Flatland 2: Railroad Boogaloo

Water planes, trains, and automobiles, that’s the fantasy allegorical landscape consuming this post by Ivan Pepelnjak. He paints a landscape where trains have consumed all transportation, to the point that there are no roads, only rails, and on it run electric trains. Cars do exist in this realm, but run on the rails, and are beholden to the train vendors for their efficient electric engines. But now the landscape is changing. New cheap gravel roads allows for inefficient gas cars to run at dirt cheap, and travel places the trains can’t. Ivan wants to know how the train manufacturers will do?

In my mind, these train manufacturers will take a two pronged approach. First, they would look to make a train/car hybrid that can utilize the electric power of the rails, but also handoff to gas power when it would be more efficient to use gas. This of course will be problematic at first, as the wheel design they use will not be nearly efficient enough to properly traverse the gravel, leading to a lot of wasted motion and general inefficiency.

Simultaneously, realizing that everyone cannot or will not want to use these gravel roads with mass access, the train manufacturers will try to pioneer a design for a private gravel drive. This would allow for the same flexible operations, but guarantee a certain discretion demanded by some drivers.

I don’t think Ivan meant for this to be an allegory to the public cloud/on-prem distinction, but dang it, that’s where my mind went!

Ivan Pepelnjak comments:

Imagine a Flatworld in which railways are the main means of transportation. They were using horses and pigeons in the past, and experimenting with underwater airplanes, but railways won because they were cheaper than anything else (for whatever reason, price always wins over quality or convenience in that world).

As always, there were multiple railroad tracks and trains manufacturers, and everyone tried to use all sorts of interesting tricks to force the customers to buy tracks and trains from the same vendor. Different track gauges and heptagonal wheels that worked best with grooved rails were the usual tricks.


Read more at: Railroads and Cars: a Fairy Tale

About the author

Rich Stroffolino

Rich has been a tech enthusiast since he first used the speech simulator on a Magnavox Odyssey². Current areas of interest include ZFS, the false hopes of memristors, and the oral history of Transmeta.

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