Moving Walkway Roller Platform (Hans/Pixabay)
  • P.N writes about the future of transport in the 19 August 1972 issue of Swarajya

Industrialisation leads to urbanisation. Environmental pollution, noise and housing pose the immediate problems that arise from a rapid growth of industry and city centres. Transport is no less a problem and has to be tackled now before it grows to monstrous proportions. The problem is already acute in cities like Bombay and in Tokyo, London, New York and San Francisco, to mention a few others. Here is a brief discussion of the modes of travel, defects in the systems and improvement already introduced and those to be introduced based on the report of a British Minister.

Modes of Transport

It is necessary to consider travel between towns, travel between suburbs and towns and travel within a large sized town. Rapid developments in the automobile industry lead to people living in suburbs and travelling by road to the work spot in town. At present, congestion in the town roads at peak hours is high enough to prevent people from reaching the work spot in time. The chart below indicates the various modes of travel based on air, water and roadways.

Exiting modes of transport Exiting modes of transport

Defects of Existing systems

The advent of the railways resulted in riverways – transport by canals and river ­– receding to the background. The automobile in turn has pushed the railways to the background in Western countries. It is rarely that people travel long distances in the U.S. by railways. The British railways have been running at a loss for several years. Canadian railways are reported to be moderately successful in the past few years. In India, the railways are overcrowded on most routes. Low speed, poor frequency, uncomfortable carriages and poor facilities – food, drinks, heating, etc. – at intermediate stations and lack of air conditioning contribute to the discomfort of rail travel.

A survey indicates that the number of cars correspond to one for every 2-3 households in Britain and the U.S. In India, too, it is rapidly growing. This rapid growth outstrips the nation's ability to provide road space and hence destroys other public transports like the bus. Most city buses run on an average at 5 m.p.h. due to the heavy congestion on the road. People who suffer from this are the poor, the old, the young and the infirm who have to resort only to this mode of transport. Cars created the suburbs. These broke down the tight grouping of the population and established travel habits which made it possible in the past to organise a pliable public transport system. Air pollution is an additional contribution from the cars. Airways, though time saving, are expensive. Airports require space and are situated at far away points from the city. Otherwise, noise becomes a major problem with airports situated near cities.


We have come to realise that railways perhaps would be the best mode of transport and should be improved. An eyeopener in this direction is the tremendous success of the Japanese with their 130 m.p.h. trains running between stations 300 miles apart. The improvements required in railways are speed, frequency, comfort (the passengers should not be subjected to jerks, etc.) and good accommodation. These improvements must be made without necessitating changes in the existing tracks. The proposition would be very expensive otherwise. The Japanese succeeded because they had an outmoded system and a narrow gauge. The track had to be replaced and other improvements were taken up simultaneously. The advanced passenger train (A.P.T.), a product of research of the British Railways, is capable of running at 150 m.p.h. on the existing tracks and will make 300 mile business journeys commonplace. Other countries have come forward with modified designs to ensure speed and comfort. The U.S. has also come out with its own version. The aircraft industry is designing planes with a vertical take-off, as well as short take-off and landing capacities. This will bring the airports nearer to the cities but other problems may remain.

The tracked hovercraft is yet another improvement which may ultimately prove a superior form of transport. This transport moves on definite tracks 20 ft. above the ground level, is silent and is capable of 300 m.p.h. Most versions of the hovercraft use a linear induction motor, while the French version uses an air-screw.

Urban Transport

Urban transport is beset with several problems – technical, economic and social. Several approaches are possible to tackle the problem. A new technology, for example, travelators or moving belts, can be tried. These belts must move at 10 m.p.h., which is no engineering problem. The difficulty, however, is to train people to get on and off.

One can also think of improving the existing technology. By suitable design of the suspensions and tracks and making them soundproof, underground trains can be made more comfortable. The stations can be spaced further apart to enable speedier travel. Travelators may be provided to go to intermediate points or cabs moving, on tracks can serve this purpose. The cab tracks can be extended to other points in the city. Speed, and efficiency can be assured by automatic control of these cabs. Automatic cab tracks will be expensive to install and is a problem to fit the tracks into the existing townships.

Improvements in the organisation of, existing transport is an alternative way of tackling the problem. The bus transport system should be made more efficient and certain roads may be reserved for bus traffic, with flyovers at intersections.


Motorists may be requested not to bring their cars into the city except in emergencies. But, this may have a harmful effect on business efficiency. Road space may be metered and the motorists charged accordingly. This will not be a technical problem but one has to consider the social and political of such a system. Traffic lights can be designed to sense movement of heavy traffic accordingly control the direction of flow, instead of changing colour at fixed time intervals. The visits of housewives to city centres for shopping can be reduced by direct deliveries of household goods through coded channels and conveyor belts.

The various innovations and improvements in transport systems were exhibited in the Transpo 72, held recently in Washington.

The APT is a product of the research conducted by the British Railways. It is capable of high speeds (250kmph), running an average of 160 kmph on existing 'tracks and controlled by the existing signals system. Combination of research in rail dynamics and other technologies has resulted in comfort, reliability, frequency, acceptable fares and safety.

Limitation of speed is essentially due to curves in the tracks and other track features. Realignment of tracks becomes necessary but is an expensive proposition. For example, the Takaido line in Japan cost a million pounds per mile of track. A good fraction of this – expenditure occurred in acquiring the right of way.

Eight years of research by the British Railways resulted in the design of vehicles which can run at high speeds and negotiate curves. APT vehicles are of light weight, powered by gas turbines or light weight electric motors, low axle load, low unsprung mass and stable running. Instability is a consequence of the guidance offered by 'coned wheels' and controlled by the wheel flange 1:0 Tail contact. With continued use there is wear and the conicity – the cone angle of the wheel tread changes. This alters the guidance and stability. In, APT, the wheel treads right from the beginning are like that of fully worn, profiles and contact stresses are reduced. The unsprung mass is kept at a low value to reduce stress. The wheels are resilient, the major part of the wheel set being elastically supported by the rims. Canting of the tracks at curves is avoided. Instead, the body of the APT will be tilted to a maximum of 9 ° on negotiating a curve. The lateral acceleration experienced by the passenger will be still comfortable when the train negotiates curves at high speeds. The tilting is done by an electro-hydraulic servo system responding to changes in lateral acceleration.

A hydrokinetic brake has been designed to stop the train travelling at 250 kmph within the distance meant for the existing 160 kmph trains. At low speeds, a friction brake is also provided. The material used in the construction of the vehicles is a light weight alloy as in aircraft manufacture. The power is obtained by light weight plants. Air-conditioning and low noise level add to the comfort.

BART – Bay Area Rapid Transit

Bay Area Rapid Transit is the first new transit system designed in the U.S. since 1907. The project costing $1,360 million is expected to solve the problem of urban transport in San Francisco East Bay Area. BART will operate between Oakland and Fremont. The transit comprises 120km of track, 34 aesthetically designed stations in 14 communities, the longest, deepest underwater tube and over 100 computer coordinated trains moving 200,000 passengers a day. BART will run at an average speed of 80 kmph. Free parking area is available at the stations. Tickets are obtained from automatic machines. The ticket opens the automatic gate to the platform. BART was approved in 1962 by the voters 15 years after it was conceived and will go into operation this year. The computer coordinates the high speed trains maintaining a 90 second frequency at peak hours. The completer anticipates peak loads, calls trains out of rail yards, routes them and adjusts their speeds. An auxiliary system prevents accidents through failsafe control of speeds, leadways and switches.

The cars are made out of lightweight extruded aluminium. Electric propulsion motors pick up 1000 volts of power from a raised, partially covered third rail along the track. Safety is assured by slowing down or totally stropping all other trains in the same track in which a train has come to halt for any reason. BART cars ride smoothly on air cushion suspensions. BART will serve particularly the residents of ghetto areas and the population of 8 colleges. The cost would be 30 c to $1.05 a trip.

This article was authored by P.N and appeared in the 19 August 1973 issue of Swarajya.

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