The 400-Mph Passenger Train (Apr, 1965)
The 400-Mph Passenger Train
It may ride on air cushions rather than on rails, and be driven by jets or even rockets. A number of far-out ideas are competing for serious development. And industry is studying a big new market.
By 1980, unless something drastic is done about it, traffic in the populous northeast corridor of the U.S. between Boston and Washington will have reached an imbalance and impasse of monstrous proportions. Already, superhighways in key metropolitan areas are reaching congestive saturation, though close to $2 billion has been spent on those in the corridor alone since 1945. And congestion in air-lane and airport facilities, on which over $1 billion has been spent in the same period, is already severe. By 1980, preliminary studies show, the corridor’s population will have jumped by some 25 percent to well over 50 million. At the same time travel between cities, in the increasing mobility of the era, will have more than doubled or tripled.
The indiscriminate proliferation of superhighways seems less and less of a solution. For one thing, rights-of-way are getting hard to come by and costs are steeply rising, not only in dollars but in land blight. Eventually, if highways spin out unchecked, the whole northeast corridor, following the pattern of Los Angeles, will be largely concrete. Perhaps the superhighway quandary is best illuminated by a proposal last year to double part of the already overburdened New Jersey Turnpike from six lanes to twelve, at a cost of some $350 million. The Port of New York Authority, whose cooperation is required, blanched and promptly cried halt, for not only are the tunnels connecting the turnpike to New York incapable of carrying the added traffic, but no one would know where to put it once it got into Manhattan. Ultimately, if this madness continues, cities will have to hang out signs similar to those on their parking lots: “Full up.”
While congestion on roads and airways was everywhere growing worse, the railroads, historically the most efficient mass movers of people and goods, have been suffering a precipitous drop in traffic. This is not the place to go into the well-known plight of the railroads, delicately balancing the blame between government misdeeds and private mismanagement. The signal fact is that today 91 percent of all intercity passenger travel, including commuter traffic, is by automobile. Of the remainder, the railroads get only 3 percent, where once they had nearly all.
The railroads struggled against this tide. In the last decade or so technical improvements plus tax easements have won back freight traffic and a measure of profitability.
And since World War II all manner of new equipment has been tried, including lightweight cars, Talgo trains, and new sleeper services, to win back passengers. But all these measures represented only marginal improvements, thinly spread, upon a transportation system basically unchanged since the last century; no substantial increase in passenger-train speeds has been shown since 1900. Against the rising power of the automobile and aircraft, aided by massive federal subsidies for highways, airports, and aeronautical research, the railroads fell further and further behind in the sine qua non of twentieth-century travel—speed, comfort, and convenience. Their grimy, cavernous terminals took on the aura of a departed age.
As passenger volume melted, most railroads, primarily freight carriers to begin with, found passenger services becoming a fifth and flat wheel on operations and earnings. Under the burdens of an outmoded system, archaic labor practices, and encrusted rules and regulations, every passenger lured back only added to the enormous running deficits. By 1960 over 100,000 miles of track had been taken out of passenger use, and one route after another was being cut back or terminated. As the railroads abdicated their role as passenger carriers, the government was forced to put up ever mounting funds just to keep some vital but decrepit lines running. Over $40 million has been pumped to date into the rickety New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, with no end in sight. Most railroad men, except for a few hardy Westerners, became convinced that passenger traffic was something to be shunned. Some even predict that most railroads will be entirely out of the passenger business by 1970.
But precisely at this depressing juncture some startling-developments are under way to reverse the outlook. After years of inaction, government is joining with research science, inventive engineering, and advanced industrial skills in pursuit of a new vision of superhigh-speed ground transportation.
A new transportation vocabulary The passenger from Boston enters a train of long, slim cars shaped like projectiles. Soft music plays as he sinks into a contour chair, straps on a seat belt, and tells a pretty hostess his destination—Washington. With a slight, almost imperceptible lift, the train takes off down a gleaming metal tube, swiftly gaining speed until it reaches a steady, smooth, softly suspirating 400 miles per hour. At Providence, Hartford, New York, and other intermediate points, the train, without slackening speed, spins off cars and picks up new ones via high-speed feeder loops. Somewhere between Providence and Wilmington the passenger has a haircut in the lounge’s barbershop, orders a snack and a drink, and watches an up-to-the-minute newscast. Just before Baltimore he picks up a phone and completes his arrangements in Washington. The trip, door to door, takes something under two hours.
This vision may appear to be the purest moonshine to the much-jolted and discouraged riders of today’s railroads. Yet all of it is well within the abundant technological resources of the clay. And the tubular train is only one of half a dozen devices being seriously considered by the Northeast Corridor Project, a federal program designed to demonstrate what can be done to rejuvenate mass ground transportation in the densest traffic area in the U.S. The project was initiated in 1962 by the late President Kennedy. After a task-force study, he directed then Secretary of Commerce Luther H. Hodges to undertake a thoroughgoing exploration of what government might do to improve and coordinate all transportation in the critical corridor. Before his retirement early this year, Secretary Hodges set a goal of 200-mile-per-hour rail travel between Boston and Washington to cut travel time from something over eight hours to something under four. The project is now completing its preliminary planning phase and is ready to take off on its first active research stage, with a boost from President Johnson’s State of the Union Message and a slated fiscal budget of $20 million.
This program is not to be confused with the federal mass-transit program, administered by the Housing and Home Finance Agency, which has an initial budget of some $400 million to aid cities in shoring up and improving present commuter services—an entirely different, short-range, and specialized problem. The Northeast Corridor Project looks beyond this to a longer-range, more basic technical solution to transit problems, and specifically to intercity travel. For it quickly discovered that a great gap exists in really basic research on advanced ground-transportation systems, due to over half a century of neglect by the industry as well as government.
Without delay, therefore, the project’s director, Dr. Robert A. Nelson—a transportation expert brought in from the University of Washington in 1963—let a $500,000 study contract to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to make a broad survey of all the technological possibilities. The M.I.T. report is due this June. A major part of its job is to block out broad research projects and areas— such as propulsion, guidance, computer control, and network layout—in which the government might profitably invest research funds, looking toward the final construction of a new system. To keep an open mind about what that system may be, as well as to stay out of the rut of railroad thinking, M.I.T.’s engineers use the term “guideways” instead of rails, “vehicles” instead of trains, and they borrow freely from the concepts and proved techniques of aerospace system development.
In marked contrast to the melancholy outlook of most railroad men, the M.I.T. engineers find the field brimming with ideas, some of which have been shoved far back on the shelf for years. The ideas come in such numbers, under such pent-up pressures to sell a particular scheme or piece of equipment, that the Northeast Corridor Project is carefully not committing itself to any system as yet. It will take four to five years of contract research on components to shake down ideas, test the feasibility of systems, and decide on hardware. The propulsion possibilities alone, for instance, include advanced electric motors, turboprops, turbojets, ramjets, pure rockets, free-piston devices, and even nuclear engines. One big task is to choose among alternatives.
To begin to get a sound basis for decision, the Northeast Corridor Project proposes to divide its budget this year, for which President Johnson is asking a $20-million appropriation, three ways. First, $2 million will go for a detailed market survey of all traffic in the nation by source and destination, the first of its kind. Then $8 million will go for demonstration projects on present rail lines in the corridor to study the effects of stepped-up speed and service and to settle once and for all whether simply refurbishing cars, cleaning washrooms, and the like will bring back passengers, as some Congressmen still believe. This is the short-range part of the program to meet the pressures for some improvement now. Finally, for the long-range effort, $10 million will go for research to start testing all the technological alternatives.
The very first idea, of course, was simply to increase speed and improve service on conventional rails. The Northeast Corridor Project, in fact, had its genesis in just such a pro- posal by Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island. Irritated by poor transportation between Boston and Washington, he hit the front pages in 1962 with a comprehensive plan for a modernized passenger service. He introduced a resolution proposing to set up an eight-state public authority to acquire trackage and right-of-way from the railroads now operating in the region. The authority would run new, lightweight, self-propelled cars capable of traveling at seventy miles per hour and at fifteen-minute intervals or alternatively a monorail or other advanced system. The program was to be financed by a bond issue of $500 million.
The need to be unconventional But Pell’s conventional train scheme, though it would considerably increase frequency of service, would not cut travel time much below present averages, or offer much in the way of equipment or attractiveness beyond what the railroads already have tried in various places with no marked success. If a monorail were introduced, it would require an entirely new-track structure, yet it would offer little more in the way of performance. None of the various monorail systems, which for over a quarter of a century have held forth tantalizing promise, have been able to reach useful speeds beyond sixty to seventy miles per hour. At that point they develop excessive sway or instability. This would place their usefulness in lower-speed, stop-and-go commuter services rather than in medium- to long-range routes. Moreover, $500 million is probably a highly optimistic estimate for installing even such limited systems over the 460 miles between Boston and Washington. The more the problem was studied, the less did it appear to yield to so quick or easy a solution.
A more ponderable development to consider was Japan’s crack new Tokaido train, sleekly designed to run between Tokyo and Osaka at 125 to 150 miles per hour. This new speed record is attained not so much by train power, which is conventional electric, but by the use of a special, stabilized roadbed. The tracks are made up of heavy, mile-long welded rails on rubber blocks and prestressed concrete ties, and there are no sharp curves. The $1-billion Tokaido line is powered by motors and gears of Westinghouse design, and was partly financed by the World Bank, to which the U.S. is the major contributor. Yet U.S. railroads showed no interest in the development, maintaining that such an investment could not be justified in the U.S., with its heavier highway and air competition. But others think that a Tokaido-type line is just the ticket for the Northeast Corridor Project. Westinghouse, for one, feels that such a system could be pushed up to 200 miles per hour in U.S. service. Along with other big conventional traction-equipment manufacturers, it is urging adoption of a stepped-up Tokaido system as the quickest, most economical answer to the corridor’s problem, and the one requiring the least experimentation with the unknown.
But this, too, needed to be closely examined. Studies showed that a Tokaido-type line between Boston and Washington would cost— if the Japanese outlay of nearly $5 million per mile is any guide -anywhere from $1.5 billion to well over $2 billion. Speeds might well be pushed up to 200 miles per hour at extra cost, but any higher speeds would be in the realm of engineering uncertainty. Beyond 200 miles per hour, according to most calculations, today’s conventional train would encounter such penalties in wheel friction and air resistance and such difficulties in merely staying on the rails that it might well be close to the limit of its development. Only one electric train so far has reached slightly over 200 miles per hour on a short, straight, experimental run in France, and it burned out its equipment doing it.
To be sure, the big equipment manufacturers that are plumping for a Tokaido-like system believe that a sizable margin of improvement is possible using new suspension and stabilizing techniques and other developments, which up to now they have had no encouragement to undertake. And one surprising newcomer to the railroad field, United Aircraft Corp., which for the past year has been applying its aeronautics talents to studying the whole problem of ground transport, is confident that a rail car can be designed, using aerospace principles, that would be a long step ahead of the Tokaido. But to freeze the pattern on conventional rails now, without further study, would exclude a great range of more advanced or higher-speed unconventional proposals. The real fear is that a 150-to-200-mile-per-hour rail system may not be a sufficiently dramatic advance to lure any substantial number of passengers off the highways.
If you can’t lick the auto, join it More effective competition with the highway is precisely the aim of a highly unorthodox scheme presented last year by General American Transportation Corp., large builder of tank cars and other specialized freight equipment. Called RRollway—a combination of “railroad” and “tollway”—it was conceived by Deodat Clejan, the company’s director of transportation planning. He is a pragmatic, young Romanian-French expert who had a lot to do with the introduction of piggyback freight service in the U.S. His new system is a sort of adaptation of the piggyback principle (see page 128). It would enable passengers to take their automobiles along with them on the train, so that they would have the use of their own cars at the end of the journey. His reasoning is that the American does not want to be parted from the convenience, comfort, and mobility of his private automobile, and any system that does not cater to this desire is bound to fail. Instead of fighting the automobile, he would join with it in an entirely new form of intermodal rail transportation.
Clejan and his advanced transportation research staff have spent two years working out the preliminary details of a new system. Its basic unit is a huge, streamlined, electric railroad car, 128 feet long and 24 feet wide, which would carry twelve automobiles parked crossways. A passenger would drive his own car through an automatic tollgate, up a ramp onto the train, and spend his journey relaxing in a lounge at one end. Trains of any length, interspersed with a few all-passenger cars carrying 300 to 500 passengers each, would be made up automatically as traffic dictated. They would ride on a special roadbed on wide, eighteen-foot-gauge tracks. There is little or no engineering reason why today’s four-foot, eight-and-a-half-inch standard-gauge tracks, adopted in the last century, should be sacrosanct. On wider, more stable tracks, making for a lower center of gravity, Clejan’s train would have no trouble reaching speeds of 150 to 200 miles per hour, using third-rail d. c. power; a block system would control speeds from outside the train simply by varying the power input.
Out to beat the toll road Some such combination of rail and automobile has been in the air for some years. French railways have a popular vacation service in which a family’s car is driven onto a two-tiered auto rack and transported along with the family, who ride in the train. But this system would not be likely to catch on in the U.S. since it takes up to forty-five minutes to load and unload cars, and offers no great advantage in speed or comfort. Germany has been working on a system somewhat similar to RRollway. And in 1961, Westinghouse also proposed a system, which never got beyond the proposal stage, employing big, flat-bottomed, wheelless cars riding on a series of rubber rollers, powered by individual induction motors—something like a conveyer system.
Essentially, RRollway would offer a fast, fully automatic auto-ferry service, running at five-minute intervals between the outskirts of major cities. In its initial form it would require no very unconventional equipment or technical breakthroughs. Estimated costs per mile would run somewhat lower than those of the Tokaido system, since RRollway would not enter the city centers and could economize on right-of-way. In comparison with toll roads, costs would look even better, for Clejan figures that one RRollway line would be equivalent in traffic-carrying capacity to a ten-lane superhighway. The system would charge fares no higher than the toll-road driver’s estimated average cost of 6 cents per mile (2 cents for tolls plus 4 cents for automobile running costs), while speeding him along two to three times faster than on the highway and relieving him of the task of driving.
Clejan thinks the system could be self-liquidating, for at 6 cents per mile it would take in, after operating expenses, almost three times more income per automobile-mile than the more expensive toll road. Clejan also believes that, while conventional rails were selected at the start to make the system more immediately practical, nothing would prevent later versions from using more unconventional guideways and propulsion units, as these became available, for still more speed and economy. Announcement of the RRollway system last fall was hastened in order to get it into the running for the Northeast Corridor Project. But its potential revenues look so good that GATX itself is seriously contemplating building a RRollway in the next five to six years somewhere outside the northeast corridor. It is studying half a dozen routes where traffic is heavy enough to make the project feasible.
Has the wheel had it?
In the spectrum of advanced ideas under study, RRollway is at the conservative end; in its initial form it would still use old-fashioned wheels and rails. A considerable number of experts, particularly the aeronautical engineers, have veered to the notion that the wheel-on-rails has had it as a mode of passenger transportation and is about ready to give way to some form of vehicle that rides on a cushion of air. The point is to eliminate most of the friction found in wheel-driven vehicles. The air-cushion principle has been applied to dozens of ground-effect machines being developed, mainly for military purposes, to skim about a foot or more over rough terrain or water. But this type of tree-moving vehicle is hard to control and it cannot go very fast because it tends to lose its air cushion to the surrounding atmosphere at higher speeds. These difficulties may be avoided, however, by operating the machine over special rails or guideways, only a fraction of an inch or so off their surface. It is as a tracked vehicle that the air-supported machine may have its greatest potential.
Curiously enough, the most substantial work on this type of vehicle in the U.S. has been done by the Ford Motor Co. Ford got into the unlikely field of mass transit when, about a decade ago, it brought in Dr. Andrew A. Kucher, an inventor well known for several major aeronautical and electromechanical devices, to organize its basic research and engineering laboratory. Kucher had been working for thirty years on an air-support idea quite different from all others. Its basic component was a smooth, flat, perforated metal plate called a “levapad.” Through the perforations a compressor pumped a thin film of air that raised the plate a fraction of an inch off the guide surface beneath it. On this thin film of air the plate floated smoothly over the guide, with a minimum of push, like a high-pressure steam iron over Monday’s laundry. With a large new laboratory at his disposal, Kucher persuaded Ford to plunge into engineering development of this device.
By 1961 the engineering feasibility was worked out, and levapads, replacing wheels, had been designed into a number of small laboratory vehicles and projected Levacars of various sizes and configurations. The biggest one on the drawing board was a 124-foot-long, bullet-shaped vehicle, carrying 200 passengers, powered by two turboprop engines, front and aft. It would ride over an elevated structure, on light, six-inch, hollow-square rails, with levapads designed to press against the top and one side of the rails for support and guidance (see diagram, page 127). The top design speed for this vehicle was 150 miles per hour, but with only slightly more power it could be pushed up to 350 miles per hour, and laboratory experiments showed that Levacars could reach 500 miles per hour. Cost estimates for constructing the system were a low $150,-000 per mile. Ford went to the major railroads with its scheme. Dozens of conferences produced some interest but no funds to build a full-scale experimental system, the next step in proving out the engineering concept. Since an auto company could not justify such a big investment for itself, Ford reluctantly put the Levacar project on the shelf in 1962.
The Ford system and others like it may now be dusted off as the Northeast Corridor Project gets moving, for there is a persistent rise of developments in the air-cushion field. Britain’s Hovercraft Development Ltd., for instance, is working on a Hovercar transport system providing a continuous pressurized air cushion on the underside of the car. One version operates at speeds up to 300 miles per hour over a V-shaped track, and is powered by either a diesel engine or a new kind of linear electric-induction motor. The linear-motor system, one type of which is being developed at Manchester University, is a novel and promising idea. It separates the stator and rotor of the traditional electric motor, so that in effect the vehicle itself becomes the rotor, moving along a third rail that acts as stator. The result is a swift, silent, economical form of propulsion without moving parts.
In the U.S., Westinghouse is experimenting with a magnetic type of suspension system in which a double track of strong, ceramic-type permanent magnets repels a vehicle equipped on its underside with magnetic strips of the same polarity; these magnets can now be manufactured almost as cheaply as steel rail. The repulsion of like poles creates a thin magnetic flux between the vehicle and roadbed that acts like an air cushion.
Sliding through a tube The main problem facing all these as yet untried systems, from levapads to magnetic suspensions, is that at ground speeds in the 200- to 500-mile-per-hour range, the stability and support of vehicles and the protection of rights-of-way from heavy weather, thrown rocks, or other intrusions would become very critical problems. The more thought that is put on it, particularly around Cambridge, the more it appears that the ideal guideway would be a tubular structure, offering the maximum in protection, support, stability, and guidance of high-speed vehicles.
Oddly enough, the concept of a tube as a means of highspeed travel is one of the older ideas currently being reexamined. Robert H. Goddard, famed U.S. inventor of the liquid-fuel rocket, proposed such a system in 1904. Then a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, he wrote an assigned freshman theme on “Traveling in 1950,” proposing a superhigh-speed train suspended and driven in an evacuated steel tube by electromagnets. It would reach 1,200 miles per hour, he calculated, owing to the elimination of all friction and air resistance. The idea was greeted with the same skepticism as Goddard’s later prediction of rocket flights to the moon. Ironically, in 1950, five years after his death, he was awarded a posthumous patent on the system.
In the Forties, Irving Langmuir, General Electric’s great research scientist and Nobel Prize winner, also suggested that a vacuum tube stretching from New York to San Francisco would make it perfectly feasible for rocket vehicles in the tube to reach speeds of 5,000 miles per hour. But the cost of maintaining a vacuum in such systems alone would probably place them beyond the limits of economic feasibility.
More practicable and ingenious is a tubular transport system proposed more recently in some detail by Dr. Joseph V. Foa, an Italian-born professor of aeronautical engineering and astronautics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Instead of employing a vacuum, his tube system combines air-cushion suspension with jet propulsion in an entirely new way. Foa hit upon the new principle in 1947 while working at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in Buffalo and thinking about the problems of tubular travel. The main problem was similar to that of an ordinary train in a railroad tunnel. The train, acting like a leaky piston, must push the entire column of air confined in the tunnel ahead of it, with great expenditure of energy and loss of speed. Foa conceived a vehicle, using aeronautical principles and such newly available prime movers as fanjets or ramjets, that would rapidly transfer the air immediately in front of it in the tube to its rear. This would leave the main body of air in the tube relatively undisturbed, making possible a great increase in speed and operating economy. In laboratory experiments he proved that such a system would in fact create an invisible air screw or propeller of air around the vehicle, rapidly pushing air to the rear and augmenting thrust.
Since 1952, when he came to R.P.I., Foa has been industriously exploring the principle on R.P.I, research funds, U.S. Army Research Office and other grants. He has dreamily designed vehicles of two classes. The most immediate one, which he thinks is well beyond the dream stage by now, is a turbofan jet vehicle in the 250- to 400-mile-per-hour speed range. One of his latest designs in this class is a mammoth cigar-shaped vehicle, 195 feet long and 9 feet in diameter, with six big air-cushion pods to keep it hovering about one foot off the tube’s walls. It is designed to carry 200 passengers. This he thinks would be ideal for the Boston-Washington run, for at speeds of 300 to 400 mph a safe headway between cars would be two minutes. Not far behind in his estimation—indeed, he thinks the development ought to be concurrent—is a second class of ramjet vehicles with a speed range of 1,000 to 2,000 mph, for transcontinental travel. At these speeds the trains would compete with supersonic aircraft and, considering the many problems of supersonic flight, the tube might be a better, safer all-weather bet.
The major problem with the tube is where to lay it. Foa thinks that it could be either put on the surface, elevated down the center strip of superhighways, or buried underground like a pipeline—and the feats of pipeliners in this century indicate that it could be done. But since the tube would have to be as straight and stable as possible to contain such high speeds, M.I.T.’s thinkers lean toward tunneling it some 500 feet underground. At this level it would reach a uniform rock structure, bypass all surface soil problems, and avoid the problem and cost of acquiring rights-of-way. Such deep tunneling would be uneconomic, however, unless drilling costs could be brought down to about one-quarter of their present level. Not much intensive research has been done on rock drilling, and this is likely to be another challenge for the Northeast Corridor Project.
Computers at the throttle All the most advanced ideas and systems, which offer the greatest promise, are still in the laboratory-model stage. Foa’s next step, for instance, is to go from toylike models to pilot-scale vehicles in a tube three feet in diameter and three miles long, which will cost some $1 million to build. It is estimated that $100 million or more will be required just to carry the various ideas through research and development, up to the stage of full-scale tests, before a rigorous cost-justification analysis can be run on them. From there it will take $2 billion or more to build an operating system.
This may seem an enormous, even outlandishly extravagant investment. But the 200,000 miles of U.S. railroad tracks laid down in the last century, with the aid of vast federal land grants and other subsidies, represented an enormous investment in its day. And even now nearly $50 billion is to be spent on the U.S. interstate highway program and over $1 billion may go into the development of a supersonic airliner. Unless mass ground transportation is brought into more vigorous competition with these other modern forms of travel, so that each may find its most useful level of operation, the chaotic congestion around urban centers may well cost the nation far more than the amount that would have to be invested in supertrains.
Whatever system is settled on, whether it be a Tokaido-type line or a composite of far-out vehicles, it will be a system development on a scale with some of the largest in the aerospace program. It will draw not only on the widest technical and corporate skills, but on economists, sociologists, political scientists, and urban planners. Among other things, it will call for the highest level of central computer control and automation, for at speeds beyond 100 miles per hour human reactions become too slow. None of the systems contemplated would employ more than an attendant in each vehicle or train to press an emergency button should the whole system fail. There is also the question of routing—whether through central cities, for instance, or only through their peripheries, where more and more traffic is originating -answers to which would profoundly affect metropolitan development.
Eventually, of course, the intercity system must tie in and coordinate with intra-urban commuter services, whose whole course of development the Northeast Corridor Project may do much to shape and stimulate. Indeed, the commuter field itself is already bubbling more hopefully with uninhibited ideas from hydrofoils and hover-craft to make use of long-neglected river routes, to monorails and a new Westinghouse Transit Expressway system for land travel. Next month Fortune will examine the problems and promises in this area of transportation.
How the supertrain may be built Exactly who would build and manage the big intercity project is still an open question. The eight-state public authority originally proposed by Senator Pell now appears to be too difficult and cumbersome. There are more attractive alternatives. An operating company could be set up by government charter, as the early railroads were. Or the project could be put in the hands of a wholly government enterprise, like TVA or NASA, which would let out contracts to industry. Or it could be done by a mixed semi-public and private corporation along the lines of Comsat, the company set up to create a space-satellite communication system. This last procedure is winning favor in Washington, for the great success of Comsat indicates that the public is ready and willing to invest in long-range technological ventures in which both the government and major industrial elements are represented. What part, if any, the present railroads would play in all this is unclear. But before everything is settled, the economic and political controversies that could arise might well present more difficulties than the technology.
Yet the imperatives to do something are pressing. By the latter part of the century more than 100 large metropolitan areas will have grown and fused into some twenty megapolitan super-regions such as the one that is already filling up the corridor between Boston and Washington. To handle the increasingly dense traffic generated in these super-regions, something is going to be built and lots of money will be spent —whether it be on highways, toll roads, feeder airline facilities, or some of the systems discussed in this article. The proposition advanced by the Northeast Corridor Project is that the time to plan a more rational development of transportation is now. Behind it is the belief that the system engineering capable of doing many “impossible” tasks in going to the moon can also devise a better ground transportation system for going from Boston to Washington.