|We Must Reinvent Trains As People Movers|
To anybody that has given the subject much thought, it is perfectly clear mass transit in America is broken and to make things worse the system is a big money loser. Passenger railroads must be redesigned or "Reinvented." Railroads have much to be desired when it comes to efficiently moving people. While rails are viewed and hailed as an energy efficient way to move freight they could also be a great way to move people, but to do so we need to take a fresh look at what is really required and what is not. Most likely it will mean doing a lot of retrofitting the parts of the current rail system that could still be used. Sadly, the future of rail travel is only elevated to making headlines or being discussed when Amtrak has an accident or when Elon Musk refers to it in one of his futuristic rants.
Over 1 million people worked for the railroads back then and the train was the main way to travel and move freight on land.
Automobiles, trucks, and airplanes coupled with bad government rules took passengers and freight from the rails in the 1950s and 1960s as better roads and the interstate system was built. Many railroads went out of business or merged. In 1971 the federal government created Amtrak to take over from the railways what had become a massive money-losing passenger service. During the 80s the government changed many rules related to trains and the whole railroad business began to grow again. Currently, railroads carry about 40% of all freight, more than any other mode of transportation.
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Years ago the abilities of trains were limited by many factors that no longer apply today. Improvements in materials and advancements in technology have cast the door wide open to rethinking the whole people moving process. In doing so the 80/20 rule leaps out at me if we can meet 80% of our objectives and achieve the bulk of what we want for 20% of the cost why complicate things. I contend the alternative to our current passenger trains neither be so drastically different or as expensive as the Hyperloop plan. Also, in the background of this debate the KISS principle screams out to be heard, "Keep It Simple Stupid" is the voice of reason in a situation like this.
We must remember that bigger is not always better, and everything does not need to be ramped up and put into operation by tomorrow afternoon. When it comes to creating or changing something like the existing passenger rail system several big factors come to mind such as trying to utilize current rails and routes. Today even trying to run new rails and procuring new easements or corridors is cost prohibiting in areas of high population. This would mean adapting any system we develop to utilizing existing routes and most likely in a way that would coexist and not interfere with other forms of transport.
|We Need To Think About Lighter Passenger Movers|
Passenger cars do not need to be as high as those for moving freight which would greatly reduce their center of gravity nor for that matter would they need to be as wide. They could also be equipped with a system that wrapped around a lip on the track making it impossible to derail. The lighter weight people mover could sport its own motor or drive system allowing it to move without being pulled by an expensive and heavy conventional locomotive. It does not require a great deal of horsepower to get a much lighter weight car moving and once rolling little to maintain or achieve greater speeds. If each car has its own drive system it allows far more flexibility in scheduling and cars no longer have to be bunched together allowing for more departing times.
Features such as GPS would tell us exactly where cars are and adjust their travel while security cameras would assure passenger safety. The idea of smaller, lighter and faster people movers translates into much smaller tunnels and lighter weight rails and guides that cost much less. even the idea of standardizing the cars and simply modifying how they actually attach to the rails would reduce cost. It is important to acknowledge that what works in one city or region may not work in another as an article on the failed bus systems in my city points out that many mass transport systems are money bleeding nightmares with few riders.
A contest to create a prototype that would meet our needs or stir a conversation as to what a new modern passenger system should do might go a long way to move this debate forward. The speed and time of travel from point to point is a big factor in developing a system, but it is important to remember that at some point you are paying a lot of money to save only a small amount of time. Remember currently a great deal of time is already spent in getting to airports miles from our city centers and going through security checks for relativity short flights. When put in the proper context it seems a system to move people at a reasonable cost between "city centers" at an average speed of 125 miles an hour or more would eliminate the need for most smaller airports and be a superior alternative for many trips.
Those of us who have traveled across Europe on its trains often praise the system without looking at the economics that support it. We should be aware of both the cost and the overall benefits to society when it comes to planning such a system that would have such a large impact on how our culture develops. A well planned train system has the potential to influence future development on a scale similar to how the interstate highway system has changed life in America. The fact is a totally new passenger rail design could be introduced by private companies renting time on current tracks. Sadly, it is likely such ideas will be blocked by old laws on the books and a federal government busy debating such important issues as what constitutes a hate crime.
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