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Why Faster Trains Could Mean a Longer Commute

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Now we're not sure you're going to believe us, but this is science.

Despite Crossrail being hailed as the solution to all of London's transport problems, with it's high-speed linking of east and west London right through the middle, it appears that it could actually make everyone's commute even longer. Hard to imagine, we know. But it's true.

The theory is that within an interconnected city transport system, you cannot simply look at one aspect - trains, cars, bicycles - in isolation, as changing one variable may inadvertently change another. For example, if the speed of the rail network increases, more people will use it - but those people may still have to drive to the station, and if the road around the station is not of sufficient capacity, then congestion could cause delays that last longer than the saved time from the quicker rail journey.

Marc Barthelemy of the French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission in Gif-sur-Yvette explained, "We’ve used mathematical tools from network theory to study transportation networks for a long time, but mainly looking at one mode of transport in isolation. That’s not enough. Changing one network can have an effect on the congestion of the others.”

Barthelemy and his colleagues simulated changes of the road, subway and tube networks in London and New York City and found that the ratio between average road and rail speeds is the crucial factor.

He explained, “If you want to give more access to more people, then increasing the speed of the subway is not the best solution. Increasing the number of train stations is often better. New York City is an exception, however: congestion here is so bad that speeding up trains does help."

So, while Crossrail may cut rail times, it could be outweighed by greater congestion at the outskirts. In effect, you're simply trying to cram too many baked beans into a too-small container.

And what happens then is baked beans everywhere. Yes, we're pretty sure that's the right analogy, isn't it?

[via New Scientist]

(Images: Rex)

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