ALWEG Cologne-Fühlingen 1957. Photo Maria Wendt - © Copyright Reinhard Krischer.
DUBAI 2009 - Built by the Hitachi Company of Japan. Sammlung/Collection Reinhard Krischer.


Alweg Monorail Thoughts by Reinhard Krischer

Author of the German book "Alweg-Bahn
Author and webmaster of the website "The Alweg Archives"

y documentation work about the history of the Alweg monorail again and again leads to the question, why was the Alweg Company not successful.


From a scientific point of view it is difficult to find an answer to this question, because there exist no genuinely conclusive and affirmative documents and files that could explain, why promising Alweg projects were in the end rejected. One can however more or less continuously discover indications for rejection that is evidently based on moods, prejudices, personal opinions, irrationalities and false information. Not only the Alweg monorail is the victim of such rejection. Almost all technical innovations, modernizations or new developments have to contend with this form of rejection. And it’s not as if only technology is victimized this way, culture also must again and again put up with this sort of opposition. Any type of innovation, no matter in what field, initially, it seems, meets resistance that is formed for all sorts of reasons and is based on a wide variety of motives. Often this appears to simply originate in the wish to just oppose something, without actually being interested in the matter at all and not caring one bit if this opposition makes sense or not.


Involuntarily one asks oneself, how hard a time the people who invented the wheel must have had?

Presumably just as hard as the people who nowadays in the railroad industry wish to get rid of the wheel by introducing magnetic levitation technology.


Yet occasionally the researcher desperately looking out for scientific proof for this sort of opposition is presented with amazing examples. They may also not necessarily lend themselves to be „nailed down“ as scientific proof, but they illustrate the basic mood that is created by opposition for the sake of opposition, that often hides underneath the cover of a supposedly democratic duty to opposition in order to appear legitimate. A cover that frequently makes it impossible to simply reveal it as a form senseless opposition for the sake of opposition. Immeasurable damage is caused when excellent ideas are stifled from the beginning just because for example they do not originate from the opponents themselves. In the worst case this can even lead to a dangerous dissatisfaction with democratic processes, because the permanent procrastination or even rejection of innovations may be experienced as a weakness of democracy.

good example for this is currently the attempt by President Sarkozy of France to transform the capital Paris into a modern eco-technological metropolis. The political opposition and parts of the media are trashing the projects as if they had to prevent the ruin of the fatherland and of the occident as well. Sarkozy is even accused of personal motives, - suggesting, that like his predecessors, he just wishes to immortalize himself via city-architecture.
Even if it were so, does anyone have better suggestions?
Particularly in this economically precarious period it is time to at last choose new ways of doing things. New work and jobs can only be created with new ideas and technologies. Since up to date it has been neglected on a wide scale to adapt old technologies to new requirements, because one prefered quick profit to ecological and economical sustainability, one must now react quickly. This urgency is no doubt going to cost us dearly, because without the warning shot of the world economic crisis still no one would have understood, how little time is left to seriously begin this process of rethinking. There is no more time for the good, old selfish opposition for the sake of opposition. The difficult thing is that rethinking does not only mean rethinking, but „newthinking“! Opposition alone will no longer be enough.
For example one must at last learn lessons from history und not just hold Sunday-speeches about this often cited and demanded learning process. Modest and nowadays laughed at concepts such as „less is more“ should at last be taken seriously. Lobbyism should be banned as a scourge endangering political economics. Certain business and industry sectors should be reduced back to their original function. Industrially manufactured products should not become overvalued icons, whose possession is mistaken as a sign for a technologically highly developed civilization and culture. Service sectors should be obliged to offer services, instead of securing themselves spheres of power through monopolistic strategies that are in no way interested in the wishes of the average consumer.
But all this is part of the difficult road called „Newthink“.

It is less difficult to make quick profits the old way in the economic world and in political life it is less strenuous to simply verbally oppose things as always. It is less strenuous to now and then plead dramatically for sustainability and to occasionally act with deep indignation at the right moments. It is less strenuous to let storms of indignation by taxpayers and voters subside and to let grief caused by avoidable catastrophes be replaced by daily pressures of life. And in case a genuine “newthinker” should appear or when innovative ideas threaten old privileges and benefits, then one must from the beginning make these look to be untrustworthy, no matter how, legally or illegally.
One can make anything disappear, - persons, things, even ideas.
One can even, for example, forbid private archives.
Or hope that archives are lost … *

ne of the architecture and city-planning firms that developed Sarkozy’s idea proposes an elevated transit line encircling the metropolitan area of Paris. This proposal is accompanied by an illustration.

This illustration shows an Alweg-type monorail. It is not described as such, but that does not alter the fact that this is an Alweg. Just like it was developed and demonstrated in Cologne-Fühlingen from 1951 to 1967. It was rejected by the city of Cologne. It was rigorously forgotten in the City of Cologne. And when its name accidentally reappears, one immediately says, oh, nothing ever came of it.

Now suddenly it is back again, - very close by, maybe one day encircling Paris.

Link to pdf-edition of brochure for the exhibition "LE GRAND PARI(S)".
Above mentioned illustration can be found on page 13.

In Dubai on April 30, 2009, the Palm Jumeirah Monorail line officially began public service. It connects the mainland with the first of the artificial “Palm Islands” in the ocean off the shore of Dubai. The monorail was built by the Hitachi Company of Japan that in the early 1960s acquired license rights from the Alweg Company in Cologne-Fühlingen. Since then Hitachi has continued to build Alweg-type monorails. In Dubai people are enthusiastic about this airy means of transportation, quietly riding on a narrow concrete beamway above the street traffic and the ocean and giving the passengers a singular panoramic view.
Many „emerging countries“ are by now interested in this type of transportation system. Several such systems exist and operate successfully in Asia. In Mumbai, it is reported, construction of a comprehensive monorail transit line (Alweg-type) is to have started recently.

The Alweg Company already in the 1950s pointed out the thoroughly ecological and economical aspects of its concept (e.g. short construction periods with minimal obstruction of existing traffic structures, more economical than two-rail solutions, quiet operation, elevated beamway above existing traffic, excellent safety characteristics, using minimal space). But city-planners and city-politicians did not want such a system. They called it a laughable and inoperable utopian vision.

The international press reported about Sarkozy’s plan for a green “Grand Paris”. The two Cologne dailies also reported it. The illustration of the elevated monorail however reminded no one in the Cologne editorial offices of the history of Cologne’s Alweg monorail. Quite the contrary, one of the papers called it a „hover-rail-line“. No one explained, what that is supposed to be. The renowned German financial paper „Handelsblatt“ called it „ a type of Super-Metro“. And the posh German art magazine „art“ included said illustration and in enviable ignorance of the history of technical design offered the caption: „The suspension railway greets“. (Using the German term used for the famous Wuppertal suspension monorail.)

Now after Dubai’s Hitachi Monorail, Type-Alweg, has successfully started its service, many VIPs from the „First World“ (particularly also journalists) will take note of this line with wonder and amazement and will ask: „Why don’t we have something practically beautiful like this back home?“

* In the City Of Cologne, Germany, on March 3, 2009, the entire City Archives Building collapsed and disappeared into a crater caused by subway construction underneath the downtown street on which the building stood, killing two persons, destroying neighbouring apartment houses and causing immense and irreparable damage to the archived material. This historic archive was in Western Europe the largest such archive north of the Alps.

Reinhard Krischer
May 2009

July 2009

When in the year 2000 the Seattle Alweg monorail began its travels through the Frank O. Gehry-designed EMP Museum of Rock Music the monorail, built by Alweg for the Century 21 World's Fair of 1962, had truly arrived in the 21rst century.

The innovative architecture of Frank O. Gehry conveys a feeling of what future can be like. The monorail concept fits right in.

Innovative creativity has always led the way to new developments. But it's a long way that calls for the concerted and patient efforts of creative people from all fields. Only with such efforts can the rigid bureaucratic barriers that hem in the horizons and activities of established civil service architects and city planners be opened.

So it was a very positive surprise to note that the renowned Paris Atelier of Christan de Protzamparc put forth a proposal for a monorail line to help conglomerate the metropolitan area of Paris not only physically, but also socially.

Right into this progressive view of social and ecological city planning fits the vision that American author and screenwriter Steven Paul Leiva includes in his wonderful and very personal essay about the famous writer Ray Bradbury. ("Searching for Ray Bradbury, an essay", Los Angeles Times, July 13, 2009, - see link below)

In the early 1960s Ray Bradbury - then already an internationally acclaimed writer - pleaded for the construction of a monorail rapid transit system to solve the growing traffic problems of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The Alweg Company had back then offered to build such a monorail system, but the L.A. city fathers (and whoever else ?) for whatever reason did not want one. Ray Bradbury despite that promoted the Alweg concept during numerous appearances in those days, - and keeps repeating his plea to this day!

In his essay Steven Paul Leiva lyrically describes what L.A. might be like today had a monorail system been built. Even though his vision describes, what might have been that does not mean that it is too late to save metropolitan conglomerates from traffic and social chaos by building monorail systems. Quite the contrary, his wonderful vision should be an inspiration to all concerned, to everyone working in concerted efforts for truly liveable cities.

Link to Steven Paul Leiva's essay about Ray Bradbury.

Don't overlook the comments below the essay.

A special note: When French movie director François Truffaut produced his timeless 1966 film version of Ray Bradbury's great novel "Fahrenheit 451" he included in his film scenes with the Safege suspension monorail that was then being developed and tested in France. (see the page "Alweg Competition" )

July 2009
Reinhard Krischer

ALWEG Seattle 1962 - Still in operation today. - Photo Sammlung/Collection Reinhard Krischer.
DUBAI 2009 - Built by the Hitachi Company of Japan. Sammlung/Collection Reinhard Krischer.

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