Remember all of those classic James Bond movies where the bad guys get around their secret lair in shiny chrome monorail pods? Maybe you kids will recognise the concept from The Incredibles mocking it. Either way, that’s the future we were once promised and never got, and here’s why.
Monorails look cool as hell. Most of them are also functionally pretty cool, too. As Tom Scott points out in his latest ‘Things You May Not Know’ video on YouTube, the coolness of the monorail is part of its cultural prevalence, because it makes movies and theme parks feel like the future.
However, practically, in most transportation applications, monorails tend to end up being more costly and requiring more engineering and maintenance than simpler alternatives.
But Tom has found the one case where a monorail kind of works. Ironically enough, it’s the same basic rail setup used in those old Bond movies too — a very rough linking network of parts with really loose tolerances, to be applied in construction settings for equipment moving and material hauling. Never for people, but obviously Blofeld wasn’t too concerned with workplace safety when most of his schemes involved blowing up the entire base, anyway.
But as Tom points out in the video, these relatively affordable monorail systems could be managed by just a couple of workers, who could lay considerable measures of usable track in under an hour. As you can see, the powertrain setup is no more than a small gas or diesel engine mounted to the rail. Just hook up your haul and send it on its way. You can even engineer simple automatic brakes on either end so the system can run without too much oversight.
But what I like about Tom’s latest video is that, despite being a loud critic of the monorail concept and taking heat for it, he has sought out a practical application for the technology that actually works pretty seamlessly. Look at how cute it is.