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Transportation

Transportation Designs For a Future That Never Came 120

Posted by samzenpus
from the day-after-tomorrow dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The recently unveiled plans for the Hyperloop have raised a lot of eyebrows, but this is not the first time someone has proposed an idea for mass transit that seemed too good to be true. Here's a look at a few other ideas over the years that never seemed to get off the ground. 'In 1930, the magazine Modern Mechanix presented a plan for a "unique bus of the future (that would) duplicate the speed of railroads. Recent developments in everything that moves has caused many flights of imagination," it wrote. "The bus between New York and San Francisco will be equipped with airplanes for (side trips). For diversion, billiard rooms, swimming pool, dancing floor and a bridle path would be available. The pilot would be 'enthroned' over his engines, with the radio above. Space for autos would be afforded by the deck." Not surprisingly, it never happened.'"
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Transportation Designs For a Future That Never Came

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  • Actually, a submerged floating tunnel sounds kind of doable.

    There's no technical reason why something like this can't be done. There's lots of other reasons, though.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Physics is a bitch. There's a *lot* of water in the ocean, and a 3 kt current is a hell of a lot more energy than the combined nuclear weapons of the world.

    • The shortest way... is through the planet's core. Tunnel boring machines, a little slow, but eventually your carcass will get there. Whether you're still living in it is for a different thread.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        You wouldn't want to do that even if you could. Besides the issues of heat, you'd have to worry about plate tectonics. Not to mention that it would take centuries at the rate we currently excavate. Around here we've had several different deep bore tunnels being dug, I think for a total of about 100 miles between them, and they don't excavate more than about 7.5 meters per day.

        And that's at the surface, without having to worry about the increased pressure of being deep within the earth's core.

        • by RockDoctor (15477)

          Besides the issues of heat, you'd have to worry about plate tectonics

          Plate tectonics, on a human timescale, isn't really worth worrying about. It's the low physical strength of some of the layers involved, particularly the asthenosphere (Greek : "no-strength sphere"). Within hours of cutting the tunnel (with your Unobtanium heat shield etc), the walls would be falling in on you. It's rather like cutting a tunnel through liquid mud or a plastic clay formation - you'd have to line the borehole continuously, w

          • (with your Unobtanium heat shield etc)

            Hmm I think Obscurium or Nonfoundium alloys would be better choices in such contexts.

            Just sayin'

            • by RockDoctor (15477)

              Hmm I think Obscurium or Nonfoundium alloys would be better choices in such contexts.

              I use Obscurium and Nonfoundium wire to scour the crack residues out of my pipe, to avoid scratching it's hologram-polished surface.

      • by cupantae (1304123)

        Tunnel boring machines, a little slow

        But if we tunnelled exciting machines, it could be much faster.

      • by loufoque (1400831)

        That would only work if the planet was hollow. The core is where most of the mass is, and it also happens to be very hot. If we had the technology to build a tunnel through that, we could build our own planets.

    • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @01:28PM (#44601061) Homepage Journal

      I know just the place for it, in terms of technical desirability.

      Lake Washington, next to Seattle, has two pontoon bridges. The surface is a bad place for them because they're vulnerable to the regions occasional but fierce windstorms. The lakebed is too deep and mucky to be good for construction (which is why they are pontoon bridges).

      I don't know how bad currents get in a lake.

    • by jythie (914043)
      Looking over the list of things that did not happen, many seemed to depend on other areas of technology coming up with cost effective solutions for infrastructure. So once you have the special roads/tunnels/rails built the tech makes sense, but even building regular roads/tunnels/rails is expensive. Granted those things have gotten a lot of improvements over the years, but there is a real chicken and egg thing going on there since process improvements tend to show up after something is already being done
      • by Teun (17872) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @02:46PM (#44601449) Homepage
        All it takes is a significant market for fast travel and someone willing to invest, a lot of the technology exists.
        The biggest energy expense in fast travel is air resistance so the idea of a (partially) vacuum tunnel is only logic.
        With these speeds a trip doesn't take long and having a relatively small thus cramped cabin is less of an issue.

        The problems with Eminent Domain, a total distrust of government etc. will probably make such a system, under- or above ground, not likely to be pioneered in the US but in places like China or even Europe.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Over the years working thinking this stuff out what I come up with is there is a huge leap in cost once you shift from static compression structures made of found materials to engineered tension structures. An example a road made of crushed stone, very cheap requires little maintenance, and the maintenance you do have to do is proportional to the usage. Compare with bridge, made of steel, requires vast amounts of maintenance to keep it from decaying. And after 50-100 years it's in bad shape no matter. Tunn

    • >There's no technical reason why something like this can't be done. There's lots of other reasons, though.

      You mean like the fact that "submerged floating" is an oxymoron ?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        A submerged tunnel can be floating or non-floating (i.e. on the sea bed). No oxymoron.

  • by larry bagina (561269) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @12:57PM (#44600875) Journal

    We don't need boondoggles and fanciful transportation methods that don't pan out. All we need is: the power of our mind.

    Close your eyes. Pretend you're surrounded by pretentious rich assholes. Bingo, you're in LA. Total cost: $0. Total time: 15 seconds.

    Ok, now close your eyes. Pretend you're surrounded by hipsters and leather deviants. Bang. San Francisco. Ding Ding, you can even hear the trolley and smell the homeless guy peeing.

    • by Gaygirlie (1657131) <(moc.liamtoh) (ta) (eilrigyag)> on Sunday August 18, 2013 @01:40PM (#44601133) Homepage

      Close your eyes. Pretend you're surrounded by pretentious rich assholes. Bingo, you're in LA. Total cost: $0. Total time: 15 seconds.

      HALEP! I ended up in a conference room at Oracle with Larry Ellison! :'(

      • by ttucker (2884057)

        Close your eyes. Pretend you're surrounded by pretentious rich assholes. Bingo, you're in LA. Total cost: $0. Total time: 15 seconds.

        HALEP! I ended up in a conference room at Oracle with Larry Ellison! :'(

        Lucky you.

      • by Tablizer (95088)

        Just wear leather and pee. Trust me on this.

    • by jythie (914043)
      Hrm.... this technique could probably be applied to those silly business meetings that eat up so much travel. Just close my eyes and imagine that the other stakeholders gave me all the resources and go-aheads I was wanting. mmmmm
    • Meh. I just use Google streetview. Don't even need a poweful mind for that.

    • Close your eyes. Pretend you're surrounded by pretentious rich assholes. Bingo, you're in LA. Total cost: $0. Total time: 15 seconds.
      No, I ended up in the Capital Building on the House floor. Gotta run, the police are coming for me now.

  • Has anybody come up with the rolling roads concept again? Kinda like those moving sidewalks at airports but on a gigantic scale.

    • by iggymanz (596061)

      sorry, but we don't even have the technology to make an escalator that stands up having 10% of its length exposed to the elements in the midwest. (Eyewitness testimony of subway commuter in large city)

    • There was a project in the 90s in Altoona, PA for a moving sidewalk.

  • At the old magazine covers from the 40's, that was awesome, we are so better than they were right?

    • by cupantae (1304123)

      First paragraph of TFA:

      US entrepreneur Elon Musk recently unveiled plans for a train that would travel at speeds of up to 1,200 kilometers an hour. As promising as his design might be, skeptics would argue he's merely continuing a long tradition of revolutionary transit concepts which inevitably end up thwarted by reality.

      In other words, the article is drawing attention to the idea that current visions of the future might be just as infeasible as those shown in the article.

    • The past future was awesome. The future future sucks.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There are plenty of great ideas - many of which are feasible from an engineering only standpoint.

    But when you factor in economic viability, that's when you run into problems. And when it comes to publicly sponsored projects, then you run into the inevitable cost "overruns" and mismanagement.

    That's something I never got, how is it that a company can bid on a project, win based on that bid, and end up making whatever the hell they want to in the end - See "Big Dig" in Boston and every other municipal projec

    • by clarkkent09 (1104833) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @02:44PM (#44601443)

      It is not necessarily corruption, it is a natural result of people being tasked with spending other people's money. They don't have to be actually receiving bribes, they just don't have an incentive to be super careful with it. This is why a congressman will casually vote for spending say $500 million of public money, usually without even reading the bill, whereas there is no way in hell he would spend even $5 of his own money without being convinced that he is getting a good deal for it.

      • by Arker (91948) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @05:14PM (#44602375) Homepage

        What you are describing IS corruption. It doesnt have to be bribe-taking. The fact that you can describe it so clearly and NOT call it corruption is symptomatic of our real problem here.

      • That's a symptom of your political system being busted. The congressman should be worried about not being reelected.

        And having worked in the private sector and moved up quite a bit over the years, it's just as bad there if not worse. I've watched companies waste billions just so nobody has to admit they wasted billions (e.g. not take the write off).
  • Some things progress very slowly. And with politics being such a big obstacle, not much is going to happen any time soon.

    • by Sique (173459)
      It's not the politics that are the big obstacle. Politics is the playing field where the different interests are fighting each other until there is some result. Politics thus are mainly a result, not the reason for something. The big obstacle is that we don't need most of those transportation means so much, that it might be feasible to invest enough. What's the point of having a cruiser ship like bus line across the U.S.? It might have made sense in a time when even air travel was not faster than 150 mph, a
      • Yeah, that's right. I was advocating bringing back some 80 year old fanciful dream to replace our incredibly safe, reliable (despite its fragility) system we employ today. What was I thinking? Let's just call the whole thing off and head to the beach.

        *Amazing*

        • by Sique (173459)
          No, that's not what I was saying.

          In the most cases, the role of politics is either completely misunderstood, or greatly exaggerated. There are much more simple processes at work. Some of the ideas might have been really good, but for every good concept, there are two adversaries: the one, that is better, and the other one, that is good enough. Having an idea that is really at the sweet spot of being feasable and being between being really better than the current state of affairs, and not being outcompeted

          • Politics: (from Greek: politikos, meaning "of, for, or relating to citizens") is the practice and theory of influencing other people on a civic or individual level. (From wiki, because, what the hell)

            I'm sorry, I just got done with another guy who thinks I don't understand the common meaning of words. Two times in one day is a bit much.

  • You mean like mass produced electric cars? Or maybe reusable rockets :-/

    Elon Musk does his homework.

  • Goddard's "turbine driven by rocket blast" is essentially a jet engine, just outboard. What a genius.

  • by pe1chl (90186) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @01:43PM (#44601147)

    Even those ideas for mass transit that did work out are not always a success.
    It appears to be difficult to predict the usage of such a network.
    We got a highspeed rail line but nobody is using it. Existing connections had to
    be terminated before some people forcefully started using this train (at higher tariffs).
    And specially built trains that were ordered for a lower priced service were a total disaster.

    • by jythie (914043)
      What is even worse then predicting usage patterns is predicting political currents. Much of the relative state between air, road, and rail today is a product of the political situation each of those industries exist in.
    • by hedwards (940851)

      What highspeed rail where? I'm pretty sure people use the one they have in Europe, I'm pretty sure people are using the one in China. We don't have any in the US, which is why nobody uses them.

      • by pe1chl (90186)

        Highspeed rail in the Netherlands. We have a small country, so when a highspeed rail
        is constructed every city wants a stop along it, and cities are only 30km apart here.
        Furthermore, when they ask me "would you take the highspeed rail to Paris" I probably
        would answer yes, but it would not be more often than once every 2 years or so. Not a
        basis for a regular train service.
        So what we got was a highspeed rail with a surcharge, nobody using it so they had to
        stop the regular service to force the users over to

        • by BranMan (29917)

          With that many stops, could staggering them be the way to go? Run 3 small trains at a time instead of 1 big one and each one stops at every 3rd regular stop. If they all take the same amount of time at each stop along the way, they could all travel much much faster - effectively the stops are now 90km apart for each train, and each makes only 1/3rd as many stops. Scale to 4 or 5 trains to have a *really* high speed rail that still services everyone.

          Just make sure you get on the *right* train.

    • It is in general not very difficult to predict these sorts of networks at a gross level (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metcalfe's_law [wikipedia.org]). Most networks scale in value, to the first order approximation, with the number of connected nodes. Simply put, if you have a network with very few nodes (aka stops on a rail line) it costs a lot and/or no one uses it. If you have a network with a lot of nodes, it cost more sure, but it gets used a lot more. Each successive node's value is scales roughly by N squared, wh
  • Bus Image (Score:3, Informative)

    by Pazuzu's petals (2889219) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @01:47PM (#44601161)
    For those wanting a visual of the bus: http://blog.modernmechanix.com/mags/ModernMechanix/6-1930/giant_bus.jpg [modernmechanix.com]
  • by stevegee58 (1179505) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @01:54PM (#44601207) Journal
    The displacement of the inexpensive, efficient and reliable urban transportation known as "street cars" by diesel-powered buses was one of the gravest errors in urban planning. How's that for a future that never came? Expanding the street car rather than replacing it would have reduced the smog so endemic in the 60's and 70's.
    • by jythie (914043)
      Yeah, but it would have been more expensive, and 'lower taxes' has been a major rallying cry over the last half century. Not to mention the idea of planning has become pretty demonized, with the magical 'the market will fix it' becoming increasingly dominant. So public patience for thought out infrastructure that will be in place for decades is pretty thin. Short term fixes are hot, and busses fit into that mold pretty well.
    • The displacement of the inexpensive, efficient and reliable urban transportation known as "street cars" by diesel-powered buses was one of the gravest errors in urban planning.

      The streetcar wasn't all that efficient, cheap or reliable.

      The humble Ford Model T cost about 1 cent a mile to operate --- in an era when a streetcar ticket cost 5 cents. The Ford provided portal to portal service for a family of five plus dog and cargo.

      You could shop the big downtown department stores, take in a movie, buy your groceries at the new A&P. Unless you were shopping for something like a piano or a sofa you would never again see a surcharge for merchant home delivery. The savings added u

      • by Ichijo (607641) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @03:53PM (#44601847) Homepage Journal

        The humble Ford Model T cost about 1 cent a mile to operate --- in an era when a streetcar ticket cost 5 cents.

        Operating costs include not just gasoline but also maintenance, insurance, registration, and parking.

        Other costs of owning a car include depreciation, loan servicing, and the opportunity cost of capital.

        And then there are hidden costs such as air pollution [fullerton.edu], carbon emissions, the urban heat island effect, sales and property taxes to build and maintain the roads [pewstates.org], and the loss of freedom (and loss of capital utility) to own a home or business without the government forcing you to overbuild your parking lot.

        Far fewer people would drive if not for all of these government incentives and coercion to drive.

        • by westlake (615356)

          Operating costs include not just gasoline but also maintenance, insurance, registration, and parking. Other costs of owning a car include depreciation, loan servicing, and the opportunity cost of capital.

          True now. True then.

          But no matter how you cherry pick the numbers, the Ford Model T was still dirt cheap transportation, versatile and affordable. Hobbyist and commercial conversions became legendary: pick-up trucks, delivery vans, lunch wagons, tractors, you name it.

          You cannot escape the expense of building and maintaining a road; even in its prime, the streetcar shared the lanes with an extraordinary amount of traffic.

          The old time streetcar is nostalgic urban fantasy.

          The reality was more like this: htt [levyrapidtransit.ca]

    • I found a wikipedia link to what I'm babbling about:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_streetcar_conspiracy [wikipedia.org]
  • by pakar (813627)

    Quite a few of the images there includes technology that we use in transportation today...

  • ...is the seat belt the passengers are wearing, complete with little red buckle. As if only a lap belt would really protect someone (i) in a collision at 800 MPH and (ii) seated in a reclining position. Adorable.
    • by Eivind (15695)

      There's swimvests on planes too -- please look up for me a few examples of situations where those have saved lives ?

      • There's swim vests on planes too -- please look up for me a few examples of situations where those have saved lives ?

        Reminds me of an old joke about a Lufthansa flight about to "land" in the ocean - told in a heavy German accent, of course. Over the intercom, the pilot says for those passengers that can swim to get on the left side of the plane with their vests on and, after the plans lands, to swim out to the rafts, then says, "and for those passengers that cannot swim... thank you for flying Lufthansa Airlines."

  • Historical notions were forced to brute force through the 2 main barriers, air resistance and friction. What is being focused on now is purely about removing those barriers, a vacuum eliminating air resistance and magnetic levitation eliminating friction. For the first time ever material science is starting to make the idea look viable. Maybe not yet, but soon hopefully.
    • by bendilts (1902562)
      It's amazing how many people read so little about the Hyperloop that they think it uses magnetic levitation.
  • New York's first subway, built in 1870s, and long forgotten until a part of it was discovered during excavation, about a decade ago, was the Beach Pneumatic Transit. Created by Alfred Ely Beach, people sat in capsules which were driven through underground tubes via air pressure. A variety of circumstances prevented it from ever being extended beyond its initial demonstration length.
    • Created by Alfred Ely Beach, people ...

      So Beach created not only the subway system, but also the people to ride in it? He must have been a very busy guy.

    • by tragedy (27079)

      When they discovered it during excavation, was it full of pinkish psychoreactive slime flowing towards the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Did the excavators get put on trial for violating their judicial restraining order?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As a 'civilization' we squandered our future on war and prisons.

    The entire Earth is less than 1% of the mass of the solar system. The recoverable resources of the earth are less than 1% of the planet's mass.

    We've spent decades murdering eachother for scraps instead of developing the rest of the solar system.

    Why?

    Because every new frontier brings a loss of control for existing governments and power structures.

  • Apples to oranges (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Natales (182136) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @10:41PM (#44604393)
    The way this post was presented is totally idiotic. The fact that some of these ideas have been around for a very long time means only that technical feasibility was not there yet. Remember Jules Verne or DaVinci for that matter. Many of their ideas have become normal part of our lives, while many others were just product of a fertile imagination.

    What I really like about the hyperloop is that the idea is old, but it's been re-thought from the perspective of the 21st century, by someone who has the credibility to make things that everyone else said were impossible a fact.

    I, for one, think Elon Musk is one of the greatest minds of our generation, and not only because of the ideas, but because of his attitude of "why not" and "build it and they will come". I'd trust him with my tax dollars any day when I see what he has accomplished, vs. the bozos in the State Government.
  • "In 1930, the magazine Modern Mechanix presented a plan for a "unique bus of the future (that would) duplicate the speed of railroads"
    Oh yeah, I remember that one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNixDlRoMvA [youtube.com]
  • He makes it sound like none of that is possible and all of those ideas failed. Ick!
    When you read an idea like that, consider the scale and infrastructure of the Interstate Highway System. That is successful and works. (Even though it needs some work occasionally)
    And before that, the railroads were a huge infrastructure project. And they finally got built, a little at a time.
    To discount all of those ideas is not smart... but then, the writer is being a bit of a troll.

  • Those 1930 people were just ripping off the Amtrak Wars series of books!!!! How unoriginal!!!
  • With modern and future technology you don't need to go anywhere you can teleprescence yourself and it becomes sillier and sillier to transport objects when you can just communicate the plans and create them on site.

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