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    The History of the Advanced Transit Association (ATRA) Year by Year (9)

    December 15th, 2017


    by J. Edward Anderson, first ATRA President.

    1984 – The Ninth Year.


    I am not aware of any newsletter issued this year. The activity of note was planning for a series of issue conferences and in carrying out the first one. Dr. Jerry Kieffer, as ATRA Board Chairman, obtained favorable expressions of interest in these conferences from the staffs of the Transportation Research Board, the National Leagues of Cities, the International City Managers Association, and the public administration group in Northern Virginia. Dr. Kieffer pointed out that neither the U. S. House of Representatives nor the U. S. Senate subcommittees concerned with urban transportation had given a priority to advanced transit concepts. However, staff members of these committees wished to be involved in the ATRA Conferences. The TRB staff offered the conference facilities of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington for the location of the first conference. The Board agreed that the whole spirit of the conferences was to emphasize positive lines of thinking and action needed to expand the number of cost- and service-effective advanced-transit options.


    A subcommittee was appointed to plan the first conference.   Its first meeting was held at O’Hare Airport in July. It had been decided by the Board that ATRA would hire a consultant as presenter. He would prepare an issue paper to be made available in advance of the first conference. The objective of the conference subcommittee was to define the range of issues that the presenter was to develop in his issue paper. In advance of that first meeting, Dr. Kieffer prepared a list of advanced-transit issues including cost effectiveness, service effectiveness, user acceptance, failure management, construction feasibility, environmental effects, community social and economic gain, and financial requirements. At that first meeting, the subcommittee developed in more detail the charge to the presenter. Moreover, after considerable deliberation and consideration of six individuals, the ATRA Executive Committee selected Morrison Renfrew, Executive Director of the Canadian Institute of Guided Ground Transport, to be the conference presenter. A contract was drawn up for his consultant service for a fee of $1500 plus expenses.

    Here is one paragraph from Renfrew’s paper. The “one U. S. company” he mentions was founded at the University of Minnesota.

    The date of the conference was set for November 15-16, 1984, and invitations were sent out to 100 potential attendees from a wide variety of public and private sector interests. Mr. Renfrew submitted an 18-page paper entitled “Metropolitan Area Transit – The Missing Options.” He first discusses 31 observations about the transit situation, of which the 26th is given above, and then discusses five major areas of problems, issues, and ideas about the future of transit. The paper is as applicable to conditions today as it was in 1984. If any reader of these words wishes, I will scan the paper into my computer and make it available for all. It is a useful read.


    During the year 1984, work on my new PRT system was advancing significantly.


    1. Via its president, Bob Perry, Davy McKee Engineering Corporation became interested to the point that they pledged $1,000,000 of engineering work and paid my salary and expenses to work full time out of their Chicago office for 14 months. We advanced the design in significant ways, developed specifications, found suppliers, and engaged in proposal preparation for several specific applications. Davy McKee was a systems-engineering company that designed and constructed whole plants for a wide variety of applications from energy production to diapers.


    1. A change in leadership was necessary. We elected Dr. Roger W. Staehle, former Dean of the Institute of Technology at the University of Minnesota, as our new President and CEO. He had many contacts in high levels of the corporate and financial world. He established his office close to the University of Minnesota where he had a secretary and my two graduate students, while I continued to work out of the Chicago Office of Davy McKee.


    1. That summer, Roger requested permission from University President C. Peter Magrath for approval for us to use land owned by the University in Rosemont, Minnesota for our test site. In President Magrath’s approval letter he said


    “I am particularly pleased to support the development of the PRT technology since it was conceived and developed at the University of Minnesota. Moreover, I understand that the potential for job creation and economic benefit that might accrue from this technology could have an important impact on the State’s economy, on the University of Minnesota, and on transportation problems worldwide. We are all very excited about the PRT technology and we hope that the Rosemont site will ultimately become the leading international center for this technology.”


    Roger plunged quickly into the task of raising investment capital. Two months later he had finished a document almost an inch thick that he used with potential investors, and he decided to name our PRT system “Alpha.” We had been discussing applications of Alpha at the 3-M Research site in St. Paul; in Oahu, where a company there stated firmly that it was the only solution to Oahu transportation problems; in Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver, Madison, and Virginia.

    On the technical side, I completed many of the analyses needed to answer a variety of questions about how the design should evolve. We had many meetings with people and organizations interested in participating with us, the most important of which was General Electric. The GE Plastics Group wanted to supply our vehicles and they raised the possibility of placing Alpha at their campus in Pittsfield, Mass. Bob Perry, Davy McKee President, sent me to England to check out linear induction motors, because that was the place where the best LIM work had been done. There were two LIM companies in England: Linear Motor, Ltd., a company owned by the Davy Corporation and formed by Imperial College Professor Eric R. Laithwaite, who had begun experimenting with LIMs shortly after World War II, and Force Engineering, a company that had split off from Linear Motor for reasons that often happen with start-up companies. The picture shows me at the right with two engineers from Linear Motor, Ltd. inspecting their test work.

    My paper “Optimation of Transit-System Characteristics” was published in the Spring 1984 edition of the Journal of Advanced Transportation. I distributed the 100 copies I received to people who were interested. This paper was a landmark in the sense that for the first time a comprenensive and rigerous proof was provided that shows that minimization of the capital and operating cost of a public-transportation system leads to a form of PRT, both because of the high ridership PRT will attract and because within the concept of PRT all costs can be minimized in a way not possible with conventional transit.

    Shortly after I arrived at Davy McKee I found an IBM personal computer on my desk. All of the Davy McKee engineers used such computers for all calculations except those that required a large main-frame computer. This was during the age of transition between use of all mainframe computers and PCs. When the price of an HP 19 went below $100 I bought one and it made much of my work easier. When I started my PRT project in September 1981 I was still using the HP 19, but the price of an HP 41 hand-held computer became sufficiently low that I bought one. I was still using it when I joined Davy McKee and even did my first structural analysis of a truss guideway on it. I purchased the first so-called compact PC available, one made by Compaq. This computer had a 9-inch screen and only 10 kilobytes of internal memory with no hard drive, but it served me for almost three years. It was far superior to my HP 41 and I plunged into many analyses much easier. If I had started my PRT design project even a few years earlier, I would have been severely handicapped because I couldn’t afford mainframe-computer time, which went at around $500 per hour. Every year at that time, better hardware and software became available, and I upgraded as I could afford to do so. My computer power on the IBM PCs was sufficient that I could begin developing a PRT vehicle control system. Once I got the vehicle controller working, I developed a simulation of vehicles moving in and out of a station – a program that we used for demonstration of station operations for maany years.