6 Failed Transportation Systems

Concorde airplanes, now defunct, were once believed to be the aircraft of the future.
Concorde airplanes, now defunct, were once believed to be the aircraft of the future.

The English dictionary defines transport as "a system of conveying people or goods from one place to another by the use of means such as vehicles, aircrafts, or ships". The ways in which we transport ourselves has greatly evolved over the years. In recent centuries, the world has seen human and animal powered transportation replaced with high speed trains and planes. Some systems have proved to be very successful whereas others were set to fail from the beginning. In this article, 6 failed transportation systems will be discussed.

6. Passenger airships

An airship is a type of aerostat which can fly though the air using its own power. Although the idea of an airship came from Francesco Lana de Terzi in 1670, the first recorded flight was in 1784 by Jean-Pierre Blanchard. In the 19th century, Dr. William Bland sent designs for the airship to the “Great Exhibition” in London. This caused increased interest in the system which led to improvements being done. The first successful airship, Zeppelin LZ1 made its debut flight in July 1900. Zeppelin LZ2 followed suit in 1906 which was more improved. During the Italo-Turkish war, an airship was used by the military for the first time to drop an aerial bomb. This was also seen in World War I when French, Germans, and Italians made excessive use of the vessel in battle. However, the airships were seen as very vulnerable and their usage was abandoned in 1917. After World War II, jet planes were modernized causing airships to become outdated compared to jets. This coupled by a number of high profile accidents led to their decline. There are modern airships currently being manufactured in Japan for tourism purposes around Tokyo.

5. SkyTran Personal Rapid Transit

In 1990, Douglas Malewicki, an American aerospace engineer, engaged in an ambitious project of developing a personal rapid transit. This system was to be a lightweight two-passenger vehicle suspended from an elevated magnetic suspension. Besides magnetic fields, the vehicles were not to have any support. This system is regarded as a breakthrough in transport as it is economical on fuel and the cost of maintenance could be low. The fact that a magnetic field was used instead of wheels reduces wear and tear by a very huge margin and makes lane switching easier. The only moving parts of the vehicle are the air conditioning fans, doors, parking tires and the vehicle itself making maintenance cost to be very low. SkyTran is patented in California but several other countries have shown interest in it. Such countries include India and Israel. In 2014, Israel Aerospace industries were contacted to build a 1,500 feet elevated loop test track in central Israel. The SkyTran Personal Rapid Transit is still undergoing tests. Most environmentalists have supported the project and have said it is an environmentally friendly and green project.

4. Bartini Beriev VVA-14

This aircraft was designed by Robert Bartini in the 1970s in the Soviet Union. It was developed to neutralize US Navy Polaris Missile submarines. The etymology comes from the name of the developer while VVA is initials for the Russian term Vertikal’no-Vzletayushaya Amphibia. Translated into English, it means vertical take-off amphibious aircraft. It was developed to be able to take off from water and fly over long distances at high speeds. Some of its other capabilities were being able to travel in high attitudes as well as just above the sea level efficiently. The aircraft had a crew of three people, had a maximum speed of 472 mph, and length of 85 ft. The wing span was 98 ft and it had a height of 22 ft. Bartini Beriev VVA-14 took its first flight in 1972, from a normal runway. Inflatable pontoons were installed in 1974 to improve buoyancy. After Bartini’s death in 1974, the project slowed and later stalled. The craft made 107 flights and in 1987, the only remaining craft was retired to the Russian Federation Central Air Force Museum.

3. Tracked hovercraft

The tracked hovercraft was a high speed train which was being experimented in the United Kingdom in 1960. It was a combination of a hovercraft and a linear induction motor. It was designed to be a high speed train which could move up to speeds of 250 mph. This was made possible by the smoothness of rails which presented minimum resistance. In 1970, scholars found that in an effort to improve speeds, safety issues arose. More tests were done and in 1973, the first test train on a one-mile track was able to achieve a speed of 104 mph. At the time, the British rail was advancing and presented stiff competition. The government began funding two speed train projects. Due to criticism, the hovercraft was abandoned and all the funding was cancelled. The vehicle ended up at Cranifield University in 1976 and the rail turned into a dust road.

2. Concorde

Concorde was a French supersonic jet airliner that could reach speeds of 1,354 mph. These aircrafts were turbo-jet powered and had a passenger capacity of 92-128. The word concorde is a French word which can be translated to mean harmony or union. This reflected the cooperation between the two countries working on the project. The aircraft did not reach the initial sales target and many termed it as an economical flop. In 2000, a Concorde aircraft blew a tire during takeoff which led to a fire, engine failure, and killed the 100 passengers on board as well as nine crew members. This was the first crash in 27 years of operation and the aircraft was previously regarded as one of the safest. In 2003, both Air France and British Airways announced the retiring of the aircraft simultaneously. They cited low passenger numbers which were presumably due to the crash in 2000.

1. Aerotrain

The Aerotrain was a hover train that was developed from 1965 to 1977 in France. Jean Bertin was the lead engineer on the project. It was designed to suspend in the air above tracks so there would be no resistance, allowing the train to travel at a very high speed. After the death of Jean Bertin in 1977 and a lack of funding, the project was abandoned. In 1991 and 1992, fire destroyed huge chunks of the infrastructure which ruled out any chance of continuing with the project.


More in Travel