IN’s Clarian Health People Mover Nears Spring Finish

Mon March 10, 2003 - Midwest Edition
Lori Lovely



Parts of central Indiana are among the fastest growing areas in the United States; therefore, much of the state is experiencing heavy cases of urban sprawl. With three facilities in Indianapolis’ downtown vicinity, Clarian Health is experiencing its own kind of sprawl, and is determined to combat the difficulties and inconveniences of shuttling between three distinct campuses.

In April 2001, the Indianapolis City/County Council granted Clarian Health a non-exclusive franchise, approving construction, operation and maintenance of a transportation system linking the three downtown Clarian health care facilities (Methodist Hospital, Indiana University Hospital and Riley Hospital for Children).

Ground was broken in May the following year, and completion is expected by spring of 2003.

Steve Vincent, senior construction engineer of Clarian, said when interviewed last year, the project is entering the last phases of setting a final completion date. “So far the weather has been kind,” he noted, “which has really helped our schedule. This is an outside project — exclusively — so weather could be a major factor. But so far we’ve lost only two to three days on the whole project, and even in December we’re experiencing temperatures in the 40s.”

Defining a Monorail

Although commonly envisioned as a monorail, the transportation system currently under development by Clarian Health is a dual-track system. “We had a multitude of options,” explained Vincent. “There are many variations of rail systems. We chose the dual track in part because it’s less expensive than a monorail.”

Contrary to popular opinion, not all elevated railway systems are monorails. In a monorail system, a single rail serves as a track for passenger or freight vehicles. In most cases the rail is elevated, but monorails also can run at grade, below grade or in subway tunnels. Vehicles are either suspended from or straddle a narrow guideway, and are generally wider than the guideway that supports them. The Disney monorail in Florida is a familiar example of the system.

The Detroit Peoplemover and the Vancouver Skytrain are often referred to as monorails, but are actually elevated light-rail systems. They run on conventional steel dual rails on a massive wide beam — a modern version of the old elevated trains of Chicago and New York. San Francisco’s BART is a conventional rail system, as is Clarian Health’s people mover. While the beams look narrow and the train is the same body as many monorails, there are clearly two tracks per direction. “It’s electric and it has rubber wheels so it will be much quieter than the ’El’ in Chicago, so noise level won’t be an issue,” added Clarian Spokesperson Glendal Jones.

The elevated, driverless rail system, financed entirely by private funding, began with a budget of $34 million, but the addition of the canal station upped the total cost to about $40 million, noted Vincent.

It will travel predominantly over city-owned streets and will operate free of charge to the public as well as to Clarian staff and patients. The 1.5-mi. (2.4 km) route heads south from the Methodist station along Senate Avenue to the canal station on 11th Street, west to University Boulevard, and west on Walnut to the IU station, then west to the Riley station — at a height of 22 to 26 ft. (6.7 to 8 m) in the air. According to Vincent, walkways to Riley and University Hospital also will be in place.

Passengers will be able to catch one of the two trains (with three cars each) every five minutes, year round. Routine operation from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. will be supplemented by after-hours on-call service as necessary. Powered by electricity and traveling at speeds up to 28 mph, they can carry 80 passengers the length of the route within five minutes.

Vincent explained, the people mover is capable of transporting 900 passengers per hour. Jones said the people mover would transport roughly 500,000 people around the downtown health centers each year.

Because it is privately funded by Clarian Health, the driverless rail system will be open to the public and free of charge. “Sometimes having to park downtown, find spaces and walk everywhere can get pretty aggravating,” Jones said. “The public, physicians, anyone can use it, but mainly it’s for our patients.” Vincent added, “Not only does this system bring Clarian’s three hospitals together, it serves the community. It’s just a tremendous opportunity to provide better health to Indiana and beyond.”

Group Effort

Clarian hired the engineering and construction firm of Schwager Davis Inc. (SDI), of San Jose, CA, as the turnkey design-build general contractor and construction manager for the project. “We wanted to marry the technical side with general contractors in the area,” explained Vincent, who noted that Ratio Architects and Worcester Construction also were used on the project. “Worcester was a sub who did some of the general work on the walkway and the stations,” he elaborated, “but SDI was the prime in charge of the guideway and the technology involved.

“We felt that the technical contractor should have the lead on the project,” Vincent continued. “Since there are no companies in Indiana making people movers, we wanted an experienced company like SDI. For all the rest of the work, we used local talent.”

Drill rigs were brought in initially to dig foundation holes 6 to 8 ft. (1.8 to 2.4 m) in diameter, 300 to 335 ft. (91 to 102 m) deep. Cranes were employed to lift the 500-ton (453.6 t) beams into place. “The longest beam was 130,000 tons,” said Vincent. “We used a lot of heavy equipment.”

The company also performed much of that work at night to avoid snarling traffic in the busy downtown business district. Shifts from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. were intended to cause the least interference with local businesses and neighborhoods. The absence of demolition work made that task easier, and Vincent said the work was predominantly done in the city’s right-of-way, rather than directly on the streets.

However, he added, Clarian made a big effort to involve the community. “We took the approach that getting the community involved was the best way to go,” he said. “We put out a newsletter to keep property owners aware of our meetings and what was happening. We coordinated the closures of streets with area businesses and neighbors — we didn’t want anything to be a surprise. We treated it like a community project, and we can already say that everyone has worked hard to make this project a success: the neighborhoods, local businesses, the city and the university.”

The project affected traffic traversing the IUPUI campus for a few weeks when two stretches of road were closed on University Boulevard and 10th Street. The potential risks from the installation of heavy beams on the columns crossing several streets in the area caused street closures during the first three weeks of fall classes — traditionally a time of heavy traffic. But Whitmore insisted on minimizing the risk by barricading off the areas.

One of the biggest challenges facing the crews were the existing abandoned utilities uncovered in the locations for new columns. “There aren’t any city records of laterals off the mains,” noted Vincent. “You have to be so careful when you’re drilling because you just don’t know where abandoned lines exist.

“When we dug up part of 7th Street, we found three layers of street steam pipes,” he marveled. “We had to excavate 5.5 ft. down to the surface of the top road underground. Talk about building new cities on top of old ones. It’s been a fun and interesting project.”

Technology and Performance

The new Clarian Health rail system incorporates a broad range of technological advances for short- to medium-distance people movers. Although engineered and rated for a design speed of 30 mph (the maximum speed dictated by Clarian’s guideway alignment and the associated passenger comfort considerations) SDI’s newly designed propulsion bogies can operate well in excess of 30 mph. The new higher speed bogie is heavier and stronger than the previous model and features a variable-frequency AC drive with belt drive to the transmission, a Rockwell axle assembly and a pneumatic suspension and leveling system. Power is delivered to the trains at 480 volt, three-phase, 60Hz. Rubber tires provide the traction force on the guideway running surface via all-wheel drive. Positive guidance is achieved by horizontal guide wheels that run along the vertical inside surfaces of the guideway girders.

The train bodies are hand-fabricated in Switzerland from aviation-grade structural aluminum profiles. The three-car trains feature a sleek new exterior design with large tinted window areas and fiberglass reinforced plastic nose sections at each end. Individual cars are 22 ft. long by 8 ft. wide by 10 ft. high (6.7 m by 2.4 m by 3 m), with seating for eight passengers and standing room for 19 in each car. Each car is fully air-conditioned and has a single 5 ft. (1.5 m) wide bi-parting door for center station loading. The empty weight of each train is 45,000 lbs. (20,412 kg).

The system is fully automated and designed with the latest advances in on-board programmable logic controllers and redundant safety systems. This new-generation control system was designed by PSI Inc., of Walnut Creek, CA, and utilizes state-of-the-art Allen-Bradley control electronics. All operational functions are controlled by an on-board computer system and monitored via wireless data communication in the central control room. All relays and switching devices are software controlled.

The control system is programmed for automatic acceleration from stations, maximum cruise speed, deceleration at curves and station approach and stopping at stations. It also incorporates complete fail-safe features for train protection and safety, including speed control, direction and location monitoring, collision avoidance, braking, stopping and door control.

The elevated concrete guideway structure is designed to be as slender, attractive and economical as possible. SDI’s 4-ft. (1.2 m) track gauge allows for a relatively narrow superstructure and the average 80-ft. (24 m) span between columns minimizes the number of support piers. To reduce ice and snow buildup on the guideway during winter, the superstructure is designed with open space between the tracks to allow the snow to fall through to the ground.

Potential for Future Expansion

Clarian CEO William Loveday expounded on the benefits of the system, which he said he believes helps position Indianapolis as a leader in health care. “This system represents a new era for our organization,” said Loveday. “It is much more than an attraction or convenience; it helps us work better. The people mover is an enabler — it enables fast, dependable connectivity for staff, residents and students to all Clarian facilities, and will greatly enhance our research and development activities, which are already among the best in the nation.”

He noted other benefits of the railway, including the creation of jobs in the city, reduced traffic congestion downtown, economic development fallout, and the possibility of future transportation systems tying into the Clarian stations.

Vincent indicated that the people mover has the ability to expand out of the Methodist station in “any direction,” adding that “in the contract, it states the possibility of a connection in the future. I would look for the city to build downtown in densely populated areas — maybe a loop for the busy northeast corridor.”

Indeed, when the city approved the Clarian project, it included a clause that would allow for future connections with additional private or public transit lines. “We’ve thought all along that if the people mover is successful and well accepted, then it would be the best thing to happen for transit in Indianapolis,” said Mike Peoni, manager of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. “Although we have been looking at ’at-grade’ [street level] systems, there is a big advantage with elevated rails because they eliminate any conflict with on-street traffic and busy intersections.”

While city officials praise the public benefits of the system, SDI President Guido Schwager cited the practical design innovations that make those benefits possible. “Automated People Mover technology has advanced to the point where an APM is frequently a superior alternative to light rail,” he said. “Because the systems can be grade separated, they are safer. Today’s advances in variable frequency AC drives and programmable logic controllers make them highly reliable. And the capital costs, as well as operation and maintenance costs, are a fraction of those of light rail.”

The Clarian Health APM project proves that vital transportation solutions can be quickly implemented without years of planning and even more years of construction. SDI’s technology is opening up important new realms of possibility. Transit applications that were once unfeasible due to excessive cost and construction time can now move ahead with complete assurance.