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Heathrow Personal Rapid Transit PRT , London

Infrastructure design for world-first airport PRT system.

Arup provided infrastructure design for the world-first Heathrow pod, the personal rapid transit (PRT) system linking Terminal 5 (T5) with the T5 business car park. The pods are battery-powered, driverless vehicles offering a convenient and novel way to travel to and from the terminal.

Driverless pods reach 25mph

The fleet of 21 pods, each capable of carrying four passengers and their luggage, travel along a dedicated guideway, reaching speeds of up to 25mph on the mainly elevated route. For airport operator BAA the on-demand vehicles improve passengers’ experience of the airport and help reduce emissions by replacing a fleet of shuttle buses.

Design challenges

The project team faced a number of challenges when designing the guideway route which had to cross over roads that carry more than 100,000 cars a day, while staying below the height required by airport restrictions. The guideway had to comply with stringent design and safety codes. Construction could not close or delay any of the airport’s other transport systems or critical supply lines.

Arup worked closely with all the stakeholders – including airport operators and pod designers –  to ensure vehicles, guideway and computer systems worked together seamlessly. The result is a successful transport system with great potential for other applications in the digital built environment around the world.

Providing commercial management

The 3.8km PRT system is provided by Ultra who have been designing PRT systems, and working with Arup, since 1995. Arup provided commercial management support and took on the role of design coordinator.

Arup's expertise minimised site disruption

As the project's civil and structural engineers, Arup developed a design code that established design principles for the infrastructure of the Ultra PRT system and its interface with the vehicle and control systems.

Arup worked across the entire project team to develop the guideway, stations and depot infrastructure design. This included designing a lightweight, high-tolerance structure with minimum structural depth and visual impact. Wherever possible, special consideration was given to establishing modular, easily replicable forms with a common approach to structural form and architecture.

Arup also provided detailed alignment data for use by the vehicles’ guidance software, which significantly reduced on-site set up time.

Arup also generated and evaluated options for guideway layouts in the T5 Business Car Park, finally recommending a flexible design that allows for future extension of the pod system.