Monorails in History-Part I

Bear with us, this page has a lot of growing to do until it can be considered a comprehensive list of Monorails in History. As with the rest of The Monorail Society Website, it will be updated periodically! For the time being, we have included what we consider to be some of the most significant Monorails in History from 1825 to 1964. Most monorails built after this time are covered in our Where are they pages. Be sure to see our Links Page too. That is where you can get to other websites that have some fascinating monorails from the past.


1825 - Cheshunt Railway 

The first passenger carrying monorail celebrated a grand opening June 25th, 1825. It had a one-horse power engine...literally. Based on a 1821 patent by Henry Robinson Palmer, the Cheshunt Railway was actually built to carry bricks, but made monorail history by carrying passengers at its opening.


1876 - Philadelphia Centennial

General Le-Roy Stone's steam driven monorail was first demonstrated at the United States Centennial Exposition in 1876. The ornately designed double-decker vehicle had two main wheels, the rear one driven by a rotary steam engine.X


1876 - Sonoma Prismoidal

This 7-mile wooden monorail was proposed to be the first rail line built to connect the Northern California city of Sonoma with a steam ship landing at San Pablo Bay. Only three and a half miles were built, between Norfolk and Sonoma. The line operated from November 23, 1876 to May 5, 1877. The company went into bankruptcy that year. The track was 15 inches high and cost $4,500 per mile to build, half the cost of narrow guage railroads of the time. Promoter Joseph S. Kohn's plans to extend it to Sonoma Landing on the Petaluma River were never realized. Kohn also proposed an elevated prismoidal rail for San Francisco along Market Street, but land owners along the line objected.


1878 - Bradford & Foster Brook Monorail

A modified version of General Stone's Centennial monorail was put into use on a 6.4 kilometer line between Bradford and Gilmore, Pennsylvania. It was built to transport oil drilling equipment and personnel to Derrick City. Wayside stations were added at Tarpot, Babcock's Mill and Harrisburg Run. At that point, local inhabitants began to ride the line. The rotary engines lacked power and it was decided to gamble on a much larger locomotive driven by conventional pistons. The worst disaster in monorail history occurred on January 27, 1879 with this engine. Coupled to a flat car full of officials, the train was run at high speed to demonstrate its capability. The boiler exploded and the train crashed into a creek, killing the driver, fireman and three passengers. The rest were severely injured. The line was abandoned shortly thereafter.


1886 - Meigs Monorail

Captain J.V. Meig's monorail made it as far as having a test track, but the design was so far ahead of its time that it never caught on. Who could have imagined that aerodynamics would be considered as early as 1886?


1886 - Enos Electric Railway

The Enos Electric Railway, the first suspended monorail, was tested and demonstrated on the grounds of the Daft Electric Company in Greenville, New Jersey in 1886. It was built of light, open steelwork rather than massive wooden beams that most monorails to this point had used. The Greenville demonstration attracted considerable publicity in the press, but no major system was ever built. The design may have influenced Eugen Langen in Germany, as the Enos Monorail bears a remarkable likeness to the Wuppertal Schwebebahn in Germany.


1888 - The Listowel & Ballybunion Railway

The Lartigue Railway Construction Company opened a 14.5 kilometer steel-railed monorail on March 1, 1888. It linked the town of Ballybunion, on the west coast of Ireland, with the market town of Listowel. The only passenger-carrying monorail in the British Isles for many years, it ran until 1924. Rising operational costs and road transport forced it out of business.


1901 - Wuppertal Schwebebahn

Civil Engineer Eugen Langen of Cologne, Germany has left his mark on the history of monorails in a big way. His Schwebebahn (suspension railway) has operated successfully along the Wupper river for almost 100 years. It has survived two world wars and continues to operate profitably and safely today. For more photographs and a full-length article, see our Links page.


1909 - Brennan Monorail

Louis Brennan patented his invention for a gyroscopically-balanced car in 1903. A full scale demonstration was presented to the press on November 10, 1909 at Gillingham, England. It was built primarily as a military vehicle due to the high speed at which track could be laid. Even with passengers all on one side of the vehicle, the two onboard gyroscopes were strong enough to keep the car level. Despite a series of successful demonstrations to scientists, engineers and military officers, the fear that the gyroscopes might fail prevented Brennan's invention from ever being used for transportation.


1911 - William H. Boyes Monorail

This test track was built and demonstrated in 1911 in the tideflats of Seattle, Washington. The rails were made of wood and track cost was estimated to be around $3,000 per mile. A bargain! The Seattle Times commented at the time that "the time may come when these wooden monorail lines, like high fences, will go straggling across country, carrying their burden of cars that will develop a speed of about 20 miles per hour." Like so many inventions, lack of financial backing prevented further development.


1914 - Genoa Monorail

Built for the 1914 "Esposizione Internazionale di Igiene, Marina e Colonie" exposition, this straddle-type monorail looks like a close cousin of many of today's Alweg-based monorails. The "Telfer" Monorail had coaches the size of railway cars and was conceived as a mass transit system demonstrator. The line linked the exhibition site with a central square of the city. The train was built by the Italian manufacturer Carminati & Toselli and consisted of 4 coaches for passengers, with an electric locomotive located in the middle. The monorail only operated for a couple of years and was then dismantled.


1924 - The Magnesium Monorail

One of the last Lartigue-based monorails was built by the Sierra Salt Corporation. It carried magnesium salts from their mine in the Crystal Hills to the Trona railhead in California. The route lay across the rugged terrain of the Saline Valley in Inyo County. The line was a great success until more modern ways of extracting magnesium put the mine company out of business two years later.


1929 - The Bennie Railplane

While railroad engineering stagnated between the world wars, one unique demonstation line was built by Scottish engineer George Bennie. The short test track was built over a railroad line near Glasgow, Scotland. Two electrically-powered propellers delivered 240 horsepower in a short burst for acceleration to the cruise speed of 160 kph. There were plans for a high-speed link between London and Paris, with a seaplane to carry passengers across the English Channel, but the grave economic difficulties of the 1930's doomed the Railplane from the start.

It doesn't end here! Click on Monorails in History Part II for monorails of the modern era.

/ Monorails in History Part II