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railway system that uses cars that run on a single rail. Typically the rail is run overhead and the cars are either suspended from it or run above it. Driving power is transmitted from the cars to the track by means of wheels that rotate horizontally, making contact with the rail between its upper and lower flanges. In the maglevmagnetic levitation
or maglev
, support and often propulsion of objects or vehicles by the use of magnets. The magnets used in magnetic levitation suspend an object free of contact with any surface, making it particularly appropriate for high-speed (275–300
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 monorails currently under development, powerful magnets hold the car just off its track and propel it at high speed. One of the principal advantages of a monorail is the relative simplicity of its trackage in comparison with that of a standard railway. Monorails originated and still function as materials-handling systems, similar to traveling cranes, for use in large factories. Short urban transportation monorails have been built in Houston, Seattle, and Germany. A maglev line linking Shanghai's financial district with its new airport began commercial operation in 2004.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a transportation system in which passenger or freight cars move along a monorail mounted on a trestle or individual supports. In Russia the first freight monorail, which was horse-drawn, was built in a suburb of Moscow in the early 19th century by the mechanical engineer I. K. El’manov. In the late 19th century an experimental section of electrified monorail was built in Gatchina by the electrical engineer I. V. Romanov. However, monorails were not widely used in Russia.

One of the oldest monorails abroad was built in 1902 in the city of Wuppertal (Germany); it is still in operation. From 1957 through 1970, about 30 monorails were built in the USA, Japan, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Switzerland, Canada, and Italy (primarily for experimental purposes or for operation during exhibitions). In the USSR, monorails of the Alweg and S.A.F.E.G.E. systems are being designed for passenger transportation in large industrial centers. The design of a monorail for the Gidropark–Paton Bridge route in Kiev (1.8 km) has been completed; the plans for a monorail in the city of Rustavi (length, 19.4 km) are being developed.

A distinction is made between overhung monorail systems, in which the cars are supported by a running trolley located above the track beam, and underslung systems, in which the cars are suspended from a running trolley and move below the monorail. The most common type is the overhung Alweg system developed in the Federal Republic of Germany. One such monorail is operating in Tokyo (Japan) on the route to Haneda Airport (15 km long).

Some types of underslung monorails are the Skyway system, designed in the USA, with an open track construction and asymmetric suspension of cars, and the S.A.F.E.G.E. system, developed in France, with tracks enclosed in a hollow bearing beam and symmetrical car suspension. Monorails are an advanced means of industrial, urban, and suburban transportation. Among their advantages are the ability to develop relatively high speeds, the safety of operation, the feasibility of travel by the shortest route, the lack of dependence of the track route on landscape and planning conditions, the relatively small quantity of metal required for construction, the highly economical power consumption, and the feasibility of complete automation.

The running trolleys of monorail passenger cars are electrically driven; their running wheels have pneumatic tires, and the idler wheels have either pneumatic or solid rubber tires. Consequently, their operation is noiseless. The capacity of the cars is 60–120 persons. Intercity monorail systems are in the development stage; plans call for air-cushion vehicles moving at speeds of 150–500 km/hr (for example, in Japan in 1973 such a monorail system was being designed for the Tokyo-Osaka route).

Freight monorails are used in industry as a means of transportation within a shop, from shop to shop, or among factories. The freight cars can be equipped with special platforms, self-loading bodies, grippers, and hoisting mechanisms. The capacity of such cars is 0.5–2.0 tons (less frequently 5 tons), and their speed is usually 2–4 km/hr. The use of freight monorails is most efficient for cyclic schedules of operation and for distances up to 1.5 km.


Orlova, N. N. Monorel’sovye dorogi: Otechestvennaia i inostrannaia literatura za 1960–1966 gg. Moscow, 1967.
Mikhailov, A. S. Monorel’sovye dorogi i vozmozhnosti ikh primeneniia v gorodskom i prigorodnom soobschenii. Moscow, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(civil engineering)
A single rail used as a track; usually elevated, with cars straddling or hanging from it.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


A distinctive type of materials-handling machine that provides an overhead, normally horizontal, fixed path of travel in the form of a trackage system and individually propelled hand or powered trolleys which carry their loads suspended freely with an intermittent motion. Because monorails operate over fixed paths rather than over limited areas, they differ from overhead-traveling cranes, and they should not be confused with such overhead conveyors as cableways. See Bulk-handling machines, Materials-handling equipment

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Engineering. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


a single-rail railway, often elevated and with suspended cars
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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