My own vision is somewhat similar to Christer Lindstrom's and others. I call it the New Interstate. I am envisioning a hybrid semi-autonomous rail system with roads much like we have now, but with the addition of New Interstate terminals located in each city. You drive your car (a PHEV) into the terminal and onto a big long rail car (a Carrier), and it whooshes you off to the New Interstate terminal in your destination city. Then you drive away autonomously for the last mile(s) of your commute. The New Interstate system would be computer controlled, managing traffic 10 times as efficiently. A trillion dollar investment could expand current highway capacity tenfold and eliminate the need for more than a 20 mile battery in most PHEVs. The amount of oil this transportation model could save is nigh immeasurable. The US alone could save 10 million barrels a day. The current economic collapse (brought in part by the failure of the Old Interstate highway system) is what will provide the fuel to build the New Interstate. All that is needed is imagination, and resolve.
I dont like either candidate, but somehow we've got to get them to see how big of a long term economic boost the New Interstate could be. The Interstate is everything, because an electrified Interstate removes the need for more than 20 miles of range on a PHEV battery. It's worth trillions of dollars in both energy savings and economic growth. And we have everything we need to build it, right now.
What is needed:
- An inexpensive PHEV with a 20 mile range
- An electrified rail grid, with the ability to charge the PHEV batteries while aboard the Carriers.
- Rail Terminals designed to allow large throughput of PHEVs.
- Wind and solar arrays to power the grid.
- The ability to conceptualize how much energy it would take to build all this, vs the energy saved during the first 5 years of use. Hint: in 5 years we will import nearly 3 trillion dollars worth of petroleum. At what point do we decide that it is better to invest money in infrastructure that saves fuel, rather than simply burning it up as fuel‽
I am not an artist so I cannot draw my recommended design of a terminal, but it would look a lot like the above image. That image is just a row of toll booths. But if you picture the row of toll booths as the Carrier car, you can see the basic design of the terminal.
The idea is that many cars will simultaneously drive aboard the Carrier. Then a pair a doors will close around the cars and the Carrier will take off. Then a new carrier arrives and the doors open, the cars drive away and a new line of cars loads onto the Carrier. The terminals would not have to be very big. They need not be much bigger than the row of toll booths pictured above.
Such terminals could be placed ubiquitously around a city. With computer controlled traffic flows, it could take literally 5 minutes to commute from one side of downtown Atlanta to the other. Clearly there is more than just energy savings at stake here. Productivity could go way up as well.
List of advantages and disadvantages:
-Supports the existing paradigm popular in America. People want autonomous vehicles rather than to be tethered to an inflexible public transportation system. Now we can have the advantages of both.
-Reduces oil consumption by eliminating 50% of the demand for gasoline and 10% of the demand for diesel fuel.
-The same grid and terminal design can be used for much of our commercial shipping. Because the Carrier charges the batteries, even companies like the UPS could use low-cost PHEVs to ship containers over vast distances. They just wont be able to stray very far from a Carrier.
-Terminals can be built directly at the locations of big box retailers like Walmart. Fully commercial Carriers (the equivalent of semi-trucks) can be built to travel on the same grid, making deliveries directly to Walmart in much the same way that trucks do now. Note: the same Carriers that transport PHEVs around during the day can be used to transport goods at night.
-Highway accidents would be almost completely eliminated, saving hundreds of billions of dollars. Any accidents that do result will result from software errors in the control logic. That means that all accidents would eventually be eliminated as the software is perfected.
-Commuting would be less stressful because all the highway traffic management would be done by computers.
-The rail infrastructure can also act as part of a 21st century direct-current power grid, delivering cheap solar-thermal power from the desert to cities like Atlanta and Houston, with limited transmission line losses.
-Can easily integrate with pedestrian transport. You can have People Carriers and PHEV Carriers operating on the same grid. Perhaps even on the same carrier.
-Emergency vehicles would be able to function much better because they can be given priority on the network. Police and fire stations could have their own private terminals, as would hospitals.
-Easy transition to interstate, intercity, and intracity terminals. Intercity and Interstate Carriers would be built to travel much faster, possibly even over 200 mph, while intracity Carriers would be built for rapid acceleration and deceleration to take you to many different terminals within a single city. If you needed to ride one local Carrier to a central Main Terminal, where you drive off that carrier and onto an Intercity or Interstate carrier, it would not be difficult or overly complicated to do this. In fact, the whole process could even be automated.
-The ability to promote domestic manufacture of goods. This is very important. By providing free electricity for shipping while on the grid, we eliminate or nearly eliminate the impact of high shipping costs for domestically manufactured goods. Imported goods will be more expensive because they were shipped overseas, whereas domestic goods were produced in the US and shipped across the network for free.
-The Carriers can act as part of an extremely high capacity emergency evacuation and wartime supply infrastructure. Millions of people could be evacuated out of a city in a few hours. Troops and weapons can be shipped in. All using the same infrastructure.
-Carriers fitted with a large number of ultracapacitors can act as mobile power units, delivering emergency power to areas that need it. (I am assuming that ultracapacitors will advance significantly over the coming decade.)
-High upfront capital costs
-Vulnerable to the same potential software problems as other computerized networks.
Cost control and funding strategies:
-Implement a tiered priority pricing scheme. If you are rich, and you want to avoid any queues, you can purchase a priority pass.
-Free grid power? The government would be able to decide whether or not to charge users for their electricity use while traveling on the network. They could give everyone a certain amount of free credit, and then start charging if you go over that limit. (Say 1,000 miles per month for example.) Grid power should be free to promote the use of PHEVs. But it could also be based upon income.
-Start with Interstate and Intercity first. Intracity can come later. Just having an Interstate system will allow most PHEVs to make trips like SF to LA, or Chicago to Detroit, relying on the PHEV range to get them to their final destination within each city. Later, intracity terminals can be built to eliminate all but the last mile of travel.