Engineering students display tramway system that could transport people at Anschutz Medical Campus

It looks like something out of a sci-fi film, but the suspended tramway suggested for the Anschutz Medical Campus may be arriving at the right time.

If it comes to fruition, engineering students at both the University of Colorado Denver and CU-Boulder will have played a significant role in getting an all-important people mover off the ground — literally. The Swift automated people mover (APM) suspends coach cars on elevated fixed guideways, where they quietly and cost-effectively travel at speeds of 30 to 35 mph.

The civil engineering team that developed the conceptual design of the Swift Tram Transportation project was one of 23 that presented at the CU Denver College of Engineering and Applied Science’s Engineering Senior Design Competition in the North Classroom on Friday. Teams competed in civil, mechanical and electrical engineering as well as computer science.

An electrical engineering team that designed a Remote Emergency Biometric System won the overall prize, while the Swift Tram Transportation team won the civil engineering category.

“It’s the perfect storm — all these pieces are coming together,” said Carl Lawrence, founder and CEO of Swift Tram, Inc., the client for whom the CU Denver team worked. “Our timing is almost perfect to get this project rolling.”

The system would connect the two RTD light rail stations planned at the Anschutz Medical Campus — one on Fitzsimons Parkway on the north side of campus and the other near the new Veterans Affairs hospital on the east side of campus — to various buildings on the medical campus, including the three hospitals.

The students devised platforms that would allow tram passengers to enter the hospitals without stepping outside.

“Right now there’s a lack of efficient transportation within the campus,” said team member Kevin Johnk.

With the 2016 arrival of the I-225 light rail line, Anschutz Medical Campus, currently encompassing 22,000 employees and visitors daily and, after full build out, more than 50,000, is faced with needing a system to get rail riders to their destinations on the 1-square-mile campus.

So far, a comprehensive transportation plan, part of the Anschutz Medical Campus master plan, includes a campus circulator shuttle that would connect the new Fitzsimons station and key locations, including CU Anschutz, University of Colorado Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Such a circulator is impeded, the students noted, by some streets that do not go entirely through the campus and the need for plows during snowstorms. As part of their tram transportation project, the students examined how many people go to the hospitals, at what time of day and how they could be best served by an APM.

The cost to install the main framework of the suspended tram — excluding the coaches and guideway tubes — would be about $36 million to $39 million, the students said. “With this system, in terms of vibrations generated, it’s like a couple of Prius cars driving by,” Johnk said.

The original light rail stop through the heart of campus, on Montview Boulevard, had to be realigned to Fitzsimons Parkway due to the electromagnetic interference and vibrations from light rail posing adverse impacts to sensitive medical equipment on the campus.

Germany is home to two APMs that are similar to the Anschutz Medical Campus proposal, which went before the Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority (FRA) last week. An APM operates in Memphis, Tenn., Lawrence said, but uses cables to pull the cars.

This system would run on automated drivers that run inside the guideway tubes. A team of mechanical engineering students at CU-Boulder have been working on the drivers.

Lawrence said the suspended APM would use one-fifth the energy of a bus circulator and operate at a third the cost.

He said the CU Denver team’s work has moved the project forward. “Their 3D animation (of how the system would run) is very nice,” Lawrence said. “It’s getting a lot of people excited. We need to convince the FRA that this is the way to go. It’s not a done deal. We need to keep working on it.”

The other team members — all graduating seniors in civil engineering — are Zabih Aghdasi, Andrew Espinosa, Daniel Gibas, Rachel Leigh and Joshua Thompson.

Full results:

Donors to the competition are Donald G. and Karen M. White and judges were Damien Cain, 39 North Engineering and Surveying LLC; Shawn Green, E. Central; James Jamison, IBM; and Gary Meggison, RJM Construction.

(Photo: Team members of Swift Tram Transportation are, from left, Andrew Espinosa, Joshua Thompson, Daniel Gibas, Zabih Aghdasi, Rachel Leigh and Kevin Johnk.)

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