Sky belt-trains of tomorrow, 1932

The Endless Belt Trains for Futuristic Cities described in the November, 1932 ish of Modern Mechanix is one of my all-time favorite tomorrows of yesterday -- a world run on rails, rising high above the city, slicing through it with arrow-straight, improbable lines:

Passengers board the first local train at any point, and it stops every 50 seconds for a period of 10 seconds. When the doors close, a gong sounds and the local platform starts moving. Now there is another signal and gates open for a second platform, or express, on which the passenger takes the major part of his trip. After ten seconds the gates close and the local slows down for another stop, while the express picks up to a 22 m.p.h. speed.

Noise of the system is at a minimum, and passengers are delivered at no more than 300 feet from their streets. All stations are controlled from one central point, all elements being so timed that there can be no hitches.



  1. I agree, Corey. These ideas are a fascinating look at how folks once imagined the future. Of course the city of the future would have to be laid out with these straight lines in the design before the tall buildings get built.

  2. The expresses travel at 22mph? That’s madness, the human body couldn’t stand the stresses of such a speed!

    And the locals stopping for 10 seconds… most metro systems need at least 30 seconds at a stop. There would be hundreds of incidents of lost bags, hats, shoes and limbs.

  3. I wonder if this is where Heinlein got the idea for “The Roads Must Roll” (Or, more properly, for its setting: the story itself is a thinly-veiled allegory for the Teamsters strike of 1934.)

  4. This type of train system was rendered with CGIs in the last Batman movie. I think it was Bruce Wane’s dad that built the system.


  5. >All stations are controlled from one central point, all elements being so timed that there can be no hitches.

    This remind of the quote “the trains to Auschwitz always ran on time”

  6. meh BART is okay for me. its just time for an upholstery cleaning.

    seriously, who puts upholstery on a mass transit system… and carpets?

  7. “there can be no hitches” sounds very ominous. Not there will be none – no – there can be none. Or you’ll get bitten.

  8. I’m sorry, sir, you don’t seem to understand. THERE CAN BE NO HITCHES.

    I want that printed on a t-shirt.

  9. The system’s timing works only until someone gets hung up in a closing door, and someone else hits the “emergency stop” button.

    Kevin Kenny (5), I recently saw a much earlier and more plausible ancestor of “The Roads Must Roll.” It was a series of color images of life in the future, printed around the turn of the 19th/20th century, and it had what looked like a full-scale version of Heinlein’s roads, including the slower outer lanes.

  10. It delivers you at most 300 feet from your destination?

    I’m an AMERICAN, dammit! I’m not walking 300 feet! I drive my car to the corner to get a paper!

    300 feet! What do they think I am, some kind of “walking machine”???


  11. I always loved the idea of the moving sidewalk. I go out of my way to use them in airports (monorails too!).

    However, I think the proverbial moving sidewalk will take the form of autonomous 2-4 passenger pods that can drive alone or be linked magnetically in a train. All the whiz-kids at various design schools are going bonkers for that concept.

  12. They really didn’t think these things through, did they?

    They also didn’t have infirm or disabled people in their future. I guess it’s fair to expect that those sorts of things would have been cured by then.

    Apparently so would have people’s tendency to do things, like, hang their arm or leg out too far and get it jammed or severed off between the chairs of the slow belt and the fast belt.

  13. @BasilMunroe: I love walking opposite the direction of and at the same speed as the moving walkway – so I end up not moving. It trips people out that are alongside the walkway.

    That or lying down on the walkway and staring at the ceiling.

    Fortunately I haven’t been arrested at the airport for that.

  14. It’s fun to laugh at the folly of those who dared to dream so many years ago. We’re far too smart for that now and all our inventions work without problems.

  15. RomulusNR: I suspect it’s “he” rather than “they”: this visionary, not the mass-transit experts of the day. They tended to have experience on passenger railway lines, and would know that there are always hitches, and passengers who take more than 30 seconds to get on or off.

    If you subtract the designer’s notions of how passenger lines work, it remains an interesting idea.

  16. Wow. How happy it must have be to live in a time when the future has no hitches. Let ME have a hit off of that!

    (Actually, as a former hitchhiker, I kind of miss hitches.)

  17. If you took 30 seconds to get on the EL in Chicago, you would be booed by the other passengers. If the doors don’t close after about 10 seconds, people are looking around and saying WTF?

  18. Given the general Art Deco style of Rapture, It’s quite likely that Bioshock art director Scott Sinclair spent a lot of time researching 30’s architecture and visions of the future.

  19. @Dillo: Indeed I was planning to mention that too, but those are much cooler.
    For the illiterate: Asimov foresaw a transportation system of multiple (dozens) parallel strips, where the innermost move at high speed while the outer ones gradually decrease in speed.
    That way you can easily step on and speed up by slowly working your way inwards. It also is the perfect vehicle for exciting catch-me-if-you-can games.

Comments are closed.