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Transport in 2050: as soon as possible

If you check your calendar in the morning, you will see the appointment with a new customer in New York at the beginning of the afternoon. On the way to Schiphol with the self-driving taxi, you and colleagues make some final preparations for the meeting. Three hours later you will be at Newark airport and see the Manhattan skyline in the distance. You will be in a building on the edge of Central Park in the heart of New York for your appointment. An hour and a half later you leave the building satisfied. You can’t resist going through the department stores on Fifth Avenue, more to look than to buy. Not much later, at four o’clock Dutch time, you are back on the plane. Home just in time to join for dinner and put a souvenir on the table: a small snow globe with the Statue of Liberty inside. How realistic is this future perspective if we focus on transport as quickly as possible?

In recent centuries our transport has become faster and faster, making further travel easier. More than a hundred years ago, a crossing to America took almost a week with a (for that time) fast steamship, now we are on the other side by plane in about six hours. If you went to the Ardennes by car in the 60s, now you can easily drive to the Alps. From steam train to car to high-speed lines and supersonic aircraft. Where is this development heading? NEMO Kennislink is investigating whether we continue to accelerate and how we do this.

Four times transport on NEMO Kennislink

Will we soon be going on holiday with the hyperloop, will we board a passenger drone, or is the (electric) bicycle the means of transport of the future? In four articles, NEMO Kennislink editor Roel van der Heijden searches for which transport methods we should use. Are we saving the environment or do we want to be around the world as soon as possible? Some choices come at the expense of each other, but not always. We always define a new end goal. This month: how do we make transport as fast as possible?

These are the parts:

More kilometers

The biggest advantage of fast transport seems to get you to your destination faster. But that applies when your starting point and destination are ‘fixed’. Faster transport also means that more destinations can be reached in a reasonable travel time. “That’s exactly what has happened over the centuries,” says Bert van Wee, professor of transport policy at Delft University of Technology. “Take our work. Jobs are now ‘accessible’ in a much larger circle than with the transport system from around 1900. You can easily live in Gouda and work in The Hague (roughly 35 kilometers – red.a century ago, hardly anyone did. This trend is also reflected in the choices for holiday destinations: we are now going much further away on holiday. ”

Van Wee points to the theory of constant travel time. He says several studies show that people are on the road an average of more than an hour a day. “There are differences between individuals, but on average this is correct. That is the case in Japan, in Chile and Zimbabwe, it was true fifty years ago, now and probably also in the future, ”he says. “Suppose we build a fast hyperloop that takes you from Rotterdam to Munich in one hour, so people can work there and continue to live in the Netherlands, or vice versa. In practice, faster transport does not mean shorter travel time, but more kilometers. ”

Roel van der Heijden for NEMO Kennislink

Bicycle, car, train

In practice, good, faster transport mainly means that we travel further. What made that acceleration possible in the past, and will we go even faster in the future? First, let’s look at existing, common means of transport, starting with the bicycle. As anecdotal evidence, the author of this piece can provide that he used to overtake most fellow cyclists on his city bicycle, but nowadays is overtaken by other cyclists on an electric bicycle. That is in line with the figures: the electric bicycle is in recent years on the rise and research has previously shown that electric bicycles are on average several kilometers per hour faster than the regular bicycle. Furthermore, ‘bicycle highways’ that have been built between cities provoke higher speeds, especially with electric bicycles.

Then the car. Despite the fact that cars have more and more power on average, their speed is related to speed limits, and these have changed on the Dutch highways in recent years. It went from 120 kilometers per hour to 130 in 2012, and back to 100 in 2020, in an effort to limit nitrogen emissions from traffic. In the future, cars could go a little faster, thinks Van Wee. Provided that this does not lead to more emissions and does not lead to more accidents. This is possible with self-driving electric cars that run on green electricity. “Maybe we can drive 150 kilometers per hour. But I foresee a difficult transition, if some of the cars are not self-driving (and slower). Big speed differences lead to more accidents and high speeds lead to more serious accidents, ”he says.

The maximum speed of train routes in the Netherlands. Trains run at a maximum speed of 130 or 140 kilometers per hour on most routes.

The speed of trains may also be increased if the routes are suitable for it. Most routes in the Netherlands have a maximum speed of 130 or 140 kilometers per hour, with peaks of 160 and 200 kilometers per hour. The high-speed line runs at 300 kilometers per hour. Faster trains place more demands on the track, including long straights and less sharp curves. Is a cost-intensive adjustment of a trajectory the best strategy for saving time? Van Wee says that it is sometimes smarter to, for example, build a bicycle highway to a station. “That saves the same amount of time, and moreover, research shows that people find the minutes to and from the station more annoying than the minutes they spend on the train,” he says.

On long train routes you can go faster by eliminating intermediate stations, or by omitting a locomotive change on the border, as happens on the Amsterdam – Berlin route. In the current climate, the train has a tailwind: it is often seen as a green alternative to the plane. An extensive (er) network of high-speed trains in Europe requires cooperation between countries. It is quite remarkable that the European Green Deal – a large support package with which the European Commission provides the CO2emissions from transport by no less than 90 percent want to decrease by 2050 – does not explicitly mention trains.

Faster than the sound

We are going even faster. An airplane usually flies 800 to 900 kilometers per hour, and since the 1950s and 1960s – when the slightly slower propeller was replaced by the jet engine – almost the entire globe has been within roughly a day’s travel. But can we go faster? The past already showed that it was.

Silhouette of the Concord supersonic plane.

Roel van der Heijden for NEMO Kennislink

The Anglo-French Concorde flew from the 1970s to 2003. This supersonic aircraft had a cruising speed of almost 2400 kilometers per hour and crossed the Atlantic Ocean in about three hours. Why doesn’t he fly anymore? Multiple factors were important, says aviation expert Joris Melkert from Delft University of Technology. According to him, the Americans were playing a political game: they developed their own supersonic aircraft and prohibited the ‘competitor’ from making supersonic flights over their territory. At the same time, the jumbo jet emerged, which transported many more people per flight and reduced the costs of flying. The Concorde could not compete with that. While the masses opted for the jumbo jet, a small market remained for primarily business supersonic flights.

Sometimes the plan to build a new supersonic aircraft flares up again, such as the American Overture. Still, Melkert does not see this as a serious successor to the normal aircraft. “Most people will continue to fly ‘slowly’ because of the cost,” he says. “Furthermore, our society must determine how high the price may be for more speed. Supersonic flying costs more energy and because you fly higher (at an altitude of about 18 kilometers instead of roughly 10 kilometers) harmful emissions will linger in the atmosphere for longer. ”

In fact, perhaps aviation is taking a step back in terms of speed. For short flights, aircraft are used with electric propellers. Cleaner, but also slower: probably about four to five hundred kilometers per hour – still faster than a high-speed train. Incidentally, this is a long-term development, Melkert said in an earlier article on NEMO Kennislink.

One gear higher in space

It’s hard to believe that you can fly to Australia from Europe in 90 minutes and be in California within an hour. This is possible with a rocket (like) vehicle that makes a so-called suborbital flight. You would say these short space flights are for the sci-fi enthusiast in a hurry. Still, there are some companies that are working cautiously on this, such as SpaceX that wants to offer tourist space rides. “Then you can do a weekend in Australia, which will undoubtedly appeal to some,” says Joris Melkert. “But this means high energy consumption and sky-high ticket prices. Rides to the (boundary of the) space are now sold for several tons. I have no illusion that these will be the new holiday flights, this will be something for the happy few. In addition, it is less safe. The chance of a deadly disaster with missiles outside the atmosphere can currently be expressed in one in a few hundred times, with aircraft it goes wrong once in roughly ten million times. ”

Looking forwards and backwards

Recent history is full of transport innovations, and one of the ideas that has attracted a lot of attention in recent years was the so-called hyperloop of engineer, Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk. In a article from 2013 he suggests the idea of ​​a virtually frictionless maglev train that travels through a vacuum tube at no less than 1,200 kilometers per hour, faster than an airplane. The hyperloop covers more than 500 kilometers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in more than half an hour.

The idea of ​​the hyperloop does not only exist on paper. Several companies and student teams have plunged into the idea and are working on test tracks and systems, including the Dutch company Hardt, founded by a Delft student team. Earlier, Van Wee had already hinted his concerns to NEMO Kennislink. He is still careful. “Many new ideas are always put forward, most of them fail. Statistically, you have to bet your bottle of wine on not making the plan, ”he says. “On the other hand, transport has changed over the past century; sometimes an innovation makes it. What would help the opportunities for the hyperloop in Europe is if, for example, that route between San Francisco and Los Angeles comes about. And if we tax flying more. “

Looking into the future is difficult, 2050 still sounds a long way away and so do hyperloops and suborbital space flights. If you want to make a reasonable estimate of where we are then you can look back, says Van Wee. “2050 is still 29 years away, if you go back that same time you are in 1992. What has changed since then? Yes, we are starting to drive electrically, the car helps with steering a bit and the bicycle will be electric, but in general terms we still do about the same in terms of transport. ” In other words, a little speed gain may be there, but a transport revolution takes longer than thirty years.


Source: Kennislink by www.nemokennislink.nl.

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