Airlines aren’t the worst polluters in the world, but planes do account for an incredible 2.5% of the world’s carbon emissions. So by any measure, flying is a privilege—the exact sort of 21st-century excess that we need to reassess. Which is why the strategic design consultancy Manyone is thinking about radical alternatives to flight. The studio’s solution? A giant train that loops around half the world like a mega subway system.
Dubbed the AeroSlider, it’s an elevated train line that passes through a series of unobtrusive magnetic loops instead of running on a track. Much like the principles behind a rail gun, the loops speed up the train sequentially, propelling it up to speeds of 500 mph—or the average speed of a plane. It was conceived by creative director Jens Martin Skibsted.
The core design is, admittedly, something of an engineering fantasy.
But as lead designer Guillermo Callau explains to me, the team has actually put a lot of thought into the feasibility of the route, which passes from Africa to Europe to Asia, to the cars, which feature everything from typical seats to a large shared indoor garden. The idea isn’t to present a completely realized design, but to think bigger about how to reduce our reliance on flying.
“You would take something a little slower than a flight, but it would be immensely more efficient,” says Callau. “This isn’t just being optimistic. It’s necessary. CO2 tariffs, or taxes on CO2, will make flights way more inaccessible.”
Let’s start with the track, which is not really a track at all, but a series of magnetic pylons. This design would drive a train forward much like a bullet; the train’s body would need to be aerodynamic and respond to magnetic forces, but it wouldn’t require any onboard motors or batteries to drive it. Those pylons could be easily installed, too. While train tracks require vast amounts of careful leveling to manage even small hills, pylons could be stuck deeper or less deep into the ground to create a level track. They could even eliminate the need to build bridges to cross short bodies of water, since the train floats in the air.
This 65-foot-tall line would not prevent animals from crossing underneath it, as some highways and train tracks do. The route can even turn, in theory. While the pylons appear to be arranged in perfect circles in the images here, Callau proposes they could be elliptical, which would offer a bit of left-right leeway, allowing the train to turn very slowly. “Within two kilometers it can turn four degrees, or something like that,” he says. In fact, high-speed rails of today have similar restrictions.
By combining this geometric formula with a topographical map and a projected list of what will be world’s biggest cities by 2050, Callau’s team drew the route you see here.
It could take you from Moscow to Shanghai in 12 hours, but crucially, it avoids the Himalayas and the Alps. It also only crosses small bodies of water at two spots on the entire trip. There are trade-offs to this approach, of course. You won’t see Tokyo on this route, given that the train would need a subaquatic tube to make that journey. London is also missing since it’s surrounded by water (also, Brexit?).
These choices wouldn’t come easily. Whether or not a city becomes a hub for the AeroSlider line would have major implications on its growth and financial health. Callau points out that he left his own hometown of Copenhagen off the map, too, because its population is a mere 1.5 million people.
While the hyperloop places you into a pressurized tube, the AeroSlider would feature windows and views. The team proposes this travel experience could be quite luxurious: Sure, there are compact, cram-’em-in interiors that Manyone designed, too. But the relatively low-tech container of the AeroSlider means it could be treated more like a high-speed building rather than a plane or train. One car might offer a park with a jogging track, or plenty of personal cabins for those on longer trips.
One reason there’s so much room on the AeroSlider is that this train is just really, really long. The Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger plane jet ever in service (pulled from production mostly due to its herculean footprint), was 239 feet long. The proposed AeroSlider is 820 feet long. That’s nearly three football fields in a row, which is just an incredible span on any structure, let alone a vehicle.
Of course, it’s easy to get excited about a technology that doesn’t actually exist. But I’d argue, it’s also okay. We need a world that’s inspired by sustainability, and Manyone has certainly created an object of inspiration.