Transportation: Preparing for flooding subways in coastal cities


Coastal cities will continue to be severely affected by climate change. Cities like New York and its public transportation already began to feel the effects of climate change with Hurricane Sandy during which the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) lost $5 billion.

That’s why the mini elevated green-Powered trains are a unique and valuable solution to urban mobility. The Caterpillar train or cTrain proposes an elevated mass transit system, which  is supported by arches based on concrete poles located on both sidewalks of any street. The project won recognition in 2016 in the Transportation competition held by the MIT Climate CoLab, a project of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.

In addition to eliminating the impact of flooding in  subway systems, the cTrain model brings valuable efficiencies in comparison to traditional mass transit. Emil Jacob, inventor and designer of the program, explains to WeAreClimate:

How does the C-Train work?

The cTrain brings some key advantages. This system can travel both above and below the same set of tracks - thus keeping the trains in the center of the street and as far as possible form the built environment, providing an optimal use of air space. It also uses arches based on both sides of any sidewalk, which allows optimal structures with travel load always in the middle section of the supporting arch. Also, the load is centered on the supporting structure: so it allows for arches as more effective support structures and more visually acceptable.

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Why is the C-train a sustainable and green transportation choice?

First, the cTrain brings an optimal design for maintaining familiarity and semblance of trains while acceptable within the urban landscape. Also: At a minimal height - all passengers are seated - and weight the cTrain is designed to use minimal energy per passenger with small electric motors.

With advanced sensors and algorithms the cTrain has robotic models that can send out more trains or withdraw them as needed in order to minimize the number of empty trains while ensuring that demand is met efficiently. Overall, low energy usage per passenger makes the cTrain the most feasible elevated train to date to be powered entirely by green energy.

How was the idea born?

While commuting between Cambridge and Lexington, Massachusetts (United States) for over six years, when stuck in traffic over Mass Ave in Cambridge, I kept looking at the trolley bus electrical wires and wondered what if a mini train can be built to run on rails as thin as the two electric wires. I discussed it with my friend Ashwani (Kumar Upadhyaya, an Indian Railways engineer) and  he found it promising but expressed his concerns. We started working on it together. After trying a number of different designs over two years, we made significant improvements to eventually reach a model that solved those impediments.

When will, approximately, be ready to use? And, where?

Presently we have a state government in India conducting an engineering study and planning to move forward in the next phase by requesting proposal from manufacturers

How many time would take to export this model to other cities?

We are looking to develop a standard blueprint with modular parts for all the elements: trains, tracks, stations, supporting structures.

With a standardized model the cTrain can be built anywhere in the world where there is a minimum width for the street or road and the equivalent of concrete poles can fit on each side of the road to hold the supporting arches for the tracks

For more info on MIT’s Climate CoLab, see:

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