Suppose you could go any distance you want to in your plug-in hybrid or PEV, even if it is no more capable than the Chevy Volt or a Plug-in Prius is today?
Suppose you could drive your car onto a new wide train as easily as you go through tolls?
Suppose you could drive off the train just as easily?
Suppose that train got you where you want to go 25% faster than if you used thruways - even at low traffic?
Suppose it cost you less than the gasoline you would use had you driven there in a conventional car.?
Suppose you could just relax or work in your car as you travelled to work or home from vacation?
Suppose the crude oil used to get you there was less than 10% of the crude oil you would have used up had you driven?
Suppose you could charge your electric car's batteries on the train?
Suppose you could go any distance you wanted this way – even in economical fully electric cars with just today’s technology?
Suppose everyone did this and urban air pollution and smog virtually disappeared?
Suppose everyone did this and the country's carbon footprint became far smaller?
Suppose everyone did this and we imported far less crude oil?
Suppose everyone did this and thruway fatalities became a thing of the past?
Suppose everyone did this and the compatible electric cars all came from Detroit?
Suppose we used infrastructure trillions to truly replace our oil-age infrastructure rather than mindlessly rebuild it?
Some have pointed out that as we move out of the oil era our massive century long investment in high speed roads will have become largely a poor and unneeded investment of prime real estate and capital. They also point out that our massive neglect of our only really efficient means of transportation (railroads) has destroyed our best alternative.
If all this is true, maybe we should look at transportation differently. If we will someday have a glut of super-highways or highway right-of-ways, if trains are far more efficient and if short-range electric cars are feasible as we have shown, then why not use them in combination?
Railroad systems were standardized in the 1800’s. Track width (rail spacing) became a world-wide standard. For compatibility reasons these standards are with us today. As a result trains are long and narrow, much too narrow for best hauling efficiency and for some very important uses we may soon need. Changes are needed.
Let’s go for real change. Suppose we show Washington that it needn’t lavish spending on yesterday’s infrastructure solely for creating jobs but instead we can use that labor and capital creatively to build a new personal vehicle transport system that enables the country to move away from imported oil, reduce our carbon footprint, relieve traffic congestion, greatly reduce thruway accidents, reduce commuting travel time, eliminate wasted man-hours spent thruway driving, eliminate commuter driving stress and fatigue, reduce vehicle size weight and cost, and significantly reduce urban smog and air pollution. Let’s do all this without sacrificing the spontaneity and flexibility that personal transportation affords. Finally let’s do it in a way that floods Detroit with business.
Suppose we make trains that are wide (think 30 feet wide). Suppose we convert some of our major thruways to rail systems. Suppose you can easily drive your electric car or truck onto a train “crossways” (think of stations that look like a massive toll gate with dozens of parallel entrances). Suppose you can also easily drive your electric car off the train without turning it around? Suppose you can charge your electric car if needed while on the train. Suppose these trains can safely move far more cars per hour per acre right-of-way than conventional thruways as we use them today? Suppose that using them you can get to an urban area 50 or 100 or 500 or 1000 miles away, and return having typically driven only 20 miles. Suppose energy efficiency due to this approach is typical for trains per hauled ton - an order of magnitude better than the millions of vehicles acting alone.
User cost per RR ton mile today is 3 cents. At 20 mpg and $3/gal a car’s fuel cost alone is 15 cents per mile.
We can do all this without sacrificing the flexibility and convenience that personal transportation affords. Let’s start with some crash (skunk-works style) systems engineering programs. Since the country is funding the infrastructure let’s keep this on our shores. Call it selective protectionism but let’s not hesitate to give Detroit (or their American owned successors) an unfair advantage becoming the source of millions of train-optimized cars.
Train optimized car designs could take on unique characteristics. Since speed and power would no longer be a leading attribute, optimum shape and wind resistance trade-offs would shift. Vehicle size would vary as it does today. Accommodating the vehicle’s driver and occupants while the vehicle is traveling on-board the train may open a host of design options and requirements. For example, in addition to traditional automotive configurations, some of the vehicles may be called upon daily to double as traveling entertainment centers, offices, workshops or meeting rooms and require suitable options for these new tasks.
Protected in this market segment, Detroit would have a large new American market to itself rather than trying to chase after ill-fitting foreign design initiatives as it does today.