Companies like ThyssenKrupp have lately been developing maglev elevators: elevators powered by magnetic levitation rather than hoisted by cables. The possibility that maglev elevators might become widely used has created excitement because, unlike conventional elevators, maglev elevators could be used efficiently even in extremely tall buildings. Even more exciting, can move horizontally in addition to vertically, like a Wonkavator.
One of the most significant potential uses of maglev elevators, however, has been overlooked: their potential to clear subway platforms far more efficiently than normal elevators, and in some cases maybe even more efficiently than escalators or staircases.
Normal elevators, of course, are terrible at getting people out of crowded subway stations quickly. They tend to cause lineups (or scrums) to form outside their doors. This is because only one elevator can operate within an elevator shaft at any one time.
Maglev elevators however could act more like vertical escalators. They can allow multiple elevators to run within the same elevator shaft, which means that so long as you have at least two elevator shafts side by side, one with elevators going upwards and the other with elevators going downwards, multiple elevators can circulate so as to reduce lineups. As soon as one elevator has started to move upwards, another can immediately arrive and open its doors to let in new passengers.
This does not necessarily mean that it will be any faster to use the elevator – though it could become much faster, in cases where the elevator shaft spreads out horizontally at surface level in order to allow multiple elevators to let people off and on at the same time. But what it does mean is that people would be able to get off of their subway platform and onto an elevator more quickly. This, in turn, could mean more comfort and safety within crowded subway stations, and the ability to have trains pulling into stations at shorter intervals.
These elevators could also be very useful for disabled subway passengers, not only by reducing platform and elevator crowding but also because the ability for elevators move horizontally as well as vertically might, in some subway stations, mean that passengers would no longer need to transfer from one elevator to another in order to travel between street level and the subway platform.
One type of station where maglev elevators might be particularly useful could be for trains or bus lines that run in the median of a highway. Maglev elevators could help people access these stations by moving up, across, and then back down (or, if the elevator ran in a tunnel under the highway, down, across, and back up) in order to get people from the side of the highway to the station.
Eventually, perhaps, maglev elevators could also help allow subway lines to be built deeper underground, and at odd angles to the streets above them. This might, in some cases, allow subway lines to be built as diagonal shortcut routes below their cities’ grid-patterned streets, deep enough to avoid the basements of the buildings above them.
Of course, the use of maglev elevators remains annoyingly speculative at this point. In certain situations, there may be lower-tech ways to achieve similar goals:
- Retractable staircases
Downtown subway stations tend to have passengers getting off trains in the morning and back on trains in the evening. As a result, they have a much greater need to clear their platforms quickly in the morning than they do in the evening, and a much greater need to provide spacious platforms in the evening than they do in the morning. Having some of their staircases be retractable (verybasic examples can be seen hereor here), so as to provide a greater number of staircases to help clear platforms in the morning, but fewer staircases taking up precious platforms space in the evening, could perhaps be a decent idea
2. Space beneath staircases or escalators
Another idea to address the trade-off between the number of staircases (or escalators) and the amount of platform space available could be to better utilize space beneath staircases or escalators. Here’s an example of space being used below an airport escalator, for example:
3. Actual Ladders
The worst, but also most fun, solution of all could be to have a bunch of short, sheltered ladders to allow people to climb up and out of a station at the same time.
In theory, ladders are the most space-efficient way to move upwards. In theory, you could have hundreds of ladders fit in a single subway station, allowing a platform to be cleared immediately. Theory is great.