Video Helps Oversee Monorail Automation

While sensors do drive the train, the system is not totally devoid of humans.
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The 2011 NAB Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center produced experiences as vast as the more than 92,000 attendees, but there is one experience that a large number of attendees shared: riding the Las Vegas Monorail to the convention center.

by J.J. Smith

While many of NAB show attendees who rode the futuristic monorail—which became operational in 2004 and which stops at seven stations on its 3.9-mile route—were aware the train operates without a driver present, many do not know that it really does not have a driver. There is no operator driving the vehicle at another location as if it were an unmanned aerial drone; instead the train is operated by an automatic train control (ATC) system. The ATC uses sensors along the monorail track to tell it when to stop, when to open the doors, and when it is safe to continue.

However, while sensors do drive the train, the system is not totally devoid of humans. The rail is peppered with video cameras and antennas that report back to the monorail central control near the line’s northern terminus by the Sahara Hotel where human “monitors” watch the fleet of up to 36 trains on scores of video screens.

While the train is owned by the quasi-governmental Las Vegas Monorail Company, Bombardier Inc.—the Canadian company that produced the monorail—operates it. Stephen Stowe, a Bombardier manager who kept his eyes on the monorail from 2004 until 2010, said the duties of train monitors not only include keeping watch over the vehicles, but also paying attention to the system’s operational status and remaining vigilant for any of the alarms that would signal a problem.

All the monorail’s systems have a critical failsafe system, and if the system detects anything that is inappropriate, it automatically stops the vehicle, Stowe said. For instance, doors on the Las Vegas Monorail, if they cycle—open and close—three times they will then stay open until someone from central control responds, he said.

In addition, the monorail system is aware of how many passengers an individual train is carrying and will not let a train that is loaded to capacity accept anymore. Which made riding to the convention center that much more pleasant.

The ATC creates a smooth, quiet ride on the Las Vegas Monorail that the latest video technology helps ensure remains smooth and quite; therefore making the monorail the calm before the storm of the NAB Show’s more than 92,000 huddled masses. That is one game in Las Vegas where the millions of tourists, convention goers and local citizens who use the monorail will really want to let it ride.


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