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Transportation

Project Envisions Modular Aircraft That Double as Train Cars 146

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the fuselage-fell-from-plane dept.
cylonlover writes "Air travel today is a nightmare of long drives to crowded airports, long queues that move at a snail's pace, and long, boring waits in identical lobbies drinking overpriced coffee. It would be so much easier and less frustrating if catching a plane were like catching a train. If Switzerland's École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) has its way, its Clip-Air project will one day produce modular aircraft that will allow you to board a plane at a London railway station and disembark in the middle of Rome without ever setting foot in an air terminal."
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Project Envisions Modular Aircraft That Double as Train Cars

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  • Someone's been watching too much galaxy railways.

  • by Nexus7 (2919) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @09:45AM (#43984279)

    Truck to train has been going on for decades. A more feasible approach is to have buses that can be driven on to, or hooked up to trains. It wouldn't cover the kinds of distances planes can, but it would happen a lot sooner.

    Which comes first, the lithium-xxx battery that will last 7 days, or the plane-train?

    • by MightyYar (622222) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:20AM (#43984651)

      Truck to train works because the additional weight and complexity is less expensive than the step of unloading and reloading, or of the additional fuel and manpower to just leave it in a truck.

      I'm not sure the same economics hold for an airplane. This thing would need a reinforced mating surface on the bottom for train mode, one on the top for plane mode, and then hardware on the plane to accept the mount. That additional weight and complexity - not to mention design compromises that need to be made to accept the module - is going to make this plane more expensive to fly and maintain than a traditional plane. To be air-certified and maintained, the modules themselves will have to be considerably more expensive than normal rail cars.

      Even in a best-case scenario, where everyone headed to a specific destination lives along the same train line, I don't see this working out economically.

      • by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:30AM (#43984725)

        If you need confirmation, observe that a lot of cargo is moved by plane already and none of it is moved by a system like the one they're describing, even though it'd be far simpler than doing it with passengers. If the engineering and economics don't work for dead weight, what hope do they have at working for people?

        • by Tyndmyr (811713)
          Military has a truck to plane system for palletized cargo that works pretty decently. Well, ok, k-loader to plane...not the most standard of trucks. However, it does work for simplifying loading/unloading of aircraft, and there's no particular reason that the same pallets couldn't be used elsewhere. Vehicles utilizing them and automated inventory systems for them already exist.
          • by Sockatume (732728)

            Palletised cargo is not the same thing as a big clip-on self-contained cargo module for an aircraft.

      • Go to a rail yard and watch how they handle the cars. I can't imagine that *any* aircraft component would survive such abuse.

        The idea-guys also gloss over the support infrastructure required to keep the meatbags comfy and, more importantly, alive. Does each pod have an APU and fuel such that it can supply electricity, power, environmental control, etc? How about toilets? Did we neglect those?

        Air and rail are not tremendously compatible modes of transportation.
        • by nschubach (922175)

          I don't imagine it's all that hard to adapt airline toilets to a train. When you land and before you take off, the sewage can be pumped out. In fact, these just look like airline bodies without the wings/engines so anything you can fit in a cargo bay of a plane to handle air processing should work. You wouldn't really need segregated power generator systems. You'd need enough power to keep the system running between the train and the plane which a relatively small UPS could do, but once you are docked o

      • This thing would need a reinforced mating surface on the bottom for train mode, one on the top for plane mode, and then hardware on the plane to accept the mount

        Or you could go for the low cost option, and simply form each passenger into the shape of a UPS parcel....

      • Agreed. The requirements are completely different. For starters airliners need to be pressurized so the connections would be very complex and heavy. Aircraft efficiency depends strongly on weight - no airline would want to spend the extra fuel that this weight would require. No passenger would want to ride in a train with airline type seating.

        Just silly.

        • No passenger would want to ride in a train with airline type seating.

          What trainlines have you ridden on?

          In the US, I have ridden on Amtrak. The seats are "airline type". (Though they were the large version you'd expect for business class on an airliner, and the seat spacing was also what you'd expect for airliner business class. Also, there is (or at least was) a 120 VAC power outlet at pair of seats.)

      • by c (8461)

        Even in a best-case scenario, where everyone headed to a specific destination lives along the same train line, I don't see this working out economically.

        Even if it could work economically, the scheduling would be a bitch.

        Trains don't really have a lot of flexibility in their schedules, particularly if they share the track with freight and whatnot. There's already a huge problem with people sitting around on tarmacs waiting for takeoff and that's just one mode of transportation. Mix in another mode with diff

      • And that's even forgetting for a moment that this idea would be nixed on anti-terrorist grounds. A plane above a certain size does not leave the confines of a secure airport when on the ground, but it's nearly impossible to effectively monitor and protect the entire length of a train track, so these capsules could easily pick up some unwanted package while on rails en route to the airport. There'd be a hull inspection before being mated to a flyer and taking off, but there's lots of other things it can dama

      • by tqk (413719)

        [I've not read TFA.]

        This thing would need a reinforced mating surface on the bottom for train mode ...

        How about eliminating "mode"? Make it a self-contained capsule that can be carried on a train, then hauled into/onto (eg.) a C5 aircraft. Passengers board the capsule and relax until it reaches its destination. Make the capsule pressurizable with room for food, water, sanitation, and even parachutes in case of engine trouble (eject it from the C5 and land it wherever, awaiting whatever can recover the capsule to take it to an airport).

        You could then even design/engineer the aerial fli

        • by MightyYar (622222)

          While your proposal is technically sound, it still suffers a massive weight penalty compared to an aircraft with only one skin. Given the amount of air fare that goes toward kerosene, I don't see the economics working out.

          • by tqk (413719)

            Even after eliminating transporting baggage, or even caring what's in the baggage (eliminating baggage handling; who cares if a baggage car blows up)?

    • by dywolf (2673597)

      a key difference would be the conex boxes are fully supported from underneath in both cases.

      this would be suspending a conex box with pins in the corner dogeyes...which they already do, and is fine, for moving or lifting it between truck and train...but i have my doubts about it when suspsending it from an aircraft 30000 feet up for a few hours. Complete with turbulence, vibration, shear forces all working on those pins. And if one should fail...it would be catastrophic for both the module (gravity is a B)

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Multimodal transport is not really suitable for moving people. One of the issues is that people want to move fast and on schedule, without having to wait on other parts of the train to arrive. Also a passenger train usually offers more comfort and space than a bus, allow for seats to face one another, and allow passengers to walk a few coaches down to the restaurant, like many long-distance trains offer.

      For freight it's better - as long as weight is not an issue, so you see multimodal shipping using contain

      • by Nexus7 (2919)

        I can see all of these problems being addressed if there is demand, especially with the kinds of money train-plane will involve.

        For example, people want to move fast and on schedule - so use the bus as a feeder from downtown, suburban, or whatever areas are far away from the rail station. Drive the bus onto the train - you don't need Greyhound-style 45' buses, just Sprinters or something lighter. Once the train in under-way, passengers and leave the bus and use restrooms, pantry cars, etc. on the train. As

        • by xaxa (988988)

          use the bus as a feeder from downtown, suburban, or whatever areas are far away from the rail station. Drive the bus onto the train

          That's not simple. The only train I know of that carries buses is the Eurotunnel shuttle through the Channel Tunnel. The vehicles are super-wide -- not compatible with most railways -- to allow room for relatively quickly loading and unloading. It still takes a while to load though -- not as long as loading a normal vehicle train, but much longer than a passenger train (under 2 minutes).

          If the journey is short, it's probably faster to drive the bus to the airport. If it's long, it's probably better to d

    • Truck to train has been going on for decades. A more feasible approach is to have buses that can be driven on to, or hooked up to trains. It wouldn't cover the kinds of distances planes can, but it would happen a lot sooner.

      Which comes first, the lithium-xxx battery that will last 7 days, or the plane-train?

      In the vein of 'already old news', why are they taking on the additional hurdles involved in building the modularity into the plane(an area where weight, fuel economy, regulatory certification, etc. are especially stringent.

      Actually boarding an aircraft is pretty damn painless. Walk up the ramp, sit down. It's the rest of the airport that kind of blows, so why go after the aircraft?

      Even today, it's pretty common(at smaller, less capital-intensive, occassionally thatch-roofed) airports for the plane to show

    • Really, what you want is a layout of chairs on the train that can easily be moved onto a plane's fuselage by a device that needn't fly. You don't want to make the train into a plane, you just want a convenient way to move people and their carryons into the fuselage without making them lift their buttocks an extra time.

    • by Etcetera (14711)

      Yep. First thing I thought was that this was a natural progression for compartmentalization of shipping to take. 53' trailers are pretty heavy though!

    • Who cares about buses. I would like to just Drive up park my car on the train. Let it travel the 200+ miles to the closest city. Get off and drive the rest of the way to my destination.

      1. It would be convenient, as you will keep your car.
      2. It will be safer, as you are not focusing on driving all the time.
      3. It will be greener, 1 ton 500 miles on a gallon of fuel.
      4. It would be more comfortable. As you can sit back and relax as the bulk of the travel takes you where you need to go.

    • I remember this idea being floated in Popular Science Magazine . . . in the 1960s.
  • bad idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by intermodal (534361) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @09:47AM (#43984303) Homepage Journal

    I don't want railway stations to have airport-level security.

    • Re:bad idea (Score:5, Informative)

      by Overzeetop (214511) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:38AM (#43984797) Journal

      That's sad, because it's already on its way. It's just a matter of time before a government agent will be asking for "your papers" no matter how you travel in the US.

      http://www.kxan.com/dpp/news/local/austin/tsa-does-surprise-check-at-lamar-amtrak [kxan.com]

    • It'll get rid of all that tedious "stretching your legs" you were previously forced to do.
  • Bloody idiots (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @09:49AM (#43984323)

    The queues are there for a reason: To create the impression of safety. How are you going to do that if anyone can plant something on the "plane" while it's waiting in a train station? If you go through with this plan, you won't make air travel more convenient, you'll inconvenience train travelers.

    • The queues are there for a reason: To create the impression of safety.

      That, and to give a shitload of people jobs selling useless so-called "duty-free" stuff and selling overpriced food while you're forced to wait.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      There's already airport-like security for the Chunnel; if the "special" line's platform is isolated, it doesn't affect other trains or users of the station.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      The queues are there for a reason: To create the impression of safety.

      Also, to present a highly populated and completely unsecured target to any bad guy who decides to exploit it. That's one of the many ways in which US-style airport security is sheer idiocy.

      Of course, for mentioning this, I'm sure I'll end up on somebody's watchlist somewhere. Hi NSA!

      • by Like2Byte (542992)

        The queues are there for a reason: To create the impression of safety.

        Also, to present a highly populated and completely unsecured target to any bad guy who decides to exploit it. That's one of the many ways in which US-style airport security is sheer idiocy.

        Of course, for mentioning this, I'm sure I'll end up on somebody's watchlist somewhere. Hi NSA!

        Recent news reports suggest that you - probably - already are.

        {sigh}

  • This just pushes security out to the edges. It would cost too much to set up airport-level security (theater) checkpoints at each train stop, not to mention monitoring the entire track for unauthorized entry/egress. And it would bring the levels of of misery for train travel up to the standards for air travel rather than making travel more pleasant again.

    Nice idea, but not compatible with modern reality.

    • by JMJimmy (2036122)

      Not to mention the noise factor.

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Such trains would not stop at every small station, rather at the major stations only. And there you quickly rack up the volume to set up airport-style security without costs going over the top (well that is if you consider the current security to be a cost effective operation, of course).

      • by neonKow (1239288)

        Or have the security on the train itself? Maybe have everyone enter at the front half of the train, process people in a line, and proccess people can board the rear cars?

        Then at least you'd be travelling to the plane while you're forced to wait for security.

  • Coming to a train station near you.

  • by lxs (131946) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @09:53AM (#43984363)

    Without airport terminals where will the passengers take off their shoes, get anally probed and robbed of their cutlery and liquids? How will they lose their luggage?

    Somebody obviously hasn't thought this plan through!

  • by captainpanic (1173915) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @09:53AM (#43984377)

    What problem does this solve? Now you would just stand in line and wait in a terminal in the city center, instead of at the airport. Who cares. It's still gonna be a boring terminal. The traveltime to the airport is not reduced. The security and check in are not reduced. Flight time is not reduced. But you will get some additional technical checks that can only start after clicking this train onto that plane - which means I am there, waiting.

    This just adds more weight to the plane. Makes travel time longer. Also, it means I can stretch my legs even less, as I have to wait for half an hour after landing until I can get up.

    • by MightyYar (622222)

      Not that I think this idea has any merit at all, but you could do the security screening on the train portion of the journey.

      • What, bring the metal detectors and baggage scanners in the plane? Are they portable, or built-in? That's gonna give you a little extra weight, or someone needs to carry the damned things into and out of the plane.

        • by MightyYar (622222)

          Again, not that I think this idea has any merit, but the scanners and other weighty things could be part of the fixed structure of the train - they do not need to be on the part that attaches to the plane.

      • THAT would indeed be a good idea. But it would still be easier to drop the walking payload off next to the plane and let it board itself than constructing pressure-proof trains.

    • by EdZ (755139)

      What problem does this solve?

      Ignoring the Bloody Stupid idea of putting passengers in them remotely, containerising air freight is a pretty good idea. As long as you load the containers evenly, you can just stick the thing under whatever aircraft is available, rather than having to manually load and unload the aircraft itself. Being able to swap (you wings & cockpit only equivalent of) a passenger 747-400D with a cargo 747-400F by swapping out a module would make things very interesting in the air shipping business.

  • by eman1961 (642519) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @09:54AM (#43984389)
    Boeing have spent billions on creating plastic airplanes to get more efficient travel. This thing would fly like a brick.
  • If they could make planes that ran on time like Swiss trains [stackexchange.com], they might be on to something. Then again, it would be natural for a Swiss engineer to be frustrated with the inefficiencies of air travel and wonder why planes couldn't be more like trains... so that may be where this thinking comes from.

    TFA says the idea is to be able to attach multiple modules to a plane, whether they are passengers or cargo, instead of behind a locomotive. It's my understanding that cargo flights have to be carefully balan
  • doesn't the rail station just become the air terminal then? I am under the assumption that the crowded conditions at airports is due to all the people who want to get on a plane. If you get on your plane at a train station, then you will see the same people there.
  • Seems to me that this would be a much more feasible idea if utilized for freight. We already have RO/RO container ships. Something modualr that could fit on train tracks, truck, ship, and on/within an aircraft fuselage would make international shipping much easier.
  • Sounds like a "Johnny Canal" [imdb.com] - type solution. Sure it's great if you're traveling from London to Rome. But what if your trip is more complicated, and realistic, like Tulsa to Naples. My point is, it will be a rare thing that a traveler will be able to board a "pod" and end up at their destination, without ever leaving their "pod".

    • by ctid (449118)

      What definition of "realistic" are you using? I would guess a journey between London and Rome is hundreds, if not thousands, of times more common than a journey between Tulsa and Naples.

      • by wcrowe (94389)

        What I'm saying is that it would make sense only for certain well-traveled routes. Remember, we're talking about city center to city center here. While there may be many people traveling from London to Rome every day, many more are making connections from some other place on the planet to London, and then on to Rome. It seems like you're going to be sitting a long time at the airport in your half-filled "pod" waiting for these other people to get on board so you can all go together. What fun.

        The scienti

  • fast trains (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ssam (2723487) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:17AM (#43984603)

    Probably would be easier to just make faster trains.

  • Cattle Cars (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PPH (736903) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:24AM (#43984683)

    Or containerized freight. We've sunk about as low as we can.

    In the industry, they refer to passengers as SLF (self-loading freight).

  • Unconditioned metal box with no seats, no windows, and no restroom. Oh, well, I guess it couldn't be any worse than flying RyanAir in coach.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why not just have tons more airports, but smaller? Like one airport per 10,000 people. Fewer "mega" airports.

  • That thing looks about as aerodynamic as the Spruce Goose. We'd better find Balloo if we ever want to see her get off the ground! !
  • by goldcd (587052) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @11:00AM (#43985053) Homepage
    is that airline ninjas just sneak into your bedroom and anaesthetize you as you sleep. I can then be loaded into a person sized shipping container and be unpacked at the other end - I was always fascinated by those gigantic UPS sorting offices and hate every single f'in aspect of flying.
  • by Jerry Atrick (2461566) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @11:02AM (#43985069)

    We already have these things called trains in Europe. A lot of them on a lot of lines, some very, very fast. Last time I checked I could get to almost anywhere interesting in the EU with 2-4 changes (starting in the UK outside London soaks up 2 of them), often faster than the plane. Not sure what problem this solves this side of the pond.

    And who wants to be trapped in an aircraft seat for that length of time? Trains are a lot more comfortable, don't trap you in a cramped seat for the duration and those stops at stations can be fun. Especially continental stations with a decent bar, some of the trains also have decent bars ;)

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Last time I checked I could get to almost anywhere interesting in the EU with 2-4 changes (starting in the UK outside London soaks up 2 of them), often faster than the plane.

      And you'd be somewhat wrong: For example, Cork, Ireland to Heraklion, Greece. Unless you don't count those as "anywhere interesting". The European rail system is pretty awesome, but there are some limitations, and bodies of water are high on that list.

    • Except that the train is often slower and more expensive than the 'plane.
      (I travel a lot, and live in the land of the TGV - try travelling by train anywhere in France NOT via Paris; expensive and slow)

  • The flying boxcar and the flying crane. It would be a twin boom aircraft with a central body like the flying crane, but shorter and without the prop. The roof of the rail car would be shaped like the flash shoe on a camera. You just wheel the rail car under the plane and "clip" it in place. Fore/aft balance would be the tough issue, especially when "dead heading." http://www2.needham.k12.ma.us/nhs/cur/wwii/09/cmw/images/C119FlyingBoxcar.jpg [k12.ma.us] http://www.minihelicopter.net/CH54Tarhe/CH-54%20Tarhe.jpg [minihelicopter.net]
  • Have we in fact learned nothing from these all in one gadgets we are so enamored with?

    Most shout from the rooftops that they can do X number of things, many do but few do X number of things and do them well.

    Do you want to travel in a plane that doubles as a train, or do you want to travel by train that doubles as a plane?

    I don't know about you but an aircraft has enough moving parts for me already, adding more is just adding something to the mix that could fail.
  • Hey a cool new "feature"! It adds a new dimension to disembarkation.
    • Actually, that's a good idea that used to be used for express trains; the last carriages would be 'slipped' from the back of an Express when they arrived at a midpoint destination.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slip_coach [wikipedia.org]

      I can see it now, "no passengers to load in Detroit today? OK, let go pod 3!"
      You'd need a damn good gliding or parachute system, tho', and the system already looks overly complex and thus heavy and costly.

  • It amazes me how much time is taken for just loading and unloading the passengers from a plane. I've always thought it would be great if one whole side of the plane opened up like a gull wing. Then, all of the rows could empty or load in parallel.

    Even simpler, how about making the boarding by zones more reasonable? The earliest boarding zones should be in the back and next to the windows.

    Or maybe do something about the jackasses that enter through the doors and then put their luggage in the first availa

    • by UltraOne (79272)

      I think an issue with the gull wing design would be that it would significantly complicate and perhaps also weaken the design of the fuselage, especially given the need for it to be pressure tight. My idea for a similar concept would be to have a circular seam at the back of the fuselage. The plane would be backed into the gate, the seam opened, and the tail swung out of the way (I've seen cargo planes that have that kind of hatch). Then the entire inside of the fuselage (passengers and baggage) would be pu

  • There are already the equivalents of pallets and containers for air freight. Maybe we just need to make a sort of pallet for passenger seating, and transfer it on to the aeroplane, the way air freight containers transfer from trucks to aeroplanes.

    Otherwise the aircraft is transporting a lot of weight for no particularly good reason, especially if it turns out the rail gauge at the destination is different.

  • I can think of a few advantages of a modular system like this over standard aircraft.

    - Could offer faster plane turnaround. Plane never leaves the runway. Drops off sections onto a track, that takes the sections to the terminals. Plane then immediately picks up new sections and leaves.

    - Plane sections could be preloaded without the planes being there. Track moves them out to plane liftoff area.

    - One plane could cover multiple destinations. Could have three sections, each going to a different city. Pla

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