Wednesday, 22 May 2013

On the Way to Brussels...

22 July 2113

Ahmed enters the crowded entrance hall of Leipzig Central Station. Sunrays penetrate the gigantic windows above him, made visible by dust-filled, summer-heated air. Around him whirls a multitude of languages.

The European Vactrain Network
The trip from Leipzig to Brussels is a short one, a mere 35 minutes, just three stations on the Moscow-Banana Line. Still, Ahmad is excited. He has never been to Brussels before, but it seems like his new job is going to take him there regularly. Having graduated in aerospace engineering from MIPT (Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology), Ahmed has had several job opportunities, but he decided for the aerospace engineering department of Siemens. Despite the co-op’s somewhat dodgy past, he thought that it would be an ideal place for him to work, given his interest in propulsion technologies.

He passes the grand staircase leading up to the conventional platforms towards dozens of brightly illuminated sliding doors. It was a one-minute wait, when a free elevator car arrives, taking him 200m down through the swampy soil of Leipzig, to the heart-piece of the continental transportation system: the European Vactrain Network. Construction of the EVN began in the 2060s with the Central Line, connecting London with Munich via Brussels, Cologne and Frankfurt. By now the network has extended to eight lines, with another under construction. Ahmad doesn’t recall the time when the EVN wasn’t there, but he knows that vactrains are quite a bit faster than aeroplanes, which still deal with the bulk of intercontinental transportation. It will take another 7 years until that changes with the completion of the Transatlantic Link connecting Lisbon with Kourou and New York.

The descent to Leipzig’s vactrain station takes just under a minute. While his ears are popping the elevator slows down, lifting Ahmed’s stomach slightly. The door slides open, and twenty passengers leave the car for a long, white tunnel leading to the eight EVN platforms. Getting to the platform requires a short ascent on a standard escalator. One of the two red tunnels takes you directly to Brussels. On the platform hundreds of people watch the vactrain soundlessly approach. The train's doors seal themselves to the inside of the glass tunnel, and the gates open, allowing passengers to stream in and out of the train. Ahmed is slightly nervous as he steps in, knowing that he is about to be accelerated to 4000km/h. He finds a seat, which rotates by a 180° as he puts his seatbelt on. The doors close, and the windowless train silently takes off. As the acceleration increases, Ahmed is pushed into his seat like on an airplane during take-off. He enjoys the experience, noticing a slight tingling sensation in the tips of his fingers.

What bothers him is the absence of natural light. Ahmed reminds himself how a vactrain works. Basically it is nothing but a train on a magnetic levitation track in an evacuated tunnel. Airlessness means that there is no air resistance, allowing the train to accelerate with maximum energy efficiency. A vactrain is completely quiet, and can reach speeds of up to 6500km/h. The technology has revolutionised transportation in Europe.

After a few minutes Ahmed's seat rotates once more. Deceleration. "The next stop is Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof," announces a female voice over the loudspeaker. Half an hour later, Ahmed steps out of the train into Bruxelles Midi.

To be continued...

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