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Dublin: 0°C Sunday 11 April 2021

Jetpacks, plane cars and the Metro - why are we still on the bus?

With the founder of PayPal looking to fund a new super-fast transport system in California, we look at who else tried to break away from current transport methods.

THIS WEEK, PAYPAL billionaire Elon Musk launched plans for a transport system that would cut travel times between Los Angeles and San Francisco to just a half an hour, twice as quick as flying.

The 800mph Hyperloop would be powered solely by solar energy and produce more energy than it requires itself. Musk says that his system would be safer, faster, cheaper and generally superior to current plans for a high-speed rail network in the Golden State. In fact, he has produced a 57-page white paper outlining why his idea beats the state’s idea.

(Tesla Labs)

The plan certainly is impressive, but so was Lyle Lanley’s monorail and that didn’t put anyone on the map. Except Brockway, Ogdenville and North Haverbrook obviously.

Every now and then, somebody comes up with a plan to replace, planes, trains, automobiles and boats as the world’s “Big 4″ transport methods and, every now and then someone ends up broke and a laughing stock.

Bennie Railplane

Of all the entries in this list, this is the one that this writer would most like to see fulfilled. And the Metro would get me to TheJournal.ie towers in 20 minutes.

(Wikimedia Commons)

The brainchild of Scottish engineer George Bennie, the railplane is effectively a plane with a propeller on either end that runs on a raised platform.

It is also the most amazing idea ever.

Unlike most ideas in the world of super transport, Bennie actually got his vehicle built, albeit in a prototype manner. 120 metres of railplane line ran in Milngavie near Glasgow in the 1930s, but Bennie was unable to secure funding for the realisation of a city-to-city line as he had dreamed. Probably because the idea of a plan powered by massive propellers scared the life out of just about everyone.

The track was eventually demolished and, with it, the idea that a man can take parts of an aeroplane and stick to them to other modes of transport.

Or did it?

Plane Car

No. It did not.

Several aeronautical engineers have proffered the idea of taking a car and slapping a pair of wings on it. Which, let’s be honest, sounds fantastic. Stuck in rush hour traffic? No problem, hit the wings and take off. It is the stuff of dreams.

Except that anyone who has ever flown in a small plane will tell you that bouncing around in turbulence isn’t something you want to do before work.

(Courtesy Aircraft)

Still, if you absolutely must have a flying car, this one is for sale. Dating back to 1954 and carrying a price tag of $975,000, the cheap car of the future it is not.

Only a handful of the cars still exist, but people are still putting wings on hatchbacks. A Massachusetts company carried out a public demonstration of the Terrafugia.


Street legal and looking like a Fiat 500 with wings and propeller, the Terrafugia isn’t an aesthetically pleasing car, but as a plane it’s fine machine.

The company are hoping to receive clearance from the US Federal Aviation Authority for the vehicle and anticipate a base price of $279,000. First delivery is expected in 2015.  An association for flying car makers and enthusiasts was founded in 2012, in case you want to talk about the helium balloons strapped to your Micra.

Jet pack

Long a staple of science fiction (and one Grand Theft Auto game), the jet pack seems almost humble by the standards of Musk’s Hyperloop. First developed by a Russian inventor in 1919, the promise of flight has been tantalisingly close, yet miles away, for nearly 100 years.

News that New Zealand has approved a permit for test flights with pilots at the helm will come as a boost for those who really, really hate the ground, but we’ve been here before.

In 2008, Yves Rossy flew across the English Channel in just over 9 minutes, but then had to make an emergency landing as he tried to cross the Strait of Gibraltar.

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Last year, a California man flew a Jetlev, a commercially available water-powered jet pack, for 26 miles, but the Jetlev is predominantly a recreational vehicle.

(Rick Bowmer/AP Photo)

Back in New Zealand, the company that are testing manned jet packs say that an unmanned flight rose to 5,000 feet before parachuting back to the ground safely. The company says that, rather than turning cities into crowded flight zones, the likely customers will be search and rescue teams.


Of all of the missed opportunities on this list, Irish people will pine most for the Metro.

How Ballymun Metro stop would have looked (RPA)

The Metro plan is still technically planned (albeit having been suspended in 2011), but it’s omission from a recent National Transport Authority report on public transport in the capital means that if not buried, the plan is on life-support. Envisaged to carry commuters from Dublin’s outlying suburbs into the city, Metro would have linked with Iarnród Eireann services and have a stop at Dublin Airport.

In short, it was going to be an integrated public transport system befitting a modern European capital.

Phase 1 was due to be delivered in 2010, with the very last phase, linking Blanchardstown to Ballymun due to be ready next year. In 2010, it was announced the system wouldn’t be ready until 2019 at the earliest, before Leo Varadkar suspended the plan in 2011.

Ah well, we may be stuck with an antiquated public transport system, but we can console ourselves with these nice videos.


Read: ‘Virtual bus lanes’ among plans to increase public transport use in Dublin

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