Infrastructure Overhaul - Transportation
This idea is rather involved- please bear with me. I think one of the reasons nothing like this is being pursued right now is it has a number of components. This isn't a band-aid; it's analogous to the changeover from horse drawn carriages to cars - a paradigm shift, and an infrastructure overhaul.
One reason we can't eliminate our addiction to oil is because people want to have their own personal vehicle with the personal space that comes with it. Instead of insisting people get on trains, use this addiction in a better way. I'll probably forget some aspects of this, but this is a bare-bones abstract. I'll be happy to discuss as people bring up objections. Here we go, and thanks for your patience...
1) Create lightweight, low(er)cost, battery-driven personal vehicles, that can, as cars do now, carry four-six people. Weight can be reduced by eliminating the heavy engine and the armor necessary to protect people from 60 MPH crashes.
2) Grid the country with raised (ten feet) electromagnetic lines spaced along current right-of-ways created by interstate highways, major trunk lines, and coming near to all major population areas. Think of ski lifts, but instead of cables, it would be a stable, solid, covered (to combat snow/ice issues) track, with on/off connections built according to the best available design.
3) When leaving your house in the morning, your vehicle would be charged. You would drive as normal, at speeds up to 30 MPH (battery-powered cars can do this now, and by lightening the vehicles, could do so more efficiently). If you're staying in town, you'd just use your battery to get around.
4) If you need to travel a distance however, you'd access the electromagnetic trunk line. The driver drives onto the access ramp and a hook on top of the vehicle interfaces with the electromagnetic trunk line, which is near ground level on the ramp. The line would raise in height as you drive forward, engaging the electromagnetic current and lifting the vehicle off the ground. At this point, there is no longer any need to "drive." The car will be ferried like a personal train.
a) While traveling, the driver could use a computer, watch TV, TALK ON THE PHONE, swing their seat to converse with passengers, etc. Think of the hours wasted looking at the car in front of you. Drivers could use this time as they saw fit.
b)Vehicles on the line could move at whatever speed is determined to be safe. While traveling, a system of sensors would ensure no collisions with cars in front or in back, and keep traffic at evenly spaced intervals. Traffic jams would be eliminated completely. Multiple redundancy can be built in, by having parallel lines, allowing for maintenance on one while traffic moves on the other.
c) Additionally, while traveling on the line, a turbine can recharge the car's batteries through wind power (airliners currently have such a system for emergency power generation).
d) The driver would program in their destination exit when entering the line; or they could exit whenever they pleased. Accidents due to sleeping/inattentive drivers can be eliminated by having an alarm sound, and redundancy built in by having long off-ramps where, if the driver failed to retake control of their vehicle, the vehicle would coast to a stop.
6) Upon leaving the line, vehicles would have fully charged batteries, and would again act just like today's cars. The battery system must have a range of at least 100 miles, which is easily achievable; if they do, any vehicle would always be able to recharge by driving to the nearest trunk line.
7) If power is needed for the lines (possible), the fact that they are stationary would allow for geothermal power production, which cuts down on at-home power usage for recharging batteries.
What the hell, I'll stop there. If you've followed so far, thanks. You've either got the concept or are thoroughly confused.
1) Drastic reduction in oil usage. This concept would remove a huge percentage of cars from the road, while allowing people to keep their personal vehicles. This is the heart of the plan, because the public might actually go for it. They're not going for trains. I'm from Wisconsin and we just lost that fight here.
2) Travel along trunk lines could be freaky fast - say 120 MPH on interstate lines. The electromagnetic rail eliminates most friction and, if lightweight, the vehicles could be propelled with very small energy usage.
3) Freight could be shipped in a series of specially designed cargo vehicles. They need not even have drivers for long distance trips. They could be programmed to exit at a particular point, then herded into a siding (much as train cars today) and distributed. This eliminates huge semi-loads riding on highways alongside human passengers and all the dangers inherent in them.
4) Having the vehicles ride at a height of ten feet means all highways could, in time, be eliminated. The cars would simply ride through the air and thousands of acres of pavement (and all the construction/maintenance costs associated with them) could be eliminated. The country could be whole again, and the only roads that would be necessary would be in populated areas and minor connections.
5) Programs could be created in which, by turning in and recycling your old gasoline-powered vehicle, you provide the raw materials to create a new vehicle built to these specifications. This would create a glut of steel, plastic, and other materials; these materials would not need to be mined anew. The costs of the new vehicles could be exponentially decreased.
6) The grid will be incrementally installed. First, build coverage every 100 miles. Then split those lines and have coverage every 50 miles; then keep constucting until the trunk lines are everywhere they're needed. Obviously, the lines should be denser in Southern California than in Nebraska. But this coverage can grow organically, just as the interstate highway system originally grew, and along the same right-of-ways.
7) Best of all, hundreds of thousands of lives will be saved from fiery, completely pointless deaths, and at least an equal number of maimings and injuries eliminated. Might there be accidents? Sure, but it will be a fraction of the amount currently happening every day on our crumbling, expensive, dangerous highways.
Ah, I'm getting tired writing all this. As I said, either you've got the concept by now or not, or you just quit reading. I probably forgot to mention an important piece of this puzzle, but I'm sure you'll let me know. If you're still with me, thanks for your attention.
I'm no engineer and am not incredibly proficient in the technologies needed to make this happen, but I'm not unlearned, either. I believe there's nothing in this concept that can't be easily achieved by today's technologies in battery design, electromagnetic power generation, etc. All that would be necessary would be a will to change.
As I said, this is a paradigm shift, but to be honest, much less of one than was necessary to switch from horse drawn carriages to cars. That transition took around twenty years (1910-1930). Almost exactly 100 years later, we need to do it again. We're running out of time.
Reward: Having my daughter grow up in a world no longer addicted to oil, and not having her have to risk a horrible death in a high-speed highway crash.