Trams are OK
I adore mass transit and think cars should be banned from cities. I’m also a complete train nerd, as evidenced by the pathological amount of hours I’ve sunk into optimizing junction signaling (among other adventures) in games like Transport Tycoon. And yet, I find the adoration that surrounds trams to be completely bewildering. I'm not the only transit nerd to think so, but I’ll distinguish myself by making dinosaurs central to my argument,
Just so we’re clear, this is what I mean by tram:
The only feature that is distinct to trams (or street cars or trolleys or whatever else you want to call them) is a rail vehicle designed to run on tramway tracks. That’s it. There are some pros and cons to tramway tracks that we’ll get into later, but just to make sure we’re still clear, this is a bus:
The only thing that is distinct to buses specifically is that it’s a passenger vehicle designed to run on smooth surface roads. Just keep in mind that tram = track and bus = road. That’s it. But wait, why does this bus have antennas coming out the top? That’s because it’s a trolleybus, designed to draw electrical power through overhead cables.
If you want a vehicle to move, you generally have two options: internal combustion engine (IC) or electric motor. IC works by burning some type of fuel and using the resulting gas expansion as direct force to move components within an engine. Think of igniting gasoline, to push pistons, to rotate a crankshaft, to make the wheels go round and round. All this requires fuel storage and the combustion apparatus to be carried by the vehicle, adding weight. The constant combustion of volatile fuel also creates noxious exhaust fumes, noise, and heat.
Electric motors are better in almost every way and they’ve been around longer than IC engines. They work by converting electrical energy into mechanical energy to make the wheels go round and round. They don’t require burning fuel locally which means they don’t generate any exhaust and are so startlingly quiet that manufacturers add artificial sound as a safety precaution.
The two options for sourcing the electrical energy are either batteries or wires. Batteries are slow to recharge, and their significant weight reduces the overall efficiency. The upside is battery-powered vehicles are self-contained and can roam around independently (except for charging).
Wires transmit power over long distances. This is by far the most efficient propulsion method, because the vehicle doesn’t have to be bogged down by having to drag battery or fuel weight around. Even the dirtiest power plants running on fossil fuels will be significantly more efficient and less polluting than the equivalent amount of mobile motor sources. Compared to their diesel-powered counterparts for example, electric locomotives are more powerful, cheaper to build, cheaper to maintain, and much cheaper to run. The problem though is that the vehicle can only move so long as it remains tethered to an electricity source.
I’ll concede some other tram advantages. Trams use steel wheels rolling on steel rails, and once a rail vehicle gets going (known as the Chugga-Chugga Phenomenon1) it can exploit the low rolling resistance and require very little power to maintain its inertia. An electric-powered bus needs about seven times as much power to maintain its speed with its rubber-on-tarmac action. Trams have a clear efficiency advantage here.
Unlike potentially uneven asphalt road surfaces, rigid rail tracks provide a degree of predictable surface stability. This makes it easier to chain together multiple carriages (imagine an articulated bus with three segments trying to make a turn) and also makes driverless options way more feasible. Besides that, people seem to find trams just neat, in a very twee old-timey kind of way.
Personally, I’ll never forgive trams for that one time my bicycle wheel got caught on their tracks. I flipped over my handlebars and sprained my wrist, just a few hours before I was scheduled to DJ a house party.
With that background out of the way, it’s finally time to talk about Jurassic Park.
Electric vehicles are a crucial plot point in the original movie. The park had many problems, obviously, but none of the management’s decisions are as befuddling as their insistence to rely primarily on electric SUVs powered exclusively through an above-ground conductor rail. Seriously this makes no fucking sense. The park was built in a dense jungle on a tropical island. What they could have done is buy some Jeeps, some gasoline, and then call it a day after building some serviceable dirt roads. Instead John Hammond, the so-called “industrialist” behind the park, decides the better idea is to first establish an entire fucking power grid on this uninhabited island AND THEN ALSO build a sprawling network of electric rails all over the fucking place so that the SUVs can actually go places.
This is all horrendously expensive but also adds literally nothing but downsides. The Ford Explorers can only go places where the electric track is built and powered. If the track gets blocked or otherwise interrupted by a landslide, a fallen tree, or whatever, then the car is stuck and you’re shit out of luck. Not an ideal scenario to be in in a remote tropical setting as it is, but obviously made worse when there are dinosaurs running around. Hopefully I don’t need to explain the sheer idiocy of designing a security and transportation system entirely dependent on a power supply system that cannot tolerate any interruptions. So much of the ensuing catastrophe stems from this fundamental fuck-up. The only explanation that makes sense here is that Hammond started Jurassic Park as a convoluted insurance fraud scheme from the beginning.
Remember that next time your local municipality is trying to railroad you again.
I made this up.