Ever look at a pneumatic tube at a bank and think, “Why couldn’t I travel like that?” A new form of high-tech transportation called Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT) could take passengers in car-sized capsules traveling through tubes so fast that you could make it from New York to Beijing in two hours. Unlike pneumatic tubes that work with air and suction, the ETT works via magnetic levitation and frictionless tubes. The ETT could travel up to 4,000 miles per hour for long trips (over twice the speed of the supersonic Concorde jet), or 370 miles per hour for shorter trips, and tubes would be routed like freeways to avoid congestion. ETT proponents claim it’s silent, cheaper than planes and faster than jets, though an extensive network of tube rails would have to be constructed to connect the network.
While the capsules may look a bit claustrophobic, the ET3 consortium claims that the transport would provide more room per passenger than airplanes or cars, and TVs could be provided to “provide distraction from negative thoughts.” Tubes would be constructed with emergency escape hatches and EMT facilities in case of emergency, and the braking system would be automatic with multiple backups (unlike the Springfield monorail).
Licenses for the ET3 concept are said to have been sold in five countries, and you can sign up for the “first 3D Virtual Ride” (coming in Q2 of 2011, oops!) on the ET3 website, but a prototype has yet to be developed. ET3 hopes that with more support, low-cost world travel could be possible in a decade. The question remains, would we still have to turn off our electronic devices for the trip?
The 2011 Tour d’Afrique is officially underway! Just three days ago, more than 120 cyclists set off from Cairo, Egypt on a four month, 7,375 mile race across the world’s most exotic and alluring continent. The competitors will pedal through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia before aiming to arrive in Cape Town, South Africa on May 14th.
If you have the urge to drop everything and join them, you can sign up to complete one of the eight partial sections ranging in distance between 1000km and 2000km.
Today’s Photo of the Day from localsurfer isn’t of the Tour d’Afrique, but I think it’s a great illustration of how important bicycles are as a mode of transporation and heavy lifting throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. So much in fact, that a series of social enterprises are now popping up to help local African entreprenuers by building and loaning inexpensive but durable bikes.
The neon pink taxi screeches to a halt. “You must be the best taxi driver in Bangkok.” I declare to the driver, and I mean it.
Moments ago we were at a complete standstill for nearly twenty minutes, in the center of a jammed four-lane road. An everyday occurrence in Bangkok. I had already started considering alternate travel plans, since I was sure that I’d be missing the southbound train.
Could I still make it to Ko Pha Ngan for the full moon party? Were there night buses? How could I have been so foolish as to not account for traffic on the way to the station? And of course, how much would the miscalculation end up costing me? Luckily, the taxi driver was capable of maneuvers that I didn’t know were possible in a moving vehicle. And apparently, he was used to performing them in these situations. The two previous drivers that I had hailed took one look at the departure time on my train ticket and laughed, telling me it wasn’t likely and then quoting an equally unlikely fare. But this courageous driver gave a grin and said “Don’t know, but think it’s possible. We try.”
He nods at me in the mirror and I hand him the amount on the meter plus a few extra baht. I exit the car and rush towards the departures board in the large open-air station. I find the correct platform and at the end of it, the one sleeper car of the train. The sleeper car is easy to spot – a few gargantuan North Face® backpacks are clumsily making an effort to squeeze through the train’s doors. Bingo.
The train is basic. There are no compartments, but rather fold out bunks – two to a berth, with curtains to shut out the light that would remain on all night. In the berths adjacent to me: a girl from Prague, a couple from England, a DJ from Italy, and a Thai family. The train starts rolling, and the sun sets over small packets of wooden shacks that weren’t visible from the lively streets of the city. As we get further outside of Bangkok, the sharp smell of bonfires becomes more frequent and the landscape gradually transitions into dense palm trees.
With every station stop, vendors come on board carrying tea, small cakes, and snacks down the aisles. Instead, I opt to make a trip to the restaurant car where a few tourists are seated playing card games and staring out the window. A young British man that’s had a few too many Changs is asleep at one of the tables, oblivious to the chatter and laughter around him. I ask some of the others for the best strategy to find lodging on Ko Phan Ngan the day before the full moon party – I’ve not booked anything in advance.
Halfway through the night, the spirited head waiter of the restaurant car begins to hook up a television and an amplifier. I’m unable to figure out what’s happening until it’s too late. Thai karaoke.
I would’ve paid more for my ticket if I’d known the train included karaoke, but I guess some gifts in life are free. I try to keep a straight face along with the rest of the tourists in the car, as the slightly tipsy waiter sings his heart out to the songs and the equally humorous music videos that accompany the audio.
(Listen to a quick sample of the karaoke by clicking play)
There’s an inaudible sigh of relief when the Italian DJ offers to hook his computer up to the amplifier and spin some electronic music. Conversation resumes, and it’s a memorable scene: warm summer air drifting through the open train windows. The unhurried repetition of the train’s wheels on the tracks. Scattered palm trees floating by, reflecting light from a nearly-full moon perched high in the night sky. And a little techno music to help prepare us backpackers for the scene that awaits in Ko Pha Ngan.
At four in the morning, those of us departing the train at Surat Thani are prompted awake by the conductors and shuffle out into the bitter morning air. There is a large coach waiting at the train station for those that bought combination tickets – which conveniently whisks us to another bus stop that is packed with other frazzled, sleep-deprived full-moon pilgrims.
One more hour-long coach ride takes us to a ferry pier, where about 150 people sprawl out in under the early morning sun to catch a few moments of sleep. I’ve never traveled with so many other tourists at one time, and I realize that it’s probably the closest I’ve ever come to being on a guided tour. It’s a nice feeling. I don’t have to worry about where I’m going…just follow the crowd.
Eventually the fatigued mass is corralled onto a narrow boat. As the ferry begins to cut through the choppy sea, passengers take turns basking in the sun on the outdoor deck and retreating to the indoor seating area to buy a freshly made ham sandwich.
There’s not much conversation among the passengers at this point, so I silently take a seat next to a few people dangling their legs off the side of the upper deck. The seawater sprays our bare feet and we stare out across the Gulf of Thailand, searching for a glimpse of our destination.
For the previous articles in this series, be sure to check out the entire Dim Sum Dialogues column. If you’re looking to do a similar trip and would like details on the specifics of the transport, feel free to leave a comment below.
“Greyhound” is considered a curse word in some travel circles. With its share of horror stories, America’s most famous bus line has earned a bit of a bad reputation.
I mean, imagine being stuck in a plane for two hours next to a crying baby or someone who thinks you want to hear their life story. Then imagine similar circumstances on a bus where the travel time is multiplied by ten. Bus travel is not for everybody.
Fortunately, Greyhound and others are offering things that are for everybody: cheap fares and free WiFi. Greyhound has launched a budget service called Boltbus. Its competitor, Coach USA, has also put its budget brand, Megabus, on the roadways.
These buses only offer curbside pick-up, a model begun by so-called Chinatown bus companies. This cuts down on costs associated with maintaining a terminal.
Most of the action is on the East Coast where a battle royale is beginning. Boltbus has been offering $1 fares between some cities and Chinatown carriers and Megabus are primed to respond. The result is that it’s cheap to travel up and down the Atlantic Coast by bus. And it’s a hell of a lot easier to put up with crying babies or talkative passengers when you paying such low fares. Maybe you could spend some of your newly saved dough on a good pair of headphones so you can tune everything out.
You know a service is for rich Western tourists when: in a non-English speaking country the name of the service is in English, the website is only in English and prices start at $3,500. Their video-promo has nice imagery but is full of clichésand sounds like a monologue for retards. Welcome to Brazil’s first luxury train service: The Great Brazil Express.
The website still lacks information, but we know that its first 7-day tour begins on April 23: from Curitiba (capital of Brazilian state