James May looks at why trains can’t go uphill.
Japanese engineers have developed a new type of transport that runs on gravity power. Engineers decided to use the idea inherent in roller coasters – a train car with passengers accelerating downhill and gathering energy for the next rise. These trains will have no engines and transmissions, which will greatly reduce their weight.
Japan has rather complex terrain, and is experiencing a significant power shortage, especially after the government decided to phase out the use of nuclear power plants. The combination of these two factors prompted a group of designers working under the guidance of the Mr. Yoshihiro Suda with the Institute of Industrial Research, University of Tokyo, to develop a commuter train that would be moved by the force of gravity (and weight of passengers). The new development will be cost-effective and fast.
When developing a new miracle of transportation, the engineers decided to use the roller coaster principle. They thought that if they build such a “rolling” road, it can move train cars that will not need an engine because the weight of the cabin with passengers will make them move to the next station
The train will be lifted by an automatic lift every 10 meters. After that it can run 400 meters, using only the force of gravity. The speed of the descent should reach around 60 kilometers per hour. Of course, for the fans of extreme attractions this speed would seem snail-pace-like as the steepest roller coaster carts can reach the speed of 200 kilometers per hour.
However, the engineers did not need such speed. When moving downhill at the speed of 200 kilometers per hour, it will not go that far because after exceeding the speed limit of 60 kilometers per hour the train rails friction increases in an avalanche-like fashion. At a roller coaster this problem is solved, because the trailer is moved by an electric motor, but the design of the Japanese engineers suggests that there is no engine in their train. The only energy it will need would be for driving the lift.
However, that amount of energy will not be particularly significant. The lack of motor and transmission not only dramatically reduces the cost of this form of transport, but also reduces the weight of a car. Roughly speaking, the train does not need to expend energy to carry itself. Lifting this light car will be very easy.
According to the inventors’ calculations, with a load of 50 percent of the maximum, the power expenditure per passenger kilometer will be equal to 226.8 kJ. This is three times lower than that of a bus in the steady state, and two times less than that of a conventional train. In addition, construction of these vehicles will not require purchase of land and will reduce road network because the tracks can be routed over highways, and partially pedestrian sidewalks. Head of the project believes that this might be the most energy-efficient transport system.
It is estimated that the new transport system that its creators called Eco Ride will have the capacity to transport 2-2.5 thousand people per hour and its average speed would be 20-30 miles per hour with a minimum turning radius of 15 meters and a maximum gradient of 13 degrees. In this case, the speed is calculated considering all stops. The stops will be located a little over the highway, so getting to them and almost losing speed, the train will be able to save energy in order to move to the next part of the road at the next section of the route.
Interestingly, the idea put forward by the Japanese engineers was not only the most original, but also most carefully thought. It won against the idea of an alternative urban cable car project because Eco Ride routes do not require steel cables. In addition, at transport roller coaster cars cannot hang in the air if a motor stops because the force of gravity cannot be shut down.
A test track Eco Ride is already operating in Chiba. Incidentally, it is used not only as an experimental platform, but also as a tourist attraction. While tourists are enjoying the new entertainment and technology, economists are calculating the cost of Eco Ride construction. They believe that it will cost $20 million per kilometer.
For the Russians this would seem too expensive, but the Japanese realize that in fact it is cheap. When constructing roads in Japan one has to consider earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides and mudslides, which requires a lot of money. One kilometer of light rail metro in Tokyo is ten times more expensive than that of Eco Ride road. This is why Eco Ride was recognized not only as super-efficient but also extremely cheap.
Several Japanese municipalities are already interested in Eco Ride system, and after all the tests are completed construction of this road will commence. If all goes as calculated by the inventors, two years from now train cars running roller coaster style will be the most popular Japanese commuter transport, replacing buses, subways, and even ordinary trains. In other words, the entire Japan will turn into a roller coaster.