A UK Business has outlined how it believes it has developed a world-first driverless mass-transit technology that will revolutionise urban travel – using pods designed to move on road and rail.
The start-up, called Urban.MASS, says the solution, designed to take passengers door-to-door, will cut congestion, air pollution, costs and emissions.
It will get its first real-world implementation in 2025 at the Locomotion museum in Shildon – 200 years after the same town hosted the world’s first passenger steam engine, Stephenson’s Locomotion. The business says that, shortly after that, it will begin a global rollout, adding discussions are underway for locations in UK, Europe, North America, Middle East, and Africa. The first city slated to use the technology, it has said, will be Kampala, Uganda.
The Urban.MASS ‘floc’ technology is designed to deploy hundreds of lightweight, driverless, zero emission electric pods to collect passengers from anywhere in a city using ground-level tracks or existing road networks. To traverse the most congested areas of urban centres at high speeds, the pods elevate to an above-ground track via purpose-built stations, all without passengers having to leave the pod.
Under this concept, the pods can ‘flock’ together into connected trains or run individually depending on demand. The intention for this is to cater for high frequency peak capacity on dense routes and also provide economically viable services on less dense routes or during off-peak times.
The elevated track would be powered by overhead solar canopies and could run above existing roads and infrastructure. The intent is this will give it a physical footprint 70% smaller than a typical urban light rail system. Urban.MASS says this will allow infrastructure to ‘tiptoe’ through dense urban areas, minimising the need to demolish buildings or dig tunnel networks, while allowing space for roads, green corridors, cycle paths or pedestrian zones.
Urban.MASS suggests its solution will be less disruptive, costly and time-consuming than a major rail development, such as Crossrail. It also says its solution has a smaller footprint than metro, light rail or trams.
Urban.MASS claims its Duo Rail ‘pop-up’ track can be installed in days and says it has signed partnership agreements with architectural design company Grimshaw and WSP.
Kevin O’Grady, CEO of Urban.MASS, said: “Cities are changing like never before – populations are exploding but the way we move people around hasn’t changed in over a century. Victorian-era rail and road technologies weren’t designed for the demands of modern life and yet worldwide we continue to rely on the same basic, expensive, and carbon intensive system. We should be using solutions of the twenty-first century, to serve the new-breed of cities we see today – cities that are built for people, not polluting vehicles.
“It’s almost 200 years since the United Kingdom invented passenger rail – it’s time to once again set a new global precedent and upend the status quo of transport. With massive demand from cities right across the world, it’s clear that people everywhere recognise the need for a new technology to dramatically change our transport systems for the next 200 years. Our affordable and accessible system delivers twice the track for half the cost, with an unrivalled customer experience.”
George Piwang-Jalobo, from UNCCI (the Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry), said: “In line with Uganda 2040 vision, Kampala will be one of the most attractive cities in the world, offering its citizens and visitors a safe and efficient transport system based on a high-quality public transport system and a complementary non-motorised transport network.
“The strategy will be driven by mass public transport to facilitate efficiency and reduce congestion and pollution. Urban Mass, with its green efficient product, is aligned to this vision.”
Tim Wood, northern powerhouse rail director at Transport for the North, said: “Comprehensively connecting the North’s communities by rail and mass transit will create jobs and boost the Northern economy for decades to come. Innovations like Urban.MASS will help accelerate that transformation and spread prosperity right across the UK, while also playing a major role in the decarbonisation of the transport network.
“It is fantastic to see the North continue its great transport history in the development of this scheme, with Durham acting as a test bed for the project. The sooner we can deliver sustainable and transformational enhancements to the transport offering in the region, the sooner the North can realise its true potential. I look forward to seeing Urban.MASS progress in the coming years and how it will dovetail with major rail investment programmes, like Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2.”
Urban.MASS say it chose Shildon for its first site due to its historic record of pioneering new age mass transit, having hosted the world’s first steam-powered passenger railway in 1825. It was also chosen due to its unique ability to demonstrate how its technology will navigate a number of obstacles, including a road bridge, existing railway line and public walkway, demonstrating the flexibility of the technology.
The site will consist of three stations. The first is at ground level, allowing passengers to board pods and travel on tarmac. The second is situated on an above-ground track, allowing high-speed travel which traverses physical obstacles below. The third station, equidistant between the other two, enables pods to transfer between the ground-level and the above-ground track to demonstrate how future door-to-door road transport can be combined with mass transit rail to reduce congestion.