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PostPosted: Sun Feb 28, 2016 5:56 am 
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I have for some time tried to find a way to have both CG and thrusters and maglev lines in a GURPS Traveller inspired SF setting. My big problem is that I cannot find a way to make railways competitive with flying busses/trucks. I have thought about various technical restrictions, but I want to keep stuff like gravtanks, air/rafts, etc. I have thought about making CG/thrusters more expensive, but they need to get really expensive for that approach to work, which kills the free trader´s air/raft. I have thought about CG/thrusters needing some sort of unobtanium, but with affordable interstellar trade in the end that comes down to money too.

Do I have to accept that railways are dead, or has anybody found a way for them to remain competitive ?


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PostPosted: Sun Feb 28, 2016 2:25 pm 
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Rail is pretty much dead and buried in the Traveller universe with its cheap, compact, reliable, and safe fusion power and ready access to contra-grav with the same properties as the fusion reactors. If you can move a massive starship effortlessly using contra-grav, there's no way a "fixed schedule" train is going to be competitive given the large infrastructure costs of setting of trains, at least from a technological point of view.

However, there are non-technological factors that might make a culture use train-like modes of transportation.

For instance, what if a world wants to keep its skies clear of flying cars, starships, and so on? This is entirely plausible:

* People in cities might consider all these flying cars, starships, and so on to be an eyesore.

* There may be very real safety concerns about all these flying cars/trucks/starships zipping around their skies. Particularly in these Traveller-style universes, it appears all these vehicles are human piloted and basically like a modern automobile. They're hazardous, totally dependent on human pilots who may be distracted, asleep at the wheel, drunk, or simply have bad judgment. Given how many times a year you see stories in the local news about cars swerving off the road and doing whatever, think about how many times worse this would be with these vehicles that are a cross between a speed of an airplane, the landing properties of a helicopter, and the ease of use of a modern automobile. It'd be a nightmare. I'd be more surprised if worlds let people just zip around as they please. Remote-controlled vehicles or AI piloted vehicles might still have safety concerns as well.

* There may be concerns about the costs of all these flying vehicles running over cats/dogs/birds or whatever their local equivalents are.

* Speed. The noise involved in all these sonic booms of aircraft might be an issue on High-Population worlds. While most contra-grav vehicles can't go this fast, there's no reason why they can't with the proper design. These supersonic aircraft flying around everywhere, again, would be a real problem. If a world is high-tech enough to have perfected vacuum trains or possibly even some derivative of supercavitation, you might get a kind of "tube train" (essentially a subway). The same technologies that make anti-gravity fusion wonder vehicles possible would make it reasonably cheap to make such tunnels/tubes - fusion boring could make tunnel-construction very cheap (of course it would, this is totally idealized, just like Traveller fusion power and contra-grav - of course there's no issues with loose rock, earth quakes, or anything like that, it's not like contra-grav emits dangerous radiation or hazardous electromagnetic fields even though it seems likely they would) and this space is either kept airless or filled with some high-tech gosh-wow fluid. When you have like a Mach 10 train running between cities, and even doing Mach 1 within cities, cheaply powered by onboard fusion power, you'd have trains again - of a sort.

* To control the movement of people; approved mass transit makes it easier to monitor and control the movement of people. Now, given the rabid freedom-mongers that seem to infest the RPG community, this does not need to be a goose-stepping oppressive government. For instance, I've always wondered, given the nature of Traveller, what really prevents some criminal from showing up at a planet, hopping out of the downport with some Air/Raft, going somewhere and shooting at the locals with TL15 fusion rifle until it runs out of power, zipping back to the downport (so the police can't chase him there because of extraterritoriality concerns) and jumping out of the system in a real hurry before the Imperials and locals can work things out? Once the guy leaves the world in his starship, he's free. He can just cruise around space being a shooting-spree criminal and nobody can do a thing about it. Sure the world might hire bounty hunters (like the players) or something to track the person down, and it might give your players some rosy righteous feeling of "having brought someone to justice" but "justice" isn't going to bring the dead back and people on these worlds are going to start asking "is there any way to stop this kind of thing from happening?" Another example: A Scout ship seems very aerodynamic - what really prevents someone from approaching all nice and civilized until he's near a big city or something, and "buzzing the tower" going like Mach 3 at nearly street level (because he's modified his Scoutship to be capable of 6G maneuver) then zipping out of the system before anyone really has a good response? More prosaically, all these grav vehicles zipping around could make things like customs checkpoints really problematic, particularly if the world itself is balkanized; smuggling, kidnapping, and so on would become much easier; police would have to track things in three dimensions. Grav vehicles are fast and very maneuverable and that means police response has to speed up to prevent people from getting away. That can get very expensive to have such measures in place. (The typical RPG gamer response is "why not just shoot them down?" ... seriously. If you lived there, do you REALLY want some futuristic equivalent of Patriot missiles or something ringing every city and InterstellarArms Sunfusion X-ray Laser Satellites orbiting over your city? Let's talk about That Oppressive Feeling.)

I'm sure there's other reasons, but those are the ones that immediately come to mind.

If there are laws against it, the world might have fixed-route transport - restricted to roads or corridors. Basically like trains. Trains might be faster because of speed limits on grav vehicles. Restrictions might fix grav vehicles to set paths in the sky like the "roads" of flying cars in like the Star Wars prequels or movies and deviating from those paths might require expensive permits or "off-route" time charged by the distance or something. Such local conditions might make fixed-route transport economically competitive.


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PostPosted: Sun Feb 28, 2016 6:44 pm 
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Thank you, that was quite helpful. I may combine this with some technical limits on CG and thrusters, let´s say TL dependent maximum altitudes for CG, and serious noise pollution from thrusters.


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 9:14 pm 
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Rail should still be two orders of magnitude cheaper than flight (per person or per ton). The secret is to have enough people and goods to need moving to justify having it in the first place. So a POP 4 world will probably not have Rail service, but cities of 100,000 should be connected by rail. If fusion drives costs low enough, Passenger rail service might be FREE. Paid for with a 10 credit per year tax as you exit the starport.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 10:52 pm 
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atpollard wrote:
Rail should still be two orders of magnitude cheaper than flight (per person or per ton).


I think that's the issue with cheap, compact, and safe anti-gravity (as the type that exists in Traveller).

The benefits of having the ground (trains, ground vehicles) or water (ships) support the mass of your vehicle for cost benefits vanish. Anti-gravity gives you invisible roads (or water) just under your vehicle and it goes wherever you want it, whenever you want it. It's all benefits with no drawbacks as far as Traveller contra-grav is concerned. That there's trains or ships in that universe is baffling. Trains in particular because there's a lot of expensive infrastructure you have to lay down (track systems) to operate them.

A reasonable analogy in the real world is the difference between cellphones and landline phone networks. Developing countries have rapidly (and inexpensively) gotten nationwide phone service by installing cellphone networks because they're vastly cheaper as they don't require you to lay copper or fiber which is in itself expensive but also has the recurring costs of having to maintain and replace the literally hundreds of thousands or millions of kilometers of cable that has to run to every house, shack, and corner payphone. Except now imagine that cellphones are not only just as fast or faster than physical cable (even fiber) and the signal is just as reliable; that's Traveler CG.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 1:46 pm 
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epicenter wrote:
atpollard wrote:
Rail should still be two orders of magnitude cheaper than flight (per person or per ton).


I think that's the issue with cheap, compact, and safe anti-gravity (as the type that exists in Traveller).

The benefits of having the ground (trains, ground vehicles) or water (ships) support the mass of your vehicle for cost benefits vanish. Anti-gravity gives you invisible roads (or water) just under your vehicle and it goes wherever you want it, whenever you want it. It's all benefits with no drawbacks as far as Traveller contra-grav is concerned. That there's trains or ships in that universe is baffling. Trains in particular because there's a lot of expensive infrastructure you have to lay down (track systems) to operate them.

A reasonable analogy in the real world is the difference between cellphones and landline phone networks. Developing countries have rapidly (and inexpensively) gotten nationwide phone service by installing cellphone networks because they're vastly cheaper as they don't require you to lay copper or fiber which is in itself expensive but also has the recurring costs of having to maintain and replace the literally hundreds of thousands or millions of kilometers of cable that has to run to every house, shack, and corner payphone. Except now imagine that cellphones are not only just as fast or faster than physical cable (even fiber) and the signal is just as reliable; that's Traveler CG.

Consider how that same technology would affect the train. One power station per city, not vehicle. The 'track' does not support the train, the null-grav modules do.

Which is less expensive, an auto-pilot to stop and start a train on a guiding monorail, or a complete NOE capable avionics system with an on-board computer?

One air raft will transport 4 people, one train car can transport 100 people. Divide the cost per person-mile per year and the train will be staggeringly cheaper.

Add in the statistical probability that one train will leave the monorail and crash to the odds that one of 25 to 100 air rafts piloted by distracted amateurs will crash into something and rail becomes both cheaper and safer.

Free rail travel versus the cost of purchasing an air raft will appeal to the masses.
It is also possible that personal vehicles are expensive to store. In New York City in the 1970's it cost $25 per day to park a car ... that's Cr 25 per day to store your Air Raft in the Arcology ... over Cr 9000 per year just to park! [I think that it was $5000 per year ... Cr 5000 ... with the monthly discount.]

... Or Free Public Grav Trains. ;)

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 2:13 pm 
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Where is this 'cheap' Air Raft of which you speak? ;)

Looking up Classic Traveller:
Air Raft = Cr 600,000 [approximately $2.7 million in current money]
Speeder = Cr 1,000,000 [$4.5 million in current money]

Looking up Mongoose Traveller (1st ed Core):
Air Raft = Cr 275,000 [approximately $1.2 million in current money]
Ground Car = Cr 6,000 [approximately $27 thousand in current money]

In MgT, owning an Air Raft is about 46 times as expensive as owning an average new car ... that places it in the Private Jet price range!
My Starship Gunner earns Cr 1000 per month ... he can't afford a Cr 275,000 Air Raft! (His payments would be almost 2300 credits per month - half a pilot's salary.)

[... but I bet he can afford a Cr1 per month Rail Pass.]

[EDIT: Since the OP mentions GURPS ...

Looking up GURPS Traveller:
Air Raft = Cr 55,160 [approximately $248 thousand in current money]
Ground Car = Cr 5,016 [approximately $23 thousand in current money]

In GURPS, owning an Air Raft is about 11 times as expensive as owning an average new car ... that places it in the Exotic Car price range.
My CT Starship Gunner earns Cr 1000 per month ... he can't afford a Cr 55,160 Air Raft. (His payments would be almost 500 credits per month - half his salary.) ]

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 5:22 pm 
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I don't know if the design documents reflect this, but wouldn't it be cheaper to build the CG components in the "rails" and have the engine/cars just be the receivers?

Thus a CG rail system would be cheaper when mass produced and used a lot, than building individual CG units (trucks etc). Also, since the CG component would be fixed, it could be a LOT bigger than the portable units used on the Air-Trucks, so the Train Cars could be a lot bigger/heavier than what an individual truck could carry.

This would be vaguely similar to the current rail/truck system. An individual train carries hundreds of trailers, which are moved from hub to hub and then individual trucks move individual trailers (maybe 2 or 3 at maximum) and these are then distributed as needed.

The integrated Rail/Truck network provides a hub-and-spoke system for distributing the Trailers, which are the most efficient ways to move the goods, which are packed into the trailers.

Economics of scale MIGHT make the CG Train a viable option once you reach a certain critical volume of Trailers to be moved.

BTW, a standard 18-wheeler trailer is about 4.5-4.75 Dtons... (64 cubic feet) so, if you squint and make a Trailer 5 Dtons, then you get 6 per standard Module (30 Dtons) for interstellar travel.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2016 7:34 pm 
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atpollard wrote:
Rail should still be two orders of magnitude cheaper than flight (per person or per ton).


Er, that isn't true in the real world. There are many places in the UK that I can get to cheaper by plane than by train EVEN AFTER factoring in a £25 taxi fare to/from the airport versus a £7 taxi/£4 bus fare to/from the railway station*. I can get to half the cities in Europe by plane cheaper than I can get to my Mum's town in this country by train. This may be because of the bonkers 'sell it cheap' economics of Easyjet, Ryanair and the like, or the insanely expensive way rail tickets get priced.

BTW I should state that I LIKE rail travel.


*Worst case scenario... flights to Aberdeen from my city are NOT cheapo EasyJet ones - they are serving the oil industry, who have oodles of money. But one time I looked at costs the price of... taxi to/from airport + return flight + airport bus to/from at other end + 1 night in a bloody hotel + local train to Mum's the next day was STILL cheaper than getting the direct train! :shock:


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2016 8:12 pm 
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Ugh, Train ticket pricing the UK is nuts. I think at one point (maybe they still do this?) they charge more for a single (one-way) to Lancaster from London Euston than a return!

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