Monorails are cool! Wowee! Whiz-bang! So why don’t cities build more of them? It turns out that compared to normal rail, monorails have some legitimate downsides that make them an impractical option for most (but not all) transit corridors.
First, a primer on why people like monorails
A lot of people simply like monorails because they look good. A Jetsons-esque elevated bullet train zipping above traffic tickles peoples’ sense of wonder in a way that dingy subways often don’t, WMATA’s famous vaults perhaps notwithstanding. For the non-transit-nerds among us, that can be enough.
More objectively, monorail tracks are a little lighater and narrower than standard rail tracks, meaning overhead monorail structures can sometimes be a little less expensive and imposing than overhead Metros, and much less imposing than the pre-war els of Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York.
Beyond the shape of trains and tracks, most Americans’ experiences with monorails come from tourist encounters in Disney or Las Vegas, where the polish of privately-owned-and-operated trains ridden strictly during vacation inevitably beats the experience of day-to-day commuting in public. Actual public transit monorails don’t have that same happiest-place-on-Earth shine.
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