There is an interesting recent report on IndianAutoBlog entitled “Introducing The Blade Runner.” It describes (with ample concept drawings) an intriguing idea – a bus that operates with two sets of wheels, one for roads and one for rails. If the bus is operating on roads, the railway wheels retract into the underbody of the vehicle, and vice versa. The Blade Runner concept is being pioneered by Silvertip Design in the United Kingdom. It is great to see new ideas, but some commentary is in order.
First of all, anything that helps to move mass transit off of urban rails and back onto roads is a good idea. Despite persuasive light rail scams that have helped – along with public employee pensions – to pretty much bankrupt scores of major American cities, there is rarely a sound justification to build light rail. A combination of roads and busses can offer cost-effective, relatively low maintenance solutions to mass transit, using one conveyance – the road – that accepts a variety of vehicles from individual automobiles to busses to trucks. No rail corridor can ever hope to match the versatility of roads, which is why rail passenger transit should be emphasized, perhaps, in fast intercity modes and within extremely high density cities, but cannot be easily justified in other circumstances.
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The “BladeRunner” road/rail vehicle concept.
(Photo: Silvertip Design)
A large independently powered passenger railcar that can whiz along from city to city on rail – presumably at higher speeds than on the freeway – and can then transform itself into a bus to negotiate city streets and arrive at a variety of dispersed destinations – is a very interesting concept. It reduces the need for comprehensive rail at the same time as it helps justify the construction of new roads. Could this solution work on the same rails as freight? Another source of waste in our transportation infrastructure is that we now have three or more modes of rail corridor – high-speed, light rail, regular all-purpose including freight and passenger (this should ideally be the ONLY mode or rail), and intercity such as the BART system in the San Francisco Bay Area. If smart cars can allow us to move more cars, faster, on exisiting roads, can technology allow us to move more modes of cars and trains on fewer modes of rail? Again, versatility – you aren’t trapped on the rail – make multi-modes of transportation including mass transit and personal transportation much easier to evolve on next generation roads and freeways.
There are other concepts that could also be interesting – what about trains that have an efficient way to allow commuters to get their cars onboard? This has never been tried, other than for certain charter tourist applications where, for example, an entire trainload of cars is delivered – along with their owners – from Frankfurt to Barcelona, and two weeks later returns to transport cars and humans back to Frankfurt. But this process consumes an entire afternoon, as the cars are driven onto the train one by one. Is there a faster way to do this? Probably not.
All in all, practicality is what makes roads a wiser choice than rail in most cases. This practicality is based on additional assumptions, however, that not everyone may agree with. (Reader please note – we welcome and respect divergent points of view.) Here they are:
WHY ROADS AND BUSSES ARE A BETTER SOLUTION THAN LIGHT RAIL
(1) The war on the car is extremely short sighted – the car is becoming relentlessly cleaner, smarter, safer and greener, and soon any objections to the car based on these criteria will no longer be credible.
(2) Cars will drive themselves within a few decades at the most, allowing seniors to maintain independent transportation even after they can no longer drive. Also, once cars drive themselves, drivers will be able to multi-task while driving, taking away one of the benefits of riding a train.
(3) Cars provide security and privacy that cannot be found on a train.
(4) Most areas, California in particular, have room for more roads, and the solution to traffic congestion is to have wider roads and lower density suburbs – precisely the opposite of the conventional wisdom.
(5) The notion that “vehicle transportation miles” needs to be reduced by making taxing cars and taxing large suburban yards – effectively denying that lifestyle to anyone who isn’t wealthy – has more to do with a misanthropic socialist agenda than any alleged “science” relating to greenhouse gas.
(6) Technology is delivering new sources of energy and materials far faster than they are being depleted, and in any case, cars, busses and freeways consume less resources than a combination of light rail and freeways.
When you try to develop rail transit and roadways, neither are done well. In California, we haven’t relieved traffic congestion because we haven’t tried. California has nearly 40 million people driving on freeways designed to accomodate 20 million people. In California, money that could have been used to build more roads and freeways has disappeared instead into public employee pension funds, into the pockets of environmentalist nonprofits and their attorneys, and, of course, to construct light rail that hardly anyone uses.