Monorail Sao Paulo

Alweg Engineer

Alweg Aviation

Alweg und Transrapid

Alweg Lessons

ALWEG Thoughts 2006/2007

Alweg Thoughts 2003-2007

Alweg Museum

Alweg Art / Kunst

Über Zukunft

Alweg Inspired Thoughts 2003 - 2007
Alweg-inspirierte Gedanken 2003 - 2007

According to an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of April 17, 2008, the new Seattle streetcar line, the South Lake Union Streetcar, was involved in its fourth collision accident since it opened up in December 2007. ("South Lake Union Streetcar has fourth collision since December")

Laut einem Artikel in der Tageszeitung Seattle Post-Intelligencer vom 17. April, 2008, war die neue Straßenbahnlinie, die South Lake Union Streetcar, in den vierten Kollisionsunfall seit ihrer Eröffnung im Dezember 2007 verwickelt. ("South Lake Union Streetcar has fourth collision since December")

South Lake Union Trolley
Official Website

Note the safety precautions to be found on this website of the Seattle streetcar line.
Beachten Sie die Sicherheitstipps auf dieser Webseite der Seattle Straßenbahn.

A Streetcar Named Regression

by Reinhard Krischer


© Reinhard Krischer, December 2007

  Appearances often mislead. When someone lets a futuristic mode of transit transportation pass through his Gehry-designed museum of rock music that evidently doesn’t automatically mean that he’s a thoroughly progressive sort of fellow.
 Seattle’s Alweg monorail trains were built for the 1962 World’s Fair that had as its motto “Century 21”. The monorail was a show-case demonstration of rapid transit technology meant to improve upon then existing systems. The monorail line was built in a city that had no modern rapid transit system. Its initial streetcar system had been abandoned during the early 1940s. In 1962 some farsighted folks looked at the monorail and suggested to e.g. extend it out to the airport of Seattle.
 Farsightedness in public offices is rare and when it puts up its intelligent head it is quickly squashed by the short-term-profit majority. That’s evidently no different in Seattle. For over 40 years that majority obstructed what farsighted individuals wanted. Lessons hidden in the messages of that “Century 21” exposition were ignored.
 Certain electronic developments however finally put the city on the map. Some experts called these new ways to supervise old jobs a new industrial revolution. Well, that’s up for discussion. Particularly since many aspects and developments of this new revolution are not after all contributing to humanizing the world. But it started the myth that the home of important developments of this new revolution must be a more progressive place than others.
 So when the 21rst century actually began some people thought that it might be a good idea to finally build an appropriate transit system, aptly called the Green Line. At first it turned out that the populous really still loved its monorail and wanted a new and more extensive one. But by a clever campaign of good old political attrition the Green Line plans were turned into an unacceptable disaster.
 All the safe, clever and progressive advantages of elevated transit in the form of space-saving monorail technology were forgotten. Not even the seemingly progressive heads of that new industrial revolution saw the light and the short-term-profit crowd felt safe enough to spread the word that digging tunnels and putting up light-rail viaducts was much nicer and cheaper than having an airy, quiet and aesthetically pleasing monorail.
 The monorail still passes through the Gehry-designed museum of rock music. The message of its passage however was lost on its initiator. Instead, on the twelfth of December 2007, a streetcar line will be inaugurated as if to underline the tragic reality of that evidently never understood passage to modernity through the Experience Music Project.
 Satire is a form of European humour not generally appreciated by the practical American mind. So the most modern form of satire – “real satire” – will be even more difficult to comprehend. But this new streetcar line can serve as an excellent example. Seven years into century 21 the Seattle Times prepares its hi-tech-generation readers for the coming of the streetcar by giving advice as this:
“How to drive near the streetcars: Proceed wisely through crowded intersections, so as not to wind up stopped on the tracks. Avoid sudden turns and lane changes in front of the trains. How to park: Maneuver your car close to the curb, making sure wheels and mirrors are inside the solid white safety line, so a streetcar won’t sideswipe the driver’s side. Also watch for a train before opening doors. How to bike: New rails in the curb lanes of Westlake Avenue create a serious safety hazard because bicycle tires can get caught in track grooves. Always cross train tracks at a perpendicular angle. Bicycles are allowed on the streetcars.”
 Real satire is when above the heads of thus safely informed citizens a monorail – offering none of the described hazards – has been zooming along for well over 40 years without ever having been extended …
Seattle's Streetcar Glory Days on Second Avenue. Is a return to this progressive? (Add todays automobile traffic to above image!)
The above collage by Reinhard Krischer is a private "vision" using an imagined Seattle Green Line train based on a self-built model of the Okinawa Naha monorail trains and a background photo of the original 1962 Seattle Alweg monorail Red Train. Copyright Reinhard Krischer.


Copyright January 2006 Reinhard Krischer

In the November 8, 2005, elections Seattle soundly rejected the new monorail project, the Green Line. I still say that a scientific study of why and how for 40 years no genuine transit progress was achieved could have shown (uncovered ?) the very mechanisms that led to this November 2005 destruction of the monorail project (in a city where at least 50% of the population love monorail). Those mechanisms are conventional political machines in a city that thinks of itsself as an unconventional city. A lot of folks in Seattle are no doubt more "unconventional" than folks in other metropolitan areas. Which has a lot to do with Seattle's beautiful and unique geographic location, - but this has not spared them from looking like Charlie Chaplin caught in the gears of conventional political machines!

The NO-vote on monorail is an amazing feat of regression after living for forty years with the icons of the 1962 World's Fair. If it weren't for firms like Microsoft, the look of Seattle's skyline, urban sprawl and traffic congestion, one might get the idea that the concept of a bright Century 21 (motto of the brave 1962 Fair) never sank in in the collective Seattle mentality. The NO-vote was possible because the collective mentality is still captured by the concepts of conventional politicians whose horizons are limited by the biological ends of their political careers, - that are divided into the short time spans an elected official may "govern".

The Green Line threatened to become much more expensive than originally planned.  One solution to this foreseeable development would have been "inter-generational borrowing”. The term itsself provoked further mistrust in the project, but common-sense-language has never been the strength of progressive movements. It would perhaps have been more helpful to point out again and again that public transit is a community service and that such services cannot be had without sacrifices for the common good. There's no such thing as a cheap public transit system! Two-rail or monorail! But in these days of glorified private public ownership (or public private ...) the virtues of genuine public service have been lost. Even though, - when things go wrong the surprised tax-payer suddenly starts calling for a responsible guiding hand of "the state" again. As in the case of transportation issues ...

And laying responsibility for the Green Line project into the hands of overpaid idealists was not the way to keep grassroots enthusiasm alive! It destroyed credibility! And this grassroots credibility was the amazing unconventionality of the initial Seattle Monorail project. It was a counterweight to the conventional mechanisms. And that's no doubt why it created such angry opposition. This opposition now doesn't even have to fear unconventional watchdogs, because those selfproclaimed watchdogs of unconventionality have already switched their “expertise” to solving light-rail-problems. The opposition will have registered this with a satisfied grin! And if anyone should still have the nerve to protest, the opposition will happily point out that elevated light-rail offers more and bigger brutalist support columns for watchdogs to raise a leg against!

What an amazing feat, - to reduce in the course of forty years the impetus and enthusiasm of a belief in future (because it was indeed brave to choose "Century 21" as a motto in  1962) to conventional tunnel digging !

Yes, conventional wisdom says: digging tunnels is much more profitable than doing things out in the open!

That's what all this is about, isn't it !!!???

The history of the Alweg Company proves just that. Seattle had the chance to at last change that part of the Alweg story. For a while it looked as if that might happen, - but I guess Alweg's passage through the EMP was just another unconventional symbol ...

It was good to observe the unconventional fight to try to get built what a lot of Seattle's citizens would like to see built. It's sad to see that democratic voting procedures can be led ad absurdum and can be used as a tool to keep on making profits the best conventional way: waste tax payers' money by making the tax payers believe that (in this case financial) doom is imminent !

So Seattle turned away from modernity.

As if to underline this sad fact the Seattle Center Monorail’s two Alweg trains – the last Alweg originals left in the world – sideswiped each other on November 26th, receiving bad bodywork damage. The fate of the trains and the line itsself is uncertain, - particularly now that the anti-monorail vultures already see themselves sitting safely on the expensive light-rail catenary, just waiting to liquidate the unloved monobeam symbol of their political opposition.

The fact that this accident was only possible because some “experts” had in 1988 been allowed to change the original foolproof Alweg configuration is already lost in the usual media superficiality, allowing one of the outstanding monorail technology safety features (passing trains cannot collide) to be forever questioned.

So while Seattle gratefully looks forward to being mercilessly milked by transportation industry diggers true progress moves on relentlessly in areas of the world that current industrial leaders still describe as emerging economies (whenever possible quietly investing heavily there themselves to be on the safe side).

Dubai will for example build monorail for its impressive and luxurious Palm Island project. That was officially announced in December 2005. This transportation system will receive the type of state-of-the-art trains that Seattle’s transportation establishment helped to reject.

A good look at the futuristic 1950s visions of the Alweg engineers will show that projects like Dubai were what Alweg was developed for. Seattle’s transportation visions that were inspired by the 1962 success of the Alweg World’s Fair line also took up those optimistic lines. (See the Palm Island video for a definition of modernity today, including glimpses of monorail at the end of the film: )

Oh yes, and it should not be forgotten that one of Seattle’s sister cities – the emerging mega-city Chongqing in China – has with the help of the Hitachi Company and its Alweg-based monorail technology built an extensive monorail line that demonstrates what monorail has to offer. In 2005 it was decided to further develop this technological cooperation there. Views of the Chongqing monorail also look like Alweg visions come true.

In the Spring of 2005 a conventional railroad train transporting 100 international standard containers made headlines, - travelling from Hohhot, capital of North China’s Inner Mongolia Region, to Frankfurt, Germany. The train passed through six countries, covering in 18 days a distance of 9,814 kilometers, inaugurating a new transnational train line. – Such transnational lines had also already been part of the original 1950s Alweg visions (see excerpt from Axel L. Wenner-Gren’s writings on the “Alweg – The Vision” page) …

The year 2005 also saw the beginning of a special “Germany in Japan Year 2005/2006” highlighting with many events cultural and trade relations between Germany and Japan. In this context the prestigious ThyssenKrupp Corporation published a chronology about its almost 150 year old business relationship with Japan. In this chronology is included the 1964 inauguration of the Hitachi-Alweg Haneda Line (see the Hitachi-Alweg pages), connecting successfully to this day the center of Tokyo with Haneda International Airport.

And ThyssenKrupp of course also informed in detail about its Transrapid Maglev technology and trains, - today already connecting China’s metropolis Shanghai with its international airport.

So it may have been a dark monorail year for Seattle, but in other places the Alweg heritage is remembered and the state-of-the-art Hitachi “Alweg monorail heirs” are proof of the continued modernity of the Alweg concept.

Cologne’s yellow-press daily published on November 28, 2005, a small photo showing the two sideswiped Seattle Alweg trains with the headline “Crash with the elevated railway”. The short note accompanying the photo starts with the sentence: “The super modern technology failed..“

Well, the Cologne journalist ace who discovered this AP press agency photo evidently just composed some catchy lines to go along with it. He or she just looked at those futuristic looking trains travelling in midair and probably concluded that this must be one of those typical American hi-tech things. How should he or she know that those trains were developed and built by Alweg Cologne’s American subsidiary in the early 1960s by Alweg engineers from Cologne …

Seattle, take note: your Alweg trains – even on nightime crash photos – still look like “super modern technology”. The “Century 21” Space Needle and Monorail from 1962 on helped carry Seattle into todays globalized world. They were and are the symbolic impetus that helped make Seattle what it is today. It would be greedily ungrateful to history to raze either one of these symbols … 



October 2005

Some spontaneous thoughts about the current Seattle monorail situation (from the luxury of a far away point of observation / Copyright Reinhard Krischer, Cologne, Germany):

Seattle's Mayor and Seattle's City Council have given the Green Line Monorail Project the thumbs-down!

The big question is: can the project be saved? The voters will get a chance to vote for a fifth time in November, - will they vote "yes"?

Things don't look good for the future of the project!

The monorail opposition is feeling strong, - strong enough to even consider tearing down the 1962 Alweg monorail line that is in need of refurbishment.

What is left to say at this point of Seattle monorail history that hasn't been said before?

Not much, because - as can be seen on the various pages of this website - it's all been said before in the hope of providing positive facts and arguments for a monorail transit solution.

It would be sad if the Seattle chapter of Alweg's history would close with the failure of the Green Line project that would simultaneously have facilitated the destruction of the original 1962 Alweg line and trains.

It would also be a self-destruction of a part of Seattle history, because in the big wide world outside the American Pacific Northwest the city is best known for Microsoft, Boeing, Space Needle and Monorail.

When people over here in Germany see the Seattle cover of my Alweg history book I am always surprised by how many of them recognize at once the Space Needle and the Monorail and happily exclaim: heh, that's Seattle, I've been there, rode the Monorail and was on the Space Needle. And the younger generations, to whom the name Alweg means nothing, are surprised to learn that those Seattle trains were developed and built here in Germany.

I am a far away observer of the Seattle Monorail Project, watching with interest because I document the history of the Alweg monorail company and its monorail concept. The 1962 Seattle Monorail is the last original Alweg line in the world.

There were from 1962 on hopes that this demonstration line for the 1962 Century 21 World's Fair would eventually be expanded into a full-sized transit system, something the City of Seattle does not have to this day. The City Council never voted for such a measure. Finally the citizens themselves voted in 1997 for construction of a monorail transit line, inspired by the transit idea of a certain colorful Seattleite named Falkenbury. It turned out to become a successful grassroots campaign forming the Seattle Monorail Project authority. But the "grassroots professionals" who formed this authority (how many genuine professional transit experts were amongst them ?) omitted to give the initiator a task nor a voice. But instead they allowed themselves non-grassroots salaries (so at least it looks from far away).

That perhaps was the authority's first big mistake (and thus already the beginning of its demise) and the grassroots supporters shouldn't just have looked on in angry surprise, they should have put a stop to the proceedings right then and there to save the character of their unique way to create a transit system for one of America's major cities.

Instead the authority finally ran into serious problems when it turned out that there wasn't enough money for the Green Line monorail as it was planned.

The monorail opposition probably anticipated just this order of events all along. Time was always on its side. In addition the fact that only one consortium put in a bid made it look as if only the most expensive solution were available. Totally obscuring the fact that for a unique system only the best and proven system should be chosen.

Finally the overall situation provoked the Mayor and the City Council to turn their thumbs down.

What is currently left is the original Alweg monorail line, built for that 1962 World's Fair with the motto "Century 21". The Alweg line needs refurbishment. It is no surprise that in the current mood there is now even open talk of tearing down this original.

It would be as if San Francisco decided to liquidate the cable cars or Wuppertal its suspension monorail (both cities opted for costly refurbishments !).

But for the time being the Seattle Alweg line still runs through the Frank O. Gehry designed EMP museum building symbolizing beautifully its actual breakthrough into Century 21. (Indeed, in other parts of the globe it does now look like a late breakthrough for the Alweg concept.) It's a symbol of lasting modernity, of what technology could achieve if it were not limited by pure profit-thinking and the limitations created by political election priorities.

For a while it looked in Seattle as if this might be a western hemisphere city that had grasped the idea that future is worth an extraordinary effort. That the gobal challenges ahead call for showing the eastern hemisphere how to manage technological progress. How to apply the lessons of the industrial revolution and its aftermath to the future instead of just watching one's own economic and environmental decline, whilst in other parts of the world industrial history begins to repeat itsself.

Strange, - that Seattle as one of the most important centers of the electronic industrial revolution cannot see that its symbols of modernity catapulted it to where it stands today!? Strange, - that in such a city the old regressive mechanisms of grey and boring real estate interests and established political election-cycle games still rule the metropolitan future and are even still able to legally ignore the wishes of at least half the voting population.

But evidently modernity is a tough lesson to learn. It's easier to just use modern technology than to also utilize it to plan livable long-term future. Like transit above automobile traffic ...

What a simple concept summarized so poetically in the initial Seattle grassroots slogan: Rise above it all!

Maybe the simplicity of this concept provokes powerful opposition by established forces because this call for change demonstrates how simple it really can be to plan sensible environmental urban and suburban future for everyone. But this basic simplicity is a danger to anyone whose life-plan is governed by the short-term horizon of bank accounts. Because change is a danger to the old established ways to make quick profit ...

It surprises me that opinions of the famous innovators of Seattle's "electronic revolution community" are not really being heard for example on this transit issue. Because I thought that they - if anyone - know, what change really means. (But maybe someone, who is criticized by his own industry colleagues, for saying something like, food is more important than computers, is tired of being exposed to "unchanged" attitudes).

So for the moment it looks as if my search for reasons why the Alweg concept has in its history always met such vehement and illogic opposition must again come to the conclusion that fear of positive change and modernity stand in the way of genuine progress ...

And for those who keep citing costs I can only say that for metropolitan areas and their tax paying populations prolonged "not building" is much more expensive than "building". Where would for example Seattle be today if in the 1960s a proposed monorail expansion had taken place? Instead for over 40 years transit was not much improved. How expensive has this "not building" really been for the overall economy of the city?

Maybe Seattle voters - if given another chance - will once again show their City Council that the voters are a "sovereign body" that wants to be taken seriously by the women and men it allows into public office. The Seattle Monorail Project should receive the same chances (time and money) that light-rail authorities are allowed. The SMP has afterall - despite big mistakes -already achieved amazing results in its overall project work.




Thoughts from Germany on November 3, 2004.

Cologne, Germany         Copyright  Reinhard Krischer


CONGRATULATIONS SEATTLE !!!  -  For the fourth time Seattle voters have voted for a monorail system! This time it was not only a vote for continuation of the planning of the project, but also for keeping the vehicle tax necessary to finance the project. And it was a vote against a “monorail recall”-campaign financed in large part by “business interests” opposed to the monorail project.


It’s a vote that says a lot about the voters of Seattle. Politicians would no doubt call such voters “responsible voters”, unafraid of even imposing a tax on themselves. On the other hand voting against certain “business interests” may for some politicians be a bit too much “voter independence”. But that’s exactly what is exemplary of Seattle voters.


Wouldn’t it be most admirable if the Seattle way to vote would not just be concentrated on the Pacific Northwest?

Maybe national – and also international - election analysts could determine what characteristics and factors combine to create the “autonomous Seattle voter profile”. All those politicians (not just in the United States) who keep calling for better education and for more citizens willing to be politically active could use the results of such a study to make voters more willing to be responsible and less gullible to false statistics and fear mongering!


So the Seattle monorail project has taken another hurdle on its long way to becoming reality.


As I have suggested before: someone should attempt to write a thesis about why Seattle still does not have a truly modern rapid transit system.

Or is that an impossible task because there are factors involved that cannot be nailed down with scientific methods ?

Maybe there’s too much interdisciplinary work involved?

But it’s just that what politicians and economic experts are right now (again) calling for to be able to better function in the global economy!

Planning a modern transit system for a modern city can be a blueprint for modern planning in general. Can show, how planning for the future is achieved despite resistance from shortsighted established political groups, businesses and industries interested mainly in fast profits.

Such a “Seattle Blueprint” could do much more than explain, why the over 40 year old call of Seattle’s citizens for “extend our monorail” was so stubbornly disregarded by the city government. Till unexpectedly the citizens took it into their own hands. This “Seattle Blueprint” could guide the way for the economic changes that lie ahead.


Isn’t it interesting that a metropolis like Chungqing in China – that gives us an inkling of what lies ahead in the next decades (both positive and negative)  – has incorporated monorail in its massive transit scheme?


Seattle may show the way of the future too, - democratically voting, step by step.

It’s interesting and rewarding to watch !

And should be better known internationally.

The 1962 World’s Fair with its “Space Needle” and “Alweg Monorail”, Boeing’s contribution to the jet-age, Microsoft’s data processing revolution have put Seattle on the map internationally. A city-wide monorail system and the citizens’ fight for it may contribute further to the international standing …






Thoughts from Germany about the SEATTLE TIMES article „Las Vegas’ monorail troubles raise fears here“, October 3, 2004.


Cologne, Germany   October 3, 2004       Copyright Reinhard Krischer



According to the above mentioned article Seattle anti-monorail campaigners cite Las Vegas as an example of why the proposed Seattle Green Line monorail is ripe for trouble.



Citing problems that take place somewhere else, that are part of a system that is not proposed for Seattle, does not make much sense!

The troubles of the Bombardier trains in Las Vegas are not the troubles of proposed Hitachi trains.

Juggling around with ridership-numbers is useless at this early stage of the Las Vegas project. It is so new that people need to first hear about this before they can use it. Reading Las Vegas area media reports carefully one gets the impression that there are problems with signs leading to the monorail, etc. Such things are not integral monorail problems, but problems of bad publicity and bad visual guidance.


Technical problems with new technical systems are nothing new either. The only thing new is that more and more one gets the impression that “quality control” is no longer of the utmost importance before new products reach the consumer. That is however not an exclusive monorail malady. (Like it or not, but how many “lemons” are for example produced by international automobile manufacturers, - how many of those come from Japan ?)


What about the Bombardier monorail?

Before saying that the Las Vegas problems also threaten Seattle, please ask Bombardier, how and how long the Las Vegas trains were tested?

Compare the answer with the experience and the record of Hitachi monorails.


The Seattle Times article includes the sentence: “Monorails aren’t perfect!”

Cologne, Germany   -   September 22, 2004


Copyright Reinhard Krischer


A personal view regarding the latest Seattle development in the struggle for a new monorail system:


The long way that the Seattle monorail project has to go, has been lengthened once again.


Another election is necessary to decide wether a city-wide monorail system will be built or not.


The juridicial details that make this further vote a legal necessity are not easily understood by laypersons. These procedures, particularly when seen from far away, seem to cancel the advantages of a plebiscite system that allows voters to directly partake in the decision-making processes affecting their community.


A group of opponents of the monorail project managed to put this “monorail recall vote” on the next ballot (November 2, 2004). According to what one can read in the press this group received decisive financial and logistic support from certain parts of the Seattle real estate sector.


This would seem to confirm the opinion of plebiscite critics who say that plebiscites can be too easily influenced by money and/or temporary public moods and situations. (In Europe such critics abound and most European national and regional governments do without plebiscites , - even though Switzerland is a positive show-case demonstrating that making public decisions by letting the citizens vote for or against them can work very well too.)


In Seattle it looks as if the voting now has been led ad absurdum with the use of legal loopholes that could protract the decision-making process endlessly. And all this because some losers of the previous votes use their capital to change a vote they are not willing to accept.


Is that really democratic behavior ?


Seattle’s chance now lies in the intelligence of the majority of voters. Despite the opinions of “political experts”, pollsters and similar statisticians voters are blessed with an uncanny intelligence that detects with sound common sense if things have been overdone or not. When for example an opposition uses too many false arguments and too much time (and time in the end has to be paid by the tax payers) to attempt to change the voters’ minds, voters get impatient and stubborn. When it becomes blatantly obvious that someone wants to change the for him negative outcome of a vote at all costs, voters retaliate.


Voters sense then that the democratic processes are misused in a way that explains, why progress is so difficult. Politics are not to be made for or by real estate devolpers, but for citizens stuck in traffic jams in cities slowly dying of urban sprawl. Urban sprawl – in my opinion - is not the fault of citizens wanting better housing, but the fault of developers who have not learned that there are other ways to make money too. Such developers are probably not interested in a traffic infrastructure that turns a city into a truly liveable, compact environment.


Once well informed voters have understood this they may realize that a bit of tax for truly modern public transportation is the preferable alternative to helplessly watching the towers and bank accounts of developers grow, whilst the cities fall in ever darker shadow …


That wonderful slogan “Rise above it all” was never more true and timely than now!




Cologne, Germany  -  August 8, 2004


© Reinhard Krischer


History never ends !


Although the Alweg Company, builder of Seattle’s 1962 monorail, ceased to exist in the early 1970s, its monorail concept is still successful today and of course the Seattle Center Monorail is the last original Alweg left, demonstrating the viability of the Alweg vision.


As fate would have it, on May 31rst of this year, a technical malfunction started a serious fire in the Seattle Alweg Blue Train. Luckily no one was seriously injured, but it was a very close call. The investigation of the fire has revealed safety flaws that need to be removed before operation of the 42-year-old trains can be resumed (it was the first such accident in all those years).


Often serious accidents reveal safety flaws that cannot even be discovered through regular safety checks by official authorities responsible for such matters. In all types of technology there always remain risks that cannot be calculated. Even simple technical faults can trigger unforseen chains of events that no human or computer simulation could ever predict. But for practical reasons this is overlooked and we all live with these risks, without consciously considering them, for otherwise we would not be able to fearlessly use cars, trains, planes, elevators, escalators, bicycles, pedestrian crossings, bridges, ships, electricity, gas-heaters, air-conditioners, Christmas illuminations, subways, etc., etc.


Nothing will ever be perfect, except perhaps the hindsight of self-proclaimed experts.


From a philosophical point of view it is interesting that often the timing of unforeseen events seems to fit in perfectly with other simultaneous occurrences.

As a result all sorts of laws and theories are dreamt up to give us some sense of order. And if none of these seem to work we even try to see order in chaos.


The fire on Seattle’s Alweg Blue Train that stopped the train right after its passage through the EMP “tunnel”occurred at a time when the tax payers of the city try to decide wether to build a new city-wide monorail system or not.


For some strange reason this chain of events reminded me of a seemingly far removed event that left a deep impression on me: we were returning from a vacation in southern Switzerland driving along the Gotthard expressway with its imposing 16.3 km long road-tunnel. It was the beginning of one of those long holiday weekends that are notoriously famous for traffic jams on this highway, packed with cars full of people heading south for some sunshine.

Well, we were going north, travelling early, so all would be okay. The car radio reported nothing unusual. Even in the tunnel traffic moved swiftly. Nevertheless we were glad to be out again in the sun on the north entrance side of the tunnel. (The Swiss are famous for tunnel safety, but the fact that one thinks of this while driving through these claustrophobic pipes, shows that a slight queazy feeling remains.) And then we saw, what was really going on. With precise Swiss efficiency police officers were patiently channeling southbound traffic into the tunnel. It was a brilliant sunshine day in magnificient alpine scenery. But for miles and miles cars stood still on the expressway leading to the tunnel, waiting for the officers to wave them on. People were walking around, waiting, or sitting on their cars, basking in the sun. It was a bizarre and surreal sight. Particularly because these southbound Gotthard traffic jams are so well-known and should be avoided if at all possible. Parallel to the highway runs the famous Gotthard railroad line of the Swiss Federal Railways. All to no avail, - miles and miles and miles of automotive standstill.

We had spent four weeks in an idyllic and quiet valley near Lake Lugano and this was our return to civilization.

For a moment I was tempted to leave our car there on the north-ramp of the Gotthard and abandon it and never touch a car again.

But no, train travel is expensive and lengthy and I had to go to work again on the next day to earn money …

And anyway, we were northbound and could travel unhindered.

I have never forgotten this bizarre spectacle.


How much does automotive standstill cost in the long-run, everywhere in the world ?

Will there ever be enough taxes to finance alternatives of mobility ?


Why do people equate automotive mobility with freedom? Why, when it comes to cars, do we push aside all safety aspects that we otherwise expect? Why do we constantly expose ourselves to the chance of being maimed by SUVs and trucks? Why do we pay for this dubious privilege and get mad when taxes are raised to collect money for meager attempts to repair the overall damage caused by the priority of automotive transportation?


Is it because we don’t want to be told that we might be doing something wrong?


But how many traffic jams does it take to change an attitude?


In Las Vegas a monorail transit system was just inaugurated. It all happened very quickly, not only because a monorail system can be built much faster than a light-rail-system, but because it was privately financed.


Now that the system is in operation there are accusations that the financing was not as private as it was made out to be. It is being said that the taxpayer has without being told also footed some of the bills. That the monorail that sofar only serves casinos and hotels was made out to be a charity worthy of public finances.


It sounds like a plot for a new movie with Robert Redford and Paul Newman selling a monorail to a totally unsuspecting community of pious sisters and brethren who have so far tooled around in horse-drawn transport only.


Why should Las Vegas business folks not use loopholes?


And once the Vegas monorail reaches the airport the City will no doubt be more than happy to have this transit system …


In Seattle the current close-down of the old monorail has already meant a reduction in business for Seattle Center and a number of Westlake merchants. Isn’t it amazing that loss of this short, old line can have such impact?


If this is so, what impact would a whole new system have? Would it really lead to ruin as the opposition claims?


Here in Cologne the construction of a further section of subway has just begun. The disruption of traffic is immense. But far worse is the effect this massively intrusive construction has on merchants. The long-term construction pits isolate them from the rest of the street they are on and in only months business comes to a standstill. Shops are closed, neighborhoods change and after construction is at last finished business is not revived. Potential customers are gone, - rushing past unseen in the subway tunnel.


Monorail construction takes place quickly in full view and is minimally intrusive. Potential customers are not diverted by pits and fences. And when things are finished new customers may glide by overhead, see a nice store, get off at the next station and stroll back for a purchase. Oh, yes, and tourists, you know, those hordes no one wants, but every city needs, prefer to see the city they are visiting rather than inspect its dark tubes.


But all this has been said before.


So along comes another event in the chain reaction of recent happenings.

One of only two bidders for the construction of Seattle’s new monorail retracts.


Monorail recall campaign, fire in the old monorail, foul play in Las Vegas, then bid retraction …


What more is needed to show that the opposition’s wrath is righteous?


What would the guards of the tax payers’ money do if lots of  bidders were present? Take the lowest bid from someone who has never built a full-sized monorail?


There are times when saving money can turn out to be very expensive! Municipal authorities world-wide are experts at saving money expensively.


Had the Las Vegas Monorail been a public project, it would no doubt still be stuck in its planning stage. Might have been protracted by a lobby that would have seen more profit in a subway underneath the desert. Or it would have taken years to reach the decision not to build anything at all. And that process would perhaps have been more expensive to the tax payer than the loopholes now used by a private consortium.


And guess what: Las Vegas now has a monorail!

Seattle has nothing and if things keep going the regressive way they have been going, the old Alweg will be the colateral damage of a campaign to have nothing at all …


Is that progress Seattle-style ?


Oh, the final scene of that new Redford/Newman movie has Robert DeNiro as the Archbishop of Las Vegas blessing a monorail train jam-packed with unemployed actors and dancers on their way to the airport, from where a derelict 747 will take them to Seattle, where the soup-kitchen in the former Center Monorail Station is supposed to be a real gourmet temple …



Cologne, Germany  -   August 9, 2003

Copyright Reinhard Krischer


It’s way past midnight, but who can sleep during a heat wave? It’s not only a regional heat wave. It’s even worse in other parts of Europe.

But not only there, it’s global too.


Cologne is situated smack in the middle of western Europe. We have the River Rhine and a couple of big artificial lakes (“recultured areas” from open-pit lignite mining). But no seashore with a fresh breeze. For that you’d have to take one of our big European Autobahns, like the A4, that takes you via Aachen, Liege and Brussels to the Belgian Northsea coast in about three hours.


That’s not really far, but it is in Europe.

Why do I say that?

Because I recall my family’s Pacific Northwest days (thanks to the Alweg Company). When we arrived there from Old Germany in 1962 my father’s American Alweg colleagues enthusiastically bundled us into their big American cars for Sunday outings.

“Show you around a bit!”

They drove distances that at home would have taken us halfway across Germany.

Just like that!

To the Pacific shore, to the Canadian border, up into the Cascades.

Just like that!

“Have a coffee, a piece of pie or maybe a hamburger!”

And back to Seattle.

We quickly got used to American distances.

That was back in 1962.


This is 2003 and we’ve got a heat wave in Old Europe.

There are indications of global warming.


Was there anything like that back in 1962?


Oh, things were worse then. You had a global nuclear threat back then. Sort of a possible global warming too (at first at least).


That’s history (even though Castro is still around and certain members of the Washington, D.C., intelligentsia want little nukes to crack bunkers)! This is 2003 and we’ve got a heat wave.


So what do I do?

Pacific beaches are too far away. The Belgian coast is closer, but, you know, there are 10 million Belgians. And they got summer vacation and the same hot weather and their coast is only about 70 kilometers wide and two million Belgians were on that coast last weekend.


I don’t like crowds.


Way past midnight. We’ve got 2003 and a heat wave. Why not go surfing?


Global village and all that.

Web cams showing empty beaches.


Check your e-mail!


Lots of “Seattle Monorail” contributions again.


Which puts me right back into history again.

What’s this, - let the old Alweg conquer Capitol Hill? And images of iris-shaped columns along Second Avenue for the new monorail. And Disney’s Anaheim monorails being mothballed.


Eh, this is way past midnight now in Old Germany. 2003.


The Belgian coast may be crowded, but it’s closer than American monorail woes.




Memories are always closer. And the Internet time-machine always calls up memories.


What has that got to do with monorails in Anaheim?


Well, it has to do with history. With Alweg history, with Disney history. Maybe without Disney Alweg never would have come to America? Certainly would never have been called “nothing but a theme-park-ride”.


Walt Disney’s image, particularly in Europe, never included the term “visionary”. A cartoonist, a movie-maker, a theme-park-creator.


Is that the stuff of visions?


Walking along a Northsea beach a kid’s ball comes flying my way. Children shout. I save the ball from disappearing in the surf. Pick up the ball. It’s a Disney, Inc. © product with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves printed round and round and round!

“Nice ball!” I shout and throw it back to the kids up on the beach.


Everybody is happy.

Global merchandizing.

It’s part of the Disney vision. A German fairy tale turned into an American cartoon becomes a global success and images from it are printed in China onto synthetic rubber balls that children on a Belgian beach play with, thinking that Snow White is an American cartoon character.


Don’t you just love globalization!?


Was Walt Disney an early globalizer? Probably, - without knowing that term during his life-time.


And he dreamt of cities of the future, including modern transport, and, yes, that’s how he found the monorail.


No doubt inspired by all those monorail visions and experiments that had preceded Alweg’s practical concept.


The Disney-Alweg story follows, developing into the various Mark-so-and-so monorail updates by Disney. Leading finally to two trains making it big in Las Vegas and soon making Las Vegas monorail capital of the world.


What a story, one would think.


But now we’ve got a heat wave and I’m surfing the Internet and I’m also reading e-mail signals about Disney mothballing monorail history just prior to the Las Vegas spectacular next year.


Is that unfortunate timing or disdain for history?


Professional historians would probably just wipe their brows and ask: “So what?”

Or maybe: “Who cares?”

 So let’s do things the way they’re always done, - demolish or mothball for progress! And a couple of years later we’ll wail about the loss of tradition, heritage, lost cultural icons and irretrievably scrapped evidence of man’s technical progress.


Maybe I’m just a bit touchy because in my Alweg book I included a chapter about Disney-Alweg. The chapter doesn’t look like a lot of work, but it was! And now these Magic Kingdom administrators are going to mothball history!


Administrators …

We’ve got a heat wave and I don’t feel like thinking about administrators.


For me: identical with bureaucrats.

Where ever the march of time has let bureaucrats take over once creative enterprises creative progress has been halted. Unfortunately modern administrators know how to camouflage their bureaucratic passions so they look like very progressive measures.


Cutting deficit always looks progressive.


No matter how it’s done!


Eliminating cost-intensive reminders of a company’s past is progressive. Even if that means scrapping part of a company’s soul. It’s not a new phenomenon. Family businesses, after being sold or merged, usually lose their soul. Suddenly the company and its product are no longer the soul, instead their administration has taken priority.


It’s the same in politics. That’s why Californians (and not they alone) now want someone to kick bureaucracy’s ass!


And maybe “mouse-fans” are already hoping for strong words in Buena Vista Street: “Monorail, you are not terminated!”


Maybe simultaneously iris columns will sprout up north in Seattle and maybe the old Alwegs will get a soulful reprieve and will be allowed to continue what they were built for: operation !?


After all, they helped Seattle reach Century 21!

Might be a nice way to show that progress can be achieved without demolition.


Let’s not get political again.

After all, we’ve got a heat wave!


You know, demolishing the old is a bit like creating missing links for future generations. That of course would create new jobs in the jobless future: search for missing links.


But why not create or keep jobs now by preserving “live history still capable of profitable service”?


Maybe the active preservation of innovation will someday serve as an antidote to rampant administration? What better lesson is there than to demonstrate the interaction of creative concepts that defied administration?


Like modern city planning, ecology and sustainability.


Administered to death by bureaucrats who fear nothing more than sustainability. Because true sustainability needs no self-inflating administration that thrives on endless planning of projects that nobody needs, - planning that leads to systematic exclusion of innovation.


Which takes me back to the frustrating history of Alweg.


In Cologne, Alweg’s hometown, we recently had the honor to see the last showing of the excellent exhibition “Your private sky – R. Buckminster Fuller” by Claude Lichtenstein and Joachim Krausse (21.9.- 15.12.2002, Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln in cooperation with Stanford University, USA, and Museum for Design, Zurich). Fuller’s unconventional approach to engineering reminded me of my impression of the way the Alweg engineers had worked. In their time they had already considered factors that would today be described with terms from the fields of (the previously mentioned) city planning, ecology and sustainability.


While looking at models of Fuller’s Dymaxion and Wichita Houses and particularly Dymaxion Car parallels to Alweg- work came to mind. And of course there are the photos of the geodesic “ ’67 Expo Dome” (World’s Fair Montreal) with a small monorail line entering the dome that call to mind further parallels.


This small monorail was by the way not an Alweg. In fact it is the type of “exposition and theme-park” monorail that was (is) used to give Alweg a bad name. ((Sadly enough a German journalist (?) not too long ago did just that by using a photo of this monorail and Fuller’s famous dome to illustrate his version of the Alweg story, published on the webpages of the Cologne-based West German Radio/WDR. He also uses a photo of Disney’s EPCOT © dome with a monorail in front of it; the images are without captions and not explained in the text.))


So in Alweg’s hometown the significance of Alweg in a larger context is still not understood or appreciated. (Though I suspect that once the Las Vegas Monorail has become a well-known success some clever Cologne know-it-all will suddenly see the light and claim to have rediscovered the importance of Alweg.)


Interestingly enough a Cologne exhibition called “Norman Foster – Architecture is about people” (Museum für Angewandte Kunst, October 25 to December 30, 2001) was accompanied by a book with the same title. It contains a very interesting study by Joachim Krausse “Environment controlling – For a World of Many – Buckminster Fuller’s Impact in Great Britain”. In his text Joachim Krausse emphasizes the importance of “inventive engineers” like R. Buckminster Fuller who refused to be classified by any single professional title because he felt that thinking “in fixed categories and a conditioning to create specialists” were responsible for “undesirable developments” of society. Krausse also describes the cooperation between the then already famous Fuller and the younger (soon to be innovative and influential) architect Norman Foster. What is remarkable is that the ideas presented could just as well (in my opinion) have contained the Alweg concept.


As already mentioned special visual parallels are striking because in front of the “ ’67 Expo Dome” one sees a monorail, - and in front of the nowadays famous geodesic EPCOT © dome in the Florida Disney Resort © one can also see monorails, - the modern version of Disney-Alweg’s monorail (it is said that Disney never mentioned Fuller in connection with this dome, even though it is quite clear that this and other EPCOT themes are genuine Fuller concepts - see letter from Kiyoshi Kuromiya - ).


But so far Alweg’s legacy is more or less nonexistent in scientific texts or publications. (Luckily the monorail department of the Hitachi Company of Japan stands by its Alweg roots thus giving considerable weight to my conclusion that the Alweg concept did not fail!)


Disney’s disdain and Seattle’s demolition scare are new chapters in the Alweg history.


For Alweg history it would be good if Alweg’s role were honoured more seriously. Maybe Las Vegas may change that (even though right now no one in Las Vegas seems interested in Alweg history).


Yes, the heat is still on!


One of the things I like about the Seattle Monorail Project is the involvement of the citizens. That’s the way such things should be done. The “users” are able to decisively  participate in the planning of “their” transit system. It is after all “their” money, “their” town, neighborhood, street. Like participating in the planning of stations.


Driving to the Belgian seashore you come through the Belgian capital Brussels. They have an “underground” with lots of stations and every station boasts art. Even though it’s “underground” a look may give some inspiration for station planning in Seattle.

( Go to the "Artworks" page of the official Brussels subway website: )


Yes, we’ve still got that heat wave. Surfing the net helps cool off, but don’t end up on European Union administration pages!





Alweg drawing from an original 1950s Alweg brochure. Artist: Marwitz. Zeichnung aus einer original Alweg-Broschüre aus den 1950er Jahren. Zeichner: Marwitz. Die heutige, in den meisten EU-Ländern gültige 5-Euro-Note zeigt ein römisches Aquädukt. Alwegs Initiator und Financier, Axel L. Wenner-Gren, hatte einst geplant, dass der Balkenfahrweg seiner Einschienenbahn sich so elegant und wenig störend in die Landschaft einfügen würde wie die einstigen römischen Aquädukte. Seine Einschienenbahn sollte dazu beitragen, Grenzen abzubauen, - nicht nur in Europa ... Collage: Reinhard Krischer


These are personal thoughts of the author of these web-pages.


Febraury 2003


Part of the initial Alweg vision was to create a transportation system that could be built quickly even in difficult and desolate terrain and that could offer fast and heavy-duty transport capacity for passenger and freight service, - all that in comparison to conventional two-rail railroads at minimal cost (not only construction, but also operating costs).


All this was formulated and presented to the public by the Alweg Company during the early 1950s.


This vision was consequently further described in press articles and various book publications.


The ravages of the Second World War were during that time still very much present, - mentally and physically. One of the motives behind the Alweg vision was the hope that modern transportation lines – in all parts of the world – could help to improve regional economies and also communication (commercial as well as cultural) between countries. The big hope expressed was that such improvements could help prevent the endless repetition of wars to end all wars.


A vision of transportation diplomacy …


Today study of those publications from the 1950s show utopian looking plans for monorail transportation lines linking Africa, Europe and Asia. Such lines were to help to create healthy economies even in remote and underdeveloped areas of the world.


It is ironic that the areas described are today still economically underdeveloped, are even worse off than they were during the 1950s, and may today become stages for further wars to end all wars. The only genuinely “improved” sectors in those areas today are the military sectors. The majority of the people living in those areas still do not profit from modern technology. Instead they are still undernourished, are still without proper housing, are still without proper medical care, - are still economically underdeveloped. Are still the victims of undemocratic regimes.


Why is it easier to arm underdeveloped areas than to provide them for example with efficient transportation lines that help to develop commerce and trade?


Why is it easier to lead wars than to make peace?


Political leaders and their advisory experts who are unable to lead, inspire and manage the implementation of the difficult alternative peace ensure that the world remains as it is. Ensure that utopian visions remain utopian, no matter how viable they may be.

Dies sind persönliche Gedanken des Autors dieser Webseiten.


Februar 2003


Teil der ursprünglichen Alweg-Vision war die Schaffung eines Transportsystems gewesen, das selbst in schwierigem und abgelegenem Terrain schnell gebaut werden könnte und das schnelle und leistungsfähige Transportleistungen für Personen- und Güterverkehr bieten würde, - all das im Vergleich zur herkömmlichen Zweischienen-Eisenbahn zu minimalen Kosten (nicht nur beim Bau, sondern auch beim Betrieb).


Diese Pläne wurden während der frühen 1950er Jahre von der Firma Alweg der Öffentlichkeit präsentiert.


Diese Alweg-Vision wurde in der Folge in Presseberichten und verschiedenen Buchveröffentlichungen weiter beschrieben.


Die Verwüstungen des Zweiten Weltkriegs waren in diesen Jahren noch sehr präsent, - physisch und psychisch. Ein Motiv der Alweg-Vision war die Hoffnung, dass moderne Verkehrswege – in allen Teilen der Welt – dazu beitragen könnten, regionales Wirtschaftsleben und auch Kommunikation (sowohl kommerziell als auch kulturell) zwischen Ländern zu verbessern. Damit verbunden war die große Hoffnung, dass solche Verbesserungen helfen könnten, die endlose Wiederholung von Kriegen zur Beendigung aller Kriege zu verhindern.


Eine Vision einer Diplomatie der Verkehrswege ...


Schaut man sich diese Veröffentlichungen aus den 1950er Jahren heute an, sieht man utopisch anmutende Pläne für Einschienenbahn-Strecken, die Afrika, Europa und Asien miteinander verbinden sollten. Diese Strecken sollten dazu beitragen, selbst abgelegene und unterentwickelte Gebiete der Erde in florierende Wirtschaftsregionen zu verwandeln.


Es ist wohl Ironie des Schicksals, dass die genannten Gebiete heute noch immer wirtschaftlich unterentwickelt sind, es um sie noch schlechter bestellt ist als in den 1950er Jahren und dass sie heute Schauplätze für Kriege zur Beendigung aller Kriege werden können. Die einzigen wirklich „verbesserten“ Bereiche in diesen Gebieten heute sind die Militärbereiche. Die Mehrheit der in diesen Regionen lebenden Menschen profitieren noch immer nicht von moderner Technologie. Stattdessen sind sie noch immer unterernährt, noch immer ohne menschenwürdige Behausungen, noch immer ohne ausreichende medizinische Versorgung, - sind immer noch „wirtschaftlich unterentwickelt“. Sind immer noch die Opfer undemokratischer Regimes.


Warum ist es einfacher, unterentwickelte Regionen zu bewaffnen, statt ihnen zum Beispiel zu effizienten Verkehrswegen zu verhelfen, die dazu beitragen können, Wirtschaft und Handel zu entwickeln?


Warum ist es einfacher, Kriege zu führen, statt Frieden zu wahren?


Politische Führer und deren beratende Experten, die unfähig sind, die schwierige Alternative Frieden mit Führungsqualitäten, Inspiration und Krisenmanagement durchzusetzen, stellen sicher, dass die Welt so bleibt wie sie ist. Stellen sicher, dass utopische Visionen Utopien bleiben, - egal wie realisierbar sie auch sein mögen.

Text und Illustrationen (falls nicht anders vermerkt)
Text and Illustrations (unless otherwise noted)
von / by Reinhard Krischer
Reinhard Krischer
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