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I'm not sure about the congestion point. There has not been a railroad system that supported anything like the volume of travel that is currently supported by the automobile.

Really? I think that you didn't read the linked resources carefully enough. Between 1964 and 1976, the Shinkansen managed about a hundred million passengers a year. By 2004, the segment of the Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka has carried 4.16 billion passengers. This is for long-distance inter-city transport, remember, so we're not competing with all car use, merely a subset of it combined with inter-city busses and continental airline flights. Intra-city transport is better accomplished by metros, light rail, or even bus networks.

I think one must be careful about the train versus car efficiency argument. Trains, for example, are big. You get a dining car, aisles to walk around in, lots of extra space that you don't get in a car--and that needs to be carried around with the people.

No, actually, you don't need any of the above. And in fact, hauling that stuff around is still plenty efficient. Remember, cars are subject to a massive inefficiency because they have to haul their fuel around with them. Trains don't have this problem, which gives them a lot of wiggle room, especially on long journeys.

Also, the fixed A-to-B routing with intermediate stops means that at the ends of the run the train may be mostly empty--something every tram or train commuter is familiar with. And it's true that steel wheels on steel rails have very low friction, but low rolling resistance car tires have low friction--and it's a space that has not been fully explored by the technologists.

Most of the passengers on most trains for a fixed, long-distance A-to-B route will be travelling between A and B. Moot point. The friction is also a moot point - even if the car's wheels can achieve the same efficiency as rail wheels, it'll still be worse than a maglev, and the car will still have to haul its fuel around with it. You can't just wave the magical technologist wand and say "cars will be better".

But again, the point is that perhaps trains ARE more energy-efficient than cars, but even so, if people are willing to pay more to have the flexibility of the car, it is worthwhile to allow that--if in both cases they meet the broad social objectives.

They don't. Cars rely on oil. Oil is limited in quantity. Oil is really dirty. We need - and have - a reliable alternative.

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 02:39:07 PM EST
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