The Remarkable Boynton Unicycle Railroad

On Friday, March 4th, 2011, in Engineering, Railroading, by Al Gengler
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The 1889 monorail steam engine, Cycle, No. 1, operated between Gravesend and Coney Island, New York. It was the brainchild of Eben Moody Boynton of West Newbury, Massachusetts. He had it built along with a second engine for his Boynton Bicycle Railway. The engine had a two-story cab and a 93-inch double-flanged single driver. The two trailing wheels made it a 0-1-1-1 steam locomotive wheel arrangement and rolled on a single track. It had an overhead rail to stabilize the engine and the double decked coaches on their two mile run to Coney Island.

The following is from Scientific American March 28, 1891

“During several weeks last summer there were in regular and continuous operation, in railway passenger service, the locomotive and cars shown in the lower view herewith presented, the service being between Gravesend and Coney Island, on an abandoned section of an old standard gaugetrack of the Sea Beach and Brighton Railroad. The locomotive weighs nine tons, and has two 10 by 12 inch cylinders, the piston rods of both being Connected with cranks on each side the single six-foot driving wheel, and the front of the locomotive being also supported by two 38-inch pony wheels, one behind the other. These wheels have double flanges, to contact with either side of the track rail, as also have similarly arranged pairs of 38-inch wheels arranged under and housed in the floors near each end of the passenger cars.”

“In the upper view is shown an improved locomotive especially designed for this method of traction, and built for use on a street railway of a Western city. It weighs sixteen tons and has a pair of five-foot drivers. The crank is only seven inches in length, and the engine is designed to readily make 600 revolutions a minute, and maintain a speed of 100 miles an hour with a full train of passenger cars.”

“In a true line with, and fifteen feet directly above, the face of the track rail is the lower face of a guide rail, supported from posts arranged along the side of the track, and on the sides of this guide rail run pairs of rubber-faced trolley wheels attached to the top of the locomotive and the cars. The guide rail is a simple stringer of yellow pine, 4¼ by 8 inches in section, and the standards on which the wheels are journaled are placed far enough apart to allow a space of six inches between the contiguous faces of each pair of wheels, thus affording 1¾ inches for lateral play, or sidewise movement toward or from the guard rail, it being designed that the guide rail shall be arranged in the exact line of the true center of gravity of the cars and locomotive. The standards are bolted to six-inch wide strap iron attached to and extending across the top of the car.

The switching arrangement is remarkably simple. In addition to an ordinary track switch, in which, however, the switch bar is made to throw only one rail, a connection is made by means of a vertical rod and upper switch bar with a shifting section of the guide rail, whereby, on the moving of the track rail and the setting of the signal, the guide rail will be simultaneously moved, the adjustment being effected and both being locked in position according to the methods usual in ordinary railway practice.”

“The passenger cars, as will be seen, are each two stories in height, each story being divided lengthwise into nine separate compartments, each of which will comfortably seat four passengers, thus providing seats for seventy-two passengers in each car. Each compartment has its own sliding door, and all the doors on the same floor of the car are connected by rods at the top and bottom with a lever in convenient reach of the brakeman, by whom the doors are all opened and closed simultaneously. The compartments are each four feet wide and five feet long, the seats facing each other. Only one rail of the old single track was used, as only one guide rail had been erected, except at the ends of the route, for switching purposes, but the width of the cars and motor was such that it only required the erection of another guide rail, for the utilizing of the other track rail, to form a regular double-track road of the Boynton pattern.

The section of road on which this system has been operated is only two miles long, in which distance the curves are considerable, but, although they are mostly in one direction, the indications of wear upon the traction wheels, and upon the guide rail and trolley wheels, were hardly perceptible. During a portion of the season, when the summer travel to Coney Island was at its height, trains were run on regular schedule time, fifty three-car trains daily each way, carrying from one to three hundred passengers per trip.” Of course there were derailments.

But can anyone top this remarkable piece of kudspa in the annals of railroad engineering?

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