Sunday, April 22, 2012

Personal Railroad Transportation

Thinking in terms of Saving energy, Independence from Gas and Usage of Clean energy, this idea crossed my mind. Will love constructive comments:

Out of the 4 main modes of transportation available today: Automobile, Railroads, Air and Ship (or any water-based transportation) , the last one can be filtered out right away; anything below say 50mph wont' fly here at US. Not to mention their lower fuel economy.

Among the rest, their best passenger mile per gallon numbers are:
  • Automobile -car: 200 passenger-miles/US gallon for Toyota Prius
  • Automobile -Bus 330 passenger-miles/US gallon (A diesel bus commuter service in Santa Barbara, California, diesel bus with  efficiency of 6.0 mpg-US assuming all 55 seats full)
  • Railroad: 468 passenger-miles/US gallon for Colorado rail
  • Air:  78 passenger-miles per US gallon for Airbus 320

So, as expected Railroads has better fuel economy as it doesn't' have to fight gravity like airplanes and has much lower friction than ship or even automobiles.

A railroad based personal transportation can evolve in these 3 stages, co-existing with each other and also with the current modes of transportation:

Stage 1: Bringing masses to Trains

This can  be done by implementing  few major changes. The idea is to overcome the standard problems people face today in train ride :
  • Runs only on certain times
  • Tickets too expensive
  • Takes forever
Below steps should help alleviate these shortfalls:


Automate Signalling, Monitoring & Controlling System (read No Driver)

Ever seen the shuttle mono-rails at airports ? Or What about the new driver-less cars traveling in bay areas by Google ? So, why not in trains ? It should not have drivers, train masters, ticket conductor or any supporting staffs, just passengers. After all, they are the only ones paying & they don't' (want to) pay a lot :)


No predefined start time times, stoppage etc.

It should all be dynamic, guided by passengers on-board or in-waiting.  We have way too better technologies now and its about time trains should start using them. Passengers run-time requests, tickets purchase, track occupancies etc. would feed into the intelligent train management system to make this happen.


Make it smaller

Having done the first two, now its time to reduce the trains length; literally. It doesn't' have to be 10 cars long. Just one car please. Car size can be different, say 10, 20 or even 50 passengers etc. Depending upon the ticket purchased and demand, one of such train cars pulls up at the station and off you go. No need for 10 minutes stoppage at each station to make it economically viable option.

A tiny little engine would be fitting nicely under the car running nicely on electric third rail. reducing the engine size need even further.
A similar rail bus was apparently tried long ago, but this time around, we have the advantage of technologies: ie automatic driving, signalling, smaller engine size etc.


And fast please !!

Now that the train is just one car long, there is no need for it to run it at  a slogging 40-45 mph rate. Why not to double the speed ? Current infrastructure should support it just fine without a multi billion dollar new high speed infrastructure change.


Stage 2: Making it "Personal" Train

Once the mass starts using the train because they can choose the timing, (almost the same way they set out to drive) and its way too cheaper because of much lower overhead  and its faster because of lesser occupancies and automation, the next step is to bring them even closer to that "personal" transportation experience;


Ride with your car:

There is no stone writing that trains should be the way it is. Or even the way it's proposed earlier. The new train car can be just a rack car i.e. four wheels platform with the engine underneath where a car can "ride". Why not to just drive your car instead ? Because car running on train platform will provide :
  • Automatic driving 
  • Better fuel economy (electric engine, no battery meaning no range restriction) 
  • Free time to driver
  • Free up from worries of packing your stuff
  • Availability of your car at destination ie no more requesting friend & family or hassles of renting
  • No Traffic Jam & predictive arrival

So, how this all will look like: You would drive up to the train station, will be redirected to the automatic auto loading yard and with a brief demo, etc. you and your car will be driving on a railroad track without you actually doing anything. Your car will be fed in power (for AC), Internet, Data, TV signals etc. thru from the carrier underneath thru one of the windows.


Stage 3: Little More Advance

Once the above 2 ideas are in place, ie once people start choosing trains as a more practical options than roadways and airways, its time to make it even more smart and efficient:


Moving Platform

A new train platform where passengers either come to ride a single-car train or drive to be fitted with undercarriage car, doesn't' need to be a regular current station platform. They can be moving platform, cutting down time further on boarding train or waiting to be fitted with undercarriage car.


Even faster please !!

Now its time to make the trains running even faster so that they can complete with Air travel in terms of time too. Here some big infrastructure change would be needed for high speed rail. But once the demand is there, driven from the above 2, this infrastructure change should be well perceived & funded. 

Time is money after all !!

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