Coach rapid transport and CoachTrains – both convincing and bonkers!

For some some years now I have been thinking about how we can better use our strategic road network for personal transport using shared vehicles, with initial inspiration from the article by George Monbiot in the Guardian back in 2006 where he described a system of coachway stations based on the ideas of Alan Storkey.

To be realised however, this system requires the construction of a string of ‘coachway stations’ (somewhat like railway stations) along the strategic road network where passengers can transfer to and from local transport with minimum delay to the through services. I promoted the idea on a blog on the subject for a few years and spoke at a number many major conferences without any noticeable effect. Regrettably is seems that there is a firm believe at the moment that the strategic road network is provided for people (often alone) in private cars and for freight with little interest in considering alternatives. And without that interest the stations will not be built.

However… a few months ago, when returning from an event at the Transport Catapult where we talked about autonomous vehicles, I began thinking about a system based on road passenger vehicles that were able to dock and undock while in motion allowing passengers to transfer between connected vehicles whilst in motion.

Currently, within docking or coachway stations, if you want to travel from city A to city F and there is no good rail service you are likely to find that the express bus/coach service will travel though the middle of B, C, D and E on its way to F. Performance for such services is incredibly poor, with services frequently operating at average speed of less than 20 mph.

Using our proposed clever docking vehicles one can imagine getting on one of these vehicles from the centre of town A before heading out onto the strategic road network where it would dock in motion with an express vehicle. After docking one would walk forward into the express vehicle via the connecting door and others may transfer back into the shuttle vehicle if they are heading for B. The rear shuttle would then decouple and heads into B. You would stay on the express vehicle, ignoring further shuttles that dock to transfer passengers to and from settlements C, D and E before taking the one for F to your destination.

During this trip you would be continuously in motion, travelling at a speed approaching that of a car, but with far lower environmental, congestion impacts and at a very reasonable cost. Importantly, the vehicles can operate on a totally standard road network without the expensive civil engineering and long winded planning process associated with the coachway stations.

That’s the idea. People seem to love it, although one respected colleague described it as ‘both convincing and bonkers‘.

Will it happen?  I hope so and do intend to do what I can to make it happen.

Firstly I am making this post as a public statement in case anyone tries to patent the idea, not that I think that a patent on such a broad concept would hold up.

The next stage is to build up a collection of interested people to help put some bones on the ideas. We will need:

  • one or more people to design of software to first simulate and then control such a system (open source to encourage engagement)
  • one of more people to create inspiring and convincing visuals, concept drawings and animations needed to communicate this idea
  • support from thought-leaders in both academic and policy worlds
  • papers to support the concept from economic, environmental and social perspectives
  • funding the above feasibility work
  • a network of supporters around the world

And… should the above pan out, then we then need someone to fund the design, construction and type approval of such vehicles. That is way into the future for the time being and for now I am keen to engage with a small number of people who can assist with the above.

Do get in touch.