An innovative idea of developing caterpillar trains that would run over lightweight elevated tracks has won the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Centre for Collective Intelligence award in the transportation category under both the Judges Choice and Popular Choice categories.
The concept has been developed by Indian engineer Ashwani Kumar Upadhaya along with Emil Jacob, a Romanian-American. It was presented at the 14th World Conference on Transport Research in China in July 2016. It will now be presented to leaders from businesses and governments at an MIT Climate CoLab Conference in Boston in the last week of September.
The proposed Caterpillar Trains, running on electricity, consist of an automated mass transit mode of elevated lightweight trains with coaches having seating room for 12-20. Since the trains are small, they can be supported by arches based on both sidewalks of any street unlike monorails, whose tracks are supported by pillars that take up space. As the supporting arches span a sidewalk, commuters can board and get off the rail cars without creating pedestrian traffic. Another feature of the proposed design is that the trains could run both above and below those tracks and also stack into “vertical depots” when not in use so as to minimize storage space.
The coaches can run at speeds up to 100 km/hr. Their small size can help them reach residential areas too. The stations for these trains will be simple platforms, reachable via elevators. The system is supposed to cost only a fifteenth of the conventional metro rail system.
Ashwani Kumar Upadhyaya is an Indian Railways engineer, currently on a study leave at MIT, Boston. About his concept, he said, “The strength of the concept is its simplicity and its practicability. Some ideas are very good on paper, but not practicable. I guess we won because ours was both.”
The concept comes at a time when traffic problems like congestion and greenhouse gas emissions are assuming dangerous proportions in several cities. Self-driving cars and ‘hyperloop’ concepts are the other options being explored. If it can be successful commercially, it could well be the internet of urban transport.