May 11, 2003

The 150mph road

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Road Miscellany

It is 42 years since the launch of the Jaguar E-Type, the first production car advertised as being capable of 150mph. Which begs a question: if we can drive around at 150mph why aren't we?

Well, of course, some of us are but we're breaking the law and if we keep doing it for long enough we will eventually be caught and banned. But what if it weren't against the law? And what if motorways were privately owned - run for profits not votes? What then? Imagine, to paraphrase Rachel Lucas, no safety fascists. What would stand in our way then?

I think it is a worthwhile question because if we could bomb around in our automobiles it would go a long way to putting certain debates to rest. For instance, it would throw the case for taxpayer-funded high-speed rail lines straight out of the window. One should bear in mind that although TGVs have a top-speed of 186mph, by the time you have factored in the time for acceleration, station stops, speed restrictions and the extra journey time to and from the station, door to door they are not actually that much faster, if at all, than a 150mph car.

Trains, in fact provide us with one of the potential problems. On conventional tracks, using conventional technology and above 125mph, travelling on a train gets pretty uncomfortable. Passengers get hurled around every time the train rounds a bend. The solution is to either build new, straighter lines, as they have in France and Japan, or to make the trains tilt, as they to in Italy and soon will in the UK. As roads do not seem any less curvy than railways, this would presumably be a problem for high-speed roads.

But would there be others? Were I, through CrozierRoad, to build a high-speed road I would want it to be just that: high speed. I would definitely not want to find my Ferrari-driving customers baulked by mobile chicanes in the form of puny Ford Focuses. One solution might be to use the price mechanism to keep the road sufficiently free that 150mph an hour would be a racing certainty but that would be a rule of thumb matter. If, on the other hand, I introduced a minimum speed of, say, 130mph, how would I enforce it?

I suppose there is another question here. Are there enough cars around that can do these speeds? If there aren't what is the constraint? Is it technology, in that building a 150mph car is actually a rather expensive thing to do or is it the existing law which has rendered high-speed motoring more or less impossible?

There is one more question here. What about accidents? CrozierRoad is not going to want accidents - they're bad for business. In that case, are high-speed roads likely to be any more accident-prone than conventional roads. If so, what sorts of measures might have to be introduced?

Update 10/05/04

Highway has some comments on the technical side.

Trackbacks

A 150-mph road?
Patrick Crozier at Transport Blog has further expanded on his ideas of CrozierRoad, and asks the questions: Were I, through CrozierRoad, to build a high-speed road I would want it to be just that: high speed. I would definitely not want to find my Ferr...
A Musing by Highway on May 12, 2003

150-mph road Safety Features
I've talked about the vehicles we're going to use on the 150-mph road (not many, but maybe more in the future). I've also talked about the physical design features, the need for long horizontal curves with some banking, long vertical curves w...
A Musing by Highway on May 20, 2003

Comments

The only real safety risk in driving fast (as long as the car is up to it, but I think there are plenty of cars that can handle >100mph and still hold the road these days) is that it puts demands on the perceptual system to process information ever faster. The solution seems to be making the information processing as simple as possible, so building a road with only very long sweeping curves that have a long line of sight ahead, keeping the verges clear to lengthen lines of sight further, and finding a way to enforce that minimum speed limit.

Keeping slow cars off is really crucial, because if you tear round a road at 150mph and other cars are only doing 70, the relative speed is such that drivers simply don't have time to react appropriately. This was borne out when Germany re-unified, and accident rates on Autobahns went up dramatically, because the fast drivers were colliding with Trabis....

Posted by eldan on May 13, 2003

The average British motorway is much more curvy (and with more ups and downs) than the average mainline railway and these are not as straight as the average European line, never mind TGV type lines. A safe 150mph road would have to be built the same way as new high speed rail track, as straight and as flat as possible.

Posted by Matt on June 1, 2003

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