Chengdu's 'flying panda' sky train. Photo: Handout

Chengdu, capital of western China’s Sichuan province, is celebrated as a sanctuary and breeding center for the endangered giant pandas. As the city constantly reels in visitors and panda lovers, the local government is revving up trial runs of a new monorail line to ease congestion. The new trains will ferry riders to and from attractions and are designed to look like the city’s beloved bears.

The monorail line, with cars that resemble plump “flying pandas,” is a suspension railway powered by lithium batteries, and each compartment can be charged while approaching an intermediate station. Two lightweight aluminum carriages can haul up to 500 passengers in one go at 80km/h, and full automation means there is no driver’s cabin.

Trial runs are under way on the finished tracks. Photos: Handouts, China News Service

The designs of the train cars and their control system are supported by Chengdu-based Southwest Jiaotong University, in a collaboration to trial a low-cost, medium-capacity fast transportation service to alleviate congestion in urban areas. The project also includes state-owned rolling-stock manufacturer CRRC Corp and China Railway Group Ltd.

One virtue of the new suspension monorail, other than its cost-effectiveness, is that it occupies minimal space on the ground, as the rail line has been erected above a busy road without affecting existing traffic lanes.

Chengdu started building its “panda sky train” in 2017 and its test track was extended the following year. At a fraction of the cost for building a subway line, the “flying panda” track will stretch for 11.3 kilometers when opened in a year mainly to serve tourists.

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