Imagine you are at Grand Central Station, in Manhattan.
You descend into the subway system and board a train. The doors close and after a gentle hissing sound, the train slides smoothly into the tunnel. The journey is soft and almost silent – you are barely aware you are moving.
A scant one hour later and the train slides into another station. And after another gentle hissing sound, you emerge onto the platform and take the escalator up to the main station.
It says “London, St Pancras”.
Hang on a yocto-second… New York to London in ONE HOUR???
Science fiction of course – but the technology to make it happen has been around for a CENTURY now. It is called MagLev trains and VacTrains.
You may vaguely have heard of trains that ride on magnets, but there is a lot more to it. So let us take a quick examination of the science behind all this…
Everyone has tried to push like poles of two magnets together – hard, isn’t it? The repulsion force is amazing. So duplicate that a thousand-fold and that is how the ride described above is so smooth.
Add to that the lack of friction and it can be seen how such a train could easily reach speeds of several hundred miles an hour. But New York to London in AN HOUR?
For that, you need to add MORE science.
Modern passenger jet aircraft fly seven miles up. The reason is up there, the air is much thinner – meaning drag is dramatically reduced, allowing the aircraft to fly at 550 miles per hour (if it tried that at two thousand feet, the WINGS would rip off).
And so VacTrains run in a tube that has almost all of the air pumped out. Despite the smooth profile of high-speed trains, air turbulence is STILL a major factor (not to mention the sonic boom, when you hit 750 MPH – then again at 1,500…) but remove that and speeds of several THOUSAND miles an hour become attainable.
The hiss you heard at the start and end of the journey was the air being released from the chambers at each end of the line – your carriage was pressurised to normal, just like the fuselage of that jet aircraft.
Apart from the speed and comfort – and safety – of these trains, there are some other differences between them and conventional ones. Like VacTrains will only go from one stop to the other – and in a straight line.
Thus once they have disgorged their passengers, they will carry on to a turntable, where they will be connected to the other line and return to pick up their next load.
And while the intercontinental trains run in tunnels, the international, inter-city and local ones will run on viaducts, thirty feet above the ground.
The local, short-hop ones will also have an energy-saving feature: a dip as the train exits the station – then it will level out – and rise again as it enters the next station.
This will give the trains stored energy as they accelerate – and allow them to recover that energy to slow down again. Most of the energy that ALL short-hop transport uses is burned off by the BRAKES.
Bangkok’s SkyTrain already USES this principle – although it runs on wheels, which scrub NOISILY as it corners.
And as for safety: the viaducts will keep the trains away from danger, with no need for level crossings or bridges.
While the short-hop trains will leave local roads clear for freight delivery, service workers and shoppers.
Furthermore, their lack of friction will mean FAR less wear-and-tear on the tracks and train undercarriages – saving maintenance costs and reducing risk of failure.
Japan has been running their fleets of “bullet trains” for FIFTY YEARS now, with only ONE minor derailment (during a major earthquake) and NO casualties – EVER.
And THEY have WHEELS. Wheels are a curse for trains. Apart from the energy- and speed-draining friction, they can fail at high speed. This happened a while back in Germany, with DISASTROUS results.
The rogue wheel was half-way along the train and caused it to break in two. The front of the train was fine – but the leading carriage of the rear section derailed, striking a bridge support and slewing across the track. Then the carriages behind piled into it.
MagLev will ELIMINATE this risk.
And as for efficiency, only a small amount of power is required to “suspend” the train above the track. And once frictionless, induction motors will power it far more efficiently – and faster – than conventional motors do now.
So there it is: fast, efficient, safe train travel that will DEVOUR current trains – and even be WAY faster than JET AIRLINERS.
Well, where ARE they then?
Therein lies the rub. While costing FAR less to operate, power and maintain than today’s trains and planes – these trains would cost a FORTUNE to develop and build.
The tunnels alone would be CRIPPLINGLY expensive, being THOUSANDS of miles long.
So… a dumb, pie-in-the-sky idea, eh?
Well, not really. Because while these systems would indeed have been expensive to set up during the last century, by now they would have PAID for themselves – MANY times over.
While their alternatives have killed MILLIONS – not to mention starting wars over oil and destroying our environment.
And besides the HUMAN cost (how many kids have lost one or BOTH parents to car/bus/train crashes?) the FINANCIAL cost has been INCALCULABLE – but let us try anyway…
Cars and aircraft cost a fortune to design and build – and have a limited life-span.
They gobble up fuel which, green issues aside, is one of the World’s biggest expenses, allowing for exploration, recovery, refining and distribution.
Plus there is the cost (again, human AND financial) of those WARS that are fought over it. How much have the two Gulf Wars cost – so far?
And the pollution from it destroys the environment (after “9/11” – when air travel was suspended for a few days – the World’s skies got MEASURABLY brighter).
Then when they crash…
The huge cost of an air disaster is obvious. Umpteen millions for the passengers, possibly more people on the ground, the cleanup – and the aircraft itself. Then the physical reconstruction and endless inquiries. All of which makes it easy to overlook the cost of RTAs, which while cheaper – are FAR more frequent.
Let us examine one of THOSE.
After someone loses control of a car and wraps it around the scenery, a number of things routinely happen: firstly, the emergency services turn up. The trained staff, specialist vehicles and equipment cost a fortune.
And having tied up traffic for a time (which costs industry – time is money and a stuck truck has outgoings, but no income) the victim is schlepped off to hospital.
There, they are aided by more trained staff and specialist equipment.
If badly injured, their recovery may take weeks or months – during which time they will be off work – and sucking up yet MORE specialist staff and equipment.
And if the driver DIES, things get even worse. If the deceased had a FAMILY to support, they will now need financial support for YEARS. And whether that is paid for by The State or commercial insurance, the cost will still have to be borne by US, either through higher taxation or insurance premiums.
And we’re talking a SEVEN-FIGURE SUM, over fifteen years or so – PER PERSON.
Multiply that by MILLIONS and you arrive at a FANTASTIC sum.
At which point, the amount that it would have taken to develop MagLev trains and VacTrains seems kinda reasonable, doesn’t it?
But naturally, the same old Greed, Stupidity and Short-sightedness that BEDEVIL This Place have yet again conspired to prevent it.
We live in a World filled with politicians and businessmen whose only interest is how much f***ing MONEY they can make over the NEXT FEW YEARS.
Fact is, as a species we are capable of greatness – but while these excrescences CONTINUE to control our lives, we will stay firmly in the GUTTER.