Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Smooth Steel

***Rambling post alert!*** ***with videos***
Airplanes are great for traveling long distances (long being 1,000+ miles) but for shorter distances, trains can't be beat. I know you're thinking clickety-clack

but believe it or not, as much as it has been shunned in the USA, train technology has been doing more than just "clacking along". As mentioned earlier, UTA is starting up their "Front Runner" commuter rail line from Ogden to SLC with a line from Provo to SLC to follow in the next few years.

It's going to do about 80mph so that means that during heavy traffic on I-15 (which is most of the time), it'll be faster than driving! Not to mention the comfort of Wifi, work tables, and comfy chairs perfect for napping as the train cruises along the smooth steel. As cool as that is going to be, there is something better on the horizon for parts of America... high-speed rail. You may be asking yourself, (see the steam train pic above for reference) c'mon, how can trains be that fast?

This one to the left really is that fast... 357.2 mph!! That train is the current world speed record holder. Should be fast enough, eh? The technology that goes into making that train go that fast is not trivial, for example, if the wire above the train doesn't move back and forth enough, it will burn right through the pantograph! The physics behind the contact point of the wheels to the track are unbelievable to allow them to spin that fast.

I know this is a video heavy post, but they are worth it if you're interested in trains, alternative transportation, energy independence, engineering and a whole slew of other issues. Below is a proposed (and very likely at this point) high-speed rail line from the Bay Area in California to Los Angeles. Other lines are planned from L.A. to Las Vegas that would be a maglev train which would be even better!

For you locals, imagine sometime in the future being able to book a high-speed train from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas that leaves at say 9:00 am. Now swing back to what it's like to make that trip now... You have to be to the airport at least an hour early (they recommend two hours) and then the plane waits for 15 minutes (at least) on the tarmac to take off. (trip time=1.5hrs) Then you fly in cramped quarters, unless you fly JetBlue or Virgin America which don't fly to Vegas from SLC, with the heavy-set man next to you taking up more than his two purchased seats. Because of the dry aircraft air, you're pounding the Ginger Ale and H20 so you'll have to pee at least once on the trip. Those bathrooms are a joy, aren't they? Think of the movie Tommy Boy. (travel time=3hrs) You spend another 15 minutes at least at the destination airport on the tarmac (total trip time 3.25hrs). Then you wait, and wait, and wait for your bags at the luggage carousel for 30 minutes, and don't forget that you're now one bag lighter than you were when you got on the plane because your other bag is in Mexico City. (trip time=3.75 hrs) So after roughly 4 hours, you're in Vegas! Which is good, because driving would have taken you 5 hours to get there (depending on how you drive) so you got there an hour earlier.

Now imagine the first scenario where you book your 9:00am high speed train from SLC to Las Vegas. You arrive at the train station about 15 minutes before the train is set to leave. You take your bags to the train and you watch the conductor load them on the same car you're traveling on after which he gives you a hand as you board the train. You get settled in a very roomy seat with huge windows, foot rests, and various recline positions. You can also get a work table seat if you'd like. All the room you need to stretch out. The train slowly pulls out of the station and gently accelerates up to above 200 mph almost without you even noticing. You arrive in Las Vegas rested, having used the spacious, nearly full size restroom on your car and after having a drink from the cafe car. As the train pulls into the Las Vegas station, less than 2.5 hours have passed. The train has saved you more than an hour of travel time and has also saved you more headache than you can imagine! All the time you have used much less energy to travel the same distance and with the new trains, they will either run on electric powered rails or be maglev powered. If that energy comes from a clean, domestic source, you're better off still! My opinion is that with the $1.2+ Trillion we have spent in Iraq, (somebody's got to pay that someday BTW) we could have built a large high-speed rail infrastructure which would help to get us off of foreign oil and increase national security and still have enough left over to completely double cancer research in the US, treat every American with heart disease and diabetes that goes without care today, and implement newer, energy efficient cars. That's a good chunk 'o change.

***EDIT*** I just came across this article talking about a train from Madrid to Barcelona which happens to be the same distance as Salt Lake City to Las Vegas that I referenced above. It's challenging planes at that distance, and I know I would surely take the train over the plane for a 410 mile trip!


Cole said...

Hey got my first Blog update notice in my email.

Two wheeler are you really trying to tell me it would only take 2.5 hrs? I might be going out on a limb here but this aint Kansas. We've got a few mountains to deal with and that canyon right before Vegas would be a great ride a 200 mph. Im sure they could find a route but it would be a bit longer I'm sure. Also I can't imagine they are going to let a train cruise through SL and UT county cities at those speeds. I don't know maybe you've already compensated for those factors but you've got to admit beating a plane by 1.5 hrs is pretty amazing. Also I think you can find a one way ticket to and from Vegas for around $45 each way ($90RT) curious what do you figure the train would cost? Looks like a fun ride though. :)

Two Wheeler said...

Definitely a good point Cole, the canyon would be the hardest part. The problem with planes is the time at the airports, the flight is always much faster than a train. Trains cruise at 200+ mph through cities all the time, they're on their own track, so there's nothing to stop them. It's not like they would have them cross roads at grade or anything like that. Even if the train ride were to take 3 hours (easily done on high-speed rail) it would still be faster than flying and dealing with the hastle of airports and air traffic controllers. Obviously, as I stated at the start... for longer distances, planes are still better.

gina bina said...

I'll admit that I almost didn't make it through all that train mumbo jumbo. Thanks for the rambling post alert.
Love you and all your boy talk over here.

The Blairs said...

I would enjoy a nice train ride. I have a slight fear of flying, and just don't like it anyway. Would be nice to keep my feet on the ground.

Cole said...

$43-$107 for "First Class" thats not all that bad especially when you consider you don't have to sit sweaty arm to sweaty are to the 300 lb man next to you. I would be tempted to sit first class (or what ever trianers call it) every ride.

Two Wheeler said...

I think that's a pretty good price too. It amazed Gina and me how good even the economy seats were on the trains in Europe. We only had student passes, but even the seats we got with that were comfy and very roomy with plenty of space to stretch out my legs.

Heather said...

Very cool stuff!! I think you have a little of the Duncan train blood in you!! I love it. We are always talking about going on a big train ride in honor of Grandpa Duncan, so you plan it and we will be there!!

Two Wheeler said...

I would highly recommend a train ride, although the trains in the Western US aren't exactly fast these days. A beautiful ride is the one from Denver to SLC though, beautiful canyons and mountain views from the panorama car!

The P*dunc's said...

that train ride from SLC to LV sounds very enticing!

Two Wheeler said...

It would be very nice, wouldn't it? I used it for the locals here to have an idea of distances. I don't think there's quite enough population in the combo of SLC/NV. The one that might really happen though is the LA to LV one which would only take the train 1.5 hours or so.

Lee said...

Very cool stuff. It is amazing that a train could replace a plane, but in shorter distances it may make sense. The good thing about a train, is it is easier to add more cars as the demand grows than it is to add more planes and grow the airports.