/ Travel & Leisure

What’s the future of long-distance transport?

With aviation such a large contributor to CO2 emissions, what viable method of transport could replace it in the future? Is Hyperloop a possible solution?

We know that the UK faces huge challenges if it wants to hit its target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to almost zero by 2050.

We also know that many say that date is far too late, with activists urging the government to get to net zero by 2025.

Back in June, the UK was also accused of ignoring its obligations on aviation emissions which, according to Carbon Brief as referenced by The Guardian, accounted for 895m tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions last year alone.

It goes on to state that if aviation were a country, it’d be the sixth largest emitter in the world.

Record numbers of flights

If the UK and indeed, the entire world, is to meet its bold targets for emissions, it would seem that cutting down on air travel will eventually be essential.

That’s all well and good but, in July, a record 225,000 flights were tracked in just one day for the first time ever.

Increasing demand and even plans for airport expansions in the UK do feel at odds with the targets being set. With that in mind, what could replace air travel in the future?

Could Hyperloop replace planes?

If planes were out of the picture, rail would seem to be the next best bet in terms of speed, but even the quickest trains can’t compete with flight times. Is that where Hyperloop could come in?

The concept is for an ultra-fast underground-style system that carries passengers in magnetically-propelled pods through low-pressure tubes.

The idea is clearly still a long way off for now, with many of the hugely expensive projects to research it and build test tracks resulting in failure.

It’s highly unlikely we’ll be seeing any versions of Hyperloop come to fruition any time soon, but is it an example of what the future of long-distance transportation might look like?

With geographic, political and economic factors to consider, any future implementation would prove problematic, but then major infrastructure changes always are.

Should we all be flying less?
Loading ... Loading ...

How do you think we’ll be travelling long-distance in the future? Will our holidays start at a Hyperloop station? Or is such an idea best left to the realms of science fiction?

What technology is out there to help us reduce CO2 emissions in transport? Let’s discuss it in the comments.

Comments

HS2 has no intermediate stations (for more inclusive additional services) and no plans to carry freight. In contrast to HS1. According to their website:
HS1”in a state of readiness for freight operating companies to operate high speed services on the network”
”DOMESTIC RAIL SERVICES
Domestic services on the high-speed line began in December 2009, operated under a UK franchise agreement by Southeastern railway.
Since the service began, commuters from Kent using the service have been able to benefit from significant time savings. For example, commuting from Ashford to central London used to take 84 minutes and now takes just 37 minutes on the HighSpeed service.
The domestic services stop at all the stations on the high-speed line with Stratford just 7 minutes from St Pancras, Ebbsfleet 17 minutes away and Ashford International station just 37 minutes away.

Seems it can be done.

Yes, it can be done, but from the outset HS2 was planned to link just the major conurbations since there are paralell routes serving intermediate points which are capable of 100 mph or 125 mph running. They should have additional capacity when HS2 opens and the premium longer distance traffic transfers to that line.

Personally I am indifferent to whether there should be intermediate calling points on HS2 but I can see that more than two between London and Birmingham would start to cause a significant capacity drop unless loops were provided at the stations to allow non-stopping trains to overtake.

The situation in Kent was quite different. Very few of the classic lines are capable of speedy operation and follow very sinuous routes making places 60 miles apart seem hours away. The HS1 line opened up new journey and speed opportunities which have had significant economic benefits.

Two well-separated commuter towns on the London-Birmingham route are Aylesbury and Banbury. The fastest trains currently into London are 55 min (40m/h) and 51 min (70m/h) respectively. I’d suggest these would have been sensible intermediate stations with loops. I am not promoting commuting but suggesting that when we provide new and expensive transport links we should consider others than Londoners.

What – and change the entire modus operandi of the government? 🙂

Aylesbury is not currently on any London-Birmingham route and HS2 is planned to pass several miles to the west, I suppose a Parkway station might be a possibility but I wonder how much demand there would really be. Banbury will be even further from HS2 but is already well served with decent connections to Birmingham although it must be working at capacity for much of the day.

The cost of providing additional station loops and car parks on HS2 could possibly be justified by potential additional traffic, but to achieve that would probably require Aylesbury and Banbury to expand extensively beyond their existing planning boundaries into superb open countryside thus further invoking the ire of the objectors to HS2.

For commercial viability reasons I suspect only a few trains a day would call at such stations, not every passing high speed service. To curb additional commuting to London it would be desirable to limit the morning peak southbound service to just one or two trains with a similar return arrangement in the evening peak, but that would further undermine the commercial case for such provision.

This shows what a short-sighted decision it was to wipe the northern section of the LNER’s Great Central Railway main line off the railway map.in the 1960’s.

” This shows what a short-sighted decision it was to wipe the northern section of the LNER’s Great Central Railway main line off the railway map.in the 1960’s. ”

Amen to that. Of course nothing to do with the civil engineering company part owned by the then Minister of Transport getting the contract to build the M1 which “replaced” it.

Possibly, Phil.

Being the last main line built in Britain, the Great Central was constructed to the continental loading gauge so would have allowed for higher speeds and greater clearances. It duplicated many other routes and stations which was seen as a disadvantage in the 1960’s when the railways were in decline but today would have provided the capacity we require without the expense, upheaval and time delay of constructing HS2.

HS2 passes directly on the western edge of Aylesbury and not far from Aylesbury Parkway on the Chiltern Line. O calculate it will pass within around 5,5 miles of Banbury. So two towns in commuter areas that could directly use a service – if one were provided.

GC could have met the need, designed to run from Sheffield – a major industrial city in the heart of S. Yorkshire – via Nottingham and Leicester to London and then a channel tunnel envisaged in the early 1900s. Too late to compete and too late to now to recover the track route probably.

Aylesbury is already expanding. As for “loops and car parking” these are already being provided for servicing and could, I expect, incorporate station facilities.

Steve Hill says:
17 September 2019

yes, good time saved on HS1, but back in the early 1970s when I worked on the railways (at Charing Cross station) the fast trains from Ashford to Charing Cross only took 60 minutes, admittedly on a different line. These were standard electric multiple unit trains of that time. Many of the dramatic speed improvements advertised ignore the fact that non-high speed services slowed considerably prior to introduction of high speed trains. If I were commuting to the Charing Cross/Trafalgar square area by the time I’d taken the tube from St Pancras in the rush hour it would probably take just as long as back in the early 70s.

One thing that does need examining is the use of aircraft for absurdly short flights. For example, it’s not uncommon for freight to be collected around the North West then driven down to the Midlands from where it gets flown to London. That’s frankly absurd. Overnight trains would be a far better option and even driving the freight by lorry form the Midlands to London would be less polluting.

One of the essential drivers for HS2 is capacity not speed. One of the ways that capacity problems have been addressed on the continent is by double deck trains but this is only possible because they have taller trains while we have limited height in tunnels etc. The Spanish have a well established solution to this problem (TALGO) by using different design of carriages that enables double deck trains within a limited height. I have looked exhaustively but never found any reference that this approach has been considered In UK as a solution to the capacity problem. What am I missing?

W do have severe problem because of our loading gauge. This is one proposal – https://www.railway-technology.com/features/seeing-double-uk-ready-embrace-double-decker-trains/ – but it prohibits people standing up which may not be acceptable when boarding and leaving. Southern Region tried this in the late 1940’s but found problems with passenger comfort and, although the carriages provided 34% extra capacity, the longer time spend at stations to load and unload mitigated against it.

However, I cannot find much about investigating this concept. Perhaps someone can find what research has been done? Incidentally the EU seems to govern many of the regulations that our railways must comply eith. They refused HS2 an application for a platform height of 1200mm to ease passenger embarkation.

The double decker proposal seems to suffer from the same drawback as the old Southern experiment. Upper deck accommodation is cramped and there’s insufficient headroom to stand up. Modern air conditioning should solve the ventilation problems the old carriages had but there’s still the matter of longer embarkation/disembarkation times not to mention evacuation times in an emergency.

Platform height on HS2 will be 1100mm to provide step free access from the bespoke rolling stock but still make it possible for existing trains (eg Pendalinos) to use the line.

This discussion about double decker trains reminded me of my own childhood, when a bus firm called Crosville ran double decker buses with a similar profile to today’s coaches.

Downstairs (where the European First class seats normally reside) you could stand up to around 6 feet 2 inches but upstairs there was a channel in the floor which allowed you to walk along to a seat, but you couldn’t stand up once in that seat. The channel formed what seemed like an aircraft overhead luggage compartment in the lower cabin seats.

The Swiss network slings the downstairs compartment within inches of the track, and the sections directly above the bogeys is single deck only.

This design has been suggested as a possibility:

My flat overlooks the Thames near Canary Wharf. I am always pleased to see a significant amount of freight on the Thames, which is a very quiet and environmentally-friendly way to transport heavy goods into central London.

However, I am far less pleased with the fares on passenger boats (i.e. Thames Clippers), which ought to be the same as Tube and bus fares, but are in practice around three times the price of Tube fares. Boat fares should also be part of the daily and weekly caps on contactless TfL payments, but currently are not.

I agree about moving freight by water being an environmentally friendly approach, though only a limited number of existing waterways are suitable. The Thames Clippers provide good sightseeing opportunities and not just transport, hence the charges. There won’t be much opportunity for sightseeing in an underground Hyperloop.

andrew says:
15 September 2019

Clippers have 5 crew to operate a boat, the Tube has 1. The clippers have less than 5% of the passengers per hour hence lower revenue and higher prices.

We don’t have many adequate waterways in the UK but:
https://www.maritime-executive.com/article/barge-transport-wins-on-fuel-efficiency
“A report commissioned by the U.S. National Waterways Foundation indicates that inland river barge transportation has improved its fuel efficiency for cargo transport compared to road or rail.
The study shows that barges can move a ton of cargo 647 miles with a single gallon of fuel, an increase from an earlier estimate of 616 miles. In contrast, trains can move the same ton of cargo 477 miles per gallon, and trucks can move the same ton of cargo 145 miles per gallon.
The improvement for barge transport was due in part to the continual upgrading of the fleet and the high utilization rates that were achieved in the latter part of the study period. Rail and truck remained almost unchanged during the same period.

I was referring to the UK, Malcolm. Here is a presentation by David Lowe, who must the strongest supporter of barge transport in the UK: https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/media/library/6695.pdf

I attended a very similar talk a couple of years ago.

I assumed you were. I wonder just how useful our canal system might be for shipping some products where 4 or 5 m/h max might be acceptable. The labour cost would well outweigh the saving in fuel I suspect. I think in the UK a well-organised rail-freight system would be the winner for most areas.

I have long been an advocate of barge transport for the long-distance haulage of non-perishable low-value bulk commodities like construction materials, fuel, grain, waste and other suitable materials from a production centre to storage compounds for onward local distribution. Time is not necessarily of the essence so long as there are regular flows to maintain stock levels.

Considering fuel efficiency for waterway transport, does the tide not have an effect on the fuel consumption? I would expect differences for going against the tide or with the tide on tidal rivers which is why traditionally craft waited for the tide before setting off. Perhaps the results are averaged. For long journeys on US rivers there will be several tidal turns between the origin and destination and the same could be true on some of the UK’s major rivers, which is why parallel ‘navigations’ were sometimes constructed [although the chief purpose was to ensure adequate depth and width as well as access to docks or basins].

So am I, but if you look at slide 11 in David Lowe’s presentation, not much of our inland waterways are suitable for freight and even some of those that are need dredging (very expensive) and there are pinch points that would have to be removed to make container barges practical. Traffic has declined, particularly on the River Trent, because economics take priority over environmental issues – something that needs to change, in my view.

I’m expecting the delivery of a (rather nice) new chessboard, today. I use an app to track its route and thus far it’s been Amristsar / New Dehli / Dubai / Charles de Gaulle / Stansted / Newcastle / Sandycroft and is now on the FedEx vehicle for delivery to me. It was flown through the first six legs of the journey and for some odd reason flown to Newcastle instead of Manchester or Liverpool, either of which would have been far closer to me than Newcastle. I shudder to think of the sheer quantity of pollutants vomited into the air by that journey.

I never order on a ‘phone (other than by voice), so John and I have the same issue. However ,we also have no mobile signal here, so the mobiles are kept switched off. It’s when ordering online from the desktop that I need an alternative to a code sent by mobile.

I expect a card reader would serve your purpose, Ian. That is what I intend to use and my current account provider [Nationwide] gives that as an acceptable alternative to a voice or text message.

I got in a tangle the other day trying to do something on-line with HMRC and they needed multi-factor authentication before they would release an automated speech access code to a mobile phone. The problem was that I had not updated my mobile phone number since replacing the old one and I had to go through a rigmarole of identification involving my passport number and several other evidential documents before I could reset the access number. In the end I gave my landline as the contact number and life was suddenly so simple again! The phone rang, the code came through, I wrote it down and typed it in, and I could proceed. My landline number is much less likely to be changed than a mobile number so it is virtually future-proofed.

So long as the organisations we deal with realise that we are not going to do everything on-line, or with a mobile phone in the other hand, we can make progress and the SCA process is a case in point. Banks and the other institutions that control our money will have put up with it and get used to it.

I have noticed that companies push for mobile rather than landline numbers these days, for example when ordering online. I prefer giving a landline number because I have handsets around the house, whereas the mobile could be upstairs, downstairs or in the car.

Nowadays a mobile number can be kept, irrespective of service provider. In contrast, a geographical landline number will be lost if you move out of an area.

Many years ago I read that it was possible to receive text message on a landline phone and bought a phone that would display messages. I cannot remember why I never used the feature.

Like you, I don’t keep my mobile to hand at all times because I only use it outside the house and for emergency or essential calls [to get a taxi, for example]. Only one other person has its number so I don’t expect to receive any calls on it.

I would have switched the old mobile number to the new phone but I still wanted to keep the old phone with its number and start again with the new one.

I am fed up with speaking to people who only have a mobile phone and their signal keeps dropping out or they are twirling around and their voice does not reach the microphone.

Text messages can be sent to a landline and then spoken to the recipient. However, i guess most people ask for mobile numbers as they expect they can be contacted anytime, and sent messages. I avoid businesses that only give a mobile number and no address.

I suspect it’s more about assuming that what the 18-30 demographic is doing in their lives is what everyone is doing. Our sons and their partners use their mobiles as lifelines; we, on the other hand, only take them when we go out for emergencies and to call each other if we get lost.

Malcolm – I was wondering why display of text messages on landline phones failed to become popular.

Possibly because by the time a landline phone with a text facility became widely available the country had gone mobile potty and was repudiating landline phones as yesterday’s technology.

One thing we can be sure of is that phones don’t have a great deal of relevance to the future of long-distance transport. 🙁

I’d suggest they make (have made) long distance travel unnecessary for some when you can simply ring your friend/colleague/customer for instant and real time discussion from the comfort of your own home/office. Quicker than the train. But that’s a bit of a tenuous justification for their relevance…….. 🙁 so no, should have moved to the Lobby?

Re landline text messages – Also because the land line is usually found in a fixed location or locations in the house and to read a text message one has to be aware of it and go to the phone to get it, while a mobile phone does things in the pocket and the awareness is instant. My newish landline phones might have a text message facility but it is not obvious on the main menu how to access this. I probably haven’t received any and sending one would be purgatory, since the keypad is numerical only. Today I have received two SMS messages from “an unavailable number, please press 1 to hear it.” I haven’t pressed one so I hope who ever it is will give up. This seems to be yet another ploy to hook the listener’s curiosity when they have failed by direct contact. Of course this may not be the BT SMS service anyway.

malcolm r says: Today 09:47

I’d suggest they make (have made) long distance travel unnecessary for some when you can simply ring your friend/colleague/customer for instant and real time discussion from the comfort of your own home/office.

Well, not really. I don’t believe there’s a single business in the UK that doesn’t possess a telephone which, as our sons tell us, are used regularly. However, the youngest – an Engineer – says nothing substitutes for a personal visit to a site to check progress, make arguments for change, modify workflows and so on. And repeated surveys have suggested that until we achieve the Asimovian levels of technology, businesses will continue to press for face to face meetings.

I expect you are right about the hassle of sending text messages from a landline phone, Vynor. I would not have a problem with reading text messages, which can presumably be sent from a computer.

As I hinted, my comment was tongue in cheek. 🙂

Michael Neill says:
15 September 2019

I recommend Chapter 8, “The Pneumatic Underground” in “Banvard’s Folly” (Paul Collins, Picador)

Why hasn’t anyone mentioned maglev trains?

I suspect it is the capital cost of laying expensive new tracks.

I think an area to examine is why we need to move so many people around at such high speed. Are some people considered to be so important (maybe by themselves) that only their physical presence at a remote destination can resolve an issue? Succession planning within organisations should help eliminate this need. And as for commuting, time we move jobs to people and reduced the need for people to waste their time and money travelling significant distances every day simply to a place of work.

There are numerous engineering issues with Maglev. Despite the original patent being granted in 1909 to a German engineer, the development of commercial Maglev systems has been a long time in coming.

There are three systems that can be used and the problem with all three is ensuring stability. Essentially, a Maglev train is flying, although the separation from the track is only 15mm or thereabouts. But when a train achieves 300mph routinely by flying 15mm above the track there are quite a few safety issues to be considered.

The suspended Maglev model might have the greatest potential, and the world’s first commercial Maglev system operated in Birmingham airport ’84-’95. I’ve long argued that high speed monorails would be more efficient and a great deal cheaper than almost all other forms of mass transit as their footprint is so much less

Even relatively simple concepts like guided busways [where the vehicles are held in a channel by sideways rollers] have come a cropper because of unforeseen operational complications or events.. In Norwich, even double decker buses have plunged into holes in the road that have suddenly opened up beneath them. Good old steel wheels on steel rails on well-ballasted track are hard to beat and can give the optimum travelling speed before wind resistance makes them uneconomical and environmentally unsatisfactory.

And now the “Scottish ” version –
https://canmore.org.uk/site/198436/milngavie-bennie-railplane

Visited it before it was removed, near it was a zoo , note it was opposed by the railway companies as they thought at the time it would hit them financially ,not that it wasn’t viable —–nothing changes.

Interesting. Never knew about that.

I have seen a newsreel of the Railplane. The engineering structure is a major drawback and reminds me of the Schwebebahn in Wuppertal which is an elevated city centre transit system that has recently been modernised. It runs for much of its length over a river but it has to be said that the infrastructure is extremely ugly.

A modern ground-level high-speed long distance system could look acceptable across open countryside but these are very much point-to-point solutions and do not offer much versatility, flexibility or inter-operability with other forms of public transport.

The selling point of railplane seemed to be that it could be built over existing tracks, but I seriously doubt that could be done without taking the tracks out of service.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7ZvfO-99dc
Makes, as John says “steel rails on well-ballasted track are hard to beat” seem like an advance on this, even though they predate it by over 100 years.

The Germans had another “solution” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sH3mqj-pkLQ
The principal advantage of a propellor driven train seems to be no reliance upon steel wheel adhesion on a steel track. Presumably reverse thrust can be applied for braking (when otherwise good adhesion is required).

I don’t see a propeller having enough oomph to move a train and turbines are dangerous to the environment. Air travel is air travel and land travel goes on land. No one has had much luck in changing that. Levitation requires energy plus drive and the bulk has to be moved and stopped and kept in line – less easy when there is nothing beneath it except air and some form of lift. Electric power seems to prevail on the railway, where it has been modernised. Any form of mass transport has to have multiple seats and an enclosure to put them in. This starting point limits how this can be moved and dictates the space needed for its transit. Railways seem to be a good compromise in this respect. They have pinch points and terrain difficulties but other than roads nothing else is available to use on land.

Propellors are fairly inefficient at low speeds so regular start-stop will not be good. They will not be very pleasant in stations where blowing the debris normally found on the track would be unpleasant, to say the least.

Why look for expensive technologies to fix what is primarily a legislative problem? Especially if travelling for pleasure, a rapid journey time is not the only consideration. And with flying, time spent getting to the airport, clearing security and sitting in airport lounges needs to be taken into account. The fact is that the choice of flying over other methods of transport may be equivalent in time, but it is not cost neutral.

Airlines are flying tax havens. They pay no fuel duties and VAT is zero-rated. Most flights are domestic or intra-continental. These are also the most polluting routes, as take-off and landings consume more fuel than level flight.

I can travel from London to Spain by air for £30. That wouldn’t buy me enough petrol to get further than Paris, even though the CO2 emissions of driving to Spain are similar to a single passenger flying there. For a couple or a family, flying is always more polluting than the equivalent overland journey, yet the cost is often substantially less.

If there was a level playing field between the costs of different modes of transport, the number of journeys by air would reduce accordingly.

On the subject of hyperlink technologies specifically, the long-term CO2 savings of slightly more energy-efficient journeys would first need to offset an immediate and significant release of CO2 to build the low-pressure tunnels. Both steel and concrete manufacture release vast quantities of CO2 in converting the raw materials, plus the energy used in their processing and transportation, which still mostly comes from burning fossil fuels.

Equitable transport taxes and running conventional high-speed electric trains from renewable energy sources seems to be a good compromise for all but the super-rich and those think their time is somehow more valuable than the planet.

Here is the Shipping Industries “emission hiding” details on their ocean going transporters reminding you of VW-
https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/shipping-pollution-sea-open-loop-scrubber-carbon-dioxide-environment-a9123181.html

Martin Chubb says:
20 October 2019

As with most climate/environmental debates and targets, the main cause of the accelerating problem is population growth. Nothing will substantially change until this is reversed. Increased wealth is currently predicated on increased consumption. Emerging economies want their ‘slice of the pie’ who are we to say they can’t and they must control their pollution. The main polluters (in absolute terms) do not want to shrink their economies either. Targeting those trying to help is not the answer.

Nature will find a way and who are we anyway to believe that planetary conditions can remain as we desire. There will be many more extinctions and re-births before the sun finally absorbs the earth as a red giant.

Both China and Japan (as well as others) are feeling the effects of population control.
China has stopped its forced limit of 2 children because of an ageing population growth
and Japan is in even worse situation as young people are not getting married and are not having children , its now a crisis there.
The same cry echoes in this country —ageing population cant keep pension schemes going etc etc .
Then we have countries like the USA paying poor countries to take their share of carbon emission as well as China who does the same (2 top polluters ) .
Quite Karmic your last paragraph , believe in reincarnation like myself and hoping to come back to a “better place ” Martin ?
Unless WW3 starts or a gigantic rock hits the Earth predictions are the Earth will last for billions of years yet.

Trouble is, if it can be shown, (and many say it can) that we are poisoning our planet at a rate that makes the next couple of generations unable to live as comfortably on it as we have, then we have a problem that we ought to do something about fairly urgently. While I agree that everyone likes the status quo that allows us to live as we have done for ages, and I agree that developing countries have not yet aspired to the level we have achieved, this doesn’t address the issues that face us. No one will change things over night, but currently no one has put forward a coherent plan that takes us from where we are now to where we need to be, to be in logical stages. Following your thoughts, no one has yet found a way to advance the development of developing countries in a way that makes them more prosperous and “green” at the same time. As can be seen war, famine, lack of resources, and other countries struggling with their own problems, too busy to help, all mitigate against this. Internal politics and strife don’t help either.
To accept the inevitability of natural change is somewhat selfish when we are having a direct impact on it and won’t live to pick up the tab for our life style excesses. When a natural disaster just happened, then, indeed, no one was to blame and the world got on under its new existence as before. This is the same now when earthquakes and volcanos disrupt our lives. But, we only have ourselves to blame when we are the cause of these disasters and are flooded out, over heated or desiccated. Thus I can not agree with your penultimate sentence. For the first time in our history we are dictating to nature not the other way round.

I think we have always tried to tame nature and use it for our own ends, often with unfortunate results. As far as population growth is concerned this will carry in at an ever increasing rate. There is no way we will ever be organised to control it and, as with all other living things, our prime aim is to reproduce.

The only way I see this being changed is by some huge epidemic that wipes out the majority of us. Such an apocalypse would leave the earth virtually intact, apart from a lot of organic debris, for the population cycle to start again from a much lower base. Well, that is my prediction just before I retire (for the night). Happy dreams.

You too!. The only difference between this and previous apocalypses is that those left to start again would not be inventing things again. Though they might not be able to make them, they would not be a mystery. It would be interesting to speculate how quickly this knowledge could be used as compared to our ancestors who started from first principles. This, of course, will be a reality if we ever begin to colonise the moon.

You have just justified on a Universal Galaxy scale , the reason why some people have built in engineering knowledge , born with it,in the DNA its part of the ability to continue to exist and survive and that’s why I go on so much at the loss at school level in this day and age.
Without engineering ability not much progress occurs , look how long it took in our 100,s of 1000,s of years existence.