Past could set future direction of transport

I can think of no one better than author and historian Oliver O. Jensen to put into sharp and accurate perspective past transportation’s air pollution, energy aspects.

With no fewer than 12 books to Jensen’s credit, according to Trains magazine, the one I am about to reference has the title: “The American Heritage History of Railroads in America.”1

Jensen didn’t just know history. In my view, he knew well also the then present realities (current events) of the time (1975), perhaps as well as anyone.

"CO mixing ratio (ppbv) @ 850 hPa"
“CO mixing ratio (ppbv) @ 850 hPa”

Jensen in the abovementioned book made quite clear the negative impact the internal combustion engine had on the environment, pointing out that eight-tenths of the carbon monoxide (CO) pollution in the air was internal-combustion-engine sourced. At most, control of this and other emissions like hydrocarbons and lead, was imperfect, the author related. And, due to Detroit automaker objection, apparently, rules were delayed and standards lowered. The atmospheric mixing of fumes associated with such, according to Jensen, led to the development of smog. The result? Building steel and stone eaten away, vegetation destroyed and healthy lung tissue impacted.2

In asking what the railroad was capable of, Jensen indicated that whereas a single line of railway track could move in comfort 40,000 to 60,000 passengers per hour, it would take a half-dozen highway lanes just to handle 9,000 roadway travelers in the same span of time. In terms of expended fuel on a per-passenger-mile basis, the motor vehicle and airliner are 12 and 15 times less efficient than the railway train, respectively. And less comfortable, less efficient buses are plagued by the paralysis of traffic, no different than are private automobiles. The bottom line being diesel-locomotive-hauled trains are less air-polluting, electrically-propelled trains even more so.3

It isn’t so much Jensen just identified a problem or condition, he offered resolution.

What I find most interesting is that the referenced Jensen observations are from Chapter 15: “Days of Reckoning,” the subsection “The highway of the Future,” because the future after all, is what is to come.

Speaking of which, there are all kinds of interesting concepts out there one of which is tube travel. Could this be the wave of the future?

Look for more information to surface, presumably on Aug. 12th (reference: Slate’s “Forget High-Speed Rail: Elon Musk Wants to Build Something Far More Awesome”). Should this happen, I plan on providing more on this tomorrow as well.


  1. Trains, “Obituaries,” Nov. 2005, p. 22.
  2. Oliver O. Jensen, “The American Heritage History of Railroads in America,” Chapter 15: “Days of Reckoning: The Highway of the Future,” 1975, p. 301.
  3. Ibid. p. 303

Image above: NASA

– Alan Kandel