CONSUMER REPORT : Travel in 21st Century Will Be Down a Fast Track

Airplanes will fly five times the speed of sound and carry 300 to 400 passengers, reaching destinations in minutes. Today it takes hours.

Trains will run up to 300 m.p.h. and ride as smoothly as rolling on glass. Cruise ships will carry 5,000 passengers in tri-hulled vessels, with 12-story hotel towers amidships.

A driving vacation will probably be mapped out on a screen mounted on the dashboard. If traffic thickens ahead, the screen will offer alternative routes.

Science fiction?

Not according to Montreal-based futurist Louis D’Amore, who spoke of what lies ahead in travel and transportation during a speech at Gov. George Duekmejian’s recent annual tourism conference. D’Amore believes that some, or all, could come about in the not-too-distant future.

Beyond Concorde

Take that Mach 5 airliner, for instance. We have become accustomed to hearing about the Concorde, the first supersonic jet, which does better than Mach 1.

But the Anglo-French Concorde is no longer in production, and, when the few that exist are retired in 10 to 15 years, there are no others to take their place. However, plans are to build a second generation of supersonic carriers.

D’Amore said that West Germany is working on plans for a jet with a top speed of Mach 4.4. The Soviet Union is doing even better; it is planning to fly a liner at Mach 5 as early as 1999.

D’Amore believes that there will be a transitional supersonic transport (SST) somewhere between the Concorde and the new super-fast aircraft . . . somewhere near Mach 3, about 2,000 m.p.h

The United States also is building an SST. It is hoped that the jet will test fly in 1996.

Unresolved Issues

The trouble with SSTs in the earth’s atmosphere, of course, is that the environmental issues (noise, air pollution, etc.) that prevented the Concorde from flying over U.S. land have yet to be addressed. SSTs are still a political hot potato.

Also there’s the cost, which could be prohibitive.

Whatever the obstacles, enough plans have been laid for D’Amore to envision the inside cabins.

Every seat in the U.S. version will have its own phone and TV console, offering programs in several languages. Passengers will play video games, run their own computer programs, send fax messages and make hotel and car-rental reservations electronically.

If the public suddenly develops a thirst for supersonic transportation, target test dates might be brought forward.

Ground Speed

In addition, consider the trains. Again, we’re looking at a new generation of equipment.

The Japanese introduced its famed bullet train in 1964. It wasn’t until 1981 that France followed with its version, which has an average speed of 125 m.p.h. and has reached 165 m.p.h.

By the early 1990s West Germany, Italy, Spain and Belgium will have high-speed rail systems. Before the end of the century they will link most of Europe’s major cities.

Japan is studying a 300 m.p.h. rail engine.

Pressure is mounting in the United States to develop a similar system. Advocates point out that trains are energy efficient, do the least damage to the environment and are the least expensive mode of public transportation.

High-Speed Competition

D’Amore reported that a dozen states have feasibility studies in the works, and that Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas are determined to be first in the high-speed train business.

Los Angeles-Las Vegas is a possible route for a high-speed system. And Amtrak, the nation’s rail company, believes the Los Angeles-San Diego run would be most promising for such a system.

Cruise ships in the 21st Century will be at least 100,000 tons and carry 5,000 passengers. Passengers will be whisked around by a rail system, presumably a little slower than 300 m.p.h.

D’Amore said that building these new vehicles isn’t the tough part. Finding room for them to maneuver is.

D’Amore warned that congestion could be the major inhibitor of travel by the turn of the century. He said that shortages of adequate roads, airports and bridges--what he called “our aging infrastructure"--could negate the technological gains that promise to make travel in 2000 and beyond a new adventure.