subway improvement

I live in silicon valley, and I am forever going to San Fran or San Jose on the caltrain. The caltrain is clean, but its too damn slow.

Then I thought about why its slow. It makes too many stops. Every stop it needs to slow down, stop, people board, it speeds up again. The overhead involved in the stops take up all the time, not the actual travelling.

We all want more stops, so statistically the caltrain is closer to our front door, but its the stops that are slowing the caltrain down, the express trains get me to San Fran 2X quicker, but they serve maybe 1/5 the stops, so they are not a solution either.

So this post (which is just for the record, cause no doubt it already exists in Japan) wants to present an idea to abstract out the stops.

Caltrain is not the best or worst example, but the simplest example is to imagine a subway line running from east to west in a major city, spanning 50 miles and having 25 stops. If the train can start at the east side and travel at 50 miles an hour w/o stop, you can traverse the city in an hour regardless of traffic, its optimal for moving people through a city.

So the tricky part is when someone gets on at mile 20 and wants to get off at mile 22 (which would be city center and the most common usage).

So you have little mini trains at each stop. You board them, and their doors close one minute before the big train (running at constant 50mph) passes the station. Once the doors of the mini train close the mini train starts to accelerate on a mini track next to the main track. The timing is such that when the mini-train reaches 50mph the main train is right next to it, and they dock in motion, allowing people to board (from mini-train to big-train) and if the next stop is close, people can disembark from the big-train to the mini-train which will then close its door and coast to the next stop.

The whole point is to have the big train move at a constant speed, never stopping. Take the stops out of the equation and mass transit would be FAST.

Just an idea, it is a hot spell in Silicon Valley, hard to sleep, my mind wanders 🙂

Update: I ran this by my friend faisal, and he has an idea to treat the train cars like lego blocks, opening up all sorts of new strategies, then i felt inspired and drew a pathetic one minute sketch on my tablet …

  1. Tejaswi said:

    There is another variant I have been pondering about for a while. It has subtle implications in stream processing, which makes it a bit more interesting as well, imho.

    As we know, getting into an escalator is no problem. Say, there are various horizontal escalators (those you see in airports that let you walk on them) that are lined next to each other that travel at increasing speeds. The first one traveling at standing-human friendly speed, and the last one traveling at the max speed you need to mass-transit people. The lengths of each of these escalators is proportional to their speeds, and the relative speed difference between each of them is human-friendly.

    That’s it.

    • I like this idea, the simplicity of it.

      So local stops would have shortish moving walkways (thats their name) and these would go @ 5mph, and you have 30 seconds to get on the 10mph much longer moving walkway, and this continues, speed goes up and length of walkway gets longer, until you are on the 40mph cross town moving walkway.

      There are serious safety considerations, like people being clumsy between the 35mph and 40mph train, falling and probably dieing. Also w/o handrails people will just fall off, w/ handrails, they have to move w/ the walkway or else the friction of touching them would be like a sander @40mph. Having handrails complicates the walkway to walkway hop (if the handrails are intermittent, then they could strike someone who mistimes the hop as they are moving 5mph relatively faster).

      So your idea is simplistic to an extreme and it introduces human error which means 100% error given time :), but my idea is still steeped in the philosophy that a train is needed to move people, which is overkill.

      My point in all of this is: where is the innovation in this field? the subway, trolley, bus concepts of public transportation have been around for 100 years, so why has so little changed in such a vital technology?

  2. just saw this, SARTRE, self driving cars in sweden, a Euro-initiative
    this is very similar to what i proposed w/ trains

  3. Some Chinese engineer improved on this concept

    Brilliant, he put the tracks on the top of the train … Brilliant

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