Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A Revolutionary Green Commuter’s Pod

Seven years ago, in October of 2000, I found myself driving 120 miles to work in the morning, and 120 mile home at night. I did this from October through December.

Darlene and I had just taken our first home together, in a little town called Amherstburg. We lived in the historic downtown area of Amherstburg, historic because it was the main Canadian battle ground of the war of 1812.

But I still worked for a software shop just north of London - 120 miles away.

Everyday, as I got on the 401, the main expressway that travels from Windsor to Quebec City, I would usually find myself driving beside the passenger train – the Via Rail train that I have ridden so many times since – as it had also just left the Windsor train station.

Driving home at night, I would most often look over and see that same Via Rail passenger train returning to Windsor. And every day, for the next three months, I would play with this idea:

What if I could just pull my car (at that time it was a Mercury Mystique) right up onto that train?

I would imagine that I would just pull right up onto the train, onto a special automobile ferry car on the train, and I would lock myself down and just ride the train, in my car, to London. Once we got to London, I would simply pull off the train, and drive up to the office.

Wouldn't that be sweet?

But remember, I had three months to play with this idea. I don't know if you have ever made the drive from Windsor to London on the 401, but most of that drive is very flat, and very boring.

"Wouldn't it be great" I would think each trip, ".. if as I pulled on to the train, I could plug my car into the train".

"But why plug in? – what would you get?"

"Why, I would get all kinds of stuff?" I would answer myself. "The train would be like a moving service centre".

And then I would explain to myself again how I had worked this all out.

You see, at first, it would be great to simply pull your conventional highway vehicle up onto a train and piggy back to another city without the hassle of driving. Or the danger of driving. The 401 can be very dangerous, especially in the winter.

The 401 is the busiest commercial trucking corridor in Canada. And Canada (believe it or not my American friends) is the United States largest trading partner. The number of large semi rigs on the 401 usually outnumbers standard automobiles.

And that is why the 401 is dangerous. Trucks have schedules. Trucks have drivers who are tired. Trucks have drivers who are trying to optimize their efficiency for the maximum profit of a trip.

So as the timeline of the "Auto-Ferry" would evolve (I'm sure we can come up with a better name than "auto-ferry"), it would begin with people simply pulling their cars up onto the train, and riding to the destination station, sitting in the car, listening to the radio. Maybe you could pack a lunch, or hit a fast food place. When you arrived, pulled off the train, and simply drove to your final destination.

But wait? They serve meals on the train. In first class they serve very nice meals on the train. Maybe there could be a first class Auto-ferry car – where I could order a very nice meal? Maybe even a glass of wine or a beer if I am going to be on the train for a couple of hours? That would be nice.

What if I could also watch a movie? I could bring a portable DVD player? Or my car may already have one? Or maybe I could rent one from the auto-ferry? And while I am at it, I could hook into their wireless Internet conncetion?

Hey, there are a lot of services that a person could pick up on? What if I bought a commuter car – specifically for this kind of travel?

What do you mean?

An electric car. An electric car or minivan. A pod if you will – built to fit the train car. That you could drive in and around town once you got there. I could pull it up onto a auto-ferry train car and simply plug it right into the train for services? I could plug it in to:

  • Recharge my "pod"
  • Have Satellite TV or Radio to watch in my "pod"
  • Have a high speed internet connection in my "pod".

You could use a touch screen in the dashboard of your pod to order a meal - or even get a tune-up - while your traveling.


When I ride the train now, I ride for business. A majority of the automobile traffic on the 401 is business commuters. Lets play with the "Business Trip" scenario.

I live in Toronto, and I do business in Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City. Because I am in sales, I have a mini van that I drive to carry product and promotional material with me. Now the Auto-Ferry Pod has become an attractive option. The company replaces my gas guzzling mini-van with a mini-van pod. The advantages are that my travel is more productive and less expensive. Here is how:

Instead of driving and limiting my productive time to simply making phone calls, I can pull my auto-ferry mini-van pod onto the train and connect. From that point forward, I am at the office. I spin my drivers seat around and now am sitting at my desk. My laptop plugs into the jacks in my pod – at my desk - for power and internet connection. I VPN (Virtual Private Network) into the office. I have access to all my files on line, email, chat, even video-conference if need be. I have both a printer and fax machine in my mini-pod. And maybe even a coffee pot.

While I am travelling, I can be as productive as I would be in the office – because actually I am in the office. It is my office that is going to Quebec City.

I even have an overnight cot in my mini-pod. I can lay on my cot and watch TV – satellite TV – as I spend my evening on the train. Or listen to music, or even goof around on the Internet – writing my blog and checking my stats.

I like this idea. I do know that my hometown Windsor really could use an idea like this one right now.

Windsor is the "Detroit" of Canada. Neither Windsor or Detroit are doing very well right now as the big-three automakers are floundering, being overtaken handily by the Japanese Toyota and Honda.

Windsor and Detroit need a "revolutionary idea". And this is a good one. The fact that Windsor is at one end of the busiest commerce lane in Canada, perhaps North America, may prove to be a tremendous catalyst for this idea. And as the product of the auto-ferry and the pods to travel the route catches on, other routes will spring up – using old Am-Track lines in the US – and the Trans-Canada railway in Canada.

Imagine if you upgrade these rail systems to the high-speed railways of Europe and Japan. Imagine if you exported the Mini-pod overseas.

Imagine how much greener it would be.

Imagine how much more independent this means of mass transport would be.

Imagine how economically inspiring this industry would be.


1 comment:

Virtual said...

I think I like where you're heading with this...

Vivian, your virtual VIA Rail service attendant with a very real passion for train travel

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