INTRO: Larry Fabian* reports from the 8th international conference on automated peoplemovers in San Francisco

BYLINE: * Lawrence J Fabian is Director of the public transport consultancy & lobbying group Trans.21

IMAGINE A significantly higher level of public transport service: environmentally-friendly metros with trains every minute or two, all day long, even in the evenings and at weekends. They are safe and reliable, encouraging many more residents to leave their cars at home. New and old buildings are linked to attractive metro stations by small automated peoplemover (APM) feeders. Urban and suburban centres and institutional campuses become more pedestrian-friendly, as APMs allow easy local circulation and motor cars can be pushed out to remote parking. Airport peoplemover networks extend to serve land transport hubs, and booming airport business parks.

This enticing vision challenged a few mass transit professionals to ’think outside the box’ at the APM01 conference held in San Francisco in July. Confidence in the success of airport peoplemovers in the USA and elsewhere, combined with the growing commitment to driverless operation of medium-capacity and heavy metros in Europe and Asia (Table I) painted a very positive future.

APM01 was the eighth in the series of conferences organised by the American Society of Civil Engineers; the ninth (APM03) will be held in Singapore during September 2003. As the secretariat and publisher of APM standards, ASCE has rapidly become a world centre of expertise in peoplemover technology.

The international audience was very upbeat, with talk of cutting-edge technology and exciting applications animating the mixed crowd. Over 400 professionals from around the world exchanged information and assessed progress. But much of the talk was still about airports, not mass transit applications.

’APMs are another viable transportation element’, insisted Peter Cipolla, General Manager of the Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose, California. Having visited the VAL driverless metro in Toulouse, he saw the potential of automated mass transit. ’APMs have come a long, long way and present a wide array of opportunities’, he suggested, inviting the assembled professionals to participate more aggressively in APTA and UITP activities.

’The two camps - APTA and ASCE - need to talk to each other more’, agreed Cliff Henke of Metro magazine. At the closing lunch, Bob Griebenow, engineer and architect for Berger/ABAM and chair of the conference, responded with moves in that direction. It looks as if APM01 deliberations may have opened a new professional dialogue. However, as yet, there is no APM industry association, nor even a coherent industry group.

Henke suggested that transit leaders need to take another look at the full range of options before them. The conference sessions included presentations on BART’s plans for an APM to link Oakland Airport with its regional metro network, and San Diego’s plans for an elevated automated link to the North Beach district.

Previous conferences have had only technical presentations. APM01 included two panel discussions. Former VTA Chairman Rod Diridon, now the head of a Bay Area multi-modal think tank, hinted at low-key negotiations that are under way with the powerful transport unions, who make ’huge donations’ to political candidates. The director of Seattle’s voter-mandated Elevated Transportation Co, spoke of the innovative proposals being developed independent of the local agency Sound Transit. What does the future hold for transit APMs there and elsewhere?

The second panel explored how APMs can and should be integrated with their urban environment. ’How do we connect transit and land use, APM stations and community buildings?’ asked architect Tom Clarke. ’We need a fundamental rethink of how large building complexes are interconnected and linked to parking and regional transit’, offered Bob Caporale, editor of Elevator World. Bechtel’s Joe Perkowski warned that all large urban projects have multiple stakeholders, encounter barriers, and face many options in their course to completion.

The technical sessions dealt with scores of airport projects and plans, but there were also presentations on urban APM and automated metro projects and ATO technologies. The successes of Météor in Paris and other French VAL lines are now so evident that they served as background, not news. Bombardier’s growing array of driverless mini-metro and monorail projects has been strengthened by its absorption of the successful Adtranz airport peoplemover range.

Numerous Asian projects include three peoplemover networks and two automated metro lines in Singapore alone - making this global melting pot an ideal venue for APM 2003. It seems that automated peoplemovers have finally come of age and may soon face the challenge of large-scale production and implementation. What news will the industry have to offer when it gathers again in two years’ time?

TABLE: Table I. Driverless metro projects under way

City Project Length Stations Supplier km

København Ørestad metro 20 16 Ansaldo

Singapore NE line 20 16 } Alstom / Singapore

Singapore Marina line 10·8 11 } Electric Technologies

Thessaloniki Metro 10 14 Bombardier

Torino Metro 9 15 Matra-Siemens

Vancouver Millennium line 20 13 Bombardier

Conference papers

APM01 Proceedings will be available from ASCE later this year - for more details of this, and of APM03, visit

Course materials for two add-ons to the main programme are also available.