Transportation Designers Uninvent The Wheel to Create More Efficient Transit Systems

by , 10/20/11

efficient public transport, high speed rail, ground effect technology, maglev technology, mag-lev technology, maglev trains, ground effect trains, aero train, the end of the wheel

For millenia, the wheel has revolutionized life on planet Earth – it powered human development, was literally a cog in the Industrial Revolution, and let us travel really, really fast from A to B. However as scientists try to wean us off our fossil fuel dependency, engineers are developing new concepts for transportation that could completely change how we get around. Read on for a look at several novel transportation systems that eschew wheels in favor of next-generation technologies.

efficient public transport, high speed rail, ground effect technology, maglev technology, mag-lev technology, maglev trains, ground effect trains, aero train, the end of the wheel

One such idea is the Aero-Train, a levitating plane-like vehicle that travels 10 cm above the ground at a mind-blowing 350km/h (220mph). Using a method called the “ground-effect”, the Aero Train literally flies inches above the ground on a cushion of air. Powered completely by wind and solar energy, the zero-carbon design also significantly decreases the friction that makes more traditional rail travel inefficient. The Aero Train is currently a prototype at the Tohoku University in Japan, but they hope it can be in public use by 2020.

On the other hand, China and Asia are already using trains that don’t need wheels – mag-levs. In China, mag-lev train lines currently run between Shanghai Pudong International Airport and an interchange for the Shanghai Metro, where they operate a mere few centimetres above the earth. Using a magnetic field, the trains are able to eliminate ground friction to achieve speeds of up to 581km/h (361mph), and a next-gen train is currently being developed that can hit 1000kph.

So what does the future hold for the wheel? Speaking to the BBC, Richard Anderson, managing director of the Railway and Transport Strategy Centre at Imperial College London said, “The steel wheel on steel rail has been in existence for nearly 200 years and it hasn’t fundamentally changed in all that time. There’s a momentum in the industry that steel rail is a juggernaut that can’t be stopped. It’s here to stay.”

But with so many countries, including the US, pursuing the most efficient ways to develop high speed rail could trains with wheels soon go the way of steam engines?

Via BBC News

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  1. James Jordan October 26, 2011 at 1:23 am

    Lazyreader’s comment is very perceptive in comparing fast transport to the other modes. However, he is not aware of the 2nd generation superconducting Maglev transport system developed by the inventors of the Japanese system shown in your article. The 2nd gen system is much cheaper, in fact less than the TGV to construct, and much cheaper to operate. The 2nd gen is compatible with conventional rail so the new system can use conventional trackage that has been adapted at very low cost for entering rail terminals in heavily built up urban areas, like Penn station in NYC. What many people do not know is this 2nd gen can lift fully loaded highway freight trucks and is highly profitable because it can carry a truck at 10 cents per ton mile and save truckers a bundle of money by letting them ride on roll-on roll-off Maglev carrier vehicles. The ROI for this service will make enough money to build the national network with private investment. This is he new industry that the U.S. needs. This system can also be used for commuter rail and because it can be electronically switched can employ a skip-stop strategy for travel. I personally think that the Amtrak acela is too expensive to ride, $1 per passenger mile compared to only 10 cents a passenger mile for 2nd gen Maglev. As I understand it the latest cost of operating an auto is 58 cents a mile. I personally believe that superconducting Maglev is inevitable because of the oil situation and the difficult of creating synfuels without creating an environmental castastrophe. Around and through our Metro areas, our Interstates have reached capaccity. We can expand their capacity with elevated guideways for the 2nd gen Maglev. Smooth, quiet and comfortable transport.
    See for more informationn on this system.

  2. GreatEmerald October 22, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    Personally I find trains more comfortable than any other transportation type – they have plenty of space (a lot more than cars or buses), don’t go up and down every hill and generally feel smoother. And some of them are powered by electricity instead of fossil fuels. Plus there’s the speed gain and the fact that rails are usually not near motorways, so the air is at least a little bit cleaner there.

  3. lazyreader October 21, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Floating trains, seems like a good idea. Still in the long run……Trains are slower than planes, less flexible as well and cars are more practical in the day to day world. So why must we need to spend huge sums of money on an upgraded version of 1930’s technology. Why do certain technologies inspire such religious passion in people? One proposal to spend billions of dollars building a maglev rail line from Pittsburgh Airport through downtown Pittsburgh to one of its suburbs has some politicians drooling. The maglev hype started back in the 1970s, it always seemed to be the technology whose time was just about to come. The idea of levitating trains seemed like magic. The fact that they encountered no friction made it seem like they would be energy efficient. As it turns out getting the trains to levitate requires so much electricity that maglev is no more energy efficient or greenhouse friendly than automobiles today, and even far less than TGV or other high-speed rail, never mind future automobiles. Moreover, maglev’s high cost and incompatibilities with other rail infrastructure are not offset by it’s speed advantage. Highways are by far the dominant carrier, even in Europe and Japan. Airlines are next, and rail tends to be last. Buses are also ahead of rail in most countries, and guess what……..they have wheels.

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