Thursday, July 06, 2006

On Futility of Trains

I'm going to take a contraversial stand here. I think trains are useless. Well, not useless per say, but useless within the context of lowering commuter traffics on roads in a city.

Sure, everyone loves trains. I myself wax sentimental when it comes to a bygone age of great puffs of steam issuing forth from a great black locomotive. Sure, trains are great if you want to get somewhere far away and don't want to deal with the expense and tyranny of the local airport. However, it is my personal belief that using trains as a commuting tool doesn't work.

Commuter train lines are expensive to install, space-wasting, and immutable. Furthermore, they almost certainly deliver passengers to a place that nobody particularly wants to be: next to a train station. While so called 'light rail' is better in some respects (less noisy, less obtrusive) it still is inneffective. There are few cities that use trains well. The primary train-city is New York, with it's (in)famous subway system. However, New York's subway is only successful because driving around New York is severely prohibited by lack of parking and heavy traffic: It is quite literally a last resort. The subway doesn't clear up traffic, it allows people to get around despite the unweildy nature of traffic. Another city with successful train-based transit system is Tokyo. Tokyo's train system is successful because of the group-based nature of japanese society, and the expense of obtaining a driver's license.

In short, I don't believe trains will work for most cities. I would like to be proven wrong, but I don't see it anywhere in the near future. What is needed in a successful transit system is a large infrastructure of busses (including BRT), combined with carpooling, carsharing, and local access to some necessities within walking distance of homes.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Hydrogen Highway

Much has been said lately about the development of a so called 'hydrogen economy', namely the development of the 'hydrogen highway' in california and florida. While placing hydrogen fueling stations every 20 miles along the highway might be useful for long-range excursions, I think there is a more useful system for use in urban centers.

Basically, my idea follows a two part plan. First, individuals who are on the 'bleeding edge' and modify their own hydrogen-powered vehicle or purchase the first run of (Very expensive and low-production numbers) Hydrogen vehicles will also buy a home hydrogen generation station. Second, all individuals who operate hydrogen vehicles will then join the equivalent of a 'hydrogen club', where any member can go to the home or work fueling station of another member, and buy hydrogen from him (at cost of production or club standardized rates)

Now, as for feasibility. As you probably well know, it's possible to adapt an internal combustion vehicle to hydrogen internal combustion (HIC), which burns hydrogen gas like gasoline (petrol if you happen to live outside the U.S.) While HIC isn't as efficient as hydrogen fuel-cell power, it's more feasible with modern day technology and I believe it will serve as a stepping stone between moder IC and fuel-cell cars. With this in mind, I don't think it impossible to see a small community of 'hydrogen hotrodders' within the next couple of years.

I am not a chemist, so I don't know how feasible a home hydrogen refueling station would be, in terms of safety/cost/output. They will probably be rather expensive, at least at first, and require governmental controls as hydrogen is highly flammable.

There are two feasible approaches to creating hydrogen in the home. Firstly, there's the good old fashioned Hoffman Voltameter, which uses electricity to seperate water into hydrogen and oxygen. More recently work has been done on High Temperature Electrolysis (HTE), which uses heat to seperate water. At this point, the Voltameter seems more practical for home use, as the HTE would probably use electricity to heat water anyway (unless you want to use natural gas to do it, which seems rather ironic).

Now, this is just conjecture, but it could be feasible to generate large amounts of hydrogen using HTE and a small nuclear reactor (Obviously not for home use), although I don't think any research has been done in this field.

First Post

This is the inaugural post in my blog.
This blog will detail my personal feelings and interesting facts regarding areas of my interest, including but not limited to cars, public transportation, planes, and outer-space travel.
If these things don't strike your cup of tea, too bad.