Transportation on Beta Prime – Railroads versus Maglev

Set 500 years into the future, a future that includes hyperspace travel, one would think such old technology as traditional railroads would have long ago been dispensed of, replaced with sexy, futuristic types of transportation such as Maglev trains.

In the universe of Thomas Sullivan, guess again. Many old technologies stick around, even today, because they work, they’re cost effective and efficient enough to not warrant replacement.

The second installment in the series, Last Train to Nowhere, features just such old school railroad technology. Albeit a bit more modern than what one finds today.

Take for example the U.S. Army’s Ma Duece, the venerable .50 caliber machine gun, the M-2 Browning, introduced into service in 1919. My grandfather, a WW II veteran of the Battle of the Bulge lovingly referred to the M-2 as the “Meat Chopper.” A half-track version with quad-mounted M-2s intended for anti-aircraft purposes was even more effective in an infantry support role.

I digress.

Steel wheels on steel rails is the most efficient form of transportation currently available to man. It is more efficient than moving freight on water (ships and barges), via air (air freight) or by road (rubber tired wheel on asphalt or concrete road).

Maglev trains in theory should be more efficient as there is no contact between the track and the train itself. The train is levitated off and above the track by opposing magnetic forces. These same forces are used to propel the train at impressive speeds. Existing prototypes have been clocked at over 300 mph with a top speed of 375 mph.

Benefits include almost no moving parts, little to no mechanical wear on the track, friction comes only from the need to displace air and typical speeds are amazing.

There are a few cons however. It is believed snow and ice, a constant on Beta Prime, would have no impact on Maglev technology. Note: at this time, no current Maglev technology has been tested or operated in normal winter conditions involving large amounts of snow and ice on the rail network.

I personally have serious doubts about the claims of engineers in regard to the technology and winter operating conditions. Regular railroads require specialized equipment to operate in snow and ice and with good reason. One of which is the simple accumulation of snow drifts which can reach 10-20 feet in height.

Explain to me how Maglev technology works under those conditions?

A few more cons exist. Once the Maglev technology is turned off at the end of a run, traditional steel wheels on rails are required to move the train.

Problems in controlling the magnetic fields and the magnets themselves are ongoing. Several failures have led to spectacular crashes at high speed.

The faster the train travels, the greater the energy requirements to operate a Maglev. The same is not true for traditional, current railroad technology once the train is traveling over 10 mph.

Finally, for the sake of the story, the cold weather made the energy output required to operate such technology on Beta Prime cost prohibitive.

Does this mean Maglev trains don’t exist in the universe Thomas Sullivan lives in 500 years from now? No. Just not on worlds like Beta Prime or less developed planets who lack the capital to build expensive hi-tech systems for transportation.

If it’s not broken, there is no need to fix it.

Steel wheels on steel rails, next to Maglev tech, is still the most efficient method to transport heavy, bulk freight long distances.

Besides, Sullivan carries an old school chemically propelled kinesthetic energy projectile weapon, a .50 caliber revolver!

In the tradition of the Space Western Firefly, you will see amazing technologies for those who can afford them. The rest of the universe gets by with what they can.

Signup for The Inspector’s Report Newsletter! Keep up with Inspector Thomas Sullivan and his friends. Get updates on when the next book will be published. Enjoy the occasional short story and read author K.C. Sivils’ musings about science fiction, crime noir and what ever else is on his mind.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

The Thomas Sullivan Chronicles and Other Stories