Google may be getting the publicity for its driverless car today, but London once considered a similar project — all the way back in the 1970s.

What was to be known as Cabtrack, was a planned elevated roadway running along Victoria Street in central London, and eventually further afield, with automatic cars running along them.

cabtrack

The Royal Aircraft Establishment came up with the idea as an alternative to the railway and the bus, and it would have been able to transport around 6,000 people per hour at an average speed of 22mph[1].

One of the many advantages cited of the London scheme, over some other automated transport services being considered is that the lightweight cars would reduce the size of the elevated roadway, and reduce the cost of building it.

Meanwhile, Westminster was looking at a rival scheme, the MiniTram, which retained some of the small cab benefits of the Cabtrack, but was closer to a public bus service, and would have seen the roadways attached to the sides of buildings along the streets[2].

westminster-minitram

That would have seen a network of elevated roadways linking Charing Cross and Waterloo with six points in Covent Garden, a branch up to Holborn and a potential loop running through Soho to Oxford Street.

That’s not too dissimilar to plans proposed in Victorian times, to run railways along roads, above the pedestrian paths.

It was expected that the technical development would cost around £4 million[3], before a final decision was taken to build it, or not.

The MiniTram obviously was never built, but the development work on it by HSD and GEC did indirectly contribute to the eventual development of the Docklands Light Railway.

While the Cabtrack, and its rival scheme up the road never got off the ground, a similar concept is operating in London today — Heathrow Airport’s driverless pods show what the Cabtrack would have looked like.

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1]  Wheels of Progress?: Motor Transport, Pollution and the Environment (page 54-55)

2] Design Journal 1969

3] The Times, April 19th 1974, page 23

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