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Transport today
06.03.2020

On the strings, in the air, inside the pipe: what the trains of the future will be like

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In 2015, the Japanese train Shinkansen managed to reach 603 km/h and set an absolute record among passenger trains. It took two centuries for the first steam engines to achieve such results. The designers of modern trains are concerned not only about speed, but also about the appearance, efficiency of the rolling stock and passenger safety. In this article, you will get to know how trains will look like in the future and whether the SkyWay string transport can compete with them.

Air Train 

Let's start with the most futuristic project. The Swiss company Clip-Air offers to give up trains that move only on the ground. The project will combine rail transport and aviation.

In 2013, Clip-Air presented an aircraft that will be able to transport train carriages.

The point is to connect the railway networks to remote airports. Now, you don't have to go to the countryside to use the plane. Just find the nearest railway station and take the train to a Clip-Air airport. There, the passenger carriages will be taken off the rails and attached to the plane. After the flight, the train will be lowered to the ground, and you can continue your journey on the rails. For example, you will start your journey at the railway station in Moscow and finish it on the other side of the ocean – in New York.

The developers recognize that technical barriers will not allow to see the operating air train in the near future. The first prototype the size of a private plane will be built in 10-15 years. The construction of a larger model of the Clip-Air aircraft is planned for 2070-2080s.


Vacuum train

One of the oldest technologies on our list is a vacuum train. Back in 1667, the French physicist Denis Papin suggested using pneumatics to move letters and light loads.

The first description of vacuum trains appeared in 1909 on the pages of magazine «Scientific American». It was a note by an anonymous reader, who proposed to organize the movement of transport on a magnetic cushion inside vacuum tubes.

The idea of vacuum trains was brought closer to implementation by the American entrepreneur Elon Musk, who introduced the project Hyperloop in 2013.

Hyperloop does not need absolute vacuum. To achieve high speed, it is sufficient to maintain a pressure of 100 Pascal (it's 1000 times less than atmospheric pressure). Further pressure reduction will increase costs and delay the project. The air resistance that the train experiences in partial vacuum can be directed under the train. This will reduce friction and allow no magnetic cushioning.

Elon Musk gave up the original idea of vacuum trains and presented his own mode of transport. The entrepreneur created a prototype of HyperLoop, but did not implement in practice the principle of a vacuum train. Perhaps, we will not soon be able to use the transport, which an anonymous reader told us about in «Scientific American» in 1909.

A train on a magnetic cushion

One of the fastest modifications of the classic train is a train on a magnetic cushion or «maglev» from the English words magnetic levitation. It follows from the name that the movement of the train is controlled by the electromagnetic field. It lifts the train above the rail, which eliminates friction and allows to increase the speed of movement. Such trains will not make noise and will help to reduce the harmful impact on the environment.

The first public Maglev system was opened in Berlin in 1989. The short 1.6-km road connected three underground stations. The trains were autopiloted and could carry 130 passengers at speeds of up to 80 km/h. In 1991, the Berlin authorities dismantled the track and built metro tracks on its place.

Some of the fastest magnetic cushion trains were developed in China. In 2004, the Shanghai maglev developed a speed of 431 km/h.

Despite the speed, magnetic cushion trains have flaws. If the magnet cushion is not equipped with a protective screen, passengers may be exposed to electromagnetic radiation. The production of a track for Maglev also costs more than an ordinary railway: $17.4 million against $3.2 million per 1 km of the track structure.

SkyWay

Now let's define how the SkyWay technology differs from a magnetic cushion train, an air train and a vacuum train. The developers have changed not only the composition, but also the design of the railroad bed. One of the main differences of SkyWay from other trains of the future is high strength string rails. The designers reinforced conventional railway beams with bundles of stretched steel cables. This is why the SkyWay rail combines flexibility and rigidity.

The string rails are mounted on special supports, which allows the SkyWay transport to move above the ground. This design reduces frontal air resistance and increases potential speed. SkyWay supports take up minimal space on the ground and do not harm natural ecosystems. There's no need to level out large amounts of soil, cut forests or drain swamps during the preliminary construction phase.

The SkyWay vehicle moves on the track structure using a motor- wheel. It fixes the string from several sides and prevents the vehicle from derailing. Motor-wheeled vehicles are much cheaper to maintain than magnetic cushioned vehicles.

The test sites for the SkyWay high-speed vehicles are planned to be built in the United Arab Emirates. In Sharjah, there will be built three tracks for passenger and freight transport. They will allow speeds of up to 150 km/h. According to Anatoli Unitsky, to achieve higher speed, there is planned to build a track on a 60- km section in Abu Dhabi.

What will the future train really be like?

So far, future trains are still far from replacing conventional trains. To date, some projects have been presented in single copies, prototypes or on paper.

One of the most elaborated projects belongs to SkyWay. The string vehicles are regularly tested and certified for technical processes. The existing SkyWay infrastructure has been built at the EcoTechnoPark. And in 2019, there began the construction of the innovative SkyWay Centre in the United Arab Emirates, where the first phase of commissioning has already been passed.

The SkyWay projects in Belarus and the UAE will help to complete testing of the string transport and bring the project closer to transport infrastructure implementation in other countries.

Nikita Zybin
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