As city populations grow, rail (trains, trams, and even rail-less trolley buses) will become the easiest way to get around in a city, and prove far safer for most people.

As Professor Peter Newman says:

Rail is needed in all of the world’s cities as it can enable travel time savings and space efficiencies no longer achievable by car and bus. Rail can carry 20 times as many people compared to a single lane of freeway and five to 10 times that of a bus way.

On this page…

  1. Easiest: will save time
  2. Cheapest: will save money (and lives!)
  3. Efficient: will save energy. Trains are 9 times more energy efficient
  4. Is suburbia too spread out for rail to be worth it? If you build it, they will come.
  5. Fast rail between Sydney and Brisbane? It may never happen if developers take the land!
  6. Trains for inter-city and dense intra-city; trams for fast, cheap emergency deployment
  7. Bikes at each end
  8. Airships for the Third World?
  9. A plan for America
  10. Various public transport networks to browse

1. Easiest: will save time

Who wants to waste time in traffic? As city populations grow and we buy new EV’s or even boron or synfuel cars (like hydrogen or direct synfuels), how are we going to drive anywhere? There will just be too many cars stuck in traffic jams! Even bloggers on the other side of the political chasm to me get this. As Orson Scott Card (one of my favourite Science Fiction authors) states of driving each day:

“It’s already a huge inconvenience and expense. I daresay most readers of this column spend most of their gas money and transportation time on two things: Shopping and commuting. And how much of that is spent just getting out of your neighborhood? Admit it: You’re sick of those drives you take every day. You dread getting in the car time after time, just to get through the day.”and later….

“Remember, truly rich people have drivers take them on those tedious commutes, so they can do something better with their time during the drive. Which is what people who take the bus and the train also get. It’s only the middle class that’s suckered into wasting all those hours driving themselves everywhere. If you’re spending all your time on the road, my friends, then you have definitely not arrived.”

Instead of smashing the steering wheel with road rage, isn’t it time we relaxed on a train reading our Kindle or browsing Facebook?

2. Cheapest: will save money

Many existing train networks could be electrified with significant oil savings. A Washington Peak oil brief found that electrifying existing rail and converting half of the truck ton-miles would save the USA 6.3% of their daily oil use. (This article from Light Rail Now is brilliant on why we should electrify national rail grids.) Weaning off oil is what it is all about, after all.

In Australia, the ABC Science reporter Robyn Williams ran a program 2024 Dreaming: Beyond Gridlock which commented on peak oil, the hydrogen economy, eco-cities, efficient public transport and putting them all together. Some interesting comments follow.

Citizens are saying, we want to pay for increased public transport. We see that in research by the Warren Centre where 70% of the citizens who were surveyed said yes, move my tax out of the roads budget and into public transport. Now that’s a resounding response…

— and —

…Robyn Williams: The cost of road crashes in Australia is $17 billion a year. The cost of traffic jams in America, according to The Economist is $100 billion a year, and that was in 1999. The cost of traffic jams in Australia was $12.8 billion in 1995. By 2015, long before 2024, it’ll cost us $30 billion a year – that’s six times what the Commonwealth spends on all scientific research. Can you afford it? Whatever the energy source, hydrogen, wind or whatever, we can’t, says Dave Rand, just hope to go greener and keep our vehicles.

— and —

Sally Campbell: Public transport systems cost less as a percentage of GDP than transport systems based mainly on roads. And we see that when they start to compare Europe’s current systems to the current systems in Australia and the US and it’s almost a third less in terms of percentage of GDP to operate a system mainly based on public transport. So there are massive cost savings to be had.

Robyn Williams: You’re talking about billions.

Sally Campbell: Yeah, we’re talking about billions of dollars, we’re talking about two, or three, or four a percent of GDP that we could be saving. This is huge amounts of money.

3. Efficient: will save energy. Trains are 9 times more energy efficient than oil

An Online Opinion article argues that:

Public transport is a far more energy-efficient and is a less carbon-intensive alternative to petrol-driven vehicles. The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has surveyed the energy efficiency of public versus private transport. To break the figures down: an average petrol-run car will cost about 3.7 mega-joules (MJ) per passenger-kilometre (pkm). An electric train, however, operates at a rate of between 0.04 and 0.18 MJ pkm, making train transport as much as nine times more energy efficient. Read the PTUA survey.

4. Is suburbia too spread out for rail to be worth it? If you build it, they will come.

First, many people drive from a distant suburb to a train station and then catch their trip into town. It works out the most convenient option for them.

Second, I’ll rehash what I wrote on the REZONE for New Urbanism page:

“If you build it they will come”.
Build the trams, trains and trolley buses and the New Urbanism will follow. As Professor Peter Newman explained on the ABC’s Difference of Opinion on peak oil, we first build shiny new train, tram, and trolley bus lines. These will act as the transport ‘lifeblood’ around which the future city can grow.

The question is not whether public transport is economically viable for today’s suburbs, but whether it is essential for tomorrow’s New Urbanism. This is a vision for how we want our cities to be in 20 years, and it all begins with a good public transport system. We can build it out, with increasing returns on our investment over time. It’s just the right thing to do.

As the Light Rail Now essay A 10% Reduction in America’s Oil Use in Ten to Twelve Years said so well:

“As noted above, the Interstate Highway system was built with 90% federal funding; yet the current administration has cut federal funding for new urban rail from 80% to 50%. The United States once built 500 electric streetcar systems in less than 20 years. Most cities and towns of 25,000 or more got a non-oil electrical transportation system. The US did this with a population of less than one-third of today’s, approximately 3% of today’s GNP, and relatively primitive technology. We did it once, we can do it again!”

5. Fast rail between Sydney and Brisbane? It may never happen if developers take the land!

The modelling indicates the land corridor is valued at $13.7 billion at today’s prices but will balloon to $57 billion by 2030.

“Failure to protect these corridors now will increase their cost in the future and could put a complete network out of Australia’s financial capacity,” the report warns. It forecasts an 86 per cent chance that Australia will need a very fast train by 2030, rising to 93 per cent by 2050. It argues that high-speed rail would open up new opportunities for regional development, tackle the population problem and reduce congestion, which costs the country $10 billion a year in lost productivity, a cost that is projected to blow out to $20.4 billion by 2020.
SMH September 2010 – Fast Rail could overtake new airport

6. Trains for inter-city and dense intra-city; trams for fast, cheap emergency deployment

Trains are for longer trips between cities, and much higher density population areas within cities. They are most energy efficient when they can travel at higher speeds over longer periods, but can also serve as a great pedestrian transport system within a city.

A beautiful old London trolley bus

Trolley buses are my pick for an emergency deployment of public transport for the following reasons.

  • Can be hybrid electric and synfuel, allowing them to go ‘off the line’ and service side streets.
  • Do not require the installation of rail, which will only slow down the process of moving off oil in a hurry
  • Require rail in the roads, which can be a hazard to cyclists and pedestrians tripping
  • Are stuck if there is an obstacle on the rail ahead, while hybrid or battery trolley buses can leave the line and simply drive around the obstacle
  • Trolley buses are 5 times cheaper! They give 5 times the transport coverage than trams do for the same money!

As Low Tech Magazine points out,

By choosing the cheaper trolleybus over tram or metro, Quito could develop a much larger network in a shorter time.  The capital investment of the 19 kilometre line was less than 60 million dollar – hardly sufficient to build 4 kilometres of tram line (source), or about 1 kilometre of metro line (source). Lower investment costs also mean lower ticket fares, and thus more passengers.

Furthermore, the system is well devised (pdf). There is only one ticket fare, payment happens in the station, not on the bus. Stops are comfortable and built to get fast in and out of the bus, there are very good connections with other lines (sometimes via the same stop), and thanks to the exclusive lanes and (at some crossroads) automatically controlled traffic lights the system is extremely reliable. In Quito, the bus always arrives on time.

Roy Leembruggen is the inventor of the double-decker train. He now thinks that Electric Trolley Buses could be quickly deployed to solve the oil crisis. The Weekly Times states:

“Environmentally friendly clean and efficient electric buses could run on the Ryde route to the city within a year with State Government initiative and support. This was claimed by leading transport engineer and National President of the Electric Vehicles Association of Australia Mr Roy Leembruggen at last week’s World Oil Crisis Forum in Ryde….. Mr Leembruggen said modern advanced electric buses would provide cleaner and more economically and reliable public transport than yesterday’s technology of trams and polluting fossil fuelled vehicles.
Elroy Engineering’s Townobile battery and overhead electric bus is 80 percent cheaper to run than existing conventional buses with zero noise and pollution. Various models have from 120 up to 365 passengers capacity.”

The US Department of transport’s “Transport Research Board” states:

An electric-powered passenger bus has been developed for use in central business districts. The “Townobile” bus, developed in Australia, uses normal industrial lead acid batteries to operate from three to four hours at speeds up to 30 mph. Models with up to 68-passenger capacity are planned. Elroy Engineering of Australia started work on the project in 1970 and production is scheduled to begin in July. “Townobile” can use overhead wires or self-contained batteries for a power supply. It can operate at half the cost of conventional diesel transit buses and involves one-fifteenth the capital outlay of an equivalent tramway system, according to inventor Roy Leembrugger.

7. Bikes at each end

Ever caught the train, only to wish there was a bike at the end of the trip? Ever had a bus ride that stopped just a 500 meters short of your destination? Ever wanted to use a bike, but hated the idea of taking it with you on a train, or worse, having to service the thing? Or maybe you just don’t have the money to buy the bike you’d like in the first place? This exciting new public hire system solves all of these issues! It’s dirt cheap, mainly installed, serviced and paid for by advertising agencies, and it’s called Velib (see wiki).

The Age (July 2007) reports that:

The councils in Melbourne and Sydney have also held talks with outdoor advertising giant JCDecaux, which is paying the full costs of the Parisian scheme in return for control for a decade of 1700 city-owned billboards.

To get a swipe card to use the Velib bikes, people can pay a 29 euros ($A46) annual fee or take up a daily or weekly credit card subscription for one or five euros. The first half-hour is free, but then the fees kick in and rise steeply to encourage quick turnover.

8. Airships for the Third World?

However, Rail may not be the best way to get third world economies moving. Rail involves serious infrastructure commitments and can also rely on local trucking and transport systems at each end. Instead, some are starting to recommend airships that can fly goods and people almost door to door without thousands of kilometres of railway line required! It’s cheaper as well. See this episode of The Science Show

9. A plan for America

T4America.org shares their vision page:- 

Energy security Our future security, economic success, personal and planetary health require us to reduce our dependence on oil.  Learn more »

Opportunity for All Everyone living in America — whether in our urban centers or rural heartland — deserves to have ample and affordable options for living and commuting. Learn more »

Community Families and individuals want to live in accessible, fair, and environmentally sustainable communities. Learn more »

Responsible Investment Our government — federal, state and local — should spend our money in a way that addresses the needs of all citizens. Learn more »

If America can plan for more rail and New Urbanism to grow from within their  massive beltways of overgrown suburban sprawl, then Australia has some hope as well.

10. Various public transport networks to browse

International Association of Public Transport
An international organisation for public transport authorities and operators, policy decision-makers, scientific institutes and the public transport supply and service industry.

Fuel Cell Bus Club
Find out more about Europe’s first fuel cell bus fleet.

Public transportation
News and information about alternative public transportation technology. Click here to read further.

Public transportation: Wherever Life Takes You
This online resource has been designed to provide information about the benefits and importance of public transportation for all Americans. www.publictranportation.org

UNEP Energy Group: Transport
Read about the UN’s initiatives in establishing energy standards for public and private modes of transportation.

2 Responses to Rail

  1. Jim Baerg says:

    There is another transport technology that can be run directly from the electric grid, either for cargo transport:
    or passenger.

    Of course the electricity can be from some non-fossil source like nuclear.

  2. Jim Baerg says:

    Version with type fixed
    There is another transport technology that can be run directly from the electric grid, either for cargo transport:
    or passenger.

    Of course the electricity can be from some non-fossil source like nuclear.

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