Thought Experiment: The end of trains in Europe

As someone fascinated by self driving cars, I keep thinking about a future where all cars are autonomous and people no longer own them. At the same time, I am working on helping customers book trains, buses, and flights for intercity transportation in Europe.

Trains are very limited in capacity, you have to build specific expensive roads for them, they have to run on specific times to transport as much people as possible, and they are very expensive (Many intercity journeys in Europe are cheaper by flights than trains, and much cheaper by carpooling using for example BlaBla Car).

In a world dominated by autonomous cars, part of the changing dynamics will include

  • Cars getting significantly cheaper, because car manufacturers won’t have to build and sell tens of models per year since people will no longer have to own them.
  • Hailing a car will get significantly cheaper as well, due to the elimination of humans, and the high utilization of the car. Currently cars are only utilized 1-2% of the time. Imagine a 50-60% utilization. That’s 6000% improvement.
  • Cars will get faster, you no longer need speed limits because of the possibilities of human errors. Networked machines will handle everything.
  • Roads: There are two theories about roads, one theory is roads will get more crowded since significantly more cars will be running and transporting people. The second theory is more people will be on the move which also means roads will be more utilized, and you don’t have the limits of train tracks.

All of this makes me think, by the time we reach this, trains will look as something from the past, something very old that you have to wait to get in it, something that needs high maintenance cost and high management cost to manage all the bottlenecks on the tracks. Something that looks very slow, and very inconvenient, in such a fast moving world.

Mercedes is the new Deutsche Bahn.