Incredible Autonomous Electric Train Doesn't Need Tracks!

Twitter is agog, but Treehugger readers have seen this movie before.

Autonomous Train

Screen Capture

Twitter is agog about this amazing "autonomous electric train that does not need traditional tracks. It runs on a virtual track. Can go everywhere."

We have seen this movie before on Treehugger a few years back when we asked the serious philosophical question: Is This a "Trackless Train" or a Bendy Bus? It was called "art," not for Garfunkel, but for Autonomous Rain Transit. The China Rail Company of Hunan described it:

"ART uses rubber wheels on a plastic core instead of steel wheels. It’s also equipped with the company’s copyrighted technology to automatically guide the vehicles. It carries the advantages of both rail and bus transit systems and is agile and non-polluting... The first ART car is 31 meters (~100') in length, with a maximum passenger load of 307 people or 48 tons. Its top speed is 70 kilometers per hour (43MPH), and it can travel 25 kilometers in distance (15 mi.) after 10 minutes of charging."

Treehugger thought it was really just a big bendy articulated bus and that it was a real stretch to call it a trackless train on virtual rails.

Tweet by @toastfreaker


Don't get us wrong, we love the idea of electric articulated buses—they can carry a lot of people economically. That's why they are used all over Europe and South America. But they are not exactly incredible.

Twitter had great fun with this and was full of school buses and flying buses and articulated buses in cities all over the world. This one in Trondheim seems to be the best example:

Some are overly sarcastic: "This is...a bus. I know it's an incredible development. Something never seen before. A bus. Wow. Amazing. Better than hypersonic drones, supersonic planes, the hyperloop or hydrogen vehicles. A bus. Wow. True development."

Some were reminded of other buses.



Other readers pointed out that articulated buses have been around for a while.

@zdhougton tweet


This exact trackless train/ bendy bus was proposed for Miami, Florida. The mayor loved the idea, saying at the time:

"I believe we are on the cusp of unbelievable transformation, driven by new technology that will place us ahead of other cities because we are in the midst of creating a transportation infrastructure with those new technologies in mind. It’s a solution we can implement now. Not one that will take decades to complete.”



There are good reasons for building a vehicle like this; BRT or Bus Rapid Transit, makes a lot of sense in countries where they cannot afford rail infrastructure. As Jarrett Walker noted, "there is simply not enough money to build massive rail transit systems, at least not quickly and at the necessary scale." There are good reasons not to call it a bus, either, as Laura Bliss of Citylab says there is a stigma to buses.

"What’s in a name? When that word is “bus,” [there are] a lot of strongly negative reactions. Studies in cities over the world show that riders overwhelmingly prefer trains—whether subways, streetcars, or light-rail systems—to buses."

But in the end, that's what it is. It may be electric, it may be quasi-autonomous, it may even be useful and have a role to play, but still–it's a bus. A big bus.

The Big Bus poster

The Big Bus