Cost Effective Proven Solution For People And Goods

Recently the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) noted on a Facebook post that they were in the process of setting up a modern railway technology known as the Futran System.

Cost Effective Proven Solution For People And Goods

Fractional Rapid Transit (FRT) is a term used to describe the nature of the automated transport and haulage concept, as enabled by the Futran System. FRT is an over arching term that includes Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), as used in automated pod based public transportation), Group Rapid Transit (GRT), and Containerised Rapid Transit (CRT). Personal rapid transit (PRT) is a public transport mode featuring small-automated vehicles operating on a network of specially built guideways.

FRT, the wider term that is used to describe the Futran System, is enabled by breaking a bulk into smaller fractions, each small enough to be transported economically by themselves, and then moving these fractions in automated, driverless pods along a grid network from any point to any other point without having to stop in between.

Cost Effective Proven Solution For People And Goods

Ideally suited for the movement of people, goods, ore, minerals and even fluids, the Futran system is the lowest cost Fractional Rapid Transit (FRT) system of this size ever designed, it is also the most scalable, flexible and versatile.

Designed in Africa for African conditions and as a result can be manufactured, constructed, operated and maintained in Africa by local fabricators and entrepreneurs. It is also the only one of its kind (suspended) that has been built and demonstrated on a fully functional track, anywhere in the world.

Created to address the need for a new class of cost effective large-scale transportation systems in Africa, the Futran system is truly an African solution, to the extent that the University of Johannesburg’s civil engineering department has also adopted the Futran System as a technology of the future. From this year onward, all final year civil engineering students are required to spend three months designing Futran Systems as part of their practical course work.

“We are immensely proud of our African roots and we believe that the Futran System will help launch Africa as a global player in the transportation technology space and not just as an importer of foreign technology,” says Andries Louw, the inventor of the system and Director of the Futran Group of companies. 

So what is it?

The Futran system is a Fractional Rapid Transit (FRT) system, designed to transport a range of pod types to take loads as light as a few hundred kilograms and as heavy as 40 tonnes; using the same track type and the same motorised unit design. The Futran System is available in light, medium and heavy track systems.

The flexibility and scalability is unique and enables the system to be applied to a range of needs under a variety of conditions. Fractional Rapid Transit (FRT) is a term used to describe the nature of the automated transport and haulage concept where a large volume is broken up into fractions and then moved individually, as enabled by the Futran System. This process is copied from nature where locusts, ants and insects move bulk much more efficiently than herds of large animals such as elephant and buffalo.

The Futran system consists of:

  • an elevated track network with switches that have no moving parts, from which moving stock is suspended,
  • automated, motorised bogies that can individually select which route it is to take when going through a switch,
  • non-motorised slave bogies,
  • skips, containers or pods attached to the bogies,
  • loading and offloading systems (including stations in the case of people pods),
  • on-site maintenance facilities,
  • a traffic management system,
  • a job card system where each automated moving unit (called a Nutran) can manage its own route without having to be in constant contact with the centralised traffic management system.

Electrical motors are used to propel the motorised units and power can be drawn from the track using a feeder system such as a pantograph, or energy that can be stored on board in a battery and carried along with the unit. The motorised units therefore can have all the elements of a self-driving Electric Vehicle (EV), including:

  • an electric motor with a motor controller,
  • a control system, such as a VSD, to take and send commands to the system,
  • a battery for energy storage,
  • a monitoring and control system to ensure that it does not crash into a unit in front of it,
  • the ability to take evasive action, should the unit in front of it not follow the rules of the track for whatever reason,
  • communication with a central coordinating traffic management control system.

In essence these motorised units, called Nutrans, are nothing other than self-driving electric vehicles that are restricted to run on a fixed track at fixed speeds. Virtually all of the technology developed for Electric Vehicles can therefore be used on these units.

The electric motor and low energy consumption combination of course makes the system an ideal candidate for using renewable energy such as solar power, with the potential to create additional revenue through the generation of power via the installed solar panels, the system is capable of generating approximately 1 Megawatt per kilometre which can be returned to the national grid.

Cost Effective Proven Solution For People And Goods

Deployment – the possibilities are endless and profitable!

The Futran System can be deployed on almost any road and railway reserve, over obstacles and sensitive areas such as wetlands and rivers, high enough to enable animal and people migrations yet small enough not to be visually disturbing.

In the mining industry, the Futran system can be deployed to haul ore between open pits, washing plants, overburden dumps, stockpiles, rail sidings, ports, mills and power plants.

As a heavy haul container movement solution, the system presents new and exciting options for ports, especially in the field of automation and dry port management.

The system can run from horizontal to vertical and everything in-between, so in the case of underground mining, the system has the potential of completely transforming the industry. Ore can be picked up at the face and taken straight to the surface without re-handling it, while cement, tools, materials, people, explosives and machinery can be taken into and out of the mine using the same system.

In cities, Futran tracks can be deployed to cover the whole city, enabling people to move around at 50km/h at very low cost, while the system is running at a profit. Furthermore the tracks can be used to house a huge array of solar panels on the top, providing electricity to the city, while the optical fibre network embedded in the track can be used to enable broadband communications throughout the city.

Because the system uses an elevated track, existing right of way, such as roads, railway lines, road reserves and servitudes can be used to deploy the tracks. In the case of rural deployments in the country side, the track can be deployed with minimal impact on the ground, making it possible to deploy over wetlands, mountains, ravines and grazing while wild animals and cattle can still migrate underneath and the land can still be used for agriculture.

Cost Effective Proven Solution For People And Goods

Job Creation And Ease Of Supply

Key to the development of the Futran system was to ensure that it could be locally manufactured, assembled, maintained and operated everywhere in Africa, even where few skilled resources are available. The Futran System track and components can all be manufactured locally using local steel, local skills, local suppliers, local materials and even local components such as motors, gearboxes and control systems. Each installation also creates and develops businesses and opportunities for the local community such as;

  • manufacturing and assembly of components,
  • contractors for erecting and site based work,
  • maintenance teams,
  • operators.

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