Joe Archer | 500-mph Rail?

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

The time for sub- or even supersonic rail is long overdue. Its development has long been retarded by the inordinate costs and sophistical limitations of conventional construction methodologies. If state legislatures open up rail construction bids to other than just their big construction donors, it is possible to build hyper-fast rail for less than one-tenth the cost of conventional rail and pay for it with conventional utility usage fees. 

Saudi Arabia recently unveiled plans to build a 100-mile-long city completely along a rail route. Because of this elongated city concept, which mimics how societies were first built along rivers, this future city will not need long transits or 12-lane highways and will run completely on electricity. Good for them and embarrassing for America. 

This subsonic rail would be built by forming concrete within conveyor belts and passing it over roller-topped columns. As the columns would be emplaced as they are cut off from this continuous concrete extrusion, costs for the entire process would come down to the cost of materials and the cost of cutting and placing columns in the ground. The construction process could proceed at up to a mile a day at as little as a million a mile per rail. Compare this to the $4-million-plus per-mile cost of a four-lane road or about $50 million to $400 million per-mile cost of conventional rail. 

Because the rail is an elevated, continuous, hollow, concrete beam, it bypasses any ground-level reconstruction and allows for the conveyance of water, gas, sewage, and even large-volume industrial liquids like gasoline or diesel. And because these fluid conveyance capabilities are effectively free, as an inherent element of beam construction, their fees will pay for the construction regardless of rail usage. In effect, the cost of the rail could be minimized to just the cost of the electricity and rail car costs. 

Because this rail is a continuous extrusion, it can accommodate rail as fast as 500 mph using an air cushion “air hockey” concept. To date, we all marvel at 300 mph rail. However, there is no laws-of-physics reason why rail should be limited to 300 mph. The only limitation to speed is the laser-precision straightness of the rail, the sonic boom, and energy consumption trade-offs. Arguably, a smart nation would investigate the possibility of supersonic rail. Regardless, this hollow beam construction is ideally suited for and would easily accommodate an internal, evacuated tube rail. 

In the end, the only thing holding back supersonic rail is a state’s legislature making it possible for fledgling competing companies to have a seat at the rail bidding table, because million or even multi-million-dollar per-mile rail that can pay for itself is only obstructed by the $80-million-per-mile construction interests.

Joe Archer
Agua Dulce

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