If you’ve been to Manchester, or any other uber-glamorous cities in Europe, you might be familiar with the quaint, rather old-fashioned idea of trams. Running on discreet rails embedded into the street, the tram dates back to horse drawn versions in the early 1800s and later developed into the hybrid train-like trams that we are more familiar with today.

If you though the tram had run its course design-wise, then think again: China has basically just reinvented the tram for the modern world with a rather large hint of science fiction movies. The TEB (Transit Elevated Bus) is 2 metres high and allows cars to pass underneath its belly. So no more being late for work while frustratingly being stuck behind a bus.

Progress is going well, and trials are currently underway on a 300-metre long test track in Qinhuangdao in northern China. Like a standard tram, the rails are also laid within standard roads – but a little wider apart.

Not only is the TEB 2m high, it is an astonishing 69 feet long and 25ft wide and capable of carrying 3-400 passengers in spacious surroundings. Up to four of these trams can be linked together like a giant train and top speeds are expected to be within the region of a respectable 37 miles per hour.

Ironically for such a huge vehicle, the idea behind the tram is that it will actually save road space and can almost be considered as a subway that has been turned inside out, with one major advantage – the cost is just one fifth of the cost of constructing a subway.

For any news observers over the past few years it would be hard to not have noticed the issues that a developing China is having with air pollution and traffic congestion. The TEB might be part of the answer; just one 4-train TEB could replace around 40 standard buses (presuming they are all going in the same direction of course). Another big plus is fuel saving – removing 40 buses from the streets could cut fuel consumption by a considerable 882 tonnes per year, not to mention the potential to completely cut out nasty diesel emissions.

Of course, there are still major issues to consider. Despite the height, the clearance underneath is only 7 foot, so the potential for vehicles to get stuck must be quite high. This means the Chinese transport association will need to filter potential ‘stickers’ out of the way – possibly causing inconvenience and traffic jams elsewhere.

Another issue is that the giant tram will be electric powered, and while it might be reasonable to presume that the TEB will be powered from overhead cables like a standard tram, all of the information out there tends to hint that the mega tram will be powered by a giant series of linked batteries with solar panels fitted to the top of the bus.

And then there is the cost – once it is up and running savings may indeed be huge, but the actual trams have to be built in the first place, and the estimated cost is a sobering $4.5 million – for each one.

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But lets end on a positive note. You certainly have to give credit to the Chinese designers and engineers for pursuing such an outlandish idea to (near) fruition over such a quick timescale. I could certainly imagine such a vehicle would become a tourist attraction in itself and thus generate income from sources not yet pondered over by the marketing people.

Images: wired.com, elitereaders.com, abcnews.go.com

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