by Lincoln Sayger
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At the afternoon brainstorming session, Walter said, "I had thought about the possibility of having solar panels above ground on the station entrances or on the tunnels if they ever come above ground like the subway in New York."
Jack said, "I think that's a good idea. Every possible inch of the project should be capable of generating power. We might even use magnetic braking and convert the sapped inertia into electricity. Any way we can keep energy already in the system from escaping will be beneficial."
Walter said, "The sun isn't the only possible source of power."
Jack said, "I found your ideas for miniature wind generators and rain catchers especially interesting."
"Right. The best part about the rainwater is that I think you could capture it above the solar cells, making double use of space."
Salina said, "I'm not sure if this is the right place to mention this, but I have some ideas for improving efficiency by reducing wind resistance. Would that be considered a power concern?"
"Sure," said Jack; "'A penny saved is a penny earned.'"
"Okay. If we have giant pistons at various places along the tunnels, they can retract to lower the pressure. Lower pressure means fewer air molecules, which means lowered resistance. What do you think?"
Jack looked around the table to judge the reactions of his team. Finally, he said, "How low can we bring the pressure without endangering our passengers? Would there be any way to seal the track from the station? That would be triple cool. If we could seal the platforms opening the track and the station doors, we could make the tunnel a vacuum and eliminate the resistance altogether."
Melanie said, "It would be nice, but it would also be very prone to problems, with no system of graceful failure. It could even lead to disaster."
Jack nodded and said, "I want our safety to be perfect, so we can't make it a vacuum. How far can we lower the pressure?"
Salina said, "We could probably lower it to about eight pounds per square inch without causing many people difficulty breathing."
Jack said, "We need to find the relationship between financial gains by having the pressure near that and losses in maintaining that pressure."
Melanie said, "What if we kept only the platform that low and left the rest of the station at normal pressure?"
Roberta Sinclair said, "Lowering the air pressure will be extremely difficult. How will you move passengers through the necessary airlocks?"
"Good question," said Jack; "Does anyone have an idea for how to do this?"
No one answered, and a few of the team members examined the tabletop instead of meeting Jack's gaze.
"We'll table that for now. If anyone thinks of something, let me know. Does anyone have any other ideas regarding power?"
Again, no one spoke.
"Let's move on, then. Is there anything else that needs to be brainstormed?"
Melanie said, "Yes. We need to decide what sort of switching technology to use. No one can afford to build a separate set of tracks for each pair of destinations. How will we get trains to the different stations?"
Sam said, "That's no problem. Just have a moving section that connects to both tracks."
"It's not that simple," said Melanie.
Sam said, "Make it that simple."
Jack interrupted, "Hold on, Sam. She's right. Curved and straight segments have different types of magnets in the walls."
Ethan said, "I think he almost had it."
"Instead of one track that switches, how about a switch block with the two sections side by side? To change routes, you simply slide it to the route you want."
Ethan drew a straight line on a piece of paper. At one end, he drew a square and continued the line through the left half of the square, curving to the left. In the right half of the square, he drew another line straight across it. He then grabbed a folder nearby and used it as a straightedge to draw a line coming out of the top of the square. He held it up for everyone to see.
Jack said, "That looks like a great idea. Whenever the switch is not locked into a route, it will deactivate the track leading to it, and when that safe area is occupied by a train, the switch will not move."
Virgil said, "Yeah. I was about to ask you how you would keep that thing safe."
Melanie said, "That looks good."
"Good," said Jack; "Is there anything else that requires discussion?"
After a moment, he continued: "You've all done a great job so far. We're almost done with this part, and that means we can soon move to the fun part. Keep up the good work."
Jack stood up and walked back to his office while his team resumed the assignments they had been doing just before lunch. He sat down at his desk and loaded the word processor on his computer to make a report of everything that had been done so far on the project.
When he had finished his report and sent it to the printer, he sat back and thought about the preparations for the model and tried to think of a solution to the problem of air pressure.
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