Transporting objects and people over large distances has always taken a significant amount of time, money, and energy—but the whole process became much more streamlined when rail transport was first invented. As one of the most efficient ways to transport items wherever they need to be, rail transport and its support systems are one of the topics of a lot of cutting-edge railway track systems engineering and design.
Where did this technology come from, however? And where will it be going in the future? Let’s take a quick look at where rail transport has come from so we can see what its future holds.
The History of Rail Transport
Rail transport refers to a mode of travel based on land. It revolves around wheeled vehicles and tracks which themselves feature rails. The main difference between rail transport and road transport is simply the fixed track which rail transport features. With very few exceptions, rail transport cars have to follow a fixed track.
There were several instances of successful rail transports in ancient times, with the first rail transport system found dating all the way back to the sixth century in Greece. However, it wasn’t popularly used until Germany re-founded the technology in the eighteenth century. These railway system still differed significantly from those familiarized in modernity, however: the eighteenth century Germans were still using horses to pull their locomotives.
Modern rail transport as we know it was first conceptualized and implemented in Great Britain in the early nineteenth century with the invention of the steam locomotive. From there, numerous spin-offs were invented over the course of the following century, leading to the subway and metro system spidering all across both Europe and the Americas.
Another improvement made was the arrival of the electricity-powered train, which occurred in the late eighteenth century. Once the personal automobile made an early arrival in the nineteenth century, the rail-based locomotive experienced a bit of a decrease in popularity because of the ease and versatility of the automobile. However, in modernity, we’re currently seeing a bit of a resurgence of the popularity of the locomotive.
There could be several reasons for this. One has simply to do with the lowering resources we have on hand for automobile use. Utilizing trains does help with the amount of congestion on the road, which helps reduce traffic incidents. Finally, using a train system does cut back down on the amount of emissions used by personal vehicles.
That’s a quick look at where rail transport has come from over the years. Where is the future of rail transport headed to?
The Future of Rail Transport
According to at least one source, the future of rail transport will be predicated heavily on the evolution of technology and how it relates to motion. This isn’t a surprise, as this is how rail transport has evolved up to this point.
As the current big strides in energy technology relate to renewable resources, there’s a good chance that the next big surge in railway technology will relate to solar or wind energy. However, when discussing optimizing rail transport, you have to think about all of the hardware involved: namely, both the cars and the energy powering them, as well as the tracks and rails laid down on the ground.
After all, as railway cars are typically build to drive on rails and rails alone, if something happens to the rails, the railway car isn’t going anywhere.
The maintenance and specific geometry of a railway track is very complicated—and very sensitive. If the rail is eroded or covered or warped in any way, the train won’t be able to use it. Therefore, the careful protection of tracks and rails is a huge focus for railway engineers and scientists at this time.
Fortunately, a new technological material called geocells have been earmarked for use in protecting the tracks from losing any of their geometry due to natural degradation. Currently optimized for usage under a variety of differing loads, the use of these and other technologies could decrease the degradation rate (and consequent maintenance and repair costs!) and increase the safety and longevity of rail transport.
Rail transport has been around for millennia and will be here to stay for a long time! This means that our optimizing the process will help many people for years to come. In the future, rail degradation will be a thing of the past due to the scientific strides we’re making now.