A High Efficiency Ground Commute System Concept

by James Edward David Cline

ABSTRACT

This is to suggest utilizing some of the surplus aerospace capacity for creating a backup ground transportation system technology. The concept was an outgrowth of the gas station lines of the early-70's, with its spectre of losing all crude oil imports from other countries, and the transportation energy crisis resulting in our widespread form of living. The concept grew from speculation on what could be done with existing resources if cars could not generally be fueled anymore: how to get the commute function going again. From there the concept evolved into one in many ways superior to the existing commute system based on automobiles etc. It preserves the individual vehicle ownership and possession feature of our customary way, yet uses a distributed energy technology which greatly reduces the vehicular mass, and has inherent automatic guidance and routing functions.

It may be easier to convey the concept by describing its evolution from that hypothetical situation where all crude oil imports cease indefinitely.

The basic technology might be labeled "Pull Band" transportation, in that its most rudimentary forms consists of a person grabs onto a moving rope or moving metal band, and is pulled down the street by it, as the person rolls along on roller skates or other wheeled supprt. The ropes or steel bands would be in a continuous loop around each city block, and powered by the then surplus car engine scrap pile. From that humble, get-system-going-again start, the concept evolves into a Pull Band comute system where multiple pull bands of increasing speeds pull streamlined lightweight shells of wheeled vehicles containing the commuter(s), accellerating into interstate environmental tubes with moving air and air bearings supporting the shell vehicles at velocities in hundreds of miles per hour.

Creation of a High Efficiency Ground Commute System Concept:

Could we have a commute system that has the convenience time efficiency of personal automobiles while also having the energy efficiency of mass transit systems? How could it be done?

As I sat in the long gas lines circa 1974-75 in Northridge, waiting for my share of scarce gasoline to run my car, I pondered that question a lot. Other questions were centered around the wisdom of spending some 80 billion dollars a year for foreign oil, which we just burned up in cars and power stations, and then we had, as a nation, pay for it with our very real estate, the only thing they wanted in return. But real estate remained, while oil was burned and gone forever. Was this wise?

So I began to create scenarios in my mind, there in the captivity of the gas lines, and later. What if all the oil were to be permanently shut off from foreign sources? How would we as a country cope? How would we get to work? With no gasoline for any personal cars, merely for trucks and pre-existing busses, how would the Los Angeles area get back functional again, with people again able to go to work and the grocery store?

There seemed to be a lot of possible ways to explore. I consider such problem by use of analogs. Qualities of ski lifts, cable cars ... a cable could move around each residential block, driven by stationary engines, and upon which people could grab onto and be pulled down the street wearing rollerskates or some other small wheeled gadgets, a skateboard maybe. Letting go to coast across each intersection, to grab onto the moving cable or belt there, continuing on down the street. And maybe a bit further into the street, a cable or belt could run at a higher speed go for many blocks before reversing direction in its own endless loop; a skated person could grab onto faster moving belts from a slower one. Then when approaching destination, reverse the process to ever slower cables or belts, finally to let go and be on the sidewalk next to one's home or one's workplace. Such an emergency starting place for a ground commute system might work, get the area up and running in mere weeks, perhaps. For intercity runs, trains, busses, ships and airliners would provide the long hauls at first, even of lightweight shell vehicles used instead of just skates.

Years went by, and occasionally an idea would occur to me as to improvements and expansions of that idea. Whenever I could get someone to listen, I would tell them of this concept: it seemed important that the country get freed from the burden of 80 billion dollars burned up each year as imported crude oil, unrecoverable, and often paid for by selling our real estate to non-Americans. But I could not figure out how to get others interested enough to build a prototype system, or how to even contact people who could do something about it. I even attempted to write a fiction story which involved the concept, in outline form, "Unfinished Transportation Story" .

I stumbled onto an employment ad from a major automobile research facility in the area, and so wrote my concept up and sent it to that personnel office asking it be forwarded to the appropriate R/D office. They never acknowledged my offering, however, although strangely several weeks later I discovered that my files had been pillaged, and my copy of that letter had been stolen as well as everything I had written on the concept prior to then, except that unfinished transportation story... even my computer, an obsolete Coleco Adam computer, had its transportation concept files all gone except for that attempt at a fiction story involving the pull cable commute system: appearantly somebody was interested in my concept, but not to my benefit. Life was tough for me already, and this was just one more problem; I stopped further conceptualization on it since that clearly would merely invite more expert burglaries of my files.

By then the concept had grown and improved to use thin stainless steel belts around each residential and business block, to provide the pull power to the individual vehicles, which would be lightweight wheeled streamlined shells normally garaged at one's home, just like cars are now. These shells would be pedaled from one's garage to the adjacent street, where it would clamp onto the first speed level pull cable or belt. The person now rode in this shell wheeled vehicle, not on skates as the original idea would have used at first. Thus it provided shelter from the environment during transit, and a secure place for belongings while out shopping later, just as a car does.

This vehicle would switch to a faster adjacent pull band/belt, to cross intersections and ease the commute; the clamp shift between pullbands would be mechanized and sock absorbed to minimize the abrupt changes in speed at each switch to a higher or lower speed pull band. If the vehicle had a very long way to go, it would switch out to further pull bands sast enough so that the vehicle could now airsled on the surface of an enclosed commute tube, with the air column going in the sme direction as the stream of pulled vehicles, very high velocities could be efficiently achieved, perhaps over a hundred miles per hour or more.

The sequence of clamp shiftings could be automated, entirely guiding the passage of the vehicle with a sleeping passenger to its destination, then awaken the passenger. Widh such lightweight shell vehicles, ramps could be built up sides of office buildings, enabling direct access to one's office from one's vehicle parked right outside the window... or door in newly designed office buildings. For families, a standard shell built for a maximum of two people would be connected to a second such vehicle for children or elderly family mambers to ride in, like a trailer vehicle.

The power to drive all these moving cables/belts/bands initially could come from anything that could do it, such as committed optimized engines removed from the obsoleted automobiles. Or steam engines, or electric motors, whatever could do the job.

Returning to the Los Angeles area from Northern California, I finally got a survival level job, in a car alarm manufacturing company. I toyed with the idea that the country ought to develop such an emergency backup transportation technology, and mothball the tooling for it as a backup in case of the feared total loss of foreign oil supplies; but who to write to about this? One person suggested getting a grant, somehow. And one day the newspapers had an article about some competition for technologies for a new commute system for Los Angeles, trains vs busses, conventional light rail systems. A councilman in a nearby area was quoted, which I interpreted as being someone who might be interested in my concept, which ought to be looked at, even though no hardware had been developed yet. My letter outlining my concept to him, address gotten from the phone book based on the newspaper article, was returned, with scribbled note on the opened envelope that the person (a lawyer in the phone book) was not really the person quoted in the article. Again, a shut door. Later a newspaper article quoting Mayor Riordan as desiring to choose to consider only well-proven technologies for a transportation system. Then an article saying a 6-billion dollar contract had been let for a light rail system... big money! No wonder the burglaries of my files, someone couldn't risk people knowing that there were possible alternatives to established expensive inefficient mass transit systems.

But still it seems wise that we, as a country, do design and build prototypes and tooling for such a high eficiency, fully useable in widespread cities like Los Angeles, and store the technology for a time of immediate need. This could be done even without disturbing the ongoing plans for mass transit systems now being built. And then perhaps the pull-band high efficiency comute system could be built into new retirement suburbs, where it could be proven out in real usage. Eventually somebody woud recall the 80 billion dollars in foreign oil we wasted each year, or maybe consider that oil reserves are better saved for future chemical feedstocks ... and install the pull-band commute system throughout the city, the country. Thus we would have the energy efficiency of mass transit systems, and also the door-to-door time efficience and convience of automobiles, finally.

Copyright © 1995 James Edward David Cline

I'd appreciate any comments and suggestions to jedcline@earthlink.net, and would be happy to answer any questions.

I can also be contacted at: J E D Cline, 9800-D Topanga Cyn Blvd #118, Chatsworth, CA 91311, USA