Airport operator weighs up smart mass transit system that can deliver passengers to exact destination

Airport operator BAA is in talks to build an innovative monorail system that will link all five terminals at Heathrow Airport.

BAA is considering a proposal by Advanced Transport Systems, a Bristol firm, to produce a raised monorail route on which four-person cars run at two-second intervals in a continuous loop around the airport.

The system, which is called Ultra, has been designed by Martin Lowson, an academic at Bristol University and ATS’ chief executive. It has been presented to BAA, which is looking for a mass-transit system for Heathrow.

BAA has to go through a competitive tendering process, but if its selects Ultra the system could be in place at Heathrow by 2006.

Richard Teychenné, ATS’ business development manager, said the key difference between Ultra and its competitors would be its flexibility, as it was for small groups of people.

He said: “We have in this country the idea that public transport has to move people in big vehicles. But 90% of journeys are made in cars. Our system is like a network of automatic taxis or an elevator: you punch in where you want to go.”

The system could eventually see passengers punching in the reference code of their flight and being taken to the correct terminal.

Ultra is being considered by 20 councils in the UK, including Swindon in Wiltshire, Corby in Northampton and Cardiff, as well as authorities abroad, with a possible view to delivering passengers from park-and-ride facilities directly to individual shops.

Teychenné also met Greater London Authority officials this week to look at how the system could be adapted to the Olympic village.

It's like a system of automatic taxis: you punch in where you want to go

Richard Teychenné, ATS

ATS would not be drawn on the exact cost of the system, but said it could be about £2m/km, which would be between 20% and 35% of the cost of installing a tram line.

All of the 2 m wide cars would be battery powered and sustainable.

A BAA spokesperson said it was looking for a solution to congestion problems at its sites.

He said: “Ultra is an interesting concept and one of a number of mass-transit solutions that we are open to considering.

“We are in early discussions with the company that is developing Ultra, with a view to seeing if there is any potential for use in an airport.”

Teychenné said that Ultra, which was invented in 1995, differs from other monorail systems such as the shuttle at Stansted Airport because it involved no waiting.

He said: “Most monorails make you wait about 10 minutes. We plan that 95% of passengers wouldn't have to wait at all and the rest would wait less than a minute.”