Ground-breaking air-rail transport relies on all-electric hybrid system

University of Glasgow students with Bauhaus Luftfahrt conceptualise the Horizon System, an eco-friendly train-plane transport network to be used 37 years from now

Across the world, traffic jams are not only a bane of daily modern city life but also a drain on economic prosperity and detrimental to the environment. Fast forward to 2050, and “a new dawn” awaits mankind according to a group of University of Glasgow students behind a ground-breaking transport concept for German aerospace think-tank Bauhaus Luftfahrt.

The Glasgow students Mason Holden, Ewan Alston, Andrew Flynn and Martin Keane have conceptualised the Horizon System, a fully electric transportation system that is a hybrid of a plane and a maglev-type train. 

Holden, one of the four product design engineering students, recently released the conceptual plan online.The research project is still on-going with Bauhaus Lufthfahrt and will commence sometime next year.

Bauhause Luftfahrt is a non-profit association started by three aerospace companies: EADS, Liebherr-Aerospace and MTU Aero Engines, as well as the Bavarian Ministry for Economic Affairs. One of their research projects is the Visionary Aircrafts Concept and like its other research works, the aim is to improve aviation in all aspects, from the technical and economic to social and ecological.

Currently, the Horizon System concept looks more like an intergalactic aircraft rather than an intercontinental air transport. It brings efficiency and sustainability to both ground and air transportation, reducing traffic congestion, fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. 

According to a 2007 Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change report, the transport sector accounts for 13 per cent of 2004 global greenhouse gas emissions, which is mainly due to fossil fuels burned for road, rail, air, and marine transportation.

The Horizon System is a comprehensive plan meant for a global transportation network. It works in tandem with the SkyStation, or an airport of the future envisioned in different cities around the world.

A mixed development infrastructure housing both retail and F&B outlets and the terminal, it is where passengers start their seamless and comfortable journey, riding on the train of their intended destination. 

The train designed by the young team is actually a SkyLink pod. The pod travels on an elevated track around the city and it carries a battery that is charged as it moves. 

For trips to faraway cities, the pod is carefully picked up by the SkyShip, which attaches on the hooks placed at the roof of the pod. The SkyShip is an aircraft that can carry six passenger-filled SkyLink pods. It never touches down on an airstrip (save for the presumable maintenance) so there are no landing gears, and there are no delays for turnaround times. Instead, it has electromagnetic plates in the wings, which are designed for the maglev tracks during pod transfers. 

The batteries in the pods are the energy source of the aircraft. While there is no information released on the amount of energy contained by the batteries, the SkyShip is meant to fly travellers to different destinations continuously, without fuels and carbon emissions. 

The plane is run by an intelligent computer system that handles all interchanges and schedules, according to the concept documents. 

However, there is no mention of pilots, indicating that the computer system possibly manages the flight path or, as stated in some media reports, operated remotely like a drone. 

Once the pods are secure, passengers can go on-board the main area of the aircraft. Located on the front centre, the space is designed like a bar and lounge with a panoramic observation deck with glass floor. Towards the sides are meeting areas for business travellers and a crew area at the back. 

The Horizon System, while a futuristic concept for the year 2050, is an idea based on many insights and different inspirations gathered by the student-designers.

In particular, the case study they analysed is that of the Beijing Capital International Airport, which is the only major airport in a city of 20 million people and where travel time between the airport and city centre is two hours long. 

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