THE ideal mode of transit for men and their belongings would he one that was safe, swift, without fatigue, noiseless, dustless, out of the direct rays of the sun, with air and light enough, — in a word, comfortable in all respects, and cheap.
It is needless to point out that none of the existing modes of travel combine all these conditions. We have only to pass them in review to be sure of this. Walking is usually safe, but is not swift. Riding is swifter, but is not always safe nor cheap. Driving is often very agreeable, but it is rarely dustless except when the roads are muddy, never noiseless, seldom entirely smooth except when sleighs are used, not always sunless, not always safe, and often it is anything but cheap. Moreover, whether for walking, riding, or driving with pleasure, well-built and well-kept roads are requisite, and these, especially in the newer parts of the country, are acquired and maintained only at very great expense.
Boats are often sailed in with great enjoyment, and some of them far outstrip carriages on the road in speed. They are free from the annoyance of dust, and can be shaded from the sun ; they glide, and, under favorable conditions, smoothly. They are, however, rarely free from some one or other drawback, such as calms, adverse winds, rough seas, seasickness, collisions, defective seamanship, smell of tar or cooking, jar or noise of machinery ; and, except where voyages are taken for pleasure, as in yachts or excursion steamers, there is often ennui, lack of congenial company, or else unpleasant company, and impatience at the length of the voyage, whether it be short or long. Besides, natural waterways are not found everywhere, and artificial ones afford pleasure only to eccentric persons who find joy in life on a canalboat.
Velocipedes, bicycles, and the like are often swift; they are generally noiseless, and raise but little dust; as made now, they are far safer than they were but a little while ago; once paid for, they can, with care, be kept in constant use at little cost. Perhaps they are the gout preventives of the future. But they cannot be used without fatigue, and they are not practicable for very heavy persons, the old, the infirm, the very young, and those whose personal belongings cannot be done up in a small roll and strapped to the handle.
Railroads are our swiftest form of transit, but they are seldom free from dust except when elevated, never noiseless. Traveling on them is said to be safer, on the average, than driving; but their lack of fresh, cool, dustless, cinderless air, and their jar and noise, create great drawbacks to comfort. The pleasure to be had from any of the previously mentioned ways of travel is generally felt to be absent from railway travel. The railway journey offers a convenient mode of changing one place and locality for another ; few ever acknowledge that they travel longer or shorter distances by rail for the enjoyment of the thing. The excitement of a journey on the cow-catcher belongs to the ultra-sensational in life.
Elevated railways are less dusty than railways on the ground, and the cars rarely run over people who do not go quite out of their way to get run over by them; but still they are noisy, and it is a terrible strain on the legs for most people to mount to them.
Electric railways may be, nay, often are, swift; but if swift and not elevated, they cannot be made safe to those whose way lies necessarily, or even by choice or inadvertence, across their path. This drawback they share with all surface railways. The killing of three or four persons in a day is not an unheard-of record for the surface railways of one of our cities. Such is the complacence of some men that a noted electric railway has received high praise for its thoughtfulness and generosity in making permanent hospital provision for the persons it expects, as an incident to its career, to maim. Electric graveyards may yet form a graceful feature of our larger cities. Where electric railways are trolley roads, there is the further danger from the falling of the deadly wire when weighted with ice and snow in winter storms, or when loosened by any other cause. As to storage batteries, until they have been longer and more generally in use we cannot say that they are safe from the possibility of applying electricity to their passengers at some inopportune moment, under an untoward combination of circumstances. But the trolley roads are cheap, and are a distinct advance in human achievement in so far as they embody the principle of energy transmitted as needed, — though they suffer an inordinate waste, — instead of transmitted in bulk or given quantities, as, for instance, stored up in a steamship s load of coal, or a storage battery’s charge of electricity. They are in the line of man’s previous great achievements,— the steam engine, printing, gunpowder, letters, fire.
The flying-machine, to which some look for the ideal mode of transit of the future, would be dustless, indeed, and would be quiet, we suppose; but so far it has not proved so fully controllable as to be certainly safe, and for purposes of general use is ideal, indeed, but not an immediately realizable ideal.
Is there, then, no immediately realizable ideal mode of transit that shall be safe, both to its passengers and to those in the streets of cities and in the roads or fields of the open country; safe, producing little or no fatigue, silent, free from dust and direct sunshine, with air and light enough ; in a word, comfortable, and yet cheap ? We answer that a slightly elevated electric trolley road, so little elevated that there would be almost no fatigue in walking up an inclined plane or a few steps to reach its carriages, and just enough so that folk can walk or drive vehicles under it, could be made to meet all these conditions.
If the nickel-in-the-slot machine gave access, by turnstiles, to the platforms, admitting one passenger at each turn, no ticket-sellers, gatemen, or conductors would he needed. If the stations were at even distances apart, or even at known distances apart, no brakemen nor enginemen nor motormen would be needed. Each train, or, better still, each carriage, could have its motor apparatus. Sufficient electricity could be sent along the rail to carry the train to its destined station or platform, stop the train and open the carriage doors, and then be taken off until the train, after stopping a fixed time, be ready slowly to close its carriage doors and start again. This could be managed mechanically by contrivances that telegraphed back any defect in their action to the central or electric plant station. Such details are no more unachievable than many automatic and electric contrivances now in use. Even such automata could determine when not to send on the train, and as well when to send it on or stop it, much as pin-machines throw out defective pins, or screw-machines turn the heads of screws to right or left as needed to fit them neatly in their boxes.
If the electricity be sent along a stiff rail, as was done, for instance, with the intramural railway at Jackson Park, the swinging wire, with its liability to break under a coat of ice and snow, would be gotten rid of. The safety of the passengers would be further secured by making the floors of the station platforms and the floors of the carriages on a level, and, like the floors of the " moving sidewalk,” fitting so close together that one could scarcely drop a pin between them, much less get foot caught or fall bodily between them.
If our electricians should not soon find a way to dispense with such frequent power houses as now, yet if a trolley road with its frequent power houses is cheaper than a steam road, the same would seem true of every like distance or collection of distances. And besides, with engineers or motormen or trolleymen and their attending brakemen, and the conductors, or their superseders, the gatemen and ticket-sellers, and their housing, all dispensed with, the cheapness of the transit would be indeed ideal. With the danger of running over people eliminated by the elevation of the road, and the danger from fall of the trolley wire eliminated by the substitution of something less liable to fall, like a rail, and with the danger of collisions eliminated by having all vehicles on one track always go in the same direction, continuing on around the circuit to form the home journey, as in cable roads, safety would be ideal as compared with the condition of things under present methods.
With all danger from collisions and running over people brought to an end, and all passengers, and even freight, running at the same velocity between stations, there would be no limit to the rate of speed possible, whether this refer to the rate of speed between stations near together in a town, or to stations far apart in the open country. There might be separate sets of rails for roads with their stations near together, and for roads with their stations far apart. Whether the two might not be combined is a question ; but even with different roads and locomotors for town use and long-travel use, whether or no under one corporation, we should not be worse off than at present as to such separation of roads, while much better off in many other ways.
Now as to the rails and the carriages. How stupid it is to think that we must always be improving in but one direction ! Doubtless, advantages are gained by continually making passenger cars and freight cars bigger and stronger and heavier, and making locomotives bigger and stronger and heavier, in order to draw ever longer and heavier trains. But the English and continental European railways find an advantage in their smaller and lighter passenger coaches and goods-train vehicles. All big things have their uses, no doubt, but they have their drawbacks, also. Big steamers are an immense gain over small ones in many ways, but not in all ways, as the Great Eastern taught us. Big omnibuses, those in Paris that carry forty people, drawn by three horses, big street cars on grip-rope lines, and the like, have their advantages, their great advantages, certainly. But on the other hand, not only has the hansom, the gig, the buggy, the sulky, each its advantages, but what a lesson we get from the bicycle, double or single, of the value also of improvement in the opposite direction, — the making of things small and light, and though strong enough, yet not too strong for lightness and limited occupancy of space ! The parcels that fly in light cradles, just big enough to contain them, along the ceilings of our great retail stores teach a lesson. What a lesson the tiny elevator, only large enough to carry two or three letters or a telegraphic message or two, that flies up and down in some great printing establishment, teaches, as well as the vast elevators in the Eiffel Tower or some huge twenty-story building!
What a lesson in the values of subdivision is also taught by our modern method, for example, of putting up provisions in small packages! How such subdivision has led to facilitating distribution, and so to vastly increased use! What a lesson as to the profits of the providers of these packages, as well as to the increased comfort and convenience to the users of them, we learn from the study of the system ! It is in many respects a modern innovation. Once, for instance, each family did its own slaughtering. People had calf’shead soup or ox-tail soup say twice a year ; and then too much of it, and with great trouble and possible waste. Now these things are put up in small packages, to the great convenience of consumers, and profit to the providers of them. Why should we have on railroads a few big trains, crowded with passengers, at hours inconvenient to many of them, instead of numerous small trains, with fewer passengers, but at more frequent intervals ? Because of the conductors, the stokers, the personnel, the engines, required for each train. But if these are dispensed with, as suggested above, at any moment we could get a train or single carriage, and go whither we would.
And how light the carriages might be, especially if, instead of being supported on the rails, they were suspended from the rails! The difference in the amount of material needed to support a weight when hung and when supported in any other way, the difference in the amount of material needed to support a thing by tension as compared with other strains, is perceived when we think of the great weight of frame of timber and iron needed for the floor or platform to carry sixty passengers, a carful, on a railway, and then remember that each one of those sixty passengers could hang himself or herself up with his or her suspenders or garters. The merest baskets would carry people, if suspended ; as we have seen proved by the persons carried formerly in Naples in nets hung under wagons. What a cheapening of travel there would be through the saving of force expended, electric or other, if the weight of the passenger carriages were reduced, as it might be if they were suspended !
Again, as to the fares. In Chicago, one can ride, it is said, on one line and its transfers, some fifteen miles for five cents. That is thirty miles for ten cents, or ninety miles for thirty cents. If this pays with the present methods, whether because the short riders at five cents make up the loss on the long ones, or because there is no loss, then surely, with the costs for conductors and brakemen done away with, we could, by applying the Austrian radii system, go anywhere within a radius of twenty miles for five cents, within a radius of forty miles for ten cents, or within a radius of one hundred miles for twenty-five cents.
The roads, being elevated, could, by a little management, be led to pass over and under one another where they cross. Being elevated, there would be no cuttings and no fillings-in, no roadbed ; beneath them the grain might still be growing. The roads would rest on shorter or longer columns, rising as needed at each point of support along the line. These could be spliced like fishing-rods, and be lighter or stiffer in section as the length called for. There would be better engineering, because inequalities could more easily be corrected ; there would not be, as now, roads more costly in parts than they need be, because of the expense of correcting surveys and plottings.
To save fatigue in mounting to the stations, those in the country could be at points of least elevation of the road. In towns, the few steps needed could be in half-flights that doubled on themselves in adjoining buildings, leaving the streets unobstructed. The platforms here and there, being only over the sidewalk, would be no more noticeable or shadow-casting than the awning of the adjacent store, and the posts supporting the rails no more obstructive than awning-posts.
In the country, there would be no further use for wide, dusty, rough, ill-kept roads, but only shaded lanes for cyclists, for walking, pleasure driving and riding. How beautiful the country would be with hardly any signs of travel beyond a few almost invisible threads winding through the landscape, supported by their slender, low, dark green columns !
Freights would soon adapt themselves to this system of carriage. Packages heavier than a man, which could not be slung into the baskets as lightly and quickly as a passenger could enter them, would become rarer. Grand pianos, heavy machinery, and the fat woman could still travel by the old lines of roads. Heavy freights would still go by them, much as slow freights still go by the canals.
The suspended carriages or passenger baskets could be hung from one rail as well as, or much better than, from two rails. The speed and lessening of friction got from the single tracking of bicycles are well known. Possibly one column could support a pair of branches at its top which would carry the two rails, one for going and the other for returning, as has been already suggested by engineers. And why should carriages be so wide ? The narrower, the lighter. We might go in single file, with probable advantage in construction, weight, and speed. But as man is a social animal, and, since Eden, has had a liking for travel in pairs, the gig, the buggy with its seat for two, might be our ensample in this respect.
Then as to night travel. I am shooting from Chicago to New York without stopping. I have paid for a compartment or basket; whether by itself, or one of a train, matters not. All go the same way, all at the same rate of speed ; all maintain the same nearness of distance from one another fixed at the start. My basket would hold four persons seated as in a landau, two on the back seat and two facing them. But I am alone. I have paid for the four seats. At five hundred miles for a dollar, it is not so very expensive an indulgence. Night comes on. I turn down a strapontin, such as is sometimes found in aisles of theatres. It has been turned up out of the way against the side of the carriage opposite the side entered. Of course the baskets can be entered only from the side, and from but one side, that which is opposite the rail-supporting columns of the road. The side of the carriage opposite the entrance to it is protected with wire netting, so that no one can lose his limb or his head by projecting it from the carriage on that side. The strapontin, when turned down, fills the space between the two seats next the wire netting. The end of the front cushion pulls around over it. I have now a mattress where I can lie at full length. I pull out a pillow, and perhaps a blanket, from under one of the seats. There may be a washing apparatus under the other. I lower the curtains, say of leather, like those of a traveling carriage, or house-cart, or gypsy van. I no more need a negro porter to perform these offices than I do to raise or lower the window, or otherwise make myself comfortable in my own coupé or brougham as I drive in the Park.
The air is delicious. I have as little or as much of it as I like, and no dust, no smoke, no noise. It costs but little. And whether I wake or sleep, it is an Ideal Transit.