When you think about some of the most pressing issues the world is facing, global warming and pollution definitely come to mind. With the ever increasing number of cars, trucks, motorbikes and whatnot that still run on fossil fuels, our environment isn’t getting healthier, specially in some of the larger cities. In fact, a few cities have gotten so polluted by exhaust fumes and the like that stars in the night sky aren’t visible properly. Speaking of which, Beijing is considered one of the most polluted cities in the world. It is often covered in dense smog caused by industrial and automobile exhaust smoke, to the extent that citizens are asked to wear face masks. If that’s doesn’t sound bad enough, there are large television screens around the city that show a virtual sunrise at appropriate times because the natural sunrise isn’t visible through the smog!
Rapid Transit Systems
That sounds depressing, at the very least, doesn’t it? We keep talking about pollution and how one day it would actually deter daily life, but Beijing is actually experiencing that situation. Our very own New Delhi isn’t too far off from this fate, according to latest reports from the WHO. In fact, it is counted among the most polluted cities in the world. What’s worse is that there’s no less than 8 Indian cities counted among the most polluted in the world, and if we don’t do anything about it, we’ll be in the same situation as Beijing, perhaps worse. One of the largest contributors to air pollution is, without a doubt, automobile exhaust smoke. Electric and hybrid vehicles may be the future, but right now they’re just not cost effective enough for the common man. The lax environment and pollution laws aren’t making things any better either.
The simplest answer to this conundrum would be, public transport. By which we don’t mean buses, but rapid transit systems. So what are rapid transit systems actually? They can be defined as high capacity, directed transport systems that rely on non polluting technologies. Metro rail and subway systems come under this category, and are considered the best examples of clean, inexpensive and fast public transport systems. Because of the ever increasing traffic, rapid transit systems are quickly becoming the primary mode of transport for many commuters in cities around the world, even for those who own vehicles. This is a positive trend, but if we really want to see some change, it has to become the only way that we travel, with automobiles being used only in emergencies or special situations. It’s a pipe dream, granted, but unless these systems are much more widespread, it is difficult. Not to mention, that some of us have to get rid of the social stigma associated with public transport. So here’s everything you need to know about rapid transit systems!
The History of Rapid Transit Systems – How It All Began
Rapid transit systems can trace their roots back to what is now called the London Underground. Originally termed the Metropolitan Railway, it opened in 1863 but was criticized because the smoke from the steam engines caused discomfort to passengers in tunnels. In 1890, the London City & South London Railway started using electric traction systems, which led to cities like New York, Berlin, Paris and many more to implement their own rapid transit systems by 1904. The overhead metro rail system we are so used to today was also first made in the United Kingdom, with the Liverpool Overhead Railway being the first such system. Most early rapid transit systems were seen in Europe, and then in the Americas.
In Asia, the first rapid transit system was made in Tokyo, in 1927. This was followed by China with the Beijing Subway in 1969, and the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR) in 1979. India’s first metro rail system came up in Kolkata in 1984, and was followed by the Chennai MRTS in 1995 and the well known Delhi Metro came up in 2002. Cities like Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Mumbai followed.
Most rapid transit systems rely on the concept of ‘lines’ for operations. They’re basically multiple paths in the system between multiple stations and allow splitting of paths for more efficient travel. It can also be explained as track sharing, where alternate trains take different paths. These stations and lines are then color coded to make it easier for commuters to understand. A couple of cities also used a centralized system where there’s one main station and several substations where you have to change trains. With the help of maps and diagrams, commuters can choose to enter trains depending on time for reaching their destinations.
While most rapid transit systems use electric traction, there are also other types of propulsion systems used, such as monorails and magnetic levitation.
Network Topologies – The Types of Rapid Transit Networks Around the World
There’s so many geographical, historical and social factors to consider to even begin thinking of implementing a rapid transit system, so there’s really no one size fits all approach. Limitations change from city to city, and the only way to create efficient transport systems is to built it around them. Rapid transit systems around the world are built keeping all these factors in mind, hence the different network topologies. They’re basically the layout of the system, and can be very specific to a city, or just standard shapes. Here’s the most commonly used network topologies around the world:
- Circle System (Used in Glasgow)
- Circle-Radial System (Used in London, Tokyo, Beijing)
- Secant System (Used in Athens, Prague, Munich)
- Complex Grid System (Delhi, New York, Berlin)
- X System (Used in Oslo, San Francisco, Amsterdam)
- Diameter Line (Used in Mumbai, Helsinki, Warsaw)
- Air Bladder System (Used in Cairo and Milan)
- Cross System (Used in Rome, Bangalore and Atlanta)
Advantages and Disadvantages
Rapid transit systems have a host of benefits, and positively impact not only the environment, but also things like traffic congestion. It’s more like one of those things that indirectly affects the area around it. Here’s some of the advantages and benefits of a rapid transit system:
- Easier and more efficient public transport
- Less environmental impact
- Low costs for commuters
- Helps with curbing traffic congestion
- Provides job opportunities
- Increases importance of tertiary areas if connected
- Far safer than conventional transport
However, there are difficulties associated with such systems as well, such as:
- High initial costs
- Requires extensive planning and development
- Development phase might deter daily life
- May cause welfare loss and demolishing of property
- Might have high maintenance costs, depending on system types
What’s Next for Rapid Transit Systems?
All factors considered, however, rapid transit systems are still the most viable solutions to a whole host of problems, and optimal usage can reduce pollution and make cities better to live in. It’s the sort of thing that is difficult to implement early on, but once done, the benefits clearly outweigh the disadvantages. For a country like India, rapid transit systems are pretty much a necessity, considering the huge population and density. There’s only so much that roads can be widened, so rather that trying to expand paths that really can’t be, it makes so much more sense to implement elevated transport systems. India has been progressing quite rapidly in this direction, and in fact the Delhi Metro has been awarded the world over for its environmentally friendly construction and running.
So what’s next you ask? Perhaps rapid transit systems that connect cities across the country? It’s very much a possibility, we just need to give it some time. American entrepreneur and CEO of Tesla Motors, producer of powerful electric vehicles, has proposed a new system called Hyper loop, which is theoretically capable of reaching 1,220 km/h, thus making cross country travel very possible. Of course, it’s just in very initial stages and will require a gigantic amount of investment, but perhaps one day we won’t need cars and bikes, and nature will definitely thank us for it!