Roller Coaster-like Transportation System to Be Tested in Japan

Aug 19, 2008
Susumu Tajima, Senior Editorial Staff
Conceptual view of Eco Ride, which runs on potential energy
Conceptual view of Eco Ride, which runs on potential energy
[ If it clicks, the expanded picture will open ]

Senyo Kogyo Co Ltd and Senyo Kiko Co Ltd announced that they will build a test line for "Eco Ride," an energy-saving urban transportation system, in October 2008.

The test line will be built as part of the joint research with the laboratory of Yoshihiro Suda, a professor of the Institute of Industrial Science (IIS) of Tokyo University. The line will be constructed in the Chiba Experiment Station of IIS in Chiba Prefecture, Japan.

The new transportation system operates using the height difference on the railway. Drive units to pull the cars up are installed at various points on the railway so that the Eco Ride can obtain the potential energy to run. This is the same principle as a roller coaster.

Senyo Kogyo and Senyo Kiko specialize in the construction and sale of amusement facilities, etc. They installed and managed similar light transportation systems at the Tsukuba Science Expo (in Ibaraki Prefecture), the Nagoya World Design Expo (in Aichi Prefecture), Expoland (in Osaka) and other places.

The size and weight of the cars can be reduced because the system eliminates the need for a drive unit on the cars. This leads to a reduction in the size of the railroad, the supporting structures and the stations, etc. As a result, the test line can be built at a relatively low cost for a railway system.

The target construction cost per kilometer is reportedly about ¥2-2.5 billion (approx US$18.2-22.7 million). This is about 1/10 of the cost of a small-size subway, or 1/5 of that of a monorail or a new transit system in Japan, according to the companies. In addition, the light cars consume less energy.

When the train congestion rate is 50%, the energy consumption is 226.8kJ per passenger-km. This is reportedly equivalent to 1/3 of the energy consumption of a bus, or 1/2 that of a train, the companies said.

According to the companies, the land acquisition cost can also be minimized because the line can be built by utilizing the median strips of expressways and highways or part of the sidewalks. In urban areas, it is possible to use parts of existing buildings for stations because the system is light and quiet, the companies said.

As a medium-scale transportation system that is positioned between the mass transit system like subways, and the light and local transport system such as microbuses and taxis, the research group intends to investigate the marketability of Eco Ride.

Eco Ride is expected to be used as the automated short-distance transportation system with a total railway length of up to 10km. For example, it is intended for use on commuter lines connecting the stations of the trunk lines and those in large-scale development regions, loop lines in large-scale development regions and lines connecting the stations of nearby railroads.

Eco Ride has the following specifications. The transportation capacity is 2,000-2,500 passengers per hour, the scheduled speed (average speed including station stops) is 20-30km/h, the minimum turning radius is 15m and the maximum gradient is 13% (7.4°).

The joint research, which was launched in fiscal 2006, is sponsored by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). The research members are the University of Tokyo (for research of carriage), the National Traffic Safety and Environment Laboratory (for development of safety assessment method and GPS maintenance system), Mitsubishi Research Institute Inc (for evaluation of marketability, effect and impact of introduction), and Meidensha Corp (for development of energy-saving electrical devices).