Chapter 3
Why We Are Where We Are



Let us start back at the beginnings of human transportation.  We walked.  Later we domesticated horses and other beasts of burden.  Both walking and travel by horse trampled down the vegetation and produced paths.  Then we put chariots, wagons, buggies, carriages, and coaches behind our horses, and the paths grew wider.  When we became impatient and wanted to travel faster, we smoothed and straightened the paths out and widened them some more so we could pass each other.  We called these super paths roads.  After the wagon wheels made deep ruts we found that it helped to put gravel on our roads.  In towns and cities where there was lots of traffic we began to surface the streets with cobblestones or bricks.  This made them wear-resistant and helped eliminate the mud.

The Roman Appian Way was carefully built up of many different layers of gravel, mortar, and stone.  The Romans used crude mortar made with lime, or used bitumen tar from shallow-pit petroleum deposits.  In the early eighteen hundreds John McAdam designed and built somewhat similar heavy-duty roads.  We now misspell his name and call roads made in this way “macadam.”

Oil was found in Pennsylvania in 1859, and asphalt surfacing of streets and roads was developed.  The first portland-cement concrete pavement was made in Scotland in 1865.  When paving machines were developed the cost of building better streets and roads decreased, and these smoother surfaces were cherished by the large percentage of the population using bicycles. 



The discovery of petroleum made possible wide use of internal-combustion engines, which were invented at about the same time.  These events led to the development of the automobile, which demanded more and better roads and highways.  The roads got dirty both before and after the automobile arrived, but the dirt changed from an unpleasant byproduct of horses to black oil streaks. 

All of the basic types of mechanized transportation came along at very close to the same time in history.  The Wright brothers, who had a bicycle manufacturing shop in Dayton, saw their first automobile in 1896.  But they traveled to Kitty Hawk North Carolina by train and steamboat to test their airplane. Glenn Curtiss, the Wright’s chief aeronautical competitor, was originally a motorcycle pioneer.  The “Transportation Revolution” immediately followed the Industrial Revolution, which made it possible.  Now we have the Electronics Revolution, which makes the Dualmode Revolution possible. 



As early as 1550 crude wooden tracks were laid in order to reduce the number of men required to push coal and ore wagons in mines.  When passenger and freight trains came along they were horse-drawn until the invention of the steam locomotive. 

However most of the freight was carried by canal-barges, which were also drawn by horses.  This “horsepower” was on the banks of the canal, pulling towlines attached to the barges.  Canals were extensive in Europe and in the Eastern United States during the later half of the 18th and the early part of the 19th century.

Digging canals and building locks took more labor than building roads, but in those days canals had an advantage.  It takes very little force to move boats slowly, while the friction of crude wheeled vehicles is great at all speeds, especially with heavy loads on poor roads.  The canal boats had to travel slowly anyway; barge speeds were limited to three and a half or four miles per hour, to reduce bank damage from waves generated by the barges. 

As steam railroads proliferated the canal traffic gradually declined.  The trains were so fast by comparison that it became possible to ship fresh fruits and vegetables.  (Which raises a philosophical question: Why do we “ship” things by rail and car, yet we put “cargo” on ships?)

Steam engines were invented before the internal combustion engine, and wood and coal to heat steam boilers were available before gasoline and diesel oil were; therefore it is not surprising that we had steam locomotives and trains before we had automobiles, trucks, and buses.  (We will talk about steam cars later.)

George Stephenson’s “Locomotion” was one of the first “iron horses.”  It pulled both freight and passengers on the Stockton and Darlington Railway in England in 1825.  Boiler explosions, a deadly early problem, decreased with improved methods and materials.  As the designers gained experience, the later fire-breathing dragons set fewer fires in the countryside, became more reliable, got larger and more powerful, ran faster, and began to look like steam locomotives.  Rails, first made of wood, changed to cast iron, to wrought iron, and finally to steel.

Railroads in the United States developed at about the same time as those in Europe.  Horse-powered “tram” railways were hauling granite in Massachusetts in the early 19th century.  John Stevens built the first locomotive in the U.S. in 1825.  The Baltimore and Ohio started carrying passengers five years later.  The “last spike,” which connected the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads and thereby connected the Pacific and Atlantic oceans by rail, was driven at a point on the Utah prairies in 1869.  The big expansion of American railroading occurred in the second half of the 19th and first quarter of the 20th centuries.

Riding the early railroads had its challenges.  Open cars provided no protection from the sun, wind, rain, or cold.  Passenger’s hair and clothes were sometimes set afire by sparks from the locomotive, and riders had to endure the often-choking smoke.  Accidents due to exploding locomotives and derailings were quite common.

In the early days of the Trans-Siberian Railway, during the winter the passengers had to get off the train and cross frozen Lake Baikal by horse-drawn sleigh, then get on another train to continue their journey.  In warmer weather the rail cars and their passengers were carried across the lake on barges. 



With the advent of the motorcar and better roads, the railroads had competition.  But initially, long trips by automobile were adventures requiring courage.  The roads were still scarce and rough, flat tires and blowouts were very common, the early automobile engines wouldn’t always start, and breakdowns of various kinds, including brake failures, were frequent. 

Gasoline (which had to be poured into the car from a can) was hard to find, and so was repair service.  Drivers (men-only of course) learned to be do-it-yourself auto mechanics.  People took camping tents and their own food on long trips, because hotels and restaurants were rare and motels (motor hotels) hadn’t been invented yet.  Bare “auto cabins,” close to an outhouse, appeared a decade or two before the motels did.

But the day came, probably in the mid 1930s, when it was as safe and easy to make most long trips by car as by train.  From then on automobile mileage soared and passenger-train business declined.  Mass production made automobiles better and much cheaper.  The price of a new model T Ford got down to $200 dollars or less.  New and better streets, roads, and highways were built rapidly as the demand increased. 

The trains lost business not because they were slower, less comfortable, or more expensive to use; but because personal car trips required much less advance planning, provided convenient door to door transportation, and complete privacy.  “The freedom of the open road” was a common saying.  A trip by car was only one trip, while a trip by train was three or more trips: the trip to the train station, the train ride, and the trip from the final station to the final destination.  For those who don’t drive, three-step time-consuming trips are still with us, whether we travel by transit bus, GreyhoundTM or airplane.  Our coming dualmode trips will all be single-step, just as present automobile trips are. 



The basic concept of connecting a “train” (a string of railroad cars) together physically was very useful in its day, since it was much cheaper to provide one team of horses or one locomotive to pull a large number of passenger or freight cars.  But the concept of trains also has some major disadvantages.  It takes time to “make up” a train (connect all the cars and locomotive together in the desired order).  The entire train has to stop at every station to let passengers off and new ones on.  This requirement wastes time for all the “through” passengers and greatly reduces the average speed on multi-stop trips.  This disadvantage also applies to bus travel, and to intermediate-stop airline flights. 

Freight trains have related problems: A train can easily “drop” the last car without stopping; but if a loaded freight car destined for San Francisco is in the middle, the train would have to be uncoupled in a San Francisco marshalling yard to drop off that car and then the train recoupled before it could continue on.  Marshalling is a slow process.  Likewise, a car added to the end of the train at an intermediate city will block the dropping of other cars at cities farther on.  To minimize these costly and time-consuming maneuvers, the trains are of course made up as logically as possible at earlier stops; but the need for periodic marshalling of connected trains cannot be eliminated.  Unconnected independently powered vehicles on guideways will not suffer these limitations.  They may be traveling together but they will be completely independent of each other, and able to go their own ways at any junction.

As we will see in chapter 8, the capacity of trains is very low compared to what we will have with dualmode guideways.  For this and other reasons to be discussed, reviving the railroads can’t solve today’s transportation problems.  Trains per se are passe. 



If we feel nostalgia for railroads, perhaps we can ease the pain of their gradual demise by thinking about a few other wonderful inventions that played vital roles in earlier transportation, but which are now gone.  On the water we had birch-bark canoes, canal boats and barges, and transoceanic sailing ships (Departing ships still “sail.” even if they carry no sails).  With horses we had saddles, wooden-wheeled wagons, carriages, buggies, buggy-whips, and the stagecoach.  And with horseless carriages we had chain-drive hard-tired trucks, acetylene headlights, hand-cranked engines, mechanical brakes that might or might not stop the car, magneto ignition, manual choke and spark advance, solid-rubber tires, and later bias-ply tires with inner tubes.  We had cloth-covered biplanes, reciprocating engines with hand-swung props, and transoceanic flying boats.  (It strikes the author that young readers may have never heard of some of those wonderful old things, but he saw them all in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.) 

Note that all of these obsolete things served mankind well, and were essential during their tour of duty.  They have only moved from the present into the museums because better things have been invented to replace them.  The needs for their functions still remain, but these needs grew and changed, and were met by more modern systems and devices.  Now our present (but already ancient) transportation systems in turn can no longer do the job.  Many things have changed for the better in the past and it is now time for another big change for the better: another transportation revolution. 

Passenger trains were essential to this country before we had cars and good roads; but in 1971 the Government took over the passenger railways because they were going bankrupt.  The nationalized system is called “Amtrak.”  The total ridership has continued to decrease, and the subsidization by the taxpayers has steadily increased.  In 1996 Amtrak announced that it would have to close four more major routes.  At that time they had a $200 million budget deficit.  In 1999 an Associated Press news headline announced, “Amtrak hopes high-speed train will drive up its profits.”  What profits?  They really meant, “reduce its losses.”  Among other things the article below that headline said, “Amtrak has not turned a profit since it was founded in 1971.  The General Accounting Office reported that the railroad lost an average of $47 per passenger in fiscal 1997.”  Also in 1997, “Congress provided a $2.2 billion cash infusion.”  That was in addition to Amtrak’s annual subsidy.  This data is rather dated, but it has only gotten worse since. 

          As the year 2000 rolled around Amtrak announced the opening of a new line between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City.  The article stated, “A round-trip ticket is $48,” and it went on to say that was $408 per ticket less than the actual cost of the service.  “Taxpayers will make up the difference.”  Heaven help us.  Oh yes, it was also stated that trip will take about 40 minutes longer than it took in the 1950s on the privately owned and profitable Santa Fe Railroad.

There is an isolated exception to Amtrak’s losing money, however.  A recent article described a private-venture system that uses Amtrak rails to carry private automobiles and their passengers up and down the East Coast on special train cars.  It gets them there much faster than they could drive on the jammed highways, and it makes a profit.  It works because it is a form of dualmode transportation. 



The steam engine arrived a little before the internal combustion engine.  The very earliest attempts at self-powered or “auto-mobile” vehicles were steam-powered.  In 1769 a Frenchman named Nicolas Cugnot made a successful slow heavy steam-powered tricycle tractor.  In 1805 an American, Oliver Evans, designed and built a monster amphibious steam vehicle, the “Orukter Amphibolos.”  It was somewhere between a huge success and a complete disaster, depending upon which account one reads. 

Starting about 1850, many farm horses were replaced by “steam traction engines.”  These locomotive-like horse-less workhorses were in turn gradually replaced by gasoline and diesel-powered tractors fifty to seventy five years later. 

Not only did steam locomotives replace horses for pulling trains between cities, but smaller steam locomotives also replaced horses to pull streetcars within the cities.  These small engines, which often pulled trains of ten or more streetcars, were enclosed in streetcar-like bodies and designed to be especially quiet, so as not to scare the horses pulling wagons and buggies.  These streetcar locomotives started replacing streetcar horses about 1850.  By 1900 electric streetcars had, in turn, replaced the streetcar locomotives.  The electric streetcars were quieter, cleaner, safer, and more efficient.  And since each car was self-powered it could be used independently; trains of cars with their less-frequent schedules were no longer necessary. 

Considerable effort was also put into the development of steam-powered automobiles.  Several brands, including the famous “Stanley Steamer,” enjoyed some popularity in the 1920s.  They were fast and quiet, but one didn’t just turn the key and go.  Even with their “flash boilers”, “getting steam up” took far more time than modern drivers would tolerate.

But the steam car had a certain mystique and some loyal followers.  There were even some valid engineering arguments in its favor.  Steam engines are self-starting, and they develop high torque at any engine speed (permitting a simpler transmission).  As late as 1968 Bill Lear, of Lear-Jet airplane fame, undertook to build a modern steam car in mass production.  After about four years and fifteen-million-dollars the Lear Steamer efforts were dropped.

No matter how interesting steam may be, we know that oil and water (steam) don’t mix: oil (and gasoline) being lighter, always come out on top—in transportation history as well as in a bucket.  Ah, but electricity is still lighter than gasoline, so now it is going to come out on top—in a manner of speaking. 



Up until about 1970 the automobile was wonderful.  After WW II most families could own a car, there were good roads to take us anyplace we wanted to go, the traffic wasn’t bad in most places at most times, parking was no problem, gasoline was plentiful, and pollution was a little-used word.

Cars are essential to modern life.  They give us freedom, recreational opportunities, flexible vacations; and more importantly they get us to our jobs, the doctor, and the supermarket.  But with greater affluence and higher populations we now have many more cars—and problems.  Exhaust fumes are a major source of atmospheric pollution and global-warming, we have nearly depleted the world’s oil deposits, the highway injury and death toll is serious, and the increasing numbers of highway lanes we need are taking too much land.  Traffic jams are keeping us from getting where we need to go in reasonable time—tending to negate the basic reason for having automobiles in the first place.  We have an overpopulation of automobiles because we have an overpopulation of people.

Our automobile-overpopulation problems apply to our present types of cars and present types of roadbeds; fortunately these problems are not inherent in the basic concept of personal-vehicle transportation.  We do not need to throw out the good in order to get rid of the bad.  The thing that will solve those problems yet let us have private cars is the dualmode car and guideway system.  And the use of dualmode buses and trucks on the same guideway system will also let us solve the problems caused by overpopulations of transit and commercial vehicles.

Our transportation planners and people with environmental concerns have been proposing more public transportation.  But the systems they are proposing to expand have been around for a century or more, and their ridership has dropped to a small fraction of what it was 75 years ago when we had few automobiles.  These systems, which were the right answers then, are the wrong answers now.  Most of these dinosaurs nearly died a natural death fifty or more years ago because of declining ridership.  But even if the public would use them en masse again, these old systems couldn’t provide enough capacity for a major reduction in the transportation load now carried by private cars.  Chapter 9 will provide proof of that statement.  But in the meantime here is a related example. 

In the Pacific-Northwest, Lake Washington separates Seattle from “The Eastside” cities.  Sixty-plus years ago there were no bridges across the lake and the few people who lived in small towns on the Eastside traveled to Seattle by ferries.  Now these towns, such as Bellevue, are bustling cities.  There are two multi-lane bridges across Lake Washington, and the ferries have been gone for 60 years.  But the bridges will no longer carry the increasing traffic—so there were serious (?) plans to bring the ferries back, “to relieve the traffic on the bridges.”  An article in the Seattle Times disclosed four planned ferry routes across the lake.  State analysts predicted that the four routes would carry a total of 2,000 cars a day.”  Good.  What that article failed to mention, for obvious reasons, is that the Lake Washington bridges now carry over two hundred and fifty thousand cars a day.  (1998 Washington State Department of Transportation data.)  The proposed ferry traffic would be less than one percent of the total.  Could a one-percent reduction in bridge traffic even be noticed? 

The Lake Washington ferries (like the San Francisco-Bay ferries) went out of business because they were inadequate even then.  That is why the bridges were built.  State analysts say the reactivated Lake Washington ferry trip would take 25 minutes (plus waiting, loading, and unloading time).  Cars using the bridges can make the trip in five minutes if the traffic is light.  (An hour if traffic is jammed up.)  Our coming dualmode guideway cars will make the trip over the bridges, from Seattle to Bellevue or Kirkland, in two minutes, all of the time. 

The author does not wish to imply that Washington-State transportation planners are worse than others in ignoring facts.  Transportation people in general are desperate since they are unable to make our problems go away with existing transportation systems.  They probably feel they have to make some kind of promises, to do something, even though they should know the situation is hopeless with current systems.  If more transit, for instance, would solve the problems, supply and demand would have provided more transit and done the job long before this.  Dualmode will be good news for these desperate people—if we can get them to listen, leave the twentieth-century, and join the twenty-first. 



Passenger railroads are largely obsolete because they are inflexible and don’t provide door-to-door service.  Neither do local transit systems or intercity buses.

Highways are largely obsolete because their dependence upon human drivers limits their capacity, performance, and safety.  And highway vehicles use petroleum, which will soon be gone.  We can’t solve our many transportation problems by patching, adding to, and subtracting from the various existing systems.  The truth of that statement is evident through analysis, as well as through observing our many recent and expensive failed efforts to solve these problems with these obsolete solutions.  Transportation and environmental problems, worldwide, continue to get worse rather than better.  We must build a system using the latest technologies, for our current and future civilization.  A revolutionary change is inevitable and essential.

We must broaden our thinking by looking at the big picture.  Automotive engineers must start looking beyond automobiles as we now know them.  Highway engineers must join hands with railroad engineers and with electrical/electronic engineers and computer scientists.  It is now evident that a revolutionary integrated system can use the best features of several of our existing systems yet can eliminate the things in each that now restrict their usefulness, deplete our fuel resources, and pollute our world.  This book will describe the coming efforts, including examination of the problems that will make its implementation a fascinating but frustrating challenge.  These problems won’t be technical nearly as much as they will be political and sociological. 



Dualmode vs. Single-Mode Transportation






      Last modified: August 01, 2006