Getty Museum Tram - Los Angeles Pilotless Tram Ride


getty pilotless tram photo
getty tram climbs hillside


The Getty Museum pilotless tram ride offers guests to the Los Angeles museum an experience akin to a science fiction film.


An episode of the Twilight Zone in which a man hops aboard a train and is transported to a perfect place that exists only in his mind, is how we felt when the door opened to this new, computerized tram. There was no driver and no person within view as we climbed on, following our blind faith that a human being somewhere was in control and would deliver us safely to our final destination—The Getty.


Hovair gets you there, but first: The Getty is massive as the mountain on which it was constructed. It features supporting walls nearly as tall as the mountain. The Getty's stone edifice and its towering juxtaposition evoke an emotion that you, the visitor, are a god, looking down on your creation―the L.A. basin. 


Getty Museum was built high on a hill overlooking downtown Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean in the Santa Monica Mountains west of Los Angeles, California. The 110-acre, hilltop site (which cost $1 billion to construct), opened with much fanfare and huge crowds on December 16, 1997. Project architect Richard Meier & Partners stood proudly while one of the finest private museums in the world opened its doors. Receiving countless accolades and awards, among them was an honor for that sci-fi tram. It's name was Hovair.


With over 1.2 million people visiting The Getty annually, the state-of-the-art museum required parking facilities that could handle traffic unable to park in the limited space the mountain provides. Hovair (shuttle system), from Otis Elevator, was created for this unique project and successfully overcame issues and concerns that could have caused it to not work. When both three-car trains are operating, the state-of-the-art people-mover has the capability of transporting 1,200 passengers per hour in each direction. But it isn't just a work horse, so to speak.


Hovair's computer brain can function under a variety of conditions. The Getty is located in an area of continual seismic activity so seismic safety was a serious design consideration. The guideway, its supports and columns are all designed to withstand a minimum lateral seismic force of .6 g. Although not required by code, dual seismic detectors are also incorporated to shut down operation in the event of an earthquake.


The shuttle system can operate under a wide variety of environmental conditions, including temperature ranges of -10° Fahrenheit to 110° Fahrenheit and humidity up to 100%. It can also handle a rainfall of up to three inches per hour.


Because it operates on a cushion of air, the system can be susceptible to high-velocity winds. The shuttle is designed to operate safely with wind speeds up to 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour). Monitoring devices determine the actual wind speed near the guideway. If a continuous (nongusting) wind speed of 40 miles per hour is detected, a warning will be displayed on the control console. If the continuous wind speed reaches 50 miles per hour, a safety shutdown will be initiated. The system can withstand a 90 miles per hour wind without damage when stationary.


The trains are designed to run automatically without an on-board operator. However, a possibility exists that a foreign object may accidentally enter the guideway area during operation. To help prevent an accident, each terminal landing features an obstruction-detection system, similar to a modern elevator-door-protection system. If an object is detected, the system will immediately initiate an emergency stopping sequence.


Each train is capable of making the 3,960-ft  run in 3.62 minutes. The roundtrip time, including passenger-transfer time, is 8.25 minutes. During peak period operation, the average passenger-waiting time is only 1.81 minutes.

The shuttle cars ride on the Otis Hovair suspension system. A large blower on board the cars provides pressurized air under the vehicles. The 15,000-lb cars literally float on the air cushion, without actually touching the guideway. To maximize efficiency of the air cushion, the "flying surface" of the guideway has a level tolerance of .125 inches per 10-ft section. Noiseless electronic motors propel two shuttle trains on a cushion of air along a curved line that follows the hillside's jagged contours up a 209-foot vertical rise. In addition, each train is propelled by a single 1-1/16-in. diameter steel hoist cable. The cables have a steel outer shell and can use either a steel or nylon core. Due to their length, weight and the complex roping arrangement, each cable installation required four days, with a crew of 12 men.


The drive system which features a 400-hp direct-current General Electric motor and an enormous L. Kissling gearbox includes transformers weighing two tons each. The massive size of this equipment required it to be set in place before a machine room was built. The machine room walls and roof were then constructed around the equipment.


The terminal landings also contain large emergency buffers. Unlike a conventional elevator, the buffers consist entirely of frangible tubes. They are designed to absorb energy by deforming the tubes and, therefore, are only usable for one emergency stop.


Otis Elevator Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation, has successfully completed projects in 200 countries and territories and maintains more than 1.2 million elevators and escalators worldwide. Among Otis’ major installations are the J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles; Narita Airport near Tokyo, the Delta Air Lines terminal in Cincinnati, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. New systems are under construction at Huntsville Hospital in Alabama and at Unique Airport in Zurich, Switzerland.