This article looks at an innovative continuous system of inland container shipping – an all electric and fully automated steel monorail.
A state of the art system
The system is capable of transporting goods in all weather conditions, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Travelling in silent procession, without the need to pass through our already overcrowded cities, goods could be moved a distance of 1,200 kilometres per day, whilst consuming less energy and emitting lower levels of pollution than more conventional modes of transport. Early estimates suggest that commercial costs (tonneskilometres) could be reduced to nearly half that of the current cost of transporting containers by road, taking into account driver absence and the relatively low cost of both infrastructure and required maintenance.
Control status of goods
With the potential to move 40 million tonnes per year, each line would serve intermediate stations for the loading and unloading of containers, with the stoppage used to conserve energy and absorb speed. The containers would be loaded onto individual platforms, capable of carrying up to 40 tonnes each, which would travel 100 metres apart. Each platform will contain a mini onboard computer that manages its acceleration and constant 50 km/h speed, stopping only at its final destination. The computer is also programmed to follow a freight route map, which is activated upon receiving its cargo. Depending on the logistics of the line, empty containers can also be transferred to other stations if required. Platforms can be identified with an electronic code, which will be read by electronic readers located at a number of points along the line. This will enable customers to track the exact position and status of their goods in real time.
Current state of the sector
Sharing the same infrastructure for passengers and freight is not a sustainable solution for the future. The concept of the ‘Roman road’ is a design of the past and too costly today. The required reform of present infrastructures and maintaining bridges, viaducts and tunnels are the biggest obstacles in developing a sustainable future for rail freight, and could be as costly or more than this innovative model.
In addition, the conventional freight railroad is not an adequate alternative to confront the challenge of both environmental and economic objectives. It presents many limitations. The main problem is that the current system is far from complying with the efficiency required by the market. The diesel weight of locomotives requires high resistance from its supporting infrastructure and emits high levels of CO2. It is also unable to operate on slopes with a gradient above 1.5 percent, while passenger trains are an all too common service disruption. The track gauge is not international, at least in some countries. All these factors explain why conventional rail is struggling to deliver its target of a 40-50 percent share of the total freight market. In Spain this is as low as four percent, while the rest of Europe averages just a 20 percent share.
Road truck system
At 90 kilometres per hour (km/h), 90 percent of the engine power of trucks is consumed by the rolling resistance of both the road surface and aerodynamic drag – 90 kilowatts (kW) and 71 kW respectively. This energy consumption and the incidence of driver cost means that the total cost of a road transport system is about twice that of the monorail concept. Fourteen percent of motorway accidents are related to the presence of trucks and members of this profession have one of the poorest levels of workforce health.
The estimated capacity on each line could be over 40 million tonnes per year, which over a 1,000 km route would generate 600 million of saved costs, whilst saving up to two million tonnes of CO2 emissions against the classic road traffic model.
Aerodynamic drag resistance
Accredited tests reveal that at 85 km/h a truck with an 8.7 square metre (m2) frontal area consumes 71 kW (95HP). In comparison, a platform with a 7m2 frontal area at 50 km/h would consume 19kW (25HP).
The rolling coefficient of steel wheels on the steel monorail compared to tyres on asphalt is 1:9. A 10-wheel trailer at 85 km/h absorbs 90kw (120 HP), compared to 15kw (19HP) by a railroad platform.
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