WV: Aging PRT to Get Upgrade

April 27--WVU will give the PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) a long overdue facelift during the next four years.

"It definitely needs improvement," WVU student Zach Dendler said recently at the Walnut PRT Station. "The computers need an update. It's the worst at times when large numbers of students are getting out of class."

According to the WVU Board of Governors (BOG) documents, the PRT has been around as a concept since the 1950s. The WVU PRT was designed by Boeing and the original construction was completed in 1978. The project cost $125 million.

Unlike bus lines, the PRT is designed to provide service on-demand rather than fixed schedules. The system operates 71 electric-powered vehicles running between five stations over 4.5 miles of lines. Each vehicle can transport 20 passengers.

According to the WVU data, the PRT can accommodate 6,700 passengers per hour with an average ridership of 15,000 trips daily.

More than 80 percent of the riders are students but the PRT is also available for public use. For those who do not have a WVU ID, a ride on the PRT is 50 cents.

At 38 years old, the PRT has seen a decline in reliability and has been viewed by some students as antiquated, according to the BOG documents.

"With how long ago it was built, I'm surprised it's still running as well as it is," WVU student Conner Castle said.

The PRT modernization is broken into phases. Phase one will include new onboard computer systems and propulsion units to increase car availability from 60 percent to 80 percent.

Phase two will see the installation of new vehicle controllers and new electrical gear to avoid system shutdowns. The tunnel beneath Elmer Prince Drive will also be repaired.

"The improvements in phase 2 should help with the reliability," said WVU Associate Vice President of Facilities and Services Randy Hudak, referring to the PRT's reliability rate. "One of the biggest things they will be addressing are the electronics. Right now they run in the low 90 percentage, but the improvements should jump them up into the mid 90s."

As part of the moderization plan's phase three, the PRT's guideway infrastructure will be repaired and old vehicles will be replaced. Phase three is scheduled to be completed by August 2018.

The current fleet of cars has no technical or mechanical support and some of the them have traveled more than 600,000 miles.

According to the BOG, the new PRT vehicles will be built using components than can be easily procured and weigh less than the current cars, which weigh about 10,000 pounds.

The PRT will be shut down May 5 so crews can work on the improvements. It will resume regular operations Aug. 11.

"I'm a townie, so I'm used to hearing people complain about the PRT, but it's still better than walking everywhere or trying to get a ride to class from my friends," Castle said.

Copyright 2014 - The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.