Space flight and the way of the rail

To get to the moon or the space station requires following a detailed step by step process with very carefully planned actions like docking and route planning.

The way of the rail needs to follow identical step by step processes, but strangely the required level of detail is very often missing, things do not connect, flow, or join. Level boarding? Knitting? Communications? Data?

The way of the road carriage is even more disjointed, chaotic and inefficient, but that is rarely recognised and it is treated very strangely as the default way.

But the way of the rail has had far more profound effects than is admitted. Would we have universal time and the computer without rails?

What has the way of the carriage really done for us?

Change has to be step at a time – mountains are climbed ….

But we need to choose the next steps carefully.

I think critical missing steps are about thinking through the purposes of the station and the passenger rail carriage from first principles.

There are several unexamined assumptions that require very careful examination.

The passenger trainset appears to be primarily designed for peak flows of lightly encumbered adult fit workers who travel at reasonably set times.

Thus, level boarding is not always there, a ramp or other adaptations are needed. The way of the rail is not “independently accessible”.

We are not going to rebuild the entire rail system soon, therefore carefully thought through incremental changes are needed, not disjointed incrementalism.

These are around station and platform design, the rail and carriage interface, carriage design, power supplies, data and communications.

They can all be implemented on a planned basis.

The station

There are three main issues here. I am proposing mapping and auditing of all stations to create a priority list of required changes.

  • The purpose of stations
  • Getting in and out of the station
  • Getting from the station to the train and reverse

Purpose of stations

Stations should be fully inclusive, 24-hour, multi-purpose, people, their stuff, stuff, logistics hubs closely connected to e cargo cycle last mile solutions. 

All stations should be carefully audited as many stations are already reasonably close to being able to achieve this and did do this in the past. 

The multi-purpose nature requires very carefully thought through control systems, riffs on level crossings or traffic lights, to control the various high frequency movements.

Getting in and out of stations

Many stations already have ramps or could have them. These should be designed to full inclusive standards and fully able to work as main tools for logistics.

Lifts should always be large enough to enable logistics and inclusion 24 hours at high frequency.

Getting on and off trains

Where the platforms are not at the correct heights and distances to enable level boarding, there should be changes of level to enable this at specific points on platforms. Other docking techniques might be employed, for example, the Woolwich Ferry is fixed in the correct place by using magnets.

The rail carriage platform

In Barcelona for the Olympics, carriages kneeled to the correct platform height.

I am proposing a specially designed carriage that can be fixed as required in a train set and to specially designed platform positions.

It would be designed as fully inclusive, with accessible toilet and be fully multi-purpose, enabling it to be configured for a full range of inclusive passenger and logistics uses over 24 hours at high frequencies.

It would be semi-autonomous allowing it to operate by itself or as part of trainsets on rural lines, that would be extended and joined up to create continuous circular rounds.

It would be explicitly designed to make light road vans and cars niche, like 35mm film has become.

The way of the rail

This all requires full knitting, building to full freight standards, excellent data and communications processes and to be fully sustainable, inclusive, whole system, seamless and joined up. 

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

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