Western Railway Museum acquires original Seattle monorail control system – The Vacaville Reporter


To paraphrase former “Simpsons” character Lyle Lanley, there is nothing on Earth quite like a bona fide electrified monorail. Today, the Western Railway Museum in Suisun City has a piece of an iconic monorail system, which can be seen by the public when the museum reopens.

The Western Railway Museum recently acquired the original control stand for the Seattle Center monorail, which debuted at the 1962 World’s Fair, as well as two doors from an original Seattle monorail and five boxes with documents. related not only to the Seattle monorail, but also to monorail proposals. worldwide.

“We’re very happy to have him,” said curator Allan Fisher. “It will be a wonderful exhibition.

Plans for a monorail in Seattle began as early as 1910, but the current system did not begin to develop until the late 1950s. The monorail opened in time for the 1962 Century 21 exhibition – the same global exhibition that brought the Emerald City its iconic Space Needle.

Visitors to the exhibition largely depended on the monorail, developed by Alweg, for transport from the city center to the exhibition grounds. Fisher said more than 8 million people were transported on the monorail during the six-month period of the fair. Alweg had spent $ 3.5 million to build the system. Income from ticket sales during the exhibition allowed Alweg to do more than just get his money back.

“With 8 million passengers it actually paid for itself,” said Fisher.

The control station panel used for the Seattle Center’s first monorail when it opened at the 1962 World’s Fair. (Nick Sestanovich – The Journalist)

Seattle’s monorail system is still in use, but Fisher said it is currently in its third iteration with an improved control system and cars. The original control medium was donated to the Western Railway Museum with the help of a friend of Carol Pedersen, widow of Kim Pedersen, the founder and president of the Monorail Society who had the nickname “Mr. Monorail.”

Kim Pedersen’s family donated not only the physical components of the Seattle Monorail for the exhibit, but also her book “Monorails: Trains of the Future – Now Arriving” and five boxes of keepsakes. These include 16mm films, articles on the development of monorails around the world, blueprints, a loose-leaf binder with a summary of the Seattle monorail project, and proposals for similar systems in Los Angeles to San Francisco.

To date, the Downtown Seattle Monorail is one of only two urban monorail systems in the United States, the other being the Las Vegas Monorail which carries passengers to casinos in communities in the surrounding Vegas area. However, the system can be found at several airports, zoos, and theme parks across the United States, the most famous being those at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. They are also common in urban areas around the world, one of the most important being the Wuppertal Suspended Suspended Railway in Germany.

Fisher said that at some point almost every major city was considering a monorail system, but most of them were shot.

“The whole struggle for the right-of-way and the location of building a structure that would place it above the ground was a big problem in many cities,” he said. “They had to use a prominent domain if they wanted to do it.”

In San Francisco and Los Angeles, presentations were made on the proposed monorail networks, which even had the backing of Governor Goodwin Knight, but none were successful.

“There was never enough political will to put him to the polls (in San Francisco),” Fisher said.

The Bay Area did not receive its own monorail system, but eventually received its own rapid public transportation network in the form of Bay Area Rapid Transit.

Even Seattle struggled to expand its monorail. In 1997, an initiative to expand the system was adopted by voters. However, after eight years of financial hardship and public scrutiny, the monorail authority chose to disband before the project was completed.

“The studies showed that it was not a high capacity system,” Fisher said. “Even the Wuppertal, which I have already set up, works 10 minutes early. There are a lot of passengers, but you can carry a lot more passengers on heavy rail or light rail. “

The monorail is just one of the last exhibits of the Western Railway Museum, which is the arm of the Bay Area Electric Railroad Association, founded in 1946. The museum, which adopted its current name in 1985, operates from there old Rio Vista. Junction – a stop on the Sacramento Northern Railway line – of Highway 12.

In 2001, the museum opened a 12,000 square foot Archives and Visitors Center, which houses a wide variety of electric railway content, including over 130,000 photos, color slides, postcards, 16mm film, tapes. audiovisual and corporate files from companies like Southern Pacific Railroad and Sacramento Northern, an electric railway line that ran from near the Bay Bridge in San Francisco to Chico.

“It was the longest longest line in the United States at the time,” said Fisher.

The museum also has operational cars that annually take visitors on scenic drives and wine tastings in Solano County in the spring, but this year’s events have been canceled due to the coronavirus. The museum is currently closed, but Fisher said staff hoped to reopen to the public on a limited basis from July.

“We need to get all the signage and PPE (personal protective equipment) and disinfectant material,” he said.

Visitors will be able to sit at the monorail control station and press some of the buttons, which Fisher says should make the kids fun. The screen will be wiped clean after each use.

The Western Railway Museum is located at 5848 State Highway 12, Suisun City.

For more information visit wrm.org or call 374-2978.


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