Segregation Lives On!

Segregation Lives On!

Orville Redenbacher tells Hispanics and Anglos to use different corners when opening his popcorn bags. Do the civil rights people know about this?

Super High Speed Rail

We hear a lot these days about how trains are more environmentally friendly than planes and cars, and how much energy they save.   But air travel is so much faster than road or rail (that is, once your plane takes off) that flying is really the only practical option for most long journeys.  There is a growing recognition that this state of affairs needs to change, and great strides are being made toward linking major cities in Europe and elsewhere by high speed rail.  But because of the great distances involved, the USA has yet to catch up with this trend.  So–prompted by recent talk of Elon Musk’s “hyperloop”–here is my (admittedly incomplete) vision which I drew up some years ago for a high speed rail network to serve the USA.

I want to be able to travel between any two major US city centers in no more than one hour.  Yes, one hour.  But that’s impossible, I hear you say.  Why, it takes five hours today to fly coast-to-coast.  (Actually, it’s more like eight or nine once you factor in the time spent getting to and from, and messing around at, airports at either end.  Most big city centers have a train station, but for some reason few have an airport.)  Well, I say, let’s examine what it would take to achieve my goal, and how close we can realistically get to it.

The great circle distance from New York to Los Angeles is about 2,450 miles.  Let’s say the human body can safely and comfortably withstand (or preferably withsit) a g-force of 1.2g from gravity and acceleration combined.  This allows for a maximum horizontal acceleration of .66g, or about 15 mph per second.  If the train had a top speed of 3,000 mph then it would take 200 seconds to reach full speed and would accomplish the journey in 52 minutes 20 seconds.  A gentler train that only subjected the body to 1.1g could reach full speed in 300 seconds and would make the journey in exactly 54 minutes, and could cover the distance from Miami to Seattle (2,730 miles) in 59 minutes 36 seconds.  (The remaining 24 seconds would be just enough to allow for the acceleration and deceleration to build up and taper off gradually, so that the passengers wouldn’t be jerked around too much.)

Admittedly, some pretty stupendous engineering and economic problems would need to be overcome before this crazy vision could become a reality.  But the potential benefits to the USA and its residents would also be tremendous.  Imagine a loop line serving (say) a dozen major centers of population, with trains every five minutes, providing an hourly non-stop service from any station to any other. I envisage this super-high-speed rail system as the backbone of an integrated passenger transport network that could eventually span the entire continental USA and shrink travel times dramatically. 

What would it take to bring (say) 90% of the population within 2 hours’ travel time of each other, and 95% within 3 hours’ travel time?   Actual journey times would of course be longer when you add in waiting and interchange times, but this should still allow the vast majority of the population to take a day trips to visit distant friends and family.  Only those who choose to live in the remotest areas would remain inaccessible.

A wild vision? Yes. Enormous technical, social and economic challenges would have to be overcome? Undoubtedly. But the human frame is up for the journey.