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Imagine, for a second, a train entering the port of Las Angeles. It doesn't come
by land, but by sea! Hundreds, if not in the thousands, of containers are linked
together inside of simple empty boat sections. Now, the math is quite beyond
me, but how would one calculate which one is more efficient:
(a) A traditional
container ship's inefficiency due to required water displacement while moving
forward, or (b) the friction loss of hundreds of containerized vessel-sections, in a
train-like configuration. The fuel savings is one thing (if it actually saves fuel),
but there are other considerations:
Port requirements: With the widening of the Panama Canal, super-sized
container vessels will become more commonplace and the depth and berthing
requirements may simply be too burdensome for many ports that wish to
compete for import/export business. With a train of containers, (2 high x 2 wide,
or single), ports might easily accommodate.
Onloading/Offloading time: Currently, huge cranes and gantries onload and
offload each container while workers secure each individual container to the
vessel. Imagine a port that had a long canal section meant for long container
train vessels. It would allow each container to be accessed within the hour
instead of waiting for each container to be taken out individually. Containers
could processed quickly as the train moves slowly past unloading equipment
that is more assembly (disassembly?) line than anything. Now towering cranes
required, and it could be as simple as having a large forklift pierside for
Downsides would include less-than-desirable seaworthiness, and maritime traffic
jams. Imagine not being able to navigate your ship for hours because a sea-
train is entering/leaving port, or even traversing open ocean!
||Today's container ships are growing ever larger as time goes on.
||Presumably these would grow ever longer, like a game of Snake.
||Now I'm imagining cargo companies competing to see who can fill the largest fraction of the world's oceans before their ship-trains run into themselves.
||I suppose you could do some buoyancy balancing to turn the sea-train
into a submersed sea-train. I believe the fuel saved in efficiency would
still be worth the extra cost to improve on the seaworthiness at depths
of, say, down to 80 ft.
||I'm picturing buoyant sleepers supporting shining flexible rails out
across the Pacific. Californian hippies then follow the sunset on
foot, optionally imagining they're Jesus.
||Skin drag is going to be much worse in this case.