Personal rapid transit — a mass transportation network that could carry passengers straight to their destinations in small private cars — has a long, fascinating, and often troubled history. But the first (and so far, only) PRT project in America has been running almost continuously in West Virginia since 1975.
Last month, I visited the city of Morgantown to check out West Virginia University's PRT, a five-station network that connects the school's three campuses. The system, which uses small cars rolling on electrified guideways, was built to lessen the strain on Morgantown's crowded roads as the university expanded. Today, students and faculty get a free pass, and everyone else pays fifty cents a ride.
I started looking at the WVU network while researching the Urbmobile, a '60s PRT prototype that was featured in Popular Science and Life magazine. But it's worth checking out in its own right, too — so here are a few of the photos I took during my trip.
- The PRT's Beechurst station, outside the downtown campus, soon after sunrise.
- Pods leave Beechurst and head toward WVU's engineering campus.
- The PRT runs a mix of scheduled trips and on-demand rides — the latter PRT's "personal" side.
- An afternoon crowd waits for a PRT pod.
- PRT cars are designed to seat eight people or hold twenty standing.
- The PRT's terminus looks over WVU's medical campus and its gigantic parking center.
- Cars wait at the PRT's control center, where they're rolled off the track for repairs.
- Without agents or conductors, the PRT's managers keep watch through security cameras in each station.
- PRT pods undergo periodic maintenance; they've been running for over 40 years.
- PRT project manager John Jeffrey cracks open the "brain" of a PRT pod.