Things are cruising along at the PRT. The iconic WVU people mover is undertaking significant improvements, with the goal of a new and improved system to better serve its some 15,000 daily riders.

WVU has been awarded a Federal Transit Authority grant that, along with allocated student transportation fee monies, will pay for a portion of the upgrades to the PRT.

The vehicle system is made up of two main operating systems, the Vehicle Control and Communications Subsystem and the Propulsion System, both of which use the original analog electronic command components designed by Boeing more than 30 years ago.

The 72 WVU PRT cars are the only vehicles worldwide that have this particular operating system, and the planned upgrades will eliminate intermittent problems _ “anomalies” in PRT-parlance _ that cause vehicles to occasionally stop on the guideway.

“The overall goal is to erase intermittent problems through new and upgraded technology in order to provide a more positive passenger experience by making the PRT more dependable,” said John Jeffrey, PRT project manager.

PRT is starting from square one on these projects since technology has advanced at lightning speed over the last three decades. The PRT vehicle system conversion is comparable to telephone users switching from rotary dial to the iPhone overnight.

Replacing the old equipment necessitates utilizing the current system of dual-channel, one-response communications, but applying that system in a new way by switching from analog to digital.

“This switch is the best way to get badly needed repairs completed,” Jeffrey said.

“The WVU PRT is one-of-a-kind and you can’t just buy components off the shelf to repair and replace broken and worn-out parts,” he added.

Mechanisms for the analog system are hard, if not impossible, to come by.

Boeing is no longer in the ground transportation business, and most of the subcontractors that manufactured the original parts are long gone.

In fact, most of the repairs to the PRT vehicle system are handled in-house, with parts fabricated by WVU employees at the PRT Central Maintenance building on Beechurst Avenue.

The VCCS, or brains of the vehicle, will be the first system upgraded. These onboard computers communicate with electrical systems on the PRT guideway and at the passenger stations about vehicle movement all along the system.

The VCCS has been redesigned by Azimuth Inc., a Morgantown engineering firm, and is currently being tested by Lea & Elliot, a third-party independent validation and verification firm.

“At present, we are about halfway through the verification process and hope to have the initial VCCS arrive at the PRT in mid-September,” Jeffrey said.

Eleven new VCCS will be installed during the first phase of the project, with the remaining 61 to be replaced during the second phase with an overall cost of $3.6 million.

Another two-phase design, build and install project a will be the upgraded PRT Propulsion System. Like the VCCS conversion, the propulsion system will switch from analog to digital control and communication to improve reliability.

“The PRT has just signed a contract with Bombardier of Pittsburgh to build a prototype, and we hope to have an initial propulsion system by August 2011,” said Jeffrey.

After completion of the first phase, the upgraded propulsion system will be installed on all PRT vehicles for an overall project cost of $14.8 million.

Switching the vehicle system from analog to digital should make repairs to the PRT easier.

For example, the boards Bombardier is building for PRT are exactly the same boards they build for New York City Transit. In the future, when new parts are needed, PRT can purchase replacements whole, directly from the supplier, and not have to cobble together components from random parts and processors.

“These upgrades are important to keeping the PRT viable long-term,” Jeffrey said.

Other smaller improvements planned for the upcoming months include installing a new uninterruptible power supply at the Walnut station, finishing the replacement of high voltage cables in the electrical power distribution system, completing upgrades to the guideway heating system and converting station lights from mercury vapor to more eco-friendly bulbs.

“We are the gold-standard in personal transit, and we want to continuously improve to both set an example and better serve our customers,” Jeffrey said.

By Liz Dickinson
Communications Specialist
WVU News and Information Services



CONTACT: Arlie Forman, associate director of transportation and parking

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