from the world's big
Why this Austrian village has its own metro system — it's less than one-mile long
Less than a mile long, the Dorfbahn in Serfaus is also the world's highest metro system.
- The world's shortest (0.8 mi) and highest (4,680 ft) metro runs beneath an Austrian ski resort.
- Constructed in 1985, the Dorfbahn keeps Serfaus traffic-free.
- Capacity will increase from 1,600 to 3,000 passengers per hour this spring.
Image source: Dmitry A. Mottl, CC BY-SA 3.0
The weather's good for skiing today in Serfaus, Austria. Snow conditions are listed as "powdery," with depths of 170 cm at the summit and 30 cm at the base. All 68 ski lifts and all 198 slopes in the wider Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis area are open.
Wedged on a plateau 4,680 feet (1,427 m) above the Inn valley in between the peaks of the Furgler, Schönjoch and Pfroslkopf mountains, the tiny Tyrolean village of Serfaus, with just over 1,000 permanent residents, is a postcard-perfect example of alpine charm.
Just last month, Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis was elected the world's second-best ski area (1). But there's another reason to visit Serfaus. A few feet underneath the cow sheds on its traffic-free Main Street runs the world's shortest (and highest) metro system, the Dorfbahn.
Indeed, at the bottom of the village, among the pristine peaks and meadows, an incongruous logo sticks out: a white U in a blue square, marking the entrance to an U-Bahn (underground metro). That sight is otherwise only encountered in Berlin, Vienna and other large German-speaking cities.
Image: Fascinating Maps
This is Parkplatz ('Parking Lot') the first of four stops on the Dorfbahn ("Village Metro"). Just a third of a mile (500 metres) down the road is station Kirche ('Church'), and then one more stop at Zentrum ("Town Centre") gets you to Seilbahn ("Cable Car"), the end of the line. From here, skiers have access to the more than 125 miles (200 km) of ski slopes in the area accessible from Serfaus and the neighbouring villages of Ladis and Fiss.
Total length of the Serfaus Metro: no more than 0.8 miles (1,280 m). The Dorfbahn is served by a three-carriage hovertrain. Following the completion of renovations later this year, travel time along the single-line track will be reduced from 11 to 9 minutes and hourly capacity will increase from 1,600 to 3,000 passengers.
So how exactly did a metro get stuck under such a tiny alpine village?
Serfaus started gaining renown as an alpine resort in the 1930s, but mass tourism only took off from the 1950s. By the 1970s, the town's main street was so swamped each winter with traffic heading up to the cable cars that the council took radical action.
Free of charge
Image source: Basotxerri, CC BY-SA 4.0
Because Serfaus essentially is a dead-end street, the town council decided to ban cars to a parking lot at the bottom of the village. From there, buses took them to the cable car at the other end of town. Which worked fine for a while. But as Serfaus continued to attract more tourists each year, those buses started clogging up the town too. In 1983, the town council decided on a better solution: taking all that traffic underground, restoring peace, quiet and fresh air to the town above.
In 1985, the town's main drag, the Dorfbahnstrasse was dug up for the construction of a tunnel 10.6 feet (3.24 m) wide and 11.5 feet (3.52 m) high. Total elevation difference is 66 feet (20.1 m), with a maximum gradient of 5.35 percent. The Dorfbahn started operation at the end of the same year — free of charge (as it still is). Except for access to hotels, cars are buses are now banned from the town centre.
The Serfaus metro is served by a single hovertrain, also variously known as an aerotrain, tracked hovercraft or air-cushion vehicle. The cable-drawn vehicle uses lift pads instead of steel wheels in order to eliminate rolling resistance and enable high performance. Since it only needs a paved surface instead of actual track, the system is relatively cheap and easy to install and maintain.
Hovertrains are not in commercial use anywhere, but they do operate at some airports (e.g. Skymetro in Zürich, the Minneapolis–St. Paul Airport Trams, Cincinnati Airport People Mover) and for other internal transport at other institutions (e.g. Getty Center Tram in L.A., the Hospital Tram System in Huntsville, Alabama).
New and improved, but still smallest
Image: Kommunalnet / Seilbahn Komperdell GmbH
In 2017, after 32 years and almost 30 million passengers, a three-stage, $28-million renovation programme was initiated at the Parkplatz and Seilbahn station.
Last year, station Zentrum was substantially enlarged and station Kirche was moved 80 metres to the east. It now has three levels, with access via escalators and elevators. Barriers have been removed, making it easier for all passengers to hop on and off. Newly-designed aerodynamic carriages in silver and red (pictured) will go into service in the spring of this year. The new trains will be remotely controlled, eliminating the need for drivers.
The line will not be extended, however, and no new branch lines are expected any time soon: the Dorfbahn in Serfaus is therefore likely to remain the world's shortest metro for some time to come.
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(1) By the German winter sports portal Skigebiete-Test, from a total of 250 areas. Zerfaus-Fiss-Ladis scored 89 out of 100, the same as Zermatt (#1, Switzerland), Ski Arlberg (#3, Austria) and Whistler Blackcomb (#4, Canada). Ultimate ranking was based on user feedback.
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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