24.–26.05.2023 #polismobility

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A VISION IN HARMONY WITH THE ENVIRONMENT

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The fate of poor public transport connections is shared by many smaller villages in rural areas. A group of students from Kiel developed the concept for an innovative vehicle that can connect villages over short distances with low energy consumption - on disused railroad tracks and through the middle of nature.

Sitting, holding or leaning: The handrails can be used flexibly. © Lea Haats/Konstantin Wolf/Erik Mantz-Hansen

Sitting, holding or leaning: The handrails can be used flexibly. © Lea Haats/Konstantin Wolf/Erik Mantz-Hansen

The ABACUS - the vision of a modern vehicle that seats a handful of passengers, moves leisurely back and forth along an idyllic route between Bad Segeberg and Groß Rönnau, inviting them to hop on spontaneously, similar to a paternoster but in the horizontal plane. The idea came to three design students at the University of Kiel as part of a study project on "Public mobility in rural areas in Schleswig-Holstein". The project was sponsored by the EKSH (Society for Energy and Climate Protection Schleswig-Holstein). The line is a former railroad line with disused tracks that connected Bad Segeberg with Kiel until about 50 years ago and was used for both freight and passenger transport at the time. For their project, the students focused on the section up to Groß Rönnau.

Whether in the countryside or in the city: the ABACUS is designed for disused tracks.

Whether in the countryside or in the city: the ABACUS is designed for disused tracks. © Lea Haats/Konstantin Wolf/Erik Mantz-Hansen

"It was important for us to see how the line was integrated into the respective village structure, how it was connected to the infrastructure there. We also wanted to find out what emotions were associated with the railroad. How different was life when this railroad existed, what was everyday life like?" - Many questions that the group around design student Erik Mantz-Hansen asked themselves. In the search for answers, a lot of emphasis was placed on talking to contemporary witnesses who still witnessed the existence and active use of this railroad line. It turned out that the differences between then and now are great. In former times the life of the inhabitants took place mainly in the village: Usually, people worked there, shopped in the stores a few streets away and met their neighbors in pubs or at the bakery. The increasing use of the car drastically changed the everyday life of the villagers. From then on, there were new possibilities, such as taking a job that was further away or doing the shopping in the larger and cheaper supermarket in the next larger town. Habits adapted to the new circumstances and encouraged the development of a car-friendly infrastructure. Everyone's radius grew, stores in the village had to close, many rails became redundant and eventually closed down. A development that can be observed in numerous rural areas.

A simple hand gesture stops the vehicle.

A simple hand gesture stops the vehicle. © Lea Haats/Konstantin Wolf/Erik Mantz-Hansen

With the ABACUS concept, the development team is following in the footsteps of the railroads of that time, or more precisely, their tracks. Almost forgotten traditions are revived to bring the relevance of rural mobility into the collective consciousness and to shake up the status quo with an innovative idea. The target group basically includes everyone who lives in or visits the region. Commuters, schoolchildren, residents who need to run everyday errands, as well as tourists who simply want to explore the surroundings.

The ABACUS is said to move at up to 20 km/h, which is roughly the speed of a bicycle. Not too fast, but just right for the short distances involved. "The train was usually going very slowly back then, too, so you could just hop on and ride along to the next village. Basically, it was the feeling that we also wanted to pick up on and reproduce," reports Erik Mantz-Hansen, pointing out that there are no fixed stops in the new concept. Instead, you stop the vehicle with a simple hand gesture, which works both from inside and outside. Thus, as a passenger:in, you retain control of the vehicle at all times and can stop it whenever you want. The sides are and remain open, because the route runs along a hiking trail, and just like a hike, you're supposed to be as closely connected to your surroundings as possible while riding the ABACUS. It's a walk cut short by the vehicle. "The premise is that you don't even have the expectation of sitting in an enclosed train or bus, protected from the weather, because you would have walked the distance otherwise. We could have used a window, but then we would have the same archetype as a small autonomous bus or train," Mantz-Hansen said.

This is what production could look like: The majority of the technical components are to be installed in the sides.

This is what production could look like: The majority of the technical components are to be installed in the sides. © Lea Haats/Konstantin Wolf/Erik Mantz-Hansen

This is what production could look like: The majority of the technical components are to be installed in the sides.

This is what production could look like: The majority of the technical components are to be installed in the sides. © Lea Haats/Konstantin Wolf/Erik Mantz-Hansen

Since the plan calls for the vehicle to be quite light and move slowly, energy consumption is theoretically kept within limits. Classically, for such a vehicle on rails, the power supply would work via an overhead line, but this would not be feasible in this case due to the trees next to the track. The use of rechargeable batteries in the ABACUS was also out of the question for the young team due to the lack of sustainability and the fact that these would have to be repeatedly recharged and replaced. Accordingly, the plan is now to ensure the energy supply with the help of an underground cable that charges the vehicle inductively.

Whether the vision will actually be realized has not yet been determined. So far, it is a concept with a lot of research, numerous sketches and a 3D model. It's a thought-provoking idea that gets people talking about mobility in rural areas and shows that getting from A to B doesn't necessarily have to mean driving in a car, isolated from the surroundings, on a wide highway to the next largest city. If you slow down a bit and pay attention to your surroundings, you'll have a much better sense of distance. Sometimes the journey is the destination.

Author

Marina Fischer