Friday, March 07, 2008

How to run a commuter train

When I run out of book on my commute, I am forced to think about random things, which today meant commuter trains. So much time and energy is wasted on commuter trains slowing the entire train down, unloading and loading passengers, and speeding the entire train up. My commute is 47 minutes. Without all the stops it would be 20. Something is clearly wrong.

If you stop thinking of trains as trains, and start thinking of them as a row of buses, the solution becomes obvious--you pick up cars from the rear and shed them from the front. With overhead power, train cars could move independently. With the technology used in UAV's, train cars could be driven remotely. Thus as a train approached a station, the front car would be released from the train and diverted onto a separate track by the platform. It would unload the passengers and wait for the next train to come along. Meanwhile, as the train went by the station, the car that was left off by the previous train (which the passengers had already boarded), would accelerate and catch up with the train and hook onto the end.

The passengers in the rear car would then walk forward to the car that would let them off at their station, or contrariwise, stay in the rear car and walk back as new cars are added. The end result is a train that never stops to pick up passengers, never stops to let them off, and never slows down, all while accelerating and decelerating only one car at a time.

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