Chapter 14
Dualmode System Safety

Most of our highway accidents are due to human vision limitations, carelessness, incapacity, inattention, poor judgment, high speed, and over or under braking.  “Seventy-five plus percent of the time the factors contributing to crashes are related to driver error.”— Shell Oil Company.

Computers combined with high-tech automatic systems can “see” ahead much better and infinitely farther than human drivers.  They make far fewer mistakes, think thousands of times faster, and can direct machines hundreds of times better than humans.  Therefore, since it will have no human drivers, our guideway transportation system will be safer than our highways, even though the cars on the guideways will travel faster.  The “safe speed” for the guideways will be much higher than the safe speed for highways. 

With REV dualmode cars, street accidents could be reduced if we choose to automatically limit the top speed of their street-mode motors.  This kind of control is not an option with our existing automobiles since they have to be capable of highway speeds and they must have the reserve power necessary for accelerating and for passing.  With dualmode we could have automatic street-speed limiters in the cars rather than impose speed limits upon the drivers by law.  Unlike many human drivers, a speed-limiting system in the cars won’t ignore the legal speed limit.  To the speed-limiting system thirty-five would mean thirty-five, not forty-five or fifty.  No speeding tickets would ever be given in either mode; we could assign most of our traffic cops to other duties.  Speed limits are popular with most people and not with others, but the speed-limit decisions would be left to the public and the lawmakers.  The dualmode system can be built to keep car speeds within the law at all times, if that is what we would like to have. 

Recreational driving for those who want it will still be available on the highways with regular automobiles.  But speed-loving macho kids (of all ages) need to find another place to race.  “The leading cause of death among Americans between the ages of 1 and 24 is motor vehicle crashes.”—Shell Oil Co.  Thousands of lives will be saved by the guideways; and thousands more could be saved by automatic street-mode speed limiting, especially the lives of driving teenagers and children playing on the streets. 

         If a confused or drunk “off-duty driver” should try to use the car’s throttle, steering or brakes while traveling on the guideway, nothing will happen because the street-mode controls will be automatically disabled in guideway mode.  And of course when the cars are on the guideways the doors will be automatically locked so the kids can’t open them. 

The guideways will always be constant speed, so there will be no passing.  The cars will never be able to swerve into an oncoming lane or run off the road.  The linear synchronous motors built into the guideways will be incapable of propelling cars in the wrong direction, or of letting different cars run at different speeds. 

Not on the REV guideways, because there will be no lane changing, passing, or “cutting in.”  The system computers, which will be making all of the decisions, will be located in secure underground vaults.  Hackers won’t be able to do their dirty work, because the guideway computer system will be entirely separate from the Internet.  The guideways could be sabotaged, but no more easily than streets, highways, railroads, or airlines. 

As with all new modes of transportation in the past most of the population will be eager to use the dualmode system, but some cautious souls will resist getting onto the guideway for the first time.  They may not trust the system, may be afraid of traveling so fast on the ground, or be afraid of traveling so close to other cars (with no rail-car couplings, or even a trailer hitch, between them). 

Guideway phobia is not expected to be a continuing problem however.  Thousands of people travel daily on trains at a hundred to two hundred miles per hour in Europe and Japan, and most people are willing to fly at over five hundred miles per hour.  Almost all people use the highways (which are far more dangerous than the guideways will be). 

         Since most of the local 60-mph guideway grids are expected to be up and running before the interconnecting 200-mph system is finished, most people will ride and develop trust in the medium-speed guideways first.  One reason that 60mph was picked for the local guideways is that “sixty” is a mentally comfortable speed for most people these days.  But “eighty” would raise some eyebrows, and “ninety” would seem too dangerous to most—until they can be educated to the many and vital safety differences between highway travel and guideway travel. 

The power for the guideways will not be transmitted on low lines surrounded by trees, so the reliability of guideway power will be much better than that of some residential power.  But even though power failures will be rare, the system must and will be designed such that the loss of guideway power could not cause accidents. 

Since all of the cars subject to an outage will be traveling at the same speed and will lose their power simultaneously, they won’t crash into each other but will simply coast to a stop together.  The synchronization of the cars will continue after the power is off, through inherent characteristics of the linear-synchronous-motors themselves—the spacings of the cars will remain constant. 

Power in sections of guideway will need to be shut down occasionally in order to maintain or repair them, and local power failures could also occur.  Therefore the system must and will be designed such that shutoff or loss of local power can’t cause pileups, and can’t interfere with continued operation of the rest of the local and nationwide guideway network.  Hopefully the following explanation, in conjunction with FIGURE 3, will convey the configuration envisioned by the author. 

         Safe shutdown of REV guideway sections will be accomplished by the use of “turnaround loops.”  Circular U-turns will be provided at each end of each section of bi-directional guideway.  In normal operation of the system these U-turns will be unoccupied.  But at the moment of a local power failure or shutoff, all of the traffic in both directions on the disabled section will be diverted into the U-turns so the traffic will be turned back upon itself.  This will form a long closed dumbbell-shaped loop of guideway, shown by dashes in the figure.  This loop, which may be miles long, will isolate all of the disabled traffic.  The now powerless cars in the loop will partially circle it while coasting to a stop.  Synchronism and car-to-car spacing will be maintained by regeneration in the LSMs throughout the deceleration of the powerless cars. 

Cars which are approaching the powerless isolated section from both ends, will be simultaneously and automatically turned back by means of another pair of U-turn loops concentric with the first ones at the ends of the disabled section.  (All crossing will be at separate elevations.)  The computer system will choose detours for the turned-back cars and automatically reroute them.  (In normal operation the U-turn loops can also be used to allow any car on the guideway to make an ordinary U-turn and travel back where it came from, if it makes such a request to the system while en route.) 

Only one emergency loop is shown in the figure, but the entire guideway system may be visualized as chains of long loops linked together by the U-turns.  But actually, in normal operation, the traffic goes straight through in both directions, ignoring the U-turns. 

During a power shutdown the guideway radio will direct the drivers of cars delevitated and stopped in an isolated section to drive off the guideway in street mode at the nearest exit ramp.  If a car is unable to drive off for any reason, the car behind it can readily push it off.  These exited cars will be able to drive on the adjacent highway or street, or to reenter the guideway system beyond either end of the dead section.  All cars in a disabled section must leave it and then reenter the guideways, even if the power outage is very brief, since only entry ramps will be capable of accelerating the cars to synchronous speed.  As shown, entry and exit ramps for both directions of travel will be provided at each set of U-turns.

The guideway radio will advise all entering drivers and those who are on the guideways, of any local shutdowns, and will keep them posted of any changes while they are en route. 

          Traffic in and near a disabled section will be inconvenienced, but more distant sections of the system will be completely unaffected.  The computer will analyze the changes of plan required for each car affected by a section outage, and will automatically redirect it to the best detour for its particular destination.  All of this is very much like the procedures we use when a section of highway or streets are closed.  But with the high-tech guideway system it will be done faster, safer, and with less confusion and stress. 

The Global Positioning Satellite system (GPS) might seem like the obvious tool to keep the computer informed as to where each car on the guideways is at all times so that it can be properly navigated to its destination.  But GPS isn’t accurate enough for this job, and fortunately there are other better and simpler ways to do it. 

We will likely keep track of cars on the guideways by “dead reckoning.”  This was the navigation system of last-resort for old sailing ships when the weather prevented celestial-navigation readings.  If the captain knew where they were when they started, knew when they left, knew what direction, speed, and how long they had sailed on each tack, knew what time it is “now,” and if his map was accurate, he could “reckon” their present position.  But in those days none of those things could be accurately determined.  Since the input data was poor, these old dead-reckoning calculations frequently gave very poor position information, and doubtless many ships were lost because of it. 

But, in spite of its ominous-sounding name, perhaps resulting from its blemished past, dead reckoning is not pseudo science.  It consists of nothing but simple physics and arithmetic.  Dead reckoning will provide accurate answers for REV because the input data will be accurate.  The dualmode guideway system computers will know exactly the position and direction of every car on the guideway at every instant.  This constantly changing information will permit reliable and accurate navigation, merging, and demerging data for all cars in the guideway system.  Another method for collecting computer data as to where individual cars are would be to query the identification chips in the cars on the fly at selected spots on the guideways.  This method plus dead reckoning may be used for added safety. 

Maglev trains have a remarkable safety record.  By the end of 1989, the HSST series of German-type experimental maglev trains in Japan and Vancouver Canada had carried 2.67 million paying passengers at speeds up to 191 miles per hour, with a reliability factor of 99.96%, and no accidents.  No other form of transportation has ever come close to that record.  Several other types of maglev trains have traveled over 300 mph, also with no accidents. 

         Meanwhile, with private cars as we now know them, we lose nearly as many people on our highways every year as we lost in the Vietnam War.  (Vietnam got more press, because highway deaths are taken for granted.)  Expanding the time frame, according to Marilyn vos Savant, "Since the start of the Revolution in 1775, about a million Americans have died in wars.  And since Henry Ford introduced the mass-produced motorcar in 1913, more than two point five million Americans have met their deaths on the road."  Nearly fifty thousand deaths and two million injuries a year occur on U.S. highways.  According to a news item, “In the United States more than half of the country’s accidental deaths occur in the transportation sector, and more than 90% of these are on the highways.”

         A Seattle Times headline read: “Forty-two-Vehicle Pileup on I-5.  Chain-reaction crash injures 24, closes rain-slick freeway for hours.  Two in critical condition.”  That type of thing happens frequently on our highways; but it could never happen on dualmode guideways.  A major factor in the above chain accident and others like it is following too closely for the conditions and the speed being traveled.  The recommended two-second spacing (headway) between cars (three or four seconds is recommended at the higher speeds) is seldom being observed.  The more it is violated the higher the accident rates, but the more it is followed the lower the capacity of our highways. 

         On the driverless 200-mph guideways the synchronized cars will have a minimum time-spacing of roughly five-hundredths of a second at one-foot clearance between cars.  This very close spacing will make the system even safer: It is impossible for things practically touching each other to collide very hard.  A knockout punch starts way back, not at the opponents jaw. 

Like existing trolley buses and electric trains, the linear synchronous motors and maglev of our guideway system will subject the passengers to some electromagnetic radiation and magnetic fields.  For over a century humans have lived around high-powered electrical equipment with no apparent ill effects.  Some people have now become concerned about the possibility, but the data we have on the subject show no reasons for these concerns. 

A 1999 press article reported that a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory had faked links between electromagnetic radiation and cancer.  He had tossed out data that didn’t support his conclusions.  More than 20 studies since have found little evidence that the magnetic fields around electric power radiation cause cancer, a National Institutes of Health panel concluded recently. 

I can supply one data point from my own family: My father, who was an electrician in heavy industry, worked with and was often in physical contact with operating industrial synchronous electric motors of over a thousand horsepower.  He held that eight-hour-a-day job for thirty some years.  He never had a cancer of any kind.  He died from the effects of smoking at age 78. 

         We do know that X-rays, and other powerful ultrahigh-frequency electromagnetic radiation, such as exposure to ultraviolet from the sun, can cause cancer.  Because of their very high frequency, microwave ovens may also be dangerous if they leak much radiation.  And cell phones, with their very-high-frequency radio waves next to human heads, are under study, but these things are entirely different from 60Hz AC power.  Whether or not radiation is dangerous depends upon its frequency.  The guideway power frequency will be comparable to if not exactly our regular 60-cycle power, microwaves are a billion or more times higher, and ultraviolet and X-rays are thousands of times higher than that.  Engineers at the Canadian Institute of Guided Ground Transport found that “The radiation from Transrapid maglev vehicles won’t bother the passengers, their electric watches, or their pacemakers.”

“DC” or steady-state magnetic fields such as those from permanent magnets are a different matter than high-frequency electromagnetic radiation, but the media sometimes confuses the two.  However, we see no safety problem in maglev and linear motors from direct magnetism either.  “Study finds no cancer risk to kids from magnetic fields,” Cambridge University, Associated Press, December 3, 1999.  William Dickhart III stated, “The magnetic flux density in the cabin of the German Transrapid maglev train is about one gauss.  The earth’s magnetic field is a half to one gauss, depending upon where on the earth we measure it.  A hand-held hairdryer radiates nearly ten gauss, and some electric blankets radiate 100 gauss.”  In a mail order catalog I read an ad for a “magnetic therapy” device to wear on the body that claims “eighteen thousand gauss.”  Draw your own conclusions.  My conclusion is that the ad-writer for that fraudulent device doesn’t know a gauss from a gander. 

Modern jetliners fly by highly computerized control systems, yet their accident rate is very low compared to that of automobiles.  And seventy percent of the airline accidents are from pilot error, not computer problems or something else.  Several tiers of redundancy are incorporated in crucial computer systems.  If a guideway computer should fail, a backup computer would instantly and automatically take over.  But even if the entire computer system should somehow fail the cars won’t crash.  The spacing between cars will be held constant by the synchronous propulsion system, not by the computers.  It is the design of the guideways and the cars that will keep them safe.  All parts of the guideway system will be “failsafe.”  By definition failsafe systems are designed such that if they should fail it is only possible for them to fail in a safe mode that won’t endanger life or limb.  If there should be a failure on the guideway you are using you might not get to Boston when you expected to, but no one will be hurt. 

Since the REV dualmode guideways will seem somewhat like railroads, let’s compare their potential safety to railroad safety.  Accidents due to derailing are common.  Derailings will be very rare or nonexistent on the guideways because the guide rails and the guidance system of the dualmode cars will provide much more positive lateral guidance than flanged steel rail wheels on steel rails.  Remember that there have been no maglev train “derailings” or any other accident-causing failures. 

Another factor we should note is the gauge (the distance between the rails).  Railroad “Standard Gauge” (four-feet eight and a half inches) is now much too narrow.  It is less than the distance between the wheels on most of our automobiles, yet locomotives and rail cars and far taller, wider, longer, and a great many times heavier.  Standard gauge was wide enough for the original rolling stock it was designed for, but the sizes of railroad cars and locomotives continued to grow, while the gauge of the rails couldn’t grow because there were thousands of miles of track and tens of thousands of railroad cars already built.  Those standard but too-narrow tracks contribute to a lot of accidents.  Our guideway system will be a new start: Its gauge will be optimized for the 21st century, not the 19th. 

         Opposite-traveling railroad trains routinely share the same tracks, and the time-sharing systems sometimes fail.  On August 2, 1999 two trains crashed head on in India.  The press wrote, “The final death toll might reach 500.  Signal failure may have caused the accident.”  But the basic cause of all head-on railroad collisions is running trains in opposite directions on the same track.  Accidents are inevitable with such a system.  Murphy said, “Anything that can go wrong will.” 

Guideway cars will never crash into each other because the cars on a track will all be running at exactly the same speed and in the same direction at all times.  Eastbound cars will never and can never share a guideway with westbound cars.  The linear motors in the guideways won’t even be able to propel cars in the wrong direction.  Did you ever see a surfer riding a wave out to sea instead of in toward the shore?  Magnetic waves as well as ocean waves are unidirectional. 

         Other railway accidents are due to collisions with highway and road vehicles at crossings.  In front of me is a newspaper article with the headline, “Amtrak train wreck kills 14.”  The train ran into a large truck (or more to the point, a truck got in front of a large moving train).  Since trains can’t stop in short distances, and car engines sometimes do stop, and since human drivers are sometimes careless, ignorant, blind, deaf, or stupid, RR grade crossings are a major safety hazard.  Yet we still have 280,000 grade crossings in the U.S.  All dualmode guideways must and will, from the start, have overpasses or underpasses at all crossings with railroads, roads, highways, pedestrian paths, and with each other.       

Slippery wet or icy surfaces won’t cause REV cars to slide off the guideways, because, as we saw in Chapter 11 guide rails will always be guiding the cars.  Tire traction will not be a factor either: With maglev the tires won’t even be touching the guideway.  Linear motors will propel the cars through magnetic-wave forces, not by applying torque to wheels. 

         Most of the guideways will be elevated at least several feet; and they will have open structures so as to let snow and debris such as leaves and cones fall through the “tracks.”  Railroad trestles with open ties remain free of blocking snow and debris. Also the constant high-speed traffic on most dualmode guideways will blow and melt snow off even better than it is removed by traffic on highways. Ice on highways is a major danger, but a coating of ice on the guideway would be of no concern since ice  doesn't block magnetism.

In mountainous areas we may build snow and avalanche sheds over the guideways, or build the guideways higher than the winter snow depths.  These precautions will be a small fraction of the cost of the guideways themselves.  Automatic electric heaters in the guideways might also be used in some spots.  All factors considered, weather will be less of a problem for the guideways than it is with any other type of transportation, including airlines. 

Electric heaters will be provided in the cars, and air conditioning will be optional for use on the guideways.  As on our highways there will doubtless be some shift of traffic from northern east-west guideways to southern east-west guideways in the winter to avoid northern cold, and northerly shifts in the summer to avoid the southern heat. 

         If a big tree fell across a guideway there would be a problem; so we will clear dangerous trees away from the guideways the same as we clear them away from highways, railroads, and power lines.  However, we will never be able to design a transportation system that will be completely immune to disasters: such as tornadoes (put all of the guideways under ground?), floods (put them all on stilts?), or earthquakes (no, don’t use stilts).  But we can build guideways that will resist disasters at least as well as do the several different transportation systems we now have. 

The most effective way, and often the easiest and cheapest way to improve the safety and reliability of something is not to try to improve the offending part, subsystem, situation, or condition, but to eliminate it.  REV Guideway travel will eliminate the use of a lot of troublesome and sometimes dangerous things. 

Steering systems
Car Lights
Dirty windshields
Traffic lights
Road signs
Sharp turns
Slick roads
Flanged-wheel guidance
Moving-rail switches
Railroad crossings
Human Drivers


Lane changing
Cutting in
Road rage
Showing off
Cell phones
Horsing around
Looking at instruments
Looking at passengers
Adjusting air conditioners
Changing music
Changing radio stations
Controlling of kids
Out-of-control kids
Heart attacks
Combing hair
Falling asleep
Applying makeup
Inexperience of youth
Limitations of old age
Poor vision
Ignoring signs
Disobeying laws
Driving the wrong way

The guideways will be much safer than our present highways; and the highways will also become safer because the traffic on them will be greatly reduced.  The automatic guideway parking will reduce congested-area street traffic and make the streets safer as well.  As already discussed, if we limit the speed of the street-mode motors in the cars we will further improve street safety. 

Not only will REV save tens of thousands of lives a year and untold misery, but also it will save hundreds of millions of dollars per year that is now spent in treating those who are injured on our present systems.  And since fewer people will be injured or killed, and fewer cars will be damaged or totaled, the cost of car insurance for all of us should come down.  Nah—that won’t happen, nothing ever costs less than before. 

No form of transportation, including horse and buggy, has ever been completely safe, and dualmode will be no exception.  But the REV guideway system promises to greatly reduce accidents due to traffic congestion, weather, and mechanical failures.  And the guideways will eliminate accidents due to human drivers, the greatest danger of all.  All factors considered THE DUALMODE TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM will be much safer than any other form of transportation. 

                      Next: CHAPTER 15
                           Power and the Environment


Last modified: August 01, 2006