Book Review: Monorails of the 19th Century

Monorails of the 19th Century by Adrian S. Garner, published by Lightmoor Press, Lydney in 2011.

This book records the development of the monorail railway from its inception in the 1820s, when conventional two rail railways were still in their infancy, through to the construction of the successful Wuppertal Schwebebahn built at the end of the nineteenth century. [2]

In addition to their history, a full technical description of each unique system is provided together with drawings and illustrations. The book is based on original documentation and full references are provided to enable further research. Many of the designs were eccentric and very few were commercially successful but this energetic period of industrial growth encouraged novelty. [2]

This book is the story of these unusual railways and their inventors.

The earliest patent for a vehicle designed to run on a single rail can be traced to UK patent No 4618 dated 22 November 1821. The inventor was Henry Robinson Palmer, [3] who described it as ‘a single line of rail, supported at such height from the ground as to allow the centre of gravity of the carriages to be below the upper surface of the rail’. The vehicles straddled the rail, rather like a pair of pannier baskets on a mule. Propulsion was by horse. [1][4]

This book follows the story of the development of Monorails from Henry Palmer’s first patent through the various experiments in the 19th Century. An intriguing monorail was that built on the flanks of Mount Vesuvius which relied on lava crust of as little a 300mm in thickness for its foundations. By the end of the 19th Century, the main protagonists for the monorail where Charles Lartigue and F. B. Behr. Lartigue constructed Palmer monorails in Algeria to transport esparto grass, to replace mules and camels, although the motive power is recorded as ‘animal’. He also demonstrated his ideas in Paris (1884), Westminster (1886), Tours (1889), St Petersburg (1894), Long Island (1894) and Brussels (1897). Behr proposed a high speed monorail between Liverpool and Manchester, but construction never started through lack of financial support. [4]

The most famous Lartigue monorail was the Listowel and Ballybunion Railway, (please see my post for further details: [5]) in Ireland, which stayed in service from 1888 until 1924. Part of this railway survives as a preserved railway and tourist attraction. [4][5]

A complete chapter is dedicated to the Listowel and Ballybunnion Railway; two chapters in all to the full range of Lartigue monorails.

The book is very well illustrated. With the exception of drawings of the Hunslet locomotives for the Listowel and Ballybunnion Railway which were drawn in pen and ink, all the drawings by the author were drawn using AutoCad LT.

I love the sometimes archane, sometimes odd different systems which were invented. It seems to me that the delightful Listowel and Ballybunnion Railway (and the Lartigue priniciple) was the one of these early systems which got closest to working as an effective branch-line. The pictures (both drawings and photographs) of that railway in this book are superb.

At the end of the chapter about the Listowel and Ballybunnion Railway there are two appendices. The first contains a list of all the patents taken out by Lartigue. The second provides details of surviving cine-film of the railway.

The second chapter about the Lartigue system of monorails focusses on other lines using his design/patents. Lartigue himself worked on a significant scheme in France which ultimately never opened to the public – the Feurs to Panissieres Railway in the Loire. In Garner’s book, there is a wealth of photographs of the construction work and the rolling stock made for the line.The Feurs to Panissieres Monorail. [8]

Monorails. colleague Behr worked on a number of schemes which he hoped would result in high-speed electrically powered connections between cities. He demonstrated a high-speed system on a short line in Belgium in 1897 where his test train achieved speeds of 70 mph.

He went on, among other schemes, to propose a double-track monorail between Liverpool and Manchester. This project got as far as receiving Parliamentary approval in 1901 and design work being undertaken, but it ultimately failed when Behr was unable to raise the necessary capital. The project was finally wound up in 1903. Behr also worked on a number of schemes in the rest of the world. The Listowel and Ballybunnion line was the only one to see public use. Although it was built within budget, no real assessment of its viability in service had been undertaken and its failure was primarily due to the lack of passengers and freight using the line. [2]

Garner’s book goes on to explore a number of other schemes: Captain Meigs’ elevated monorails; the Enos railways; the Boynton bicycle railroads; Zipernowski’s balancing tram. These are focussed on in some detail. Awhile variety of other schemes from the 1890s are outlined before the author acknowledges the Wuppertal Schwebebahn in Germany.This is a superb book. It contains a wealth of detail and has provided me with hours of enjoyment. The querkiness of the subject matter enhances the experience of reading the book.


  1. Henry Palmer. Description of a Railway on a New Principle; in J. Taylor; Monorail Railroads, 1823; accessed via on 23rd February 2019.
  2. Adrian S. Garner; Monorails of the 19th Century; Lightmoor Press, Lydney 2011.
  3., accessed on 25th February 2019.
  4., accessed on 22nd February 2019.
  6., accessed on 25th February 2019.
  7., accessed on 25th February 2019.
  8., accessed on 26th February 2019.
  9., accessed on 26th February 2019.


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