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Could this driverless, monorail people mover be part of Fort Worth’s future?

An overhead people-mover system similar to the Clarian Health vehicles in Indianapolis could be built in Fort Worth.
An overhead people-mover system similar to the Clarian Health vehicles in Indianapolis could be built in Fort Worth. Schwager Davis Inc.

This could be Fort Worth’s version of “Tomorrowland.”

In their quest to solve Fort Worth’s growing traffic congestion problems, city officials are taking a look at perhaps building a driverless, overhead monorail people mover system that resembles the type of transit used at Disney’s Tomorrowland for decades.

“This could revolutionize how people get around in Fort Worth,” Fort Worth Transportation Authority President Scott Mahaffey said.

It’s way too early to talk specifics about where the people mover might operate and what parts of the city it might connect — or even if city officials agree that it’s a worthwhile idea.

But Wednesday, the transportation authority had a special meeting to hear a pitch from the president of a company that specializes in making low-cost, low-speed but highly efficient driverless trains.

Guido Schwager, president of Schwager Davis Inc., told board members and other city officials that an overhead people mover can be up and running within three years after a contract is signed. He has built similar people movers at a medical district in Indianapolis, an airport in Maui, Hawaii and other projects in many other cities.

The project in Indianapolis, which was privately funded to connect two Clarian Health Partners hospitals, spans 1.4 miles and cost $40 million to design and build, including three stations, he said.

A price tag like that is far less than the typical cost of buses (roughly $200,000 each) and trains.

For example, the planned TEXRail commuter train line that is scheduled to open Dec. 31 from downtown Fort Worth to Grapevine and DFW Airport is 28 miles long and is expected to cost more than $1 billion. That price tag includes seven new stations.

But more important, Mahaffey says, is that a low-cost transit alternative such as the one offered by Schwager could be the type of mobility solution that bridges political divides.

“I’m amazed at how efficient it is, (and) the good thing is transportation is not a political issue,” he said. “Being a conservative, I look at it as a way to bring money into our city. Liberals look at it as a way to move people around our city.”

Schwager said the system could be built on city right-of-way, with vertical concrete columns installed on streets, medians or the space between the streets and sidewalks.

“All we need is a 4-foot space. The city could donate right of way,” Schwager said.

In 2010, the Fort Worth City Council voted against building a streetcar system that would have connected several neighborhoods within a few miles of downtown. In the process, the city sent back a $25 million grant that had been awarded for the project, and that money eventually went to Dallas for that city’s streetcars.

The people mover’s concrete guideway would not have an electrical rail, said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. Instead, the power would be inside the vehicles themselves, which would be controlled by on-board artificial intelligence.

Several Fort Worth council members attended the meeting. Councilman Cary Moon has proposed asking voters to decide whether the city should rearrange its funding to spend more on public transportation.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

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