Vacuum Trains

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One of those "looks good on paper" ideas that pretty much stays there.  Before the First World War the American rocket pioneer Robert Goddard had the idea for making a train that would go from Boston to New York in twelve minutes.  It was simple enough.  Just float the train on magnets in a specially built tunnel with all the air pumped out; that way all of the friction that slows a train down could be eliminated and it would go like a rocket, pardon the pun.

Goddard's vacuum railway was never built, of course, but it showed up several times over the past century.  In the 1920s, there was a proposal to build one from New York to San Francisco.  In the  1960s, it was considered by San Francisco as a mass transit system.  More recently, it was considered for linking New York to London using a floating vacuum tunnel under the Atlantic.  And it formed the centrepiece for Gene Roddenberry's ever-forgettable TV pilot Genesis II, but for all that, the idea never progressed any further than proposals and bad movies. 

Vacuum train 1923

Why?  Money.  The magnetic levitation system is still being sorted out today and how to build and maintain a tunnel hundreds or thousands of miles long, large enough to accommodate a train, and  that can maintain a vacuum at the same time is daunting enough-- never mind building air-tight railway carriages to run in it.  Wait for the first run through of the numbers and watch the investors flee out the door.

Pity, though.  All that vacuum would make flushing the toilets on the train a lot easier.

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