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China proposes car-straddling buses (or are they trains?)

Many, many people have sent in tips about this project in China to build huge buses the width of two car lanes, which can run on guideways straddling the road and travel above the cars:

But wouldn't it be easier just to dedicate a bus lane? Via the Huffington Post.

Update: Several commenters have also pointed out that, despite the Huffington Post headline, since this will run on rails it's really a train, not a bus.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Easier, maybe, but not nearly as awesome.

by Jon Renaut on Aug 4, 2010 9:53 am • linkreport

Hard to imagine this easily being ADA complaint.

by Paul S on Aug 4, 2010 10:08 am • linkreport

I fail to see how this isn't a train (or how it's remotely a good idea).

by andrew on Aug 4, 2010 10:09 am • linkreport

This will probably go great once someone crashes their car into the guiderail and/or bustrain...

by Eric on Aug 4, 2010 10:18 am • linkreport

This is a train right? There are tracks they have to build. It's definitely an interesting idea, but they talk about building tracks. That's a train right, or at least the coolest looking streetcar of all time.

by DAJ on Aug 4, 2010 10:19 am • linkreport

It seems like the concept is attempting to get the capacity of an elevated transitway without having to build the infrastructure. I think the designers are going to find so many devils in the implementation details that this system won't end up being much cheaper.

by PeakVT on Aug 4, 2010 10:29 am • linkreport



by Jason on Aug 4, 2010 10:29 am • linkreport

I think the real question is why aren't we buying 200 crazybuses RIGHT NOW??

by matt on Aug 4, 2010 10:30 am • linkreport

@DAJ: Yes, a train. A cool train though.

@Eric: The guide rail doesn't look like it has anything to do with it. It looks like a small track (like a tram track) which could be run over. I don't see how an accident could be any more detrimental than running into a streetcar in, say, Boston, would be.

@Paul S: ADA compliance would be easily configured at the stations. You would obviously board at lifted stations (second floor) and there could be elevators. Simple as that. More ADA compatible than a bus usually is in any case.

@PeakVT: You make the most compelling case, but I don't see the harm in exploring it, and it looks good, saves space, and allows people to travel on existing roadways, without limiting car access. Less infrastructure also makes the sight lines better when the train isn't there (nothing like the L in Chicago which brings a dark look to the streets).

by Patriot on Aug 4, 2010 10:36 am • linkreport

@Patriot: Ah, you're right about the track. I was only looking at the foreground of the picture where you can't quite see the wheels and it looks like it's hooked into the guiderail somehow. As for accidents, I think the difference between this and a streetcar is that passengers aren't 15 ft off the ground if there's an accident. Obviously, car vs. streetcar can be pretty harmful for passengers as it is, but I feel like the elevation in this case might be worse.

by Eric on Aug 4, 2010 10:49 am • linkreport

Drivers have a hard enough time when guardrails or jersey barriers get too close. Imagine their discomfort when a multi-ton train is moving around them. Let's not discount the impact that this type of transport would have on historic vista viewsheds either.

by aaa on Aug 4, 2010 10:52 am • linkreport

"Streetcars on steroids"! I luv it! Question is, would they still require overhead wires?

by Lance on Aug 4, 2010 10:52 am • linkreport

Btw, what happened to the Month-of-August vacation David?

by Lance on Aug 4, 2010 10:53 am • linkreport

So would this be any more impactful than the double-decker tourist buses running through the L'Enfant core, given the overhead wire discussion?

by William on Aug 4, 2010 10:53 am • linkreport

One time I was hiking on top of Mount Washington and a small glider flew silently overhead. As the shadow passed over our party, every single one of us simultaneously dove to the ground, momentarily frozen in panic. It turns out there is this little place in your brain that still has a primal fear of large flying objects that swoop down from above. Just wait until that bus monstrocity thing passes unexpectedly over you while you're driving and you'll see exactly what I mean.

by Alan on Aug 4, 2010 10:55 am • linkreport

Actually, it's kind of scary to think that the Chinese are thing along the lines of 'the future', like we did back in the 50s, 60s, 70s ... And WE meanwhile are looking nostalically back to old buildings and old streetcars. What's the bigger picture here of what's going on/wrong with the world?

by Lance on Aug 4, 2010 10:55 am • linkreport

The DC Council would accept this because there are no overhead wires ruining the view. Don't think about a lane change or cycling near one of these things though...

by Matt Glazewski on Aug 4, 2010 11:06 am • linkreport

@Lance: "What's the bigger picture here of what's going on/wrong with the world? "

the patterns have been puzzling for a while.  as tattoos, body piercings and islamic covering become more visible on the streets one gets the impression that we are becoming primitives.  listening to the urban beat one would think that poetry and music have turned into a rhythmic pulsating string of profanity and violence.  take a look around and note that any exposed vertical surface has acquired an encrustation of graffiti, really all-pervasive form of visual dog scat. 

we have come into a future, but it's not the one we were expecting.  parts of it have turned out surprisingly well and much of it does have some interesting potential, but it sure is different. 

I wasn't living here when they rolled up the last streetcar lines, but did pass through in time to catch a ride on one and am very much looking forward to using the reincarnated service (presuming of course that it happens in my lifetime, for which there is no assurance). 
not so much a back-to-the-future nostalgia trip as a chance to see the undoing of a mistake made years ago with the alluring prospect of setting transport onto a better track. 

by intermodal commuter on Aug 4, 2010 11:26 am • linkreport

Interesting. It's definitely a train and not a bus, it's basically an elevated railway in which the elevated structure goes with the train. Is one way to look at it.

So there's no view obstruction or uglification except when the train is passing.

by UncertaintyVicePrincipal on Aug 4, 2010 11:38 am • linkreport

Good comments intermodal ... but I was referring more to the fact that it's the Chinese changing over from bikes to cars (remember when a picture of Beijing/Peking meant seeing hundreds of bikes lines up at traffic light ... with no real cars in sight?) ... and now thinking 'out of the box' with ideas such as this one (while we look back to existing technology) ... I.e., it's the bigger economic picture that's a bit troubling. They're thinking and acting creatively ... like we used to, while we're going 'the safe route' and not thinking outside the box. In the grand scheme of things, that's not usually a harbinger of good things to come. What happened to American innovation? Have we become so much a country of 'traders' that we don't know how to innovate anymore? I see a shift occuring here similar to the one that occured a century ago between Europe and 'America'.

by Lance on Aug 4, 2010 11:43 am • linkreport

@intermodal You kids get off my lawn!

by Nick on Aug 4, 2010 11:52 am • linkreport

You can see the Communist Party's thinking here. The Monster Train will encourage a huge spike in car crashes, as people driving along the inexplicably massive 8-lane boulevard suddenly find themselves in a tunnel. And a spike in car crashes will encourage more people to ride trains, which will help fund more Monster Trains!

by tom veil on Aug 4, 2010 11:53 am • linkreport

Rails? That's for wimps. Just put some monster truck tires on them and lets see commuters cut off a bus. We have the technology, we can build it.

by dano on Aug 4, 2010 12:35 pm • linkreport

Why not just build an el train?

by MDC on Aug 4, 2010 12:46 pm • linkreport

We can't do it here we are not in China and the Chinese are more numerouus and they're just starting to use cars but this is very interesting. I would like to visit and ride on this train/bus/transport someday..

by Jake on Aug 4, 2010 1:02 pm • linkreport

What happens when there is a turn for either the train or a car; do the cars wait for the train or the train wait for the cars.

Hopefully this is running on a straight road or there will be accidents.

by kk on Aug 4, 2010 1:02 pm • linkreport

I would prefer this over a dedicated bus lane. Dedicated bus lanes, if the restrictions are actually enforced, often turn two lane streets into one lane streets. I feel that this creates more traffic problems than the bus solves.

by withasigh on Aug 4, 2010 1:05 pm • linkreport


Not for the people on the bus!

by William on Aug 4, 2010 1:15 pm • linkreport

I understand new, cool, gadgety things -- really, i do. but people are actually taking this seriously -- not here, necessarily, but all over the web. there are 'serious' people who are thinking this is a good way to preserve road space

is it stupidity, ignorance, arrogance, some kind of suicidal impulse, or some combination of all the of these?

i need a drink.

by Peter Smith on Aug 4, 2010 1:25 pm • linkreport

What are they smoking over there?

by par4 on Aug 4, 2010 1:33 pm • linkreport

why not just make it as wide as the whole street in a given direction - then you eliminate the whole problem of cars changing lanes. then all you have to do is prevent cars from having a signal to make turns when the train passes though. it's not like there aren't enough people in china to ride super-wide trains (or you could just make it shorter to compensate). Also they should put lights underneath so it doesn't seem to block out all the light.

by Lee on Aug 4, 2010 1:59 pm • linkreport

They need to add mandibles underneath so it can devour cars and people as it passes over them, converting them into fuel...

Suffice it to say, this image is not exactly filling me with terror over the death of American innovation. Sheesh.

by Jake H. on Aug 4, 2010 2:14 pm • linkreport

So they're trying to save on building the elevated trackway by putting the train on stilts. Which means they have to engineer the vertical supports on the vehicle so it can hold its own when sideswiped by a truck. The cost of THAT will probably make the transitway more attractive.

Or, they can skimp, and the resulting accident will be posted to Failblog.

by Omri on Aug 4, 2010 2:16 pm • linkreport

So Lance, you seem to be against streetcars because they are soooo last century but you'd be happy with these monsters zipping around DC? Wow.

by NikolasM on Aug 4, 2010 2:19 pm • linkreport


China is innovating faster than the US because of their markedly lower standard of living, their abundant cheap labor, their lack of protest rights and the close control government has over business.

All the great 19th and early 20th century American infrastructure projects were built with cheap labor and lax safety standards. Erie Canal, Hoover Dam, every major railroad pass through the mountains, the Union Pacific cross-continental rail network...

They were built without environmental or human welfare concerns. Whether this is ultimately good or bad I can't say, but our higher standard of living (whether or not it will be here forever) and strict labor laws mean that we cannot innovate so quickly and dangerously as the Chinese.

This elevated frankenrailcar could fail catastrophically and call dozens of people and the Chinese government would take very little flak, and probably just dissolve the company that developed it. And then on to the next innovation.

by MikeS on Aug 4, 2010 2:48 pm • linkreport

@Nick - kids are on the lawn all the time, they are always welcome ...

by intermodal commuter on Aug 4, 2010 3:12 pm • linkreport

I think a lot of you are overreacting and failing to at least consider the concept. Would this be a good idea implemented in mixed vehicular traffic? Probably hard to do.

But I can see greater potential of passenger rail straddling slower freight rail. You get added capacity within existing, and constrained, rights of way. Think of the current situation where Amtrak leases rights of way from freight rail, and is constantly held up due to freight rail delays.

I disagree with Lance about a lot of things, but I agree with his argument that this country has failed at thinking outside the box and considering bold new ideas.

by spookiness on Aug 4, 2010 3:33 pm • linkreport


Yes and other great 19th century projects like the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, nuclear power plants, fiber optic networks, and so on.

Infrastructure got put on the back burner because people didn't care about infrastructure as much, not because of labor or safety laws. If those were stopping innovation then none of the things I mention above could have happened.

by UncertaintyVicePrincipal on Aug 4, 2010 4:11 pm • linkreport

@MDC wrote:

>Why not just build an el train?

Because that way the elevated trackway and supports cover the entire length of the line, 24/7, and this way the support structure goes with the train, and vanishes the rest of the time.

I'm not saying that this is necessarily a good proposal but it's definitely an improvement over traditional elevated tracks, which mean erecting a huge structure across the city for miles that blocks light and views and so on.

Kind of clever really. Practical? Not sure.

by UncertaintyVicePrincipal on Aug 4, 2010 4:17 pm • linkreport

I see a huge safety hazard. Instead of having a car graze a curb, it will dent the train and cause all sorts of damage. There's a reason that modes of travel are separated. This isn't like mixing streetcars and pedestrians who are aware of each other's presence and capable of stopping quickly if necessary. But, then, Mao thought nuclear war could be good for China by eliminating alien hordes because there would be enough Chinese left around to dominate things.

by Chuck Coleman on Aug 4, 2010 4:34 pm • linkreport

On the news today they showed this train in action (a simulation.) I was hoping there'd be a link to that simulation here ... but am not seeing it. Has anyone else found it? Thanks

by Lance on Aug 4, 2010 4:34 pm • linkreport

Here's the link to the video (in Chinese)

And here is a link to a series of 4 news broadcasts from China about it:

Seems interesting

by Andrew on Aug 4, 2010 4:48 pm • linkreport

@Chuck, Like spookiness said, this is concept. It's nowhere near the design or implementation phases. The crowd here is usually so willing to tell me 'we'll figure it out as we go along' in regards to streetcars and their financing, I'm a little surprised to hear all the pessimism about this idea ... especially given that there are no tax dollars (at least from us) going to fund the exploration of this idea ... Maybe this thing just isn't 'cool enough' ... ?

by Lance on Aug 4, 2010 4:52 pm • linkreport

I like how on turns it magically articulates when in the pictures the outsides look straight and solid. I have no idea how that would work for passengers inside this thing.

by NikolasM on Aug 4, 2010 5:03 pm • linkreport

Thanks Andrew!

by Lance on Aug 4, 2010 5:07 pm • linkreport

Given that this transportation means has relatively few stations (which require large stations), has a high capacity, and appears intended to travel mainly in a single direction, I'd say it compares more to our Metro than other means of transport. Given that comparison, it's probably a far cheaper means of transport than Metro which requires digging deep into the ground for each mile traveled. This just requires some sophisticated 'radar' software to keep the cars from crashing into it and over course the stations and the 'streetcars/buses on stilts.' BUT it does require the radar (both inside the cars and in the stilted vehicle ... as well as the overhead 2 meter arches) to talk to each other.

And that is precisely the type of software that will someday allow cars to travel bumper to bumper at incredible speeds ... since the movement of all vehicles will be controlled and coordinated via dispersed software with standard protocols. So ... maybe the Chinese are envisioning this to run in conjunction with an overall automation of the control and command system for the roads. Kind of a hightech version of what we have now ... except that the 'metro' will run above ground, and everything will be coordinated and coordiated via sophisticated software.

by Lance on Aug 4, 2010 8:10 pm • linkreport

This would actually seem to make more sense for large highways, like interstates in the U.S. On those roads, traffic tends to merge on one side only. It would also seem to make sense to minimize the number of stops, since the train's height may make boarding take a while. Imagine these things going up and down 270, switching to run above the local lanes closer to the city. And build a separate Purple Line when you could have them going around the Beltway?

by jakeod on Aug 4, 2010 11:25 pm • linkreport

Well, it's pretty clear that no one commenting here has been in a Chinese city recently.

Yes, China has a huge problem with converting from bike to car power, which has many causes. A rapidly increasing standard of living is one of them. Expanding cities is another issue. I mean, Shanghai has a population of over 20 million people! Despite building vertically and cramming as many buildings as possible into as little space as possible, it's simply not doable to get that many people in a compact city, and that means bicycling across town isn't really an option. And of course there's the lack of urban planning.

That said, this will never work. As my Chinese friends are fond of saying, China is a free country, when it comes to driving. People drive wherever and however the heck they feel like it. A 4-lane highway becomes 6 or 8 lanes as people drive in the shoulder, in between lanes, wherever. Speed limits are clearly not even taken as a suggestion. People will be driving right on the tracks of this thing, unless they are 100% cut off from traffic with fences or something, which would make the system unworkable on many fronts. Plus, it would have to be tall enough for trucks to pass underneath it, which makes overpasses and elevated roads a huge problem (I'm looking at you, Shanghai).

While the concept is cool, the amount of planning required, coupled with existing infrastructure problems, is not doable for the Chinese government. C'mon, we're talking about the same people who built a high-speed mag-lev train from the Shanghai Pudong airport to....nowhere? (Seriously, it doesn't connect to the subway, so it's basically a time efficient and extremely expensive way to grab a cab closer to the city). Plus, as others have mentioned, I would so never get on this thing. Crashing down into the middle of a busy road from a decent height is so not on my bucket list.

by Ms. D on Aug 5, 2010 12:40 am • linkreport

Sunday Sunday SUNDAY! See Bigfoot and Monster Bus CRUSH your will to live. Kids only $5.

by stevek_fairfax on Aug 5, 2010 8:18 am • linkreport

The guy in the video:

"BeijingÂ’s Mentougou District is carrying out a eco-community project, it has already planned out 186 km for our straddling bus. Construction will begin at year end.

Thank you."

How's THAT for public outreach and input!

by skinny on Aug 5, 2010 11:06 am • linkreport

It seems like this is a good reason for banning overhead wires in the District - we need to keep the air space open for the Monster Trains. I can't wait to ride the line from the Lincoln Memorial to RFK over Constitution Avenue/East Capitol Street. (Can't do it on Independence Avenue because of the wire crossing over the road, and the building.)

But seriously, as Ms. D said, what happens when this train comes to an overpass or a tree branch for that matter? Jakeod is probably right - better for intercity service with infrequent stations and fewer traffic conflicts.

Captcha: hampering that

by Stanton Park on Aug 5, 2010 4:24 pm • linkreport

I think you meant 20th century--not 19th.

I'm with Lance. Not necessarily on this particular thing, but the US is getting its clock cleaned by everyone. China has 4300 miles of high-speed (>200 kph) rail, with 11,000 miles(!!) under construction. Their Wuhan-Guangzhou line averages 195 mph over a 570 mile distance. They also have a maglev line in Shanghai.

I was just in Spain and rode the AVE, which makes the Acela look like a tortoise. Not only that, but we passed a couple of enormous wind farms along the way. And that was Spain--which is supposedly on the edge of bankruptcy.

We just earlier this summer finally approved our very first off-shore wind farm, only ten years later than our European competitors (can't blame cheap labor and lax regulation for that).

Just watch. Over the next decades much of the cutting edge innovations will be coming from elsewhere. The US will lead in Hollywood movies and number of cable channels you can surf, but we'll be falling more and more behind on everything else. We've lost our mojo.

by Steve O on Aug 5, 2010 6:02 pm • linkreport

Is anyone else reminded of the Dulles Mobile Lounges? From the looks of this, the bus/train would work best on roads that have little or no pedestrian crossing (other than overhead at "stations"). Definitely wouldn't work on K street at rush hour which frequently has gridlock from cars and buses "blocking the box." It does look intriguing, though. I could see this on a road like Chicago's Lakeshore Drive.

by Fabian on Aug 6, 2010 2:37 pm • linkreport

I think this is absolutely amazing and scary at the same time. We can learn a lot from the innovation in China. IÂ’ll be moving to China soon so maybe IÂ’ll be among the first to ride the giant busÂ…

by China on Aug 11, 2010 8:41 am • linkreport

It's worth trying out, building one line first, and if it works out then more lines can be built.


by ajaynejr on Aug 12, 2010 6:46 pm • linkreport

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