Railroads and Cars: a Fairy Tale

Imagine a Flatworld in which railways are the main means of transportation. They were using horses and pigeons in the past, and experimenting with underwater airplanes, but railways won because they were cheaper than anything else (for whatever reason, price always wins over quality or convenience in that world).

As always, there were multiple railroad tracks and trains manufacturers, and everyone tried to use all sorts of interesting tricks to force the customers to buy tracks and trains from the same vendor. Different track gauges and heptagonal wheels that worked best with grooved rails were the usual tricks.

Anyway, life was good until someone invented cars. You could only use cars on railway tracks because there was no other infrastructure. All of a sudden, there were these pesky little thingies traveling along tracks and vendors invented all sorts of crazy railroad switch schemes to automatically send the cars where they wanted to go. Obviously those kludges never worked well, resulted in huge pileups when they failed, and were hard to scale, but the vendors were happy.

There was another problem with the cars: while the trains used advanced electric engines, the cars used clunky gas engines. While most customers were OK with running cars on tracks, train vendors managed to persuade some other customers to switch the gas engine in their car with an electric engine from the train manufacturer. The modified car could obviously only work on railways (Elon Musk didn’t make it to Flatworld yet), and some advanced engines only worked on tracks from the same manufacturer. Anyway, some customers liked their railways vendors so much they went for this idea.

Years later, someone else realized you could use cars on gravel roads, and gravel vendors started popping up like crazy. While gravel roads weren’t as good or as fast or as reliable as railroads, you could use the unmodified cars there for way lower price. Yet again, some unenlightened customers went for a lower price.

In the meantime, the leading car manufacturer was working on improving their clunky gas engine and invented a really cool Diesel engine (time for a Volkswagen joke). All of a sudden, their engine was comparable to the electric engines used by the train vendors, and they started asking themselves why they should keep supporting the third-party engines in their cars, more so as they were moving from Imperial units to a more common system. They decided it makes no sense to spend their efforts on integrating third-party engines in the upcoming car models. The reaction of track & train manufacturer that relied on their own engine sitting in someone else’s car to deliver the super-magic functionality of their railways system wasn’t that hard to predict.

And here’s your homework:

  • What was the reaction of the railways systems manufacturer?
  • How do you think this fairy tale might play out?

I’m looking forward to your comments, and keep in mind that railways and cars have absolutely nothing to do with the things I regularly write about on my blog. Whatever parallels you might make exist only in your mind.


  1. I lost track of who's manufacturing what in that story (a picture would be of much help), but it's great=)

    Personally, I hope that reason will prevail and they'll drop the plans to abandon sort-of-open-API.
    If nothing else, there should be some game-theoretical incentive for them to remain open and compatible.
    1. I have no idea what you're talking about :D but some APIs were never open. To get them you had to sign NDA in blood ;))
    2. Ok, "open-to-partners" ;)

      However open it was though, they plan to close that door completely. I believe it will hurt everybody in the long run.

      Also, one can imagine tense negotiations going on right now in some smoke-filled room. In a few weeks some news should emerge, at least on what CVendor will do. Last time (when v6 was released) there was some unease too for about a week or two, but they're reached some agreement and a "new" Nx1k was released
  2. If they go through with this, I predict a huge falling out between Esxcellent Cars and San Fran Trains. Hyper Velocity Cars will vocally commit to partnership with San Fran Trains in order to capture the market of people who like train-engine cars.

    Esxcellent Cars continues to do business from the stance that they're the only car manufacturer option for serious car drivers, write terrible fleet contracts, and vary their pricing randomly without notice. At some point the market will notice that Hyper Velocity Cars and the newer modular boat options actually provide viable alternatives to the Esxcellent monopoly, and they'll have a massive reality check as their customers flee to competitors who are easier to do business with.
  3. Oceanic Trains realised it would be unable to compete with diesel-engine cars. So they used their influence with local government to change the transport regulations to exclude diesel-engine cars on the grounds that they are anti-competitive.

    Train Systems Incorporated is releasing a new product line to meet customers needs. It is a dual-engine train that can switch between diesel and electric operating modes as required. It does require the implementation of Train Systems' new track system. This new product line will cover all the customers needs in the current changing market space.
  4. The Mont Cenis Pass Railway was a really good example of this kind of stuff:

    several independent factors led to the whole thing being a bankrupt boondoggle, but it proved the concepts of the Fell mountain railway system that went on to be used successfully in several other applications.
Add comment