table adapted from CyberTran technical paper
"Table 2 Critical Parameters in Transportation Systems"
(The dollars per seat is the total capital cost required to provide that seat)
System High Speed Rail Light Rail Transit Bus Auto (Buick) CyberTran
Wt/Pass 980 lb* 600 lb 500 lb 500 lb 500 lb
$/Seat $62K $13K $5K $4K $7K
$/Lb $25 $22 $9 $8 $14
*does not include locomotives or dining car
CyberTran ends up looking very much like a bus on an automobile.
Unique Two-Axle Design
The 38 foot long vehicles have an empty weight of 7,500 lb. and a loaded weight of 10,000. With a cross-section of 6 ft. X 6 ft., they can take 6-32 passengers, depending on seating arrangements. Construction uses thin-wall steel sections produced by conventional metalworking techniques, yielding a low-cost, low maintenance structure. All vehicles use the same body shell which can be re-configured for different requirements. Steel wheels on steel track gives the lowest rolling resistance of any wheeled vehicle, greatly reducing the energy required. The cars are self-propelled, so they don't need to be coupled together and pulled by a locomotive.
Each self-propelled car has a solid axle at each end and each axle is driven by a 100 HP DC electric motor. They are designed to run in one direction, but are reversible for low-speed maneuvers.
A two-axle railcar is not common, since most railcars tend to use trucks, under-carrage units that have two axles each, making four total in a standard railcar. CyberTran's vehicles are be the only self-propelled fully radial (ability to pivot around a center point) single axle truck
railcars in existence. Since two-axle trucks tend to be heavy, eliminating them also saves weight.
All these characteristics combine to create highly efficient, inexpensive, low-maintenance rolling stock that can be mass-produced, taking advantage of another economy of scale. You can make more railcars and distribute them all over the system. The fact that they run by themselves and are controlled by a master switching system (see below) enables a much more efficient use of rail lines, so you don't have to double up tracks.
You can even keep some cars in reserve at each station. The idle time doesn't hurt you because they are cheap.. In addition, eliminating the need for locomotives is a big weight and cost-saving bonus.
The energy and cost savings generated by these CyberTran vehicles is impressive. The Rocky Mountain Institute newletter points out that "...the big payoff is in energy and environmental savings. INEL calculates that CyberTran would use just 7% of the energy per passenger mile as a commercial airliner, and 10% of that of a single-passenger automobile."(RMI). At its ideal capacity, the system uses 95% less energy than standard high speed rail.
Here's how a reduction in vehicle weight propagates positively through the system's infrastructure:.
Since the CyberTran vehicles are light and can run around by themselves, guideway design requirements are minimized. The guideway can also be elevated without incurring extra cost, which gives advantages when siting the line. Lightening the vehicles lessens the required structural strength of each guideway section. Restricting the line to one lane of flow eliminates any torsional (twisting) force on the section. The sections are also designed with enough clearance to lay a curved track through the span. Thus the guideway sections can be standard 50 foot lightweight steel or pre-stressed concrete trusses that can be mass-produced.
This prefab construction has other advantages. Because the components are designed to be added off the end of a completed section, construction can make use of an erection fixture, which semi-automates the process. This technique eliminates the need for significant ground preparation (as contrasted to a traditional railbed) and expensive (often a large fraction of transit system capital cost) re-routing of utilities.
The combined weight of the truss, base pad and vehicle is approximately 40,000 lb., much less than an elevated section of a traditional rail line. The mass and cost of the railbed , columns and footings can be minimized, yet the guideway will have the same type of lateral stability as a conventional track.
Narrowing and elevating the guideway lets it fit where other rails can't, such as in the median of a freeway.
Needs Less Power
Traditional electric rail is a heavy power user. The French TGV system can demand 9 megawatts and when two trains pass at maximum power, a local demand of as much as 18 megawatts. CyberTran's cars need only 100-120 kW per vehicle at maximum speed, or 240 KW when two cars pass. This 75X reduction allows transformers, power control units and conductors to decrease siginificantly in size and cost. CyberTran's per-passenger electrical need is 10 KW per passenger, less than half that of the French TGV (22 KW/per passenger.) due to smaller vehicle size and elimination of locomotives.
The real savings, however, lies in preventing resistive power losses. The more watts you try to jam through a conductor, such as a cable or a third rail, the more you are going to lose as heat. Since resistance increases with length, long rail track systems can eat up lots of power. So, reducing the overall power demand cuts power losses, increasing efficiency and reducing cost. Small can be beautiful, especially in the pocketbook.
The other key to CyberTran is the system's smarts. Many small vehicles can handle the same passenger load with much greater flexibility if they know where and when to go, and how not to run into each other while enroute. CyberTran's communication-based control system gives the vehicles exactly that capability. Each car has its own on-board high-speed redundant computers which communicate with similar units at the system control center (Redundant means that all the computers have backups, in case of failure). The guideway has sensors every 300 feet to track position, speed and operational status of every vehicle. The central computers receive continual updates from the sensor net and send instructions to each vehicle's onboard computers, which in turn activate switches on the tracks. Basically, each car knows where it needs to go and tells the track switching system to send it there. The central system monitors switching activity, but the vehicles actually control it.
Such a setup can take advantage of the inherent flexibility of many small vehicles operating independently. By intelligent switching and routing, the system can send vehicles directly from departure to destination, minimizing intervening stops or traffic delays. This results in shorter transit times, much greater responsiveness to passenger needs, thus increased convenience and appeal.
As Dearien and his colleagues stated in their paper,
"While the primary reason for designing a passenger transit system based on small vehicles was to decrease the capital cost of the system, advantage was taken where possible of the operational possibilities which the small vehicles and the computer control aspect of the system offered."
As it turns out, the combination of large numbers of small vehicles, computer control, and other design factors, such as off-line placement of stations (see below) creates a mass transit system whose characteristics approach, and in some cases exceed, those of automotive transport.
With hundreds of vehicles in operation, a CyberTran system can have some standing by in each station, able to respond to customer demand. By requesting a vehicle with a swipe of a magnetic card, a CyberTran passenger can board within five minutes or less, travel whenever they want, wherever they want, and even with whom they want.
If demand is heavy, the computer-controlled CyberTran vehicles can operate at lower speeds and closer headways, functionally simulating those aspects of a coupled train that are advantageous in high-density situations. As soon as demand drops, vehicles scatter themselves all over the network for maximum flexibility and availability.
Another way to enhance "direct to destination" performance and reduce transit times is to locate stations off-line. CyberTran does that, essentially providing express by-passes so that flow is not blocked by vehicles that are boarding or unloading passengers. All vehicles can functionally operate as expresses rather than a "slow train" local that halts at every station. Even fast services such as BART are plagued with delays due to clogging at their online stations
Down the Yellow Line
Smaller vehicles and lighter infrastructure mean that stations are more compact, allowing them to be sited inside existing buildings. Station type can range from a simple track-side pad to a full-size terminal. Offline stations can also host vehicles in reserve, so that one is instantly available when called for. More compact stations are cheaper and more can be built, especially in outlying areas and suburban neighborhoods. Flexibility in siting stations and guideways means that they can be located along existing routes that are already in use. One example is the utilization of freeway medians. Commuters don't have to change their accustomed paths - they just travel in a different type of conveyance.
Here, Rover! Or, Mass-Transit that Doesn't Feel Like It
One of the nicest things about the CyberTran system is that the vehicles come when called and leave once boarded. The traveler is not constrained by the set schedules that traditional and even light rail must use in order to maximize use of the expensive trackway. A less expensive infrastructure and on-demand vehicle movement mean that you can afford to have the system operate continuously. The CyberTran system can afford to run vehicles only when passengers need them.
Without the need for drivers and operating under computer control, CyberTran can run 24 hours a day. The control center can run 3 shifts in order to make use of that capability. Whatever track maintenance is required will be done at non-peak periods by using a temporary bypass (shunting vehicles around the area).
The two characteristics of round-the-clock operation and coming when called drastically changes the nature of the rail network. Passenger demand rather than set scheduling becomes the controlling factor in vehicle operation. This creates a much friendlier, responsive rail network that can serve huge numbers of people, but doesn't feel like mass transit.
As the Rocky Mountain Institute Newsletter observed,
"CyberTran's versatility makes it almost as convenient as a personal auto, but three to five times faster (a fact that would not be lost on motorists, since the system is designed to be operated along the medians of Interstate highways)." (RMI)
CyberTran's vehicle design also reduces some of the other objectionable features of traditional mass transit. Vehicle layout permits a seat-to-seat spacing equivalent to First Class in aircraft and interior bulkheads can provide similar privacy. Vehicle frequency and number prevents the need for packing travellers in like sardines and the frantic rush for access during rush hour periods. In fact, having a virtually unlimited -length "train" helps reduce the "rush-hour" phenomenon. Every passenger has a seat and space for incidentals, such as baggage and strollers.
At a press conference on October 21, 1998, the CyberTran team began operational testing at its one-mile Alameda Point test track. Since the vehicle itself had already undergone preliminary testing in Idaho, this was a refinement and a systems integration test, or, more precisely, a checkout of the computer-controlled switching that is at the heart of CyberTran's concept.
One question was, how tight a radius could the two-axled railcar handle? Traditional and even light rail can traverse only shallow curves before the steel wheeled trucks start to bind and scrape against the rails. And how would the vehicle do when running over the actual switches? One reason for the common four-wheel rail vehicle design is to facilitate passage across the small discontinuities generated by track switches.
The test track consisted of a straight section, running right down the northwest runway (it looked like it would shoot the car straight to San Francisco) which then curved into a circular loop in the neighborhood of Hangar 20. It had computer-controlled switches and a tighter curve than traditional rail
On a crisp sunny morning, the roll-out press conference began. The media were all in attendance with microphones on and cameras rolling. CALSTART's CEO, Michael J. Gage was at the trackside podium. As he started to speak about CyberTran's "novel approach to clean, low-cost and flexible transportation" in the words of CALSTART's News Notes, the silver-white streamlined vehicle stood far down the track in the San Francisco direction, so distant that it was scarcely noticeable.
As Gage continued to laud CyberTran's accomplishment, the vehicle began a slow approach, growing gradually larger in the distance..
"The need for both speed and personal flexibility has never been greater in our society, yet these are the very attributes that traditional transit is hardest pressed to provide," said Gage, not seeming to notice as the vehicle crept toward the assembly in total silence. "CyberTran is a worthy concept because it bridges the gap between the efficiency of rail and the need for more personalized service, and can therefore encourage transit use. We helped launch this program to test that premise."
As Gage finished his introduction, he turned, almost in surprise, to the silvery sleek form that slid noiselessly into place a few feet behind him. Cameras whirred, laptops clicked and pencils scribbled as the media captured the scene.
With a final flourish, Gage turned the microphone over to Dr. John Dearien, CEO of CyberTran International. Gesturing proudly at the vehicle behind him, Dearien explained the ideas behind its creation.
"CyberTran brings together all of the leading-edge technologies that enable transit to work for people," he said in summary.
"This is the future: A transit system that is faster than a car, and more direct," remarked Richard Arthur, CyberTran's president. "One that is so clean and whose stations are so compact they can even be located inside high-rise office buildings, out of inclement weather. This can serve as a tremendous 'feeder system' to existing transit - and can be independent, as well."
Alameda mayor Ralph Appezzato and other dignitaries also took the microphone briefly to mention what CyberTran's potential could mean for Alameda and the San Francisco Bay Area. A CyberTran system has been advocated as a solution to gridlock on the Bay Bridge.
Have Solution, Need Money, Will Roll
By the end of 1998, CyberTran's engineers had successfully tested vehicle performance on-track and the ability of the vehicle-controlled switching system. What lies ahead? Perhaps a pilot system for Alameda, running from the converted airbase to the Fruitvale BART station. To take that next step, Cybertran International is seeking funding and investment. This is a cost-effective, energy-efficient, gridlock-busting passenger-pleasing form of transport that needs to be encouraged and established. It has been successfully tested. All that remains is implementation on increasing scales. Money put into an Alameda or East Bay pilot CyberTran system could not be better spent. It is one of the best EVs around.
>From Internet to CyberTran
California coordinator, Neil Sinclair-Garcia, feels that the CyberTran system is an historically inevitable development of silicon-based computer technology. First, he says, we had the Internet, the information super-highway. This was made possible by silicon devices that can now be switched at speeds up to 400 MHz, giving massive processing power and real-time operation. These devices, however are low power units, best suited to fast computer logic and thus information flow. Now, with devices such as high-power MOSFETs and IGBTs that can switch hundreds of volts and amps at high speeds, computers that could control only information flow can now control the real-time flow of heavy power. With direct cybernetic control of large motors and power distribution systems (without the need for slow mechanical interfaces, such as relays), the information superhighway is metamorphosing into an actual physical superhighway.
This term is more than an analogy, since the first applications of this power-directing capability are in transportation. Combining the intelligence and fast processing ability of Internet-capable hardware with the ability to control industrial-scale power is giving birth to new types of transportation systems such as CyberTran, with flexibility and performance that can exceed that of the automobile. This is of huge importance to a society whose cities and highways are clogged with cars.-
Even the most dedicated EV driver has to admit that the one problem electric cars can't solve is gridlock. Though car-sharing and car-pooling using EV autos is a step in the right direction, the real resolution lies in systems that have the ability to move enormous numbers of passengers efficiently and effectively. Individually-owned electric autos can and should be integrated into these larger-scale systems. I hope someday that I'll be driving my EV to a CyberTran station. -- CB
Dr. John A. Dearien, Richard D. Struthers, Kent D. McCarthy
CyberTran International, Inc
2300 N. Yellowstone
Idaho Falls, Idaho 83404
email - firstname.lastname@example.org
2701 Monarch St. Suite 216
Alameda, CA 94501
3601 Empire Ave.
Burbank, CA 91505
PHONE: 818/ 565-5645
FAX: 818/ 249-3272
Dearien, John A., Richard D. Struthers, Kent D. McCarthy, "CYBERTRAN: A SYSTEMS ANALYSIS SOLUTION TO THE HIGH COST AND LOW PASSENGER APPEAL OF CONVENTIONAL RAIL TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS" - technical paper presented at International Conference on PRT and Other Emerging Transporation Systems. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Misnn. Nov. 18-20, 1996. _-
"Reinventing the Rails" Rocky Mountain Institute Newsletter "With Trains, Small Is Beautiful" - article on website.