The American transportation system has evolved over the years. Efforts to move raw goods and passengers through different world regions became prevalent, especially during the post-World War II era. Finding the most efficient, cost-effective, and fastest mode of transportation became a priority for people running businesses and those who needed to travel often.
One of the driving factors in the transportation revolution was the advancement of technology. Technological advancements have always played a significant role in human’s ability to travel, and they still do today. Environmental, economic, and political forces influence the construction of transportation methods people have come to use every day.
In the United States, trains were the primary mode of transportation for many years. It was common to see passengers traveling by train car in cities across the country, like San Francisco and New York City.
After World War II, there was a critical shift in transportation. Many people opted to travel by automobile as opposed to trains, which boosted the automobile industry. To thrive in a competitive market, automobile companies pushed their agenda to improve sales and cultivate a car-centric culture.
Below is more on the evolution of autonomous vehicles (AVs), the possibility of changing long-distance transportation infrastructure, and how likely smart train implementation will be looking ahead.
Although early signs of AVs made their way into the automotive industry back in the 1920s, the concept never caught on enough to push mass production. It wasn’t until the 1980s and 1990s that significant advancements were made. Carnegie Mellon University and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) came together to produce a landmark AV that would change the automotive industry landscape.
As hardware and software advancements were made, it took only a few decades to see more resources being used to fund AV projects. Some early features that played a key role were self-driving abilities, obstacle avoidance, and sensors and cameras that help cars navigate unruly terrain. Safety was and continues to be a concern for those interested in AVs, and is one of the primary reasons why there aren’t more AVs on the road today.
Today, cars are being produced with radar and lidar to make them more intuitive and secure on the road. Some automotive industry giants like GM, Ford, Nissan, and Tesla funneled more money into their research and development projects to maintain a competitive edge when it comes to AVs. While the future will likely consist of smart cars taking over, what other transportation options could benefit from an upgrade?
Countries like China and Japan are leaders in the implementation of smart trains as their primary methods of passenger transportation. High-speed trains can effectively and efficiently move passengers between cities much faster than traditional trains and automobiles. One of the main reasons why these Eastern countries can utilize smart and high-speed trains is due to large-scale government investment in transportation infrastructure.
Without proper funding, it would be challenging for a country like the United States to create a national public transportation system that would serve its citizens. However, the Biden Administration has made it clear that for both accessibility and sustainability reasons, more resources will be allocated to developing AVs and a high-speed rail system that would revolutionize transportation.
It’s clear that there is a need for high-speed rail transportation in the country, and private and public organizations will have to come together to bring this concept to fruition. It will take shifts in politics and ideology to move from a car-centric culture to a rail-based transportation system, and it will undoubtedly take time for that to happen. To achieve this, there may need to be changes in transportation laws and regulations as well.
Recently, Amtrak has made leaps and bounds regarding its commitment to a future of high-speed rail. They plan on investing in technology that will increase the speeds of their Acela trains in the Northeast region, which have existing routes from Washington, D.C., up to Boston. Amtrak signed a deal with Siemens Mobility to obtain 83 new trains and upgrade some of their older trains, dating back 50 years.
There are mixed opinions on whether or not to be optimistic about a high-speed train future. It will take collaboration, tech advancements, and funding to see a monumental change in the way people use transportation.
With significant upgrades to technology, it’s no surprise that many Americans today still rely on their personal vehicles to get from place to place. With self-driving smart cars on the horizon, conversations about changes in transportation are now back in the spotlight.
It’s a challenge to determine what the future holds regarding smart cars and how efficiently they move passengers across states. Soon enough, AVs will be on the road, but it’ll likely take more time for trains to make their way into everyday life.
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