A Train that Never Stops

I have been pitching this concept for at least seven years now to anyone who would listen: a train that never stops but instead uses accelerating and decelerating pods to shuttle passengers on and off at each approaching stop.

Normally, when I’ve drawn this out for people, the concept has been met with a reaction along the lines of “uhhh, good luck with that one!” The only difference in what I’ve been pitching and the concept in the video below (via kottke), is that my model uses individual pods instead of one big “group pod” in order to let people off and on at even more desirable locations, but it’s great to see someone finally put something like this into a video animation:

If I’ve thought of it, and now these people in Asia have thought of it, countless others have probably thought of it as well. Now it’s just time to make it happen. A great train ride is the most enjoyable way to travel, in my opinion.

20 comments on “A Train that Never Stops”. Leave your own?
  1. Steve G says:

    i’ve been thinking the same thing for years too, although in my mind, a small train would match speeds alongside the big train, ‘dock’ for a minute to let passengers transfer on and off, and allow another mile of track for emergency breaking in case the trains couldn’t separate.

    i got the same “good luck with that” response but admittedly it would require 4 miles of additional track at every station, might not be technically possible and would be super expensive.

    never thought of stacking them vertically – nice video.

  2. Martin says:

    The idea was used in the past, and only abandoned because high cost-per-pasenger. With the advances in automation over the last 60years that probably wouldn’t be an issue, this video looks like an amazing idea.


  3. Brian Ford says:

    I guess I don’t see the advantage, here. I mean, the train doesn’t stop, but the pods do. You’d still be forced to wait for the next train to pick up whichever pod you make it to, right?

  4. Brian Ford says:

    Though, thinking about it, I guess that would mean less waiting for those who aren’t getting off at a given pod station, and more reliable travel times.

    Got it.

  5. Nick Dunn says:

    Reminds me of the old-school Royal Mail parcel trains which would collect bags of mail hung out beside the railway line from towers.

  6. Drew Pickard says:


    It’s a really interesting idea – I’m just not sure I’m seeing what the benefit is

    Is there a fuel/energy savings because the main ‘train’ doesn’t stop?
    I see that it is more time efficient.

    The only weird thing would be that a lot of people recognize locations or stops visually and aren’t good at paying attention to signs or audio cues (eg: me)
    However – maybe there’s a solution to that, too.

    Pitch this to the City of Seattle so we can vote for it multiple times and have it never get built. ;)

  7. Mike D. says:

    Martin: Very interesting about the slip-coach. Can’t believe the general concept has been around so long and nobody’s been able to pull it off on a grand scale yet.

    Drew: The advantages (at least in my variation) are that since the train never stops, it’s much much quicker and also you can pretty much get off and on wherever you want along the way. Both very big advantages.

  8. tony says:

    seems really dangerous if there were a malfunction. how about the US just invests in some nice bullet trains like europe has? (and privatize amtrak)

  9. Mike D. says:

    tony: Yep, definitely have to get the safety part right, but it seems like we’ve made more dangerous things safe in the past. With regard to Amtrak, isn’t it already private?

  10. Martin says:

    tony and Mike: If you’re aiming for a nice efficient railway system, privatisation REALLY isn’t the way to go. Ask anyone in the UK!

  11. Jacques says:

    The only problem would be making it to the pod for the next ‘drop’. The pod you’re in is added at the front of the train, yet the pod to be dropped (next) is at the back of the train. Depending on how crowded the train is and how fast it goes between your boarding- and exit-drop, you might need sneakers to make it :-)

  12. Mike D. says:

    Jacques: In my model, the pods would actually run along the side of the train and they could easily be shuffled back and forth down the length of the train. The hard part in my scenario, however, would be off-track pod management. For instance, what if 100 people got off in the same spot? You’d then have 100 pods sitting off-track at that spot and maybe an imbalance of pods elsewhere. You’d have to have some sort of system which was smart enough to automatically rebalance the pods at different locations. This, in the end, may be why it doesn’t exist yet. Seems like a complicated thing to solve.

  13. Jacques says:

    I later thought of the same (referring to the video) – what if only 1 or a few people get off – it would still take a complete pod, so the train might run out of pods.
    In your scenario, people should indicate where they want to get off – then at that station that number of pods is waiting to be added. Pods should be so cheap that they should be over-available (almost like carts at the grocery) – and be relocated at night-time.
    The biggest hurdle to me seems the speed-increase: you’re waiting in your pod and then picked up by a train that runs 100(?) mph. I figure that is a few G’s – similar to a jet-fighter that accelerates.

  14. Kevin Cannon says:

    This is quite similar to the idea of PRT (Personal Rapid Transport) systems, which I did some reading on a few years ago. Essentially, a personal taxi on a rail line.

    While it’s a nice idea and has some benefits, when you scale it up to the way you’d like it to be, you hit fundamental issues you have with cars and traffic, and also safe g-forces for people.

    We’ll get automated cars before any systems like this, but I think the main reason trains & buses are scalable is fundamentally because they transport large groups of people to the same locations. One you tinker with that fundamental, the whole thing falls apart (at least financially)

  15. Isaac Lin says:

    This topic reminds me of Isaac Asimov’s _The Caves of Steel_, where the mass transit system was essentially a continuous stream of moving train cars (it may have been just seats and poles on a moving strip without the actual car bodies). Passengers matched speeds with the train by moving from one strip to another, each one slightly faster than the next; the reverse was done to disembark.

  16. Jenny says:

    I agree with Jacques. How does a person go from a pod that just got picked up to the pos that is being dropped if they only want to go one stop?

  17. David Robarts says:

    I just watched a TV show about giant wheel observation rides. When they built the London Eye, they wanted it to run continuously. My having the cars moving pass the platform at one mile per hour, passengers are able to walk on without difficulty. Needing to change strips for each mile per hour speed increase or decrease means Asimov’s idea is not practical.

    The pod idea could be made to work if the length of the platform and length of the train were both utilized to accelerate/decelerate the pod. Time for the pod to accelerate/decelerate on the train, as well as time for passengers to transfer between pod and train would mean that pod stations could be no closer than several minutes apart. Assuming this system is being used to keep the train running at fairly high speed the spacing of stations is to far apart for intra-city commuter trains. However this idea could be used to allow low volume stations on inter-city routes access to express trains.

  18. elclapper says:

    I think that even at slow speed throughput of the main train that the rate of acceleration required for the pod to leave the station with the main train would be more taxing than the human body would find bearable never mind comfortable. In the pictures shown I could imagine all the people piled up against the back wall of the pod. I thought you were going to suggest the last car detaches and decelerates and pulls into the station while a full car leaves the station accelerates and joins the train. all on a side by side rail system. people exit and ride on the main train. With sensors and plc’s the pod car could speed match and mate with no appreciable bump.

  19. rlf135 says:

    I agree elclapper. With the technology available today the decoupling and coupling of the cars could not only be comfortable but barely noticeable. The advantages of the concept cannot be ignored. The concept could further be exploited by operating two trains on the same track. The trains would start out heading towards each other. At the point where the trains meet the tracks could be arranged so the trains could pass by each other without stopping. The advantage would be the trains could exchange pods so people could begin their return route without having to wait for the train to complete its entire route. The operating of two trains on the same track could effectively double the capacity while increasing the speed of the overall trip. I would not mind heading the wrong direction for a short distance if it meant I would get home quicker and not have to wait for the train to return after completing the entire route. This concept could be applied to bus transit as well. A bus could go around picking up and dropping off pods to reduce loading and unloading times. The bus stop could be replaced with the pod itself.

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