If you mention public transport to someone the first thing that usually comes to mind is grotty night buses and over-crowded trains. But thankfully, it doesn't have to be like this — there are innovative, futuristic systems out there, such as the UK's Crossrail, that aim to ease our commuter-woes. Whether it's personal pods, improved air travel or 1100km/h trains, below are a few of our favourite innovative public transport systems.
Crossrail is a massive underground train line which will join the east and west extremes of London. The Crossrail project's aim is to provide a reliable and quick passenger service between parts of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, via central London, to Essex and south-east London.
The line is set to be some 136km in length when done and link 40 stations along the route. Two-thirds of the Crossrail line will use existing track, while 41km of new tunnels are being constructed beneath some of London's most built-up areas. The engineering behind the project is incredible, both on a large scale, and small — with one tunnel running just 85cm above the busy Northern Line.
2. Heathrow Podcars
Personal rapid transit (PRT) is a form of transportation that involves small vehicles or 'pods' travelling autonomously through a guided system. If you've travelled between Heathrow Terminal 5 and the business carpark, chances are you've already been on one.
The largest benefit of podcars is the relatively low infrastructure cost (just $9.7 million per km), this is due to its simple concrete guide system, off-the-shelf components and on-board control units. Currently only four PRT systems operate globally, but there are plans for more extensive networks in the future.
3. Airbus Vision for 2050
Airbus has laid out its vision for more connected and more economical air travel over the next 40 years. First off, the company has done research that suggests every flight could be 13 minutes shorter. This will save 9 million tonnes of excess fuel annually.
Airbus would also introduce 'eco-climb', which launches passenger aircrafts with a catapult system, and 'express skyways', where planes fly in formation — just like migrating geese. Finally, a 'free-glide' landing landing system aims to reduce noise and pollution as the aircraft approach the runway.
4. Shanghai MagLev
MagLev is a method of transportation that replaces wheels and axles with magnetic levitation to gain lift and propulsion. MagLev provides a number of benefits over a traditional rail system: due to reduced friction, wear and tear on the rails and wheels are greatly reduced. This cuts down on the amount of maintenance work required and allows the train to travel at greater speeds for longer. MagLev trains are also less affected by weather conditions — so no more delays due to wet leaves on the rail!
There are currently two commercial MagLev systems in operation, in Shanghai, China and Linimo, Japan, but many more lines have been proposed. Unfortunately there aren't any plans to replace our Victorian rail system with MagLev just yet, and Crossrail won't take advantage of the technology either.
5. Seattle Metro Bus Rapid Transit System
It's difficult to rely on a bus to get you somewhere on time — there should be a timetable, but with traffic it can often go out of the window. That's where Bus Rapid Transit Systems (BRTS) come in — these buses are separated from traffic on their own road.
BRTS aim to combine the capacity and speed of train lines, with the flexibility and low cost of a bus system. The first BRTS began operation in 1974 in Curitiba, Brazil, but with recent advances in hybrid vehicles, like the buses used in Seattle and London, these systems are starting to make even more sense.
SkyTran is a public transport system using pods that travel on a raised, magnetic levitation monorail. The system is incredibly economical, returning 240 mpg at speeds of 100 mph. SkyTran is slowly becoming a reality, with NASA involved in a full-scale prototype that has been successfully constructed.
The first prototype will consist of a small system at the Israel Aerospace Industries campus. If this test is successful, a larger network is planned for Tel Aviv later in 2015.
7. Next-gen Supersonic Passenger Aircraft
Since the Concorde's early retirement people have been busy working on the next generation of supersonic aircraft. There are several companies in the race: the Japanese Space Agency, Aerion and Lockheed Martin to name a few.
There are two different trains of thought when it comes to supersonic travel: planes will either be larger than Concorde and able to carry more people, or smaller private jets. The Japanese NEXST, is expected to arrive between 2020 and 2025. It'll be able to carry 300 passengers, travel at Mach 2, and have a ticket price comparable to subsonic business class.
Elon Musk is Silicon Valley's Tony Stark. He's brought us Tesla, SpaceX and now he wants to bring us the Hyperloop. The network operates by sending capsules through a partial vacuum on 'air-bearings'. This reduces drag and allows the capsule to travel at speeds of up to 760 mph.
In 2010 Musk published a detailed document, presenting the design and economic feasibility of the project. The document estimates a total cost of £3.7 billion to construct a passenger-only version of the system, but this figure has been described as unrealistically low by transportation engineers.
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