Ashwani Kumar Upadhyaya, a 1997-batch officer of the Indian Railway Traffic Service, and Emil Jacob of Jacob Innovations LLC, believe they have an electric mass transit idea that beats even monorails and SkyTrain pods. And, for their proposal, they are now at the top in Climate CoLab's Transportation category as both the Judges Choice and Popular Choice winners.

The Climate CoLab is a project of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence that aims to "harness the collective intelligence of thousands of people from all around the world to address global climate change." Their crowdsourcing platform allows people to work with experts and each other and submit proposals for what to do about climate change.

Upadhyaya and Jacob have proposed "Mini Elevated cTrains" or Caterpillar Trains that are powered by renewable energy. The trains have wheels above and below so that they can run on the tracks as well as hang from them — they look a bit like caterpillars.

The concept sets up an automated mass transit mode of the lightweight trains that have seating room for 10-12. Since the trains are small, they can be supported by arches based on both sidewalks of any street unlike monorails where tracks are supported by pillars that take up space. The arches reduce the visual impact, which can be reduced further still by using new transparent or semi-transparent materials for parts of the supporting structures and indeed the trains themselves.

cTrain Station Figure 1: A cTrain station. What's special about this concept is that because of requiring less space and having less of a visual impact, it can be used in pretty tight places, bringing ready transportation closer to residential areas.

The lighter structure has yet another benefit: cTrain can run on small electric motors that are fed entirely from renewable energy sources. The energy required per passenger is expected to be far lower than any other mode of mass transit.

The team estimate the cost of deploying their cTrain is $1.7 million/km, which they reckon should be cheaper than today's monorails and considerably cheaper than the maglev SkyTrain personal pod systems currently being explored. They believe that once the cTrain replaces all subways and trains, cities will benefit from sale/rental of land and subway stations—all at an operational cost of less than a tenth of the cost needed for the old mass transit modes.

Upadhyaya and Jacob have proposed developing a full-scale prototype in 2 years. They will present their proposal at a global conference attended by town planners in September.

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