Techno-Squabbles and Dual Mode Vehicles – RailBus, BusRail

Post by Gondola Project

DMV vehicles were developed based on a collaborative effort between Nissan and Japan Rail Hokkaido. Image from Wikipedia.

Last Thursday, we briefly looked at AutoTrams – an attempt to combine the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) of both worlds in rail and bus technology. We’ve had a fairly robust debate in our comments section on the benefits and limitations of such a configuration. Then I thought, what would happen if you take this idea to the next logical step?

To my surprise, such a concept exists and it’s called the DMV (Dual Mode Vehicle) – a vehicle capable of running on both rail tracks and rubber wheels. Apparently, this concept is not entirely new and  first attempted during the 1930s in England but failed due to excessive time required to switch modes (bus to rail and vice versa) and costs related to develop system.

A DMV vehicle can switch between modes in less than 15 seconds. Image by Hokkaido Railway Company.

But this time around, the DMV is experiencing substantial success. First started in 2005, the vehicle is now under testing in Japan and has enabled Japan Rail Hokkaido to continue providing convenient, point-to-point and profitable (important because existing rail services have been in debt due to low ridership) transport for small, rural towns with declining populations. According to some new sources in Japan, the system is expect to go public sometime this year.

Given the flexibility, uniqueness, and innovativeness of these vehicles, they’re surprisingly not that expensive and within the right context, may be able to fulfill a niche within the urban transit market. According the Miami Herald, it costs USD $250,000 for a 28 passenger vehicle with low fuel and maintenance costs (for immediate comparison purposes – light rail vehicle: ~$3,000,000 (link 1, link 2); trolley bus: $850,000-1,300,000; standard regular bus: $250,000-400,000; hybrid bus: $480,000-750,000 (link 1, link 2).

The best part of this vehicle lies in its duality. The flexibility of a bus, but the comfort and appeal of rail. Well… maybe not appeal, the design needs some work, but it’s not impossible to fix. You may exclaim, what about capacity!? It’s too low!! Based on online sources, vehicles can be linked. See for yourself.

2 vehicles at 28 passenger capacities = 56 passengers. Image by kitouin.fc2web.com.

3x28 = 84 passengers (in case you were wondering if three vehicles can be linked). Image by Asahi.com

So could the successful implementation of a DMVs put an end to some of the meaningless technological squabbles? Since it’s both a bus and rail vehicle, maybe some transit specialists and decision makers can set aside their differences and instead, concentrate on improving transit service.

It’s hard to argue for BRT or LRT if the vehicle is both rail and bus at the same time. But then again, given the techno-zealotry that exists in transit planning, it could spawn an entirely new ball game. BRT vs. LRT vs. DMV anyone?

For more pictures of this system, click here.

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  1. Matt the Engineer
    For costs, consider capacity. I believe the light rail vehicles hold about 360 passengers, depending on how many cars they considered in the cost. That makes these close to the same cost per person. And since nobody's bought one yet, it's hard to consider that price real. That doesn't mean they couldn't make sense in some cases, I just wanted to keep the cost numbers in perspective.
  2. I believe LRVs can hold anywhere from 160-840 per train. Toronto's new LRVs are expected to hold 280. http://www.thestar.com/news/transportation/article/1129024--when-is-a-streetcar-not-a-streetcar-when-it-s-lrt
  3. but why did they have to make it look like a school bus?
  4. You have wrong costs regarding Trolleybus - 250.000 $ are just the cost of conversion from old articulated diesel busses into electrical trolleybus ... a new articulated Trolleybus costs between 1 and 1,3 million $
  5. Who knows. Maybe a short yellow bus in Japan doesn't have the same stigma that it does in North America.
  6. Corrected. Thanks GiorgioXT.
  7. In this cas I woould recommend also "Buscarril" e.g. http://www.sateliteferroviario.com.ar/notas/11_02_bolivia/parte2/IMG_1721.JPG i.e. converting roadvehicles to railvehicles. As they are very light weight, railroads otherwise not useable due to decay (and no money left to restore) can be used for a longer period. I am a bit sceptic on the convertible vehicles - but as the priciple is shown above it looks as if the car is converted very fast. If the conversion time is maximum five minutes (an ideal change time from train to bus, the film proofe it is lower than that!) it might work. But I think it can only be used on tracks with no other traffic - due to safety regulations. As far as I know this ist alread a problem with tram-trains like in Karlsruhe. Those trains have to hold a collision with a regular freight train. I doubt those buses will.