If there’s just one thing I’d love to see implemented before I die, I’d love to see an international, automated, ultra-speed rail network. Personally, I absolutely hate flying. The hassle and lack of amenities that goes a long with flying just completely turns me off. Sure, it might be the fastest way to get to some destinations, but I’d take a slower train ride over flying any day. Why? No TSA bullshit for one (except on extremely rare occasions), no everyone rushing to the gate even though first class/priority boards first, and two little somethings called leg room and free wi-fi. Oh, and power outlets too – without a stupid adapter. Another thing is I can look out the window when I’m bored and actually see something other than clouds. Flying has to have the most boring scenery I’ve ever had to look at for six hours; the only good parts are take off and landing. Other than that, you’re better off staring at the tray table.
So why a rail network, and an automated one at that? I’d actually have no problem with a human-driven system, but let’s face it, in the long run, computers are quite a bit cheaper. These days, they’re even smart enough to self-repair. I’ve seen trains that will automatically send themselves or a specific card back to a rail yard for repair. Since the computer knows – or at least can know – every single last detail that is going on, it can detect a problem immediately, some times before it even becomes a problem. No longer do you need someone to sit around all day staring at a monitor waiting for an alert to pop up on-screen.
Secondly, raise your hand if you don’t see at least one bad driver during your commute each day. Raise it again if you don’t see at least one when you’re just driving to the store. Keep it raised if you’ve never seen a bad driver at all. All hands should be down at this point. To be blunt, humans are incapable of being safe, reliable drivers. To prove my point, some one just cut you off. What do you do? Do you give the finger? Honk the horn? Tailgate them? Oh look, now they just braked suddenly. Congratulations, you just rear ended them. Which one of you is willing to accept responsibility? I thought so. Until computers are capable of emotion, there’s one thing they can’t be: motherfucking assholes. Computers also one-up humans in reaction time. Unlike us, computers can know where every single train in the system is at any given time. They don’t have to watch for break lights. They’re constantly calculating while en route. They know exactly when arrival time is really going to be. And better yet, they can keep it consistent. They don’t have to worry about surprise road work, detours, or heavy loads. They know the exact nanosecond when there is a service disruption.
Alright, international sounds great and all as an alternative to flying, but just getting around locally is a pain for me. How would this help me? Simple. The exact same network can be used for local transit to. Heck, it could even be configured such that you’d never need to transfer from a domestic to international train. And in the event you do need to make a transfer, guess who knows exactly where your transfer is? Guess who just made it the train right across the platform? Yep, the computer. No more “so I just landed at the gate and have a five-minute connection time. Now what?” In addition, the system could be configured to only serve certain stations on-demand. Say you live in a small town, a bit out-of-the-way from other ones. Rather than have to drive the next town or two or three over to get to the train station, your town could have a smaller station with self-service terminals at the platform. Just touch what train you need and one would be automatically sent to pick you up. And no, not a shuttle, the actual train you wanted in the first place. But now what if you’re on a train and your stop isn’t one it automatically makes? Same solution. Use a computer terminal on board the train to put in the stop request. If no one needs to get on or off at the station, the train would just pass right through it.
Finally, an automated system means a 24/7/365 system. Computers don’t sleep. They don’t take holidays. They don’t change crews. Already today we have vending machines for tickets, cards, tokens, etc. to pay for the train. You wouldn’t need any full-time staff at the station, save for maybe police, or just a staffed police box nearby the station. By the time such a system could be implemented, you probably wouldn’t need custodial staff either. We already have floor cleaning robots and self-cleaning toilets. As for mechanical, the system could repair itself automatically, save for maybe more serious repairs. But it would be smart enough to automatically and instantly place the call.
All in all, yeah, it would be an expensive system to implement. For international especially, it’d need a lot of cooperation. It would probably have to be implemented in phases too. But, I think something would be much better than nothing.