Season 12 - The conclusion of Bright Futures

Episode 1 - An update on the transports of tomorrow

Forty-four episodes, eleven seasons and the exploration of many passenger transport technologies. But also lots of expert opinions, analysis and data. Quite a bit of mockery directed towards overenthusiastic media outlets and harbingers of imminent technological upheavals. Finally, a much clearer vision (at least, we’re hoping) of the future of human movement. And now Bright Futures is in the twilight of its life.

This episode is the first of a final season of conclusions and assessments. To begin with, we’re going to take a quick look at all the means of transport we’ve discussed together. Just to refresh your memory on what they are. We’re sparing you the teleportation chat since we’ve just covered that and it’s unlikely to ever exist on a human scale.

The cars of the present and the future

We’ll start with our four-wheeled friends: cars. The first of them to have drifted into our column was the flying car in season 1. At the time, we discovered that the idea was a very old one, and very real. There had even been hundreds of prototypes, some of which were viable. Sometimes they were even approved in their countries of origin. The only problem? The movement was driven by rich people wanting to optimise their time, by never leaving their cars. All this to travel between cities that absolutely aren’t suitable for it. Oddly, there are still none in our sky, but we will come back to that next week.

Then come self-driving cars and electric cars, both of which already exist. In fact, in Western Europe, they’re already almost the norm. Limited in their development today, the first originated from Leonardo Da Vinci in the 15th century, then became possible thanks to the evolution of military technologies and the explosion of digital technology. As for electric cars, they were cast aside when oil was chosen as humanity's official resource. But they’re making a more than resounding comeback. Without doubt, many of you have already succumbed to the charm of on-board computers and/or lithium batteries.

The planes of the future (but not tomorrow…)

For planes, we started with the most improbable of all: the electric aeroplane. As charming as it is adventurous, this one actually works. As long as you want to a Bertrand Piccard-style tour of the world, without any baggage. Things work better for the hydrogen plane, since it can transport passengers, cabin crew, travel bags, and meal trays. But it can’t do long haul flights, as the technology can’t manage those distances. It’s not crazy that a plane can’t cross the planet. Because as long as you're doing medium haul, you might as well take means of transport that’s less polluting. After all, only 5% of hydrogen production is currently green. But again, we’ll come back to that. Finally, there’s the SAF, or sustainable fuel aircraft in plain English. Or, to be clear, a fuel designed synthetically or based on biomass. In either case, the options are so numerous that it seems terribly difficult to navigate. And they have a hefty ecological and financial cost. Note that unlike its counterparts it should be able to fly any distance and carry almost anything.

The trains of today and tomorrow (in our dreams)

Now we’re diving into the good old train: the heart of this newsletter. In the trains section, we cast an eye over extremely high speed trains, hydrogen trains, biogas trains and night trains. However they don’t all offer the same possibilities. The first is a billionaire’s delusion. The kind of lame little idea that, born in the mind of a normal human, wouldn’t last more than a few seconds. But in that of a wealthy technology tycoon, it gives rise to prototypes, start-up creations and even financing. However, that’s not the final word.

Biogas and hydrogen trains are on a completely different level. First of all, they’re mature inventions and have been going for years. From a technical standpoint, they have proved themselves out. They could also become an ecological and sustainable technological saviour where electricity cannot be used. Finally, despite their flaws, they can be used for both day and night trains. Which brings us to the big question behind this section: is the night train the technology of the future of passenger transport? You already know our answer. It’s a resounding yes. This might sound like a broken record, but the future of mobility involves a slowdown in usage, subtle multimodality and a means of transport reinvented to match the times. As Midnight Trains is working to achieve within the field.

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