As I was explaining to my project manager what my summer project was going to be my “rail car”. His one question was “Are you OK?
“Yes, I know it sounds crazy, and how insane it really does sound”….and then I heard nothing for an hour until he came over, leaned against the wall and the conversation went like this.
PM: “OK, Why?”
Me: “Why What?”
PM: “Why on a rail, why are you going to put an electric car on railroad track?”
I’ve thought about this. You can ask Andrea…quite a few time in our life together Andrea has seen me say “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”, and a year or so down the road, some company is doing it. So this time, I’m going to say it, and wonder if the craziness really comes about.
Right now we have a huge push for “ride sharing”. Uber, Lyft, Zimride, Ridejoy, etc. We can all agree that we all want to sit in someone’s car and let them drive us somewhere else.
Right now we have a huge push for “autonomous” vehicles. Google, Tesla, BMW i8, We can all agree that we all want to sit in a car that will drive for us, automated.
Right now we have a huge push for “speed and power”. The Tesla P85D, Tesla Model X, Bugatti Veyron, Lamborghini,the new Ford GT, so we can all agree, we wanna go fast *Ricky Bobby*.
But, we’re not responsible enough for this. There is no way that Ferrari is going to give us an F50 to share, automated, and go 100MPH on the highway.
- We’re not responsible enough as people.
- The cost is too high in the event of a loss.
- If you wreck, you will die.
- Fuel consumption is too high.
- There’s no profit.
But, there’s one thing we can all agree on. Given enough time, we’d love to see somewhere new. We’d love to be able to take a trip and see the beach, or visit the mountains, or get away. But what how does that conversation go?
“I’m gonna go on vacation to X”
“How long a drive is that?”
“x hours, but once I get there I’m staying for x days”
“Yeah, you’ll need a day, just to recover.”
Now my family and I are planning on vacationing to Tucson later this year,
To fly on Delta Airlines (I know it could be cheaper), it’s an 8 hour flight, and will cost for the 4 of us, round trip, approx $2000.00, just for airfare. This doesn’t take into consideration parking, food, or any other expenses that are part of the travel itself.
To take a train, which will allow sleeping, it’s a 64hr train ride, and will cost for the 4 of us, round trip approx $1500.00, just for the train ride. This doesn’t take into consideration parking, food, or any other expenses that are part of the travel itself….(which has a 9hr layover so, that’s at least two meals).
To drive would take 30 hours, but I’m not going to be able to do that all in one straight shot (OK, I might be, but my family wouldn’t). Bathroom breaks would be required, meals, and sleeping would need to be considered. Which would add to the cost. My wife’s truck would be the main carrier, and that gets approx 20MPG and has a 15 Gal tank, giving it approx 300mi to a tank. Given the drive to Tucson would be 2015 mi/300MPT, that means just to fill my tank down and back would be 12 tanks of gas. at each tank being approx $30 (15Gal * $2.00/Gal), $30 * 12 = $360 just in gas. Then hotel, food, etc. AND…the insane boredom, and soreness from riding in a vehicle that long. Also, this is considering straight driving vs. stopping and spending time sleeping/eating, which will lengthen our trip.
But what if, WHAT IF, we could could do this trip automated. That would remove the boredom, because the passengers can be doing something other than focusing on the drive. WHAT if, this was a straight 30 hours (or less) (you could sleep in the car, eat in the car), AND WHAT IF, it was electric?
Since there is no deviation from the track, you can hit the speeds that you can, because you don’t need to worry about deviation or safety. That means on a straight track, you could go as fast as deemed safe from testing. In parts of Texas and New Mexico a straight track can go for 70 or so miles while the speed limit on the road is 65/70. If testing proves adequate, it may be possible to travel up to 150MPH on a straight track, reducing that single stretch from 1 hr, to 30 minutes. With battery/engine technology where it is, a Tesla P85 can go 295mi, on a single charge. With a straight away 295mi track, it would take you 4hr 20min to travel that distance, half the time at 150MPH.
Let’s use the Telsa P85 as a template for our efforts. At 4hr 20min/charge (charge being 70MPH consistent for 295 mi), the curb weight of the P85 is 4,647lbs. Some of that power is missing through the weight, what if we were able to cut this down? The duration of the battery should extend for longer.
Let’s talk power
We’ve already covered the Tesla P85s power, lets take into consideration recharging.
In later iterations of the rail car, the intention is to let it be auto fueled. What I mean is the battery tray be replaceable via robotics. How?
With a traditional Tesla Supercharger station, it’s similar to a gas station of sorts. You pull up (x distance from plug), get out, plug in and charge. Tesla is designing a charger that according to Elon “Btw, we are actually working on a charger that automatically moves out from the wall & connects like a solid metal snake. For realz.”. So, what if you were to remove that factor. Imagine being on a rail in the middle of the night, pulling up to a station in say Chicago, and in 30 seconds, having the battery tray removed, and a new one slid in, via robot, and having your car get back on the move. Given a cushioning system, if the ride is smooth enough, the power could be swapped out without the passengers even realizing (or waking up). During the day/night, these used batteries could be charged by solar (say areas like AZ/NM/TX) or grid (Northern NY/Chicago).
As technology improves, graphene could lead to improvements in solar that COULD allow a solar array (perhaps built into the cars body), to charge the batteries as the vehicle is moving through sunny areas (imagine going from CA through Kansas and never having less than 100% battery). Battery bays for swap out feeding back to the grid because of the efficiency in their construction. Additionally regenerative braking could also provide a better battery experience as well.
True, this is NOT for the intercity traveler. This is not to “kill” Uber, or disrupt Google’s self driving cars. If anything this would be disruptive to the airline/train industry. But the big question remains, “How are you going to share a rail with a 5 mile long train?”. Well, that has yet to be determined. While I have ideas (and they’ll work pending testing), I’m not professing that this will work smoothly, however it’s possible. I’m being vague, because I would like to make it further in test, under the radar, than be shut down right out the gates. We’ll come back to this topic after testing has taken place.
I entertain the questions that I get, and encourage more. It helps me solidify my plans and think about the things I haven’t had to up to this point.
I’m doing the engineering, planning, and will be doing the manufacturing myself as much as can be determined and if you have a skillset and would like to help, I encourage everyone to participate. Who knows, you may just be part of the next big thing.