Searching for a Viable Transition Path


Kim Goltermann

Responding to F. Reynolds and Palle R. Jensen

July 27, 2000

First an apology to Reynolds: It was never my intention to single out the HiLoMag concept in particular as a loser. Somehow my original headline "The optimum dualmode…." had changed into "Reynolds` optimum dualmode…." when it appeared on the net. I merely wanted to point out that any superior system optimised only in a technological sense would face an immense uphill struggle. A no-compromise technological dualmode marvel would fail for the same reason, why the Concorde failed to conquer the sky. Economics. Introduced more than 25 years ago the Concorde had obvious technological qualities but never the less lost out to slower, more humble and economical designs.

I’m being told that I focus too much on cost, but to my own amazement Reynolds´ HiLoMag team actually prove my point with a 180-degree turnaround, if I ever saw one. HiLoMag has now evolved into a pallet operating system, and done so partially because it was felt in the HiLoMag group, that the cost of dualmode cars with roof-mounted MagLev suspensions would be too bloody. So the cost of dualmode cars is an issue after all.

Expanding a bit on the issue of cost, we arrive at, what I perceive as a point of fundamental disagreement. In my view the true challenge of dualmode transportation is not to describe or build a technological optimum system. The necessary technologies have all been invented and demonstrated, and all that remain is to combine them in one of many possible ways. No, the true challenge is to describe a viable transition path to an advanced dualmode system. This path will be governed by economics much more than technological preferences. In fact the economics will dictate the transition path as well as the technology chosen.

As I have no dualmode concept of my own, that I fend for; I find myself in a much more advantageous situation than that of developers, who must defend the choices they have already made. It is always easier to criticise and pick others arguments apart, than to make a solid argument of your own. For the sake of equal terms I will therefore try to describe some characteristics of the dualmode system that I believe would stand the best chance of actually making it. And just as interesting – the reasons why.

It should be admitted that I feel a bit isolated. Now that the inventor of the term "true dualmode" has changed horses, only few of us true believers in "true dualmode" remain. I’m also a believer in elevated guideways, supported vehicles, some form of LSM for propulsion and control, short headway operation and automated driverless freight-vehicles. In short, everything that the original HiLoMag concept promised to do, except the 200 mph capability. But all of this is trivial compared to the fact that I want to retain the internal combustion engine (ICE) for street use. Heresy! Treason!

Everyone can understand, that the internal combustion engine (ICE) will eventually become obsolete, and the last oil will some day be pumped up. Exactly when this is going to happen, is a point of intense debate and scrutiny, but I read that dr. Guadagno estimates that this will happen in as little as 20 years from now. InTransSys depends on the immenient end of the petroleum-era to justify itself, and it therefore amounts to wishful thinking by dr. Guadagno, to claim that oil-reserves will last only 20 more years. Big oil dependent industries have made analyses and calculations too, and they are all betting their existence that the petroleum-era is going to last considerably longer. More like 50 years. Who should we believe?

In my opinion it’s a hopeless exercise to try and figure out exactly when our oil reserves will be exhausted, but I consider it a certainty that it will be possible to implement our dualmode system before it happens. And if we adopt a new transport system, where more than half of all driving will be electric powered while the rest rely on petroleum, we could certainly postpone that unfortunate day when oil become history. Reynolds has repeatedly stated, that all our cars are exchanged every 15 years or so, meaning that we could easily introduce a new street mode propulsion technology at a later date, when alternatives to the ICE (internal combustion engine) are ready. Today there are no replacements ready with anything close to the versatility of the ICE.

Just why is it so important to retain the ICE? Because we desperately need it during the transition period. I repeat: We need ICE-equipped cars during the difficult transition period that will last up to 30 years. The first many years our guideway network will be incomplete. Short stretches and small patches of guideway will slowly grow into regional networks and finally into one comprehensive network with complete coverage. Until that happens we would have to bridge the gaps between guideways using the streets.

In the beginning these gaps would be long and only a small percentage of our driving would be on the guideways, so we need a car that can bring us from one guideway to the next and even to areas where no guideways exist; and do so reasonable fast. A car that would be advantageous to buy even if only, say 10% of its mileage was collected on the guideways. Only an ICE-equipped car fit this bill, and only an ICE-equipped car can give us dualmode without seriously degraded street mode capability.

Electric vehicles, whether they rely on batteries or fuel-cell technology are unable to take the place of the versatile ICE-vehicle, and will most likely remain unable to do so for a great many years to come. Personally I wouldn’t exchange my diesel-equipped workhorse for an electric dualmode car unless I could reach every little village in Europe using the guideways. An ICE-equipped dualmode car, on the other hand, would suit me just fine, even if there were only few guideways in the area where I live.

The requirements of dualmode capability without degradation of street mode capability and ownership advantages, even if dualmode is only little utilized, brings me directly to the next issue where I seem to have adopted a minority stand. Simplicity.

To ensure that our infant dualmode system will be immediately successful, we should bring cars on the market, that offer dualmode travel without any disadvantages or trade-offs, at a price equal to singlemode cars. In that way buyers would have no reason at all to choose the singlemode cars, and the number of dualmode cars would therefore explode, creating an automatic demand for more guideways from buyers. This is only possible if dualmode cars are only marginally more complex than ordinary cars, in effect largely resembling our traditional cars and using mostly identical technology.

As already mentioned in my previous comment, I believe, that we will soon drive cars with total computer control of all functions (drive-by-wire), dualmode or not. When that happen, it will be possible to add dualmode capability to our cars by simple adding permanent magnets to the bottom and a cheap electric interface for communication with the systems control computers. The result would be dualmode vehicles based on proven technology and priced only marginally higher than singlemode vehicles.

The LSM-system would provide propulsion, control and in this case even guidance; and although it is a cheap and minimalist solution, it would be capable of doing everything that the original HiLoMag proposal ever hoped to accomplish, except the 200 mph capability. This is not to say that I dislike high-speed capability, and it is certainly feasible to add 150 mph express guideway routes to the system I propose here, but I simply doesn’t feel that high-speed is an important enough rationale, that it should govern the design of a new revolutionary transport system.

Remember that a dualmode system is not intended to convert a few hundred thousands passengers from short haul air-travel to land-based travel. Short haul air-travel is destined to become land-based anyway, when petroleum become a scarce and expensive commodity. No the real purpose of a dualmode system is to bring relief to the tens of millions that are stuck in mid-town traffic on their daily 15-mile commute to and from work, and for this purpose 30-100 mph will be more than adequate. People mostly use their cars for short trips within the city, they live in. This is certainly the case for me and every relative or friend I can think of, and only occasionally do we venture out on longer expeditions. Real traffic patterns provide the main design rationale, and nice as it may be, high speed is not essential to the success of a dualmode system. I’m afraid; I must remain in rigid opposition to Reynolds´ insistence on high-speed, even if I like it as an option.

As mentioned earlier I favour a system where propulsion, control and guidance are provided by a linear synchronous motor, and as correctly noted by Reynolds, this is in many respects similar to a MagLev system. However I prefer to let pneumatic rubber tires double on the guideways as supporting principle. I favour this solution for reasons of economics and simplicity, as a 2/3 MagLev system, all things equal, will be simpler than a full MagLev system. The levitating coils are omitted and vehicles can be entirely passive with no on-board intelligence required. We can even avoid installing a power pick-up (inductive or sliding), as the wheels are in contact with the guideway surface. Thus on-board power for heating, air-conditioning etc. can be supplied from a simple generator connected to a wheel.

My choice of pneumatic rubber tires is likely to receive a battering from some dualmode developers, as it is clearly not the most energy efficient solution. This indicates another issue where my opinion is contrary to conventional wisdom as understood by the majority. Most dualmode developers are very focused on the energy efficiency of their designs, while I will argue that it is of minor importance.

It is obvious that we must remove (relocate to somewhere else) exhausts and emissions from our cities as soon as possible, and in the long term eliminate them altogether. On this I agree with the majority, but I find it a strange and unlikely assumption, that the supply of electric power in the post-petroleum era for some unexplained reason will be so inadequate, that we should design systems that uses only a tenth of the energy needed for our present-day cars. There is a much better chance that electricity by then will be clean, cheap and plentiful, whether it originates from solar power plants, windmills or improved nuclear reactors.

With environmentally safe and probably cheap as well as plentiful energy at our disposal I see no reason to focus all that much on energy efficiency. If our future dualmode system will be ten times, five times or only 50% more energy efficient than our existing transport infrastructure is not really an issue. The energy will be clean, and users will pay market-prices for it getting good value for their money, so there are no reason to chase after a few percent extra efficiency; especially not if this means that you will have to adopt a technology that are otherwise incompatible with a practical dualmode system.

Some will probably find this attitude arrogant, but I’m merely trying to be realistic, and if we can trade in a little energy efficiency and get better safety, improved economy, higher user-acceptance or something else in return, I think it is worth considering.

The last issue where I seem to disagree with the majority is on the matter of financing. Reynolds, Henderson and others with them think of dualmode systems as business ventures. No government financing or subsidises allowed. Fortunately I can rely on at least one good ally on this particular matter. J. Richard Guadagno explains in his June 16th commentary about profit motives, inadequate system coverage and initial public investments. I agree completely and will only add; that I think of dualmode systems as challenging political projects as well as promising business ventures.

Reynolds encourages me to take issue with his quoted advantages of a suspended dualmode system, but as he has obviously discovered by now – suspended systems are for all practical purposes incompatible with true dualmode, and therefore requires a pallet (or singlemode) solution. Pallets are an entirely different ball game of which I have no appetite, but I’ll have a go at it anyway; so here are the quoted advantages with my comments.

Lower land requirements: An elevated guideway whether for suspended or supported vehicles will need supporting poles. The size of these poles depend on which track loading they are designed for, so all things equal, the two principles would have identical "footprints", but a suspended vehicles system would need higher poles and would therefore be more visually intrusive.

Probably lower cost guideways: ? Cost is largely dependent on the weight of the vehicles that the guideway should accommodate, so there is probably no difference between the two principles.

Easier use of highway median strips: See my comment on lower land requirements; this is the same.

Gravity enhancement of car stability: Granted

Elimination of problems due to snow, ice and debris: Granted, providing the guideways are top-covered.

Complete elimination of collisions: Very debatable if the quoted clearance height of only eight feet is correct. Eight feet is my total height, if I stretch up my arm. And what if some nutcase leaves his truck or high-roofed van under the guideway. In reality all land under the guideways would have to be sealed off, as there remain only two feet clearance between a vehicle using the guideway and the head of a pedestrian. Far too little. Surely the clearance height should be eighteen to twenty feet.

The comments from Palle Jensen are harder to deal with, as we can probably agree on the excellence of true dualmode and nothing much beside that. He disagrees with my choice of LSM because a modern electric motor is more efficient. That may be, or it may not; but as I have already explained, it is not really a serious concern to me, as I’m much more focused on the excellent control and safety features that are included, virtually for free, with a LSM-solution.

The RUF concept requires a lot of in-vehicle intelligence and sensory equipment for safety, vehicle control, separation and platooning of vehicles on the rail and so on. I fear that this could be the downfall of the system, if one also considers the complex mechanical layout. If my knowledge is up to date, a RUF-vehicle will have the mentioned control and sensory equipment, 10 wheels with suspensions, 2 electric motors, an emergency brake for street mode and a special rail brake as well as a relatively large battery plus several connecting axles between the numerous wheels. Add to this a complex body that would require advanced solutions to obtain an acceptable rigidity because of the slot through the length of the car. Unfortunately all of this would in my opinion make RUF-vehicles prohibitively expensive even if mass-produced.

There is also the issue of versatility. If I buy a RUF-vehicle, will I then be able to visit friends in France or drive to Italy for a vacation using my new RUF. No, I wouldn’t, at least not for the next 20-30 years, and until then I won’t buy one. The RUF homepage mention the possibility of a hybrid RUF-vehicle with some form of ICE-based propulsion system, and I believe Palle Jensen would be well advised to make this a prominent and integral feature of the concept instead of merely a little used optional.

Apart from that Palle Jensen deserves a lot of respect for being the first to show a functional dualmode prototype on a stretch of guideway. This should provide inspiration and hope for others.


Last modified: July 27, 2000