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Metropolitan Toronto Column: Monorail Interesting But No Rush for First

Page 7, by Ronald Haggart

In New Orleans, aluminum monorail cars anodized to colors of sunburst gold may soon be flashing overhead at speeds of 60 to 100 miles an hour, carrying passengers from Union Station downtown to the airport in the suburbs.

The City Council is just one step away from final approval.

In Seattle, the transit authority and the promoters of the monorail are in the midst of a survey which may produce a five-mile overhead monorail to serve the 1961[-62] World Science and Pan-Pacific Exposition, later to be integrated into a rapid transit system for the terribly traffic-clogged coast city.

In Boston, and in many other places, there are rumblings about monorail — the high-speed train that runs like a curtain on drapery track.

A perceptive friend of mine in Boston, and a keen observer of the municipal scene, says: “People all over the continent are interested in monorail but everybody’s afraid to be first.”

In Toronto, monorail is dead but it won’t lie down. It’s to be debated this Friday at the Metropolitan Council, brought there by a group of suburban reeves whose dubious motives are to stall the Bloor St. subway — they’d have proposed anti-vivisection if they thought it would delay this $200,000,000 project for Toronto.

But there is no doubt that monorail is an idea that captures the imagination. Certainly that was so with the city council of New Orleans, which unanimously awarded a 50-year monorail franchise to build a $16,500,000 line stretching 16 miles in a diagonal route downtown, through the suburbs, and to the airport.

Only one hitch stands in the way: the line must be proved feasible from an engineering and a financial point of view by a survey now under way.

The line will be privately owned and privately financed by a company controlled by the Swedish industrial adventurer Axel Wenner-Gren. The company says the two-car trains will make the 16 miles in 14― minutes, carrying 114 passengers at 60 to 100 miles an hour.

With eight stations (an average of one every two miles) the New Orleans line could theoretically carry 87,500 passengers a day.

(By comparison, the Bloor St. subway will have stations almost three to the mile and the street cars on that thoroughfare already carry 106,000 passengers a day.)

The New Orleans line will be built at no cost to the city and without a public stock offering — its opponents have challenged the financial ability of the sponsoring company and have warned against “an unsound promotion”.

In Seattle, as in New Orleans, monorail is being considered for long-haul point-to-point transportation, not for mass transit in the congested core of the city.

In the coast city, a monorail firm is conducting a survey at its own expense but with the co-operation of the Seattle transit authority to determine the feasibility of a five-mile line from downtown to the Pan-Pacific fair grounds.

Monorail Inc. is not unaware of the publicity value of having thousands of visitors to the fair from all over the continent ride on its dream trains.

The planners of the exposition aren’t interested in financing the line themselves; to be built it will have to be proved first that the line can pay for itself.

Then, the Seattle transit authority may be interested in assuming it as Seattle’s first rapid transit line — desperately needed in a city where the buses downtown move at an average speed of four miles an hour.

Seattle, so far, is being non-committal. Lloyd G. Graber, general manager of the transit system, says: “With millions expected to visit the exposition site in May, 1961, the city will face a real transportation challenge. Monorail is certainly worthy of a thorough investigation.”

There are real doubts. The cost estimate supplied by Monorail Inc. is between $300,000 and $850,000 a mile. Which is a big gap.

So if anyone jumps first on to [sic] the aluminum, bullet-shaped bandwagon, it looks as if it will be New Orleans.