Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
What’s a Gadgetbahn? (2017) (cat-bus.com)
61 points by dsego 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments

Yeah, hyperloops. Going to be insanely cheap. Right. The one route that might have made sense, Dubai to Abu Dhabi, seems to not be happening. That was over empty flat desert, and had government support, so it might have been built.

Monorails are a working technology, but still niche. China has 140Km or so. Japan has about 80Km. They're useful when you have to cram a transit system into a built-up city. The switch problem has been solved. But there's still little standardization; each is a one-off.

BART started as a gadgetbahn. Active suspension. Solid state motor control. Computerized train control. Very fancy. All three of those systems had major problems in the early years. Forty years later, everybody has those features.

Japan is building a maglev from Tokyo to Nagoya and on to Osaka. It makes sense there. Those are Japan's three biggest urban areas, and they're in a line. There's a mountain range in the way, and so much tunneling is required (about 250Km) that the tunneling cost is more than the maglev cost. 45Km of the route is already running in test, so most of the debugging is already done. Started in 2007, planned opening 2027, coming along nicely.

The Morgantown (WV) personal rapid transit system, built in the 1960s, is still running. Last year it got a refresh - new electronics and propulsion. Works OK, but was never cost-effective.

The problem with billionaires guessing what lowly commuters want is that they focus on speed and comfort instead of the more mundane issues as "bum with distinct urine smell", "person who ate several garlic cloves the evening before" and "menacing group of youths".

The problems you point out can't be solved by more money for public transit, and are not what people in countries with better public transit than the US complain about.

From a UK perspective (commuting to London 60+ miles each way) speed and comfort are an issue.

See the "new" trains by Siemens on the Bedford - Brighton line which have worse comfort and reliability that the older electro stars.

Do the trains actually have comfort or reliability problems, or do people just assume they must? The seats look incredibly thin, but are actually much more comfortable than the ones they replaced IME. Early days saw a lot of train cancellations but that was due to not having enough trained drivers rather than any technical issues.

Not from my experience the elctrostars where much more comfortable for longer > 20 min commutes and there are no power points and no tables at all in standard.

Also affordability for those on minimum wage.

A train ride cannot be more expencive than the car, then the car will be used.

In the U.K. it often is.

Yes, that's what I'm complaining about. Here in Sweden the fuel for planes are so subsidised that it's most of the time cheaper to fly than to take the train. And if you go alone by car shorter distances it's about the same price as the bus. If you are two in the car it's already much cheaper.

I don't care what gets built, but the province really needs more trains. "The market is too small", people tell me. But then I see all the cars on the highway between Montreal and Sherbrooke and I'm pretty sure there is enough people there to fill a train every 1-2 hour. What the current prime minister really wants is just more room for cars (see "3e lien") . The "much more modern things" (than trains) are probably just a way to keep us thinking & talking while not building train lines for another 3 years.

Next to a train line you'll need a lot of more fine-grained transport though - like buses - to get people from train stations to their final destination. In addition it needs to be as expensive (or cheap) as driving, and not take any more time.

I used to live somewhere / have a commute where the time difference between public transit and driving was negligible. Nowadays I live somewhere much nicer, but I drive to work; the drive is 15-20 minutes, public transit would take me an hour. There is some traffic issues from time to time, but even with traffic it's faster than public transit.

I would love more & cheaper VIA Rail trains in Canada as well... Especially when so many train cars are running empty! https://emptytrains.com/ (petition started about a year ago).

It was in the news (all articles/videos in French) [0][1].

[0] https://ici.radio-canada.ca/premiere/emissions/medium-large/...

[1] https://www.lesoleil.com/actualite/un-collectif-pour-des-tra...

A key aspect of Gadgetbahns is they are always Not Trains™ and the reason for that is because trains are old tech that is hard to hype, but moreso because hard data already exists for how expensive trains are to build and Gadgetbahn advocates would rather have the luxury of pulling numbers out of their ass.

Another thing they share is they have almost all the same requirements as trains, and thus, inevitably, similar costs.


A lot of times, you will see things like “this new technology can be built elevated/underground really cheaply so you don’t have to buy the land underneath!” Except that’s not how property rights work in Western countries at all, and at a practical level things like emergency walkways or fire ventilation or maintenance passageways end up eating whatever the miniscule difference in right-of-way width is.

You also have the matter of the Gadgetbahn advocate convienently neglecting to mention that most of the cost of a typical subway system goes into the cavernous stations. They pretend the costs of a modern subway station is purely the cost per mile of tunnel, and that's the number they compare their pure cost per mile number to.

So the subway cost per mile includes stations, while the Gadgetbahn cost per mile doesn't include anything other than tunnel boring. Certainly not the costs of each ludicrous car elevator.

AM/FM is an engineer's term distinguishing the inevitable clunky real-world faultiness of "Actual Machines" from the power-fantasy techno-dreams of "Fscking Magic."

This applies with the gadgetbahn. It is best when a gadgetbahn doesn't actually work properly, is slightly dilapidated and from a future that never happened. There used to be a monorail at Birmingham Airport (UK) that took people to the trains or maybe to the exhibition centre. This eventually was scrapped but for a while it provided visitors with something to talk about. Rather than discuss the food on the flight (yawn) you could discuss the monorail. I thought the monorail added great value and was well worth the trouble of its existence just because it provided people with a little conversation starter. Heck, I am talking about it now, decades on. Therefore it is well worth any city getting a gadgetbahn rather than some giant Ferris Wheel to put them on the map. A gadgetbahn can give the illusion of being 'business travel' and serious in a way that something like the London Eye cannot.

Gadgetbahns are nice pluses assuming unlimited resources, but in reality they end up taking limited resources away from other projects or bread-and-butter services. Conversation starters don't really pay the bills.

Detroit's PeopleMover is a useless toy gadgetbahn that was expensive and served not a lot while the citywide bus system literally fell to pieces.

The arguments around monorail vs light rail in Seattle during the '90s and '00s probably set back transit back a good decade.

Hyperloop/AVs are currently being used as talking points across the United States as an argument to put off public transportation investments for decades more.

In some cases they even get in the way of things; Sydney tore its city center monorail down to build a useful light-rail link for commuters instead.

Swarms of single occupancy drones, summoned by phone apps, drop out of the sky and embrace people with tentacles, flit off at their preferred maximum g-force and gently deposit them at their destinations, squirting away for the next fare.

Make it so.

> The word is a portemanteau of the English “Gadget” and the German word “bahn”, which means rail or train.

To nitpick bahn[0] can refer to these concepts, but actually has a wider meaning. The most well known of these is of course the Autobahn.

I've always taken it to be closer to the British English word 'way' as used in railway, motorway and right-of-way.

Perhaps Gadgetway would be a more consistent term, or even Gerätbahn if we're going for a full loanword.

[0] https://www.dict.cc/?s=bahn

To be a little contrarian: what would New York City look like today if they had dismissed the Subway as a "gadgetbahn" back in 1894?

It isn't though; it's a conventional rail system, nothing too fancy there. And it solved an actual problem, unlike e.g. the monorail vs conventional high speed rails.

It's conventional now, but initially the idea of putting trains underground beneath a city must have sounded a lot like a Hyperloop or whatever does today. (Which isn't to say that I think these current gadgetbahns are good ideas.)

You're mistaken. Decades before the New York Subway (opened 1904), you had the Cobble Hill Tunnel running three quarters of a kilometer under the streets of Brooklyn (1844). And the New York Subway was preceded in an much more substantial way by the Metropolitan Railway in London (proposed in the 1830s, began construction in the 1850s), that would eventually become the London Underground. The Metropolitian Railway took a conservative incremental approach to existing technology. The locomotives were steam and the tunnels were cut and cover. Subway systems as we know them to day are the product of nearly two centuries of incrementing on already proven technology.

If you want a real example of a 19th century Gadgetbahn in New York, the obvious example is the Beach Pneumatic Transit (which was a total flop and was remarkably similar to Elon's "hyperloop" in numerous other ways as well.)

The difference is that as of today most public transport concepts have been tried and evaluated. None of them offered enough advantages to justify the cost of building a new network.

Of course, it happens that new technology makes older concepts suddenly viable. But in public transport, the cost of the track is one of the major factors. The high cost for Maglev tracks killed the technology (yes, it may work in Japan where the geography leads to lines with insane capacity demands). Hyperloop will suffer from the same problem.

The New York subway started with a revolutionary pneumatic railway and some other lines using standard gauge railway tracks. The pneumatic railway was quickly abandoned.

Less room for cars on the roads and a lot more surface trains.

One comment on the article is particularly apt: “And remember: monorails, maglevs, and now hypeloops and robot cars are the transportation of the future! Always have been, always will be!”

Some other examples include the Bruno Latour classic report on the French "Aramis" system https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aramis,_or_the_Love_of_Technol...

"Guided buses" seem to be in the same category. Edinburgh had some which were replaced by conventional trams at great cost. Cambridge has some which has endemic problems: https://www.smartertransport.uk/guided-busway-defects/

The Simpsons covered this topic back in 93 :) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marge_vs._the_Monorail

The town I live in is too small for an U-Bahn. Nevertheless it's obvious to anyone paying attention that on-street parking, commuting, and delivery are creating impediments to our happiness and well being.

I have often wondered what a delivery U-Bahn might look like... something that was devoted entirely on deliveries of materials and packages.

Anything to get more of the cars and trucks off the streets and devote more space in the city to people.

> and delivery are creating impediments to our happiness and well being. > I have often wondered what a delivery U-Bahn might look like

Instead of having delivery vans on the sidewalk, you'd have U-Bahn-to-store forklifts on the sidewalk.

We need proper Biohazard filters in our trains. Thats way more important and actually relevant than those Gadgetbahns and no one is talking about it :(.

I'm more sick than collegues using there cars and bikes. That is really expensive.

And there might be a moment in time where it is not a cold virus.

No one is talking about it because you can't prevent infections from spreading in crowded environments.

So there is no advantage at all having some filter on top of the train, pushing the air from top or bottom to the other direction?

I would assume that those droplet infections should become less.

Sick people touch surfaces, you touch surfaces. Then you touch your face.

Thats were you wrong. Not touching nothing in the sbahn if i have to!

Isn’t that a name of the zone in WoW? Or am I thinking Gadgetzan?

nearly all passenger trains are gadgetbahns, automobiles are much easier to scale and likely more environmentally friendly when occupancies on the train are low

Automobiles are easier to scale until you hit a brick wall. Subways and trains can transport a lot more people than roads. A subway line with modern signalling can have a train every 45 seconds or so. It's impossible to match that with normal roads. Dense cities can't function without trains. Imagine London, Tokyo, or New York without the subway.

1. Yes trains in very dense areas or connecting dense areas make sense - that's why my comment says "nearly all" trains

2. Everywhere else, even in dense cities, cars are very good at delivering people from where they are to where they want to go, without a large investment in single-purpose facilities like passenger railroads.

Especially in the US, it makes almost no sense to send passengers on rail when it would be more time efficient to fly between dense areas, and use the railroads for transporting freight - a task where they excel.

I'd argue that in dense cities cars are about the worst mode of transport for able-bodied people. For almost all trips a combination of a bicycle and a train is faster. Cars are expensive. Cars pollute. Car infrastructure, especially parking, consumes valuable living space. Cars cause deadly accidents.

All those things are true, but you must balance the bad against the huge good - cars are effective at moving people around the city and to the suburbs.

Is there a source on that? I would expect an electrically propelled train to be extremely efficient from an emissions standpoint and to have far far lower emissions when occupied, enough to offset running a few empty ones.

If you look at the operational emissions, this is true. Infrastructure does however play a role. Planes have high operational emissions but require little infrastructure. Trains have little emissions but require enormous infrastructure.

It's however completely unclear to me which CO2-calculators account the infrastructure, and which do not.

The cost of infrastructure is extremely hard to quantify. Roads aren't free either, and parking in cities makes them less dense and hence increases the distances people need to travel.

Where does the CO2 cost of the infrastructure come in? Is that just in construction or do rails somehow emit CO2? Or are you just saying that rails take up space and that's an environmental impact too?

I feel like I'm missing something.

I’m guessing it is in the production and transportation of materials to the site. Subway stations require a lot of material to build, so you’d have the CO2 cost of the concrete, rebar, etc... rail lines don’t have much material, but producing steel does take a lot of energy. And if the line is between large metro areas, the rails would need to be transported to (potentially) remote areas.

But I’m guessing that in terms of CO2 impact, these are fixed costs. So, it would seem reasonable to me to assume the operating CO2 costs would dramatically outpace the fixed initial costs, hence why it would be ignored.

Or potentially, when comparing two systems, the initial building/infrastructure CO2 costs may be assumed to be roughly equal, so are factored out.

The German newspaper article names construction and operation of railway stations, and the construction of the infrastructure itself.

My main point is: there seems to be a non-neligible impact, and CO2 calculators don't help me grasp that.

Is the German newspaper also considering the infrastructural costs of road construction, expansion and maintenance (particularly maintenance costs incurred by shipping freight on those roads instead of rails)?

Forget newspapers. Here's an IRU study about combined rail/road freight transport accounting for costs and emissions.

"There is no such thing as a truly environment friendly means of transport. Combined transport is not inherently superior to pure road transport in terms of environmental impact, as measured by energy consumptionand CO2 emissions."


This “study” is literally from an organisation dedicated to keeping freight transport on roads, it’s hardly unbiased, and is actually of very poor quality - I’d expect to see, for example, an explanation of how the routes involved were chosen for the study. Additionally, if the study said anything other than “road freight is good”, it just wouldn’t have been published by this organisation!

Here's the best source I have found for back-of-the-envelope calculations for energy use: http://www.withouthotair.com/c20/page_121.shtml Calculating emissions from energy depends on the local mix of power plants.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact