Friday, September 23, 2011

Is a bird? A Tram? A train? A bus?

Tranzwatching new public transport technology in Germany

 I've always found combination tools fairly bloody useless.  I mean things such as a garden handle with a hoe at one and a rake rake at the other of the single handle; or Swiss army knives with a dozen different functions - ok in emergency but no substitute for the real screwdriver, corkscrew etc.

I'd be surprised indeed if a vehicle combining tram-train and bus managed to really deliver the unique benefits of each transport mode well. But a group of German inventors associated with the Fraunhofer Institute have developed an interesting a hybrid zero emission [at delivery point] light-train-bus they have named the AutoTram  aimed to give bus flexibility with light rail features.

Rather than running on a single charge like an electric car, or a system reliant upon multiple expensive lithium batteries to last hours the AutoTram only goes about 1.5 kilometres before requiring another 30-second jolts of energy fed into supercapacitors. The designer's thinking, it appears, is  that in the urban passenger service context, reloading the sparks at the same time they load passengers, will not impair the progress of the vehicle.

Not so sure in our NZ context where not every stop has passengers waiting or indeed takes 30 seconds to load. Also where making four or five times a 30 second stop to reload energy, during the course of say a 12km suburban route could get rather irksome!

Nonetheless in a world looking for answers to combat some extremely black clouds, peak oil and climate change,  on the horizon no new technolgogy can be dismissed out of hand.

Says the head of the Institute team that developed the AutoTram, Ulrich Potthoff,
 "The system could, though, be attractive to European cities that want to prettify certain historic areas. Even if AutoTram system is more expensive than buses, cities like Milan and Dresden might be prepared to pay a premium to do away with ugly overhead lines and screechy tram lines, in favor of a quiet, clean, and wireless alternative."

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