The H-Train for Leeds
Prof Reinhold Behringer
Leeds, November 2013
There is overall consensus that Leeds needs a modernisation of its public transport system. Road traffic congestion in Leeds and Bradford is the worst in England , and several schemes for reducing road traffic by improving public transport have been proposed in recent years. There is an alternative solution for a capable and sustainable urban transport scheme that has not been discussed much: the building of a hanging train network, the H-Train . The main advantage of this concept is immediately apparent: the train does not require changes to the road network, because it can move in the space above it instead of sharing the same road space. Also, the construction is much less intrusive to existing infrastructure and buildings, and the construction cost per mile is lower than of other schemes (Supertram , Trolley Bus ). The specific design of the hanging rail system is very advantageous in bad weather, because the track is protected from wind, snow and rain by its design. There are several such hanging-train systems already in operation worldwide, and more are currently being built in cities in China (Beijing , Shanghai ). In the UK, there is no such hanging train system yet, so building this system in Leeds would be seen as highly innovative, and would certainly provide a boost in the esteem of Leeds.
The following pages provide an overview on some of the aspects of the H-Train system and its possible adoption for Leeds. The data in this report can be used for further discussions around the future development of the Leeds Urban Transport System. They were collected from publicly available sources, and references are provided wherever possible.
The concept of a hanging train is not a novelty per se: already in 1901 this concept was realised in the construction of the Wuppertaler Schwebebahn  in Germany. The booming town of Wuppertal had very little space for additional public transport at that time, and so it was decided to build the train lines in such a way that the trains were hanging from rails above the river Wupper (see Figure 1). It nowadays transports 25 million passengers annually over a distance of 13.3 km (8.3 miles).
In the 1960s, the French consortium SAFEGE  developed this concept further and built several hanging monorail train lines in Japan (Chiba and Shonan). Following these designs, the company Siemens developed the much lighter SIPEM (Siemens People Mover) concept, which was realised as the H-Bahn  in Dortmund  (1984) with 5,000 passengers daily and at the Airport Düsseldorf  (2003) which can transport 2,000 passengers per hour. There are currently further plans to build such lines in China (Beijing  and Shanghai ) with capacities of up to 12,000 passengers per hour.
These examples show that the technology for the hanging trains is very mature and has proven to work reliably. The technical concepts and improvements are well documented  since the 1970s.
The H-Train system as it has evolved until today has several advantages:
- Surface infrastructure remains intact. The surface infrastructure of roads and buildings does not need to be significantly altered when constructing and operating an H-Train, because the train will run above the ground. No surface rail tracks need to be laid, no additional bus lanes need to be paved or cut from existing road lanes. The only thing that needs to be done is to erect pillars, from which the elevated track hangs down. These can be put as arches over existing roads, hereby leaving them intact for the existing traffic. This also will preserve listed houses and leave buildings intact.
- No negative influence on existing traffic. This principle of the trains floating above the existing infrastructure and traffic also has the effect, that the operation of these trains does not impede this traffic. Operating an H-Train does not cause additional congestion, because it does not take away any space of existing roads.
- Not being influenced by existing congestion. The H-Trains are not affected by road traffic congestion as for example trolley busses with shared lanes would be, because the train will simply glide above the traffic.
- Quiet operation. The rubber wheels with which the H-Train runs on its rails provide a smooth and quiet ride of the trains even through residential areas. This makes the H-Train suitable for local traffic in quiet neighbourhood areas.
- Weatherproof. The track is protected by a continuous cover, protecting it from wind, rain, ice and snow. This is a significant advantage of the H-Train over surface-bound systems such as trams and busses, which suffer in wintry conditions the same problems as the other road traffic too.
- Fully autonomous and driverless. The H-Trains are operating without drivers, hereby saving operation cost and providing more efficient space for passengers. A central control hub provides remote control and supervision of all trains that are running on the network.
- Small footprint of stations. The carriages are relatively short (about 10 m = 30 ft), and the station platforms need only to be as long as the longest combination of carriages in a train. This is usually 2 carriages, which then requires only a total length of 20 m (60 ft).
These inherent advantages of the H-Train show that this system is truly able to provide additional transport capacity instead of only taking it away from existing transport systems. All cars and busses will be able to run unimpeded by the H-Train concept. And since this train system will be an attractive alternative to passengers for switching from driving their cars to riding the H-Train, this system will indeed reduce road traffic congestion.
The following possible shortcomings of an H-Train system need to be noted:
- How to board an elevated train? One detrimental issue is that the elevation of the train would require passengers who want to board the train, would somehow have to come up to that height. But this is the same issue which does also exist with underground train systems, just the other way round: instead of having to move several levels deeper, passengers somehow need to climb up to the trains. There are several mitigations of this issue: a) The train track can be constructed in such a way that the train at stations is actually near ground level. This will require areas at the side of roads, similar to bus stops, where instead of a bus the H-Train moves down to allow boarding from the ground surface. The track elevation would then be higher only in those places where the track leads over roads and above existing infrastructure. b) The elevation of the H-train can be used to enter buildings at a higher level in the 2nd floor, which can be advantageous in several instances. c) In cases where it cannot be avoided that the station is at an elevated level, the access to the platform can be provided through escalators and lifts.
- Relatively low speed. Compared to a tram, which can go 70 km/h = 44 mph, the speed of the H-Train is lower (50 km/h = 30 mph). This makes the H-Train more suitable for closely spaced stations instead of bridging longer distances. For inner-city connections, the speed of 30 mph is, however, sufficient.
- Futuristic. Some may have concerns about the futuristic look of the “hanging train”, in the context of traditional housing and listed buildings. However, this concept of the hanging train is much more positive for conservation and preservation, as it does only have minimal impact on existing infrastructure. Contrary to other ground-based transport systems, which require significant demolition, the H-Train can be added into existing settings without impact on buildings and roads. Also, the combination of the H-Trains with traditional historic buildings can demonstrate that a city embraces both the past, the presence and the future.
- Safety. Some may be concerned that a train hanging up to 50 feet above pedestrians and road traffic could be a hazard. This has been disproven by the already existing installations, which have been operated without accidents for many decades. The carriages do not have windows that can be opened by passengers, and the doors open and close automatically at the stations. Therefore, nobody can through objects from the train. Also the stations have automatic doors on the platform edge, which only open when a train has stopped.
The capacity of an H-Train system can be scaled by the size of each carriage, the number of carriages per train, and the frequency of trains operating. The SkyTrain at Düsseldorf Airport runs trains with 2 carriages, each of them with a capacity of 32 standing passengers and 15 seated passengers, leading to a total capacity of 94 passengers per train . The overall transport capacity of this particular line is 2000 passengers per hour.
The H-Train systems currently being installed in China will have larger carriages, leading to trains with 500 passengers . The envisioned capacity of these systems is 12,000 passengers per hour.
The installation of the H-train in Dortmund cost at that time €12.3 million per km (1st phase in 1984) and €15.5 million (2nd phase in 2003) . In Shanghai, the cost per km is envisioned to be $19.5 million per km . The exchange rate as of 8.November 2013 is 1$ = 0.62£. This leads to a cost of £12.1 million per km or £19.3 million per mile.
Compared to the Trolley Bus Scheme  which has been proposed for Leeds, the construction cost per km of H-Train line is much cheaper, as shown in Table 1.
Table 1. Construction Cost Comparison
|Construction cost per km||£20.0 million||£12.1 million|
|Construction cost per mile||£32.0 million||£19.3 million|
The low cost estimation for the construction of H-Train lines can be explained with the carriages and many parts of the track being manufactured in China.
The H-Train has the following specifications:
Maximum speed:bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb50 km/h (31 mph)
Typical height above ground:bbbbbbbb16 m (51 ft)
Smallest curvature radius:bbbbbbbbbbb30 m (100 ft)
Capacity:bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbup to 12,000 passengers per hour
The fundamental challenges of the road traffic situation in Leeds have led to other proposals to improve it. The Leeds Supertram was proposed to bring back the Leeds light rail system which had been abandoned in 1959 . However, a lot of investment and construction would be required, and building new tram lines would even more restrict the existing road network, as lanes for cars would have to be closed to make room for tram rail tracks. The proposed cost for this project did spiral out of control, from £500 million to above £1 billion, and the proposal was scrapped in 2005.
The newest proposal is for an Electric Trolley Bus scheme , which has the advantage of sharing its lane with regular traffic and requiring less construction cost (£250 Million). However, there are doubts that this scheme will contribute significantly to reducing road traffic congestion, because it shares the same roads. Specific bus lanes will reduce space available for regular traffic, and congestion may increase. There are also currently objections regarding specific construction measures , and a specific campaign has organised resistance to the Trolley Bus scheme .
Table 2 shows a comparison of the features of the three possible transport improvement schemes for Leeds.
Table 2. Comparison of the three proposals for Leeds public transport improvements.
|Construction cost in million £||
|Capacity in passengers per hour||
|Max. speed in km/h / mph||
|Is independent of road traffic congestion||
Only when tracks are not on road
Only when separate lanes are used
|Leaves buildings and other infrastructure intact||
only stations to be built
|Leaves road lanes intact||
The nature of the H-Train favours connecting highly populated residential and business areas, with stations that are spaced within relatively short distances. This means that such a system is well suited for the city centre area. Each line has 2 tracks, one for each direction. These two tracks do not necessarily have to be always in close proximity, but can be separated, should the specific road and building situation require it.
Naturally, for longer distances, there is a trade-off between the number of stations and the overall average speed: short distances between the stations require frequent stops which reduce the overall speed of the train. But short distances between the stations also make the train attractive and accessible to more passengers, and the more businesses can be in the vicinity of a station, the bigger the benefits to the overall economy.
The single long line as proposed for the Trolley Bus system can be shortened significantly for the H-Train system: The “Headingley Line” should not go further than Headingley itself, and in the South the P+R should not be in Stourton but at the South Leeds Sports Centre. This significantly shortens the overall length of “Line 1” and leaves resources for other lines, for the benefit of communities within Leeds other than just at the Headingley corridor.
The proposed topology of the line network should connect places with high traffic volume, so as to ensure the acceptance and success of this transport system. Such places are primarily shopping centres, which also have the advantage of already having infrastructure for parking. Using the parking at these shopping centres for free P+R should be part of the concept: if people are to use the H-Train and give up driving their cars, a sufficient number of parking places must be available. The parking facilities at these shopping malls may need to be extended to provide sufficient space for the additional demand. The malls will, however, benefit from the additional traffic and the additional customers which can bring more business.
The H-Train lines should also have stops at existing train stations within Leeds, to improve the overall public transport network with an integrated approach. This will make both the H-Train and rail lines more attractive to passengers.
H-Train stops should also be in busy high streets of local communities, to link these to the rest of Leeds and provide attractive access to their businesses. Furthermore, H-Train stops shall be at venues which at times have very high numbers of visitors: the Leeds Arena, Headingley Stadium, Elland Stadium. Based on the specific situation in Leeds, the following network topology has been envisioned in this proposal: three lines would go across the Leeds city centre to connect peripheral parts of the town with the centre. In Figure 3, the proposal of three lines is shown schematically, which links several areas of Leeds together.
The H-Train stations can be relatively short, because the trains are not expected to be longer than 20m (=66ft). For cost savings, a central platform which gives access to both travel direction may be preferred.
Stations are in general above the ground level, and this can be used to provide access directly into relevant buildings (e.g. Arndale Centre, on top of bus station, crossing into Leeds Railway Station on 2nd floor). However, stations also can be on ground level, if the train lines are built to lower the trains towards the ground level. In this case, the train track will be sloped into those ground-based stations and will allow the trains to move down into the station and move up again.
The H-Train should not necessarily run along established high-traffic fast roads, but should instead connect local centres with high-density business and residential use. Stations should be made at retail parks where there are a lot of parking spaces. These should be used to encourage P+R use, even if then the number of parking spaces would need to be increased. Such retail parks also provide of course a high attraction to customers, and it is hoped that the connection to the H-Train will tempt car travellers to give up coming by car and instead using the H-Train. Such retail parks are for example Crown Point Retail Park, Morrisons Kirkstall, Tesco Seacroft, White Rose Centre. Furthermore, high traffic venues need to have stations, such as Headingley Stadium, the Arena, and the universities. In addition, cultural centres should have a station, such as Royal Armouries, Leeds Town Hall, libraries and museums.
The Leeds Railway is a central transportation hub in any of the proposed public transport schemes for Leeds. Passenger traffic through the station has grown 2004-2012 by 1.3 million passengers per year to 25.020 million passengers per year , which means an average of 68,000 passengers per day. On a typical week day, in the morning peak hours there are about 23,000 passengers arriving, and in the evening peak hours there are about 24,500 passengers departing from the station . Not all of these passengers will use the H-Train for the connection to and from the station; there will still be significant other traffic from the station, with taxis, busses, and also individual cars. However, the H-Train system must be able to accept a significant bulk of the continuing travel for it to be successful in reducing other traffic congestion. Therefore, at least 2 lines should be intersecting at Leeds Railway Station to provide good connectivity to other regions of Leeds. A detailed study should be undertaken which would highlight where the journey of arriving passengers in Leeds continues within the city, and from which part of Leeds the train passengers who depart from the station commute.
Considering a 2-carriage train which can transport around 100 passengers, and two intersecting (bi-directional) lines: this scenario would be able to move 400 passengers to and away from the station simultaneously. If the timing in rush hour would be one train every 3 minutes, this would make 20 trains per line per direction per hour, or 80 trains totally, providing a capacity of 8000 passengers / hour.
Another important transportation hub in the centre of Leeds is the City Bus Station with its 26 bus stands. It is 800 m to the East from the Leeds Railway Station. Due to its importance as the main bus hub in Leeds, it also should be connected by two intersecting lines.
The H-Train station at this location should also serve the markets and the nearby West Yorkshire Playhouse, but in order to provide the shortest possible access to transportation, the H-Train platforms should be as close to the bus stands as possible. They might be placed on the 2nd floor on top of the existing bus station building.
The Leeds Railway Station and the Leeds Bus Station shall be linked with a direct line. Both hubs will be at the intersection of two lines, hereby providing many connections into the city.
The Trolley Bus Scheme proposes a single line, mostly following Otley Road, through Leeds Train Station to Stourton with a P+R station. The proposed line is 14.8 km long . While part of the H-Train proposal would also follow this line (along Otley Road), there are a few shortcomings of the line proposed for the Trolley Bus, which are hereby addressed:
The Trolley Bus Line favours the parts north of the city centre, but has very few stops south of the centre (6). The Headingley corridor is treated preferentially over other also densely populated areas of Leeds.
It appears not to be cost-conscious to build the line up north of the Ring Road beyond the planned Bodington P+R facilities into Holt Park, as there is not very much traffic to be expected.
The P+R facility might be better suited near the South Leeds Sports Centre instead of in Stourton, for the following reasons: it is closer to the centre of the city and therefore shortens the ride on the public transport into the city centre. Also, it can be better reached from the West, as the drive on the M-621 is shortened.
In general, the Trolley Bus Scheme only proposes one single line, which will not benefit large parts of Leeds Instead, it would be better to build at least two lines, to bring a higher volume of passengers into the city centre.
The Trolley Bus construction will have a significant impact on Otley Road, building and parks, as documented by public advocate groups . The road will have to be widened, therefore taking more space and reducing green space at the sides.
The thoughts presented in this proposal show that the H-Train is a feasible solution for the Leeds Transport problems. The material presented here can lead to renewed discussions about how to build a future-proof public transport system for Leeds. Further study is needed about the actual transport streams, in order to select the optimal placement of stations and lines so that the system benefits as many passengers as possible.
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- Wu Jin. “Shanghai mulls air train scheme.” China.org.cn. 10.May 2013. http://www.china.org.cn/china/2013-05/10/content_28787314.htm
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It is to be noted that the author of this study is not affiliated with any manufacturer or stakeholder of the H=Train, but is simply a concerned citizen of Leeds and wants to contribute to improving the dire traffic situation that he is enduring every day.
Current distributor of the H-Train:
Air Train International GmbH
Emil-Figge-Str. 71 d
There is unfortunately no email address or web page of this company. They also have a dependency in Shanghai which is currently involved in working on the H-Train projects in China. Project director appears to be Chang-Qui Chen.