Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Future of Transport: Trains without Drivers, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Delivering Our Shopping and an Efficient High-Speed Railway-That's What the Future of Transport Is Likely to Hold

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Future of Transport: Trains without Drivers, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Delivering Our Shopping and an Efficient High-Speed Railway-That's What the Future of Transport Is Likely to Hold

Article excerpt

High-speed rail

One of the most topical future areas of transport is high-speed rail. HS2 will be the UK's biggest transport project undertaken for a generation. It will transform rail infrastructure in this country, breaking away from 20th-century railway thinking and practices.

High-speed rail has dramatically improved intercity transport all over the world in the past 50 years, remaking a traditional form of transportation into one offering a new dimension of travel and a new style of life. Globally, there were 10,000 miles of high-speed railway lines in 2012. The figure anticipated for 2024 is more than 25,000 miles. For journeys of under 2.5 hours, high-speed trains also carry vastly more passengers--holding an 80 per cent modal split in relation to air transport.

Japan led the way with the Shinkansen Network, or "Bullet Train". The world's first high-speed train service, the Tokyo to Osaka 322-mile Tokaido Shinkansen, opened in October 1964. Today, it carries 380,000 passengers every day.

Other countries, too, have realised the benefits of high-speed rail. France's high-speed rail TGV has carried 1,500 million passengers since it opened in 1981. China currently has the world's longest high-speed rail service with more than 6,200 miles in action, which includes the world's longest line, the Beijing-Guangzhou High Speed Railway. A more recent example is found in California, where a high-speed line connecting Los Angeles with San Francisco has been given the green light, with hopes of improving mobility and driving economic growth in the transport-underserved regions of the state.

There are, of course, concerns and limitations. With railway usage growing, most companies are having to "sweat their assets" to an unprecedented degree. Modern, high-speed trains offer greater comfort in terms of ride, seating and air conditioning --but this can be at the expense of weight and power consumption.

Most railway systems these days rely on a multitude of data-communication systems for vital services (such as train position and movement authority), and non-vital services (such as train routing requests and train running information). It is essential that these systems aren't subject to interference or hacking--which means that a robust cyber-security strategy is becoming a more significant part of any system consideration.

Autonomous vehicles

Driverless or autonomous vehicles could revolutionise the way we move around our towns and cities by optimising road networks and eliminating the role of the driver, therefore controlling speeds and lane discipline and achieving steady traffic flow. Other benefits would include increased mobility for the elderly, offering drivers more time to be productive, lower fuel bills and carbon emissions, and minimised car-parking requirements.

Surprisingly, the concept of highly automated vehicle operation is not new. Automated or autonomous systems have been around for a long time in aircraft and rail systems in the form of autopilot and automatic train operation, such as that on the Docklands Light Railway, Victoria and other London Underground lines.

Further developments have allowed the concept to be taken to new levels of technical performance and sophistication. Autonomous vehicles are increasingly aiding in hazardous and challenging environments where human lives may be exposed to risk, such as the use of micro unmanned aircraft to survey the damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, following the 2011 earthquake. More recently, companies such as Facebook and Amazon have explored the opportunities to use unmanned aerial vehicles for deliveries and web connectivity.

Although fully autonomous vehicles are not yet available to the public, many contemporary car models have features offering limited autonomous and cruise control functionality that can assist in tasks from parallel parking to staying in your own driving lane. …

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