Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Economist Debate - Update.

This is a responding comment to the question here (mentioned in the immediately previous posting), posted by a reader on my blog "Energy Balance", which I think makes a worthy contribution.

As I noted in my earlier remarks, transportation is the most vulnerable aspect of our energy use, and probably personal transport in the form of cars will not be possible at its present level due to the lack of cheap liquid fuel. Local or nationwide freight/passenger transport is a different matter, however, and a more practical proposition. For local public transport, I also mention electrically-powered tram and light railway systems.

Prof. Chris Rhodes.

"The question being asked is, I think, something like “..can we handle our energy problems by optimising what we have, or must we sit around on our little tushes (1) and wait for the next magic potion to come along..?”
yorkshireminer has raised many interesting points about cube-law trains, so many in fact that a new thread could well be established to examine the question in more detail.(2)
Suffice to say that the train idea was an attempt to contribute to the question raised.
Consider ships, which are by far the largest segment of the global transport industry, so trains are by far the largest segment of inland transport industries.
The worldwide shipping industry is a shambles of thousands of owners, each competing with all others, and the common experience has been that, where the trade permits, large is best, and diesel engines are best.
The result is the China phenomenon, enormous quantities of stuff produced in China and sold at rock bottom prices throughout the globe.
On the other hand trains have scarcely changed in size since the beginning, but speeds have increased enormously. Fares are high, running costs are high, subsidies are out of sight.
These economic consequences, for both ships and trains, are a direct reflection of energy usage, and it is my contention that railways are in dire need of a serious rethink starting from scratch. It is my further contention that we should move away from high speed, narrow, long trains towards medium speed, fat, high, shorter trains. They would operate on the canal principle of slow but sure and energy efficient, rather than the present “gosh gee-whizz, ain’t that superfast train great” principle.
Peter Melia

(1) Noun1. tush - the fleshy part of the human body that you sit on
(2) Wasn’t it an eminent president of some British science organisation, who immortalised himself by declaring, on the day before the first Sputnik, that “…space flight is impossible…”

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