What do lifts and trains have in common? Recently I got stuck in a lift in a college building; four people in a very small space with the air becoming increasingly difficult to breathe due to inadequate ventilation. Pressing the red emergency button produced an automated voice that kept asking what the problem was without ever connecting to a living human being. The lift cage was a mini high-security prison and impossible to break out of, even if we had possessed the foresight to bring crowbars and dynamite. Being made of thick and practically seamless stainless steel plating, it was also impenetrable to radio waves. The latter meant that all attempts to contact the outside world by mobile phone were futile.
Someone on the other side of the door eventually heard our frantic shouting and banging. About 45 minutes after I had commenced my short vertical journey, a special key was found that could override the hyper-active safety system that probably caused the thing to stall in the first place, and the door could be prised open. Lifts are supposed to be the safest kind of transport in the world, but I'm not so sure about that anymore.
The relevance with regard to railways is this: In many cities around the world, metro trains are already running driverless without any staff on board. Trials are underway with driverless trams and mainline trains. It is only a matter of time before our trains become like lifts that move horizontally. The perverted notion of safety on the part of the muppets that design everything these days will see passengers locked in steel cages without escape and with the emergency button connecting to a deaf robot. Or am I just being cynical?
A question which I've not seen asked, which seems to me to be fundamental to the whole point about electric road vehicles - let's just say cars - is this. It takes me roughly three minutes to put enough fuel in my car (and pay for it) to drive around 350 miles. How long will it take me to charge a battery to go the same distance?
Supplementary questions include: if it takes x times as long to charge a battery as it does to put petrol in, then the space taken up by the replacement for petrol stations will occupy x times as much area as that no longer needed by petrol stations. Where will this be sited? Town centres are already fairly full, and it's not reasonable to suppose that all forecourts can be increased by a factor of x. Laying huge areas of concrete is not environmentally friendly (making the stuff is very polluting, and the loss of grass, whatever, when the concrete is laid is detrimental too). If I can plug in at home overnight (itself somewhat risky, I'd have thought) where do I do it? Most cars in towns and cities (which is where most cars are) are parked in the street. I can't imagine that Local Authorities will take kindly to power-bearing cables criss-crossing pavements. H&S will have a fit. However green my credentials might be I'm not going to buy an electric vehicle if it's going to take even 15 minutes to charge it, and my guess is that 15 minutes is far too low.
So let's just electrify the railway, or at least most of it, and buses whose function is to travel relatively short distances in towns and cities, and which can spend the night hooked up in a secure garage.