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Roman roads did not "hug the landscape" - they were dead straight for as long as possible to cut the distance troops had to march. You might be thinking of the canals which - to reduce the need for locks - followed contours. Steam engines work better on grades of 2% or less, but the lines were never straight except in exceptional locations like Australia's Nullabor Plain. Railway lines through the Rockies were both steep and twisty. Modern High Speed Trains powered by electricity can cope with much steeper grades, but need gentler curves for human comfort - unless they have working tilt mechanisms. Even when we have the technology to build straight lines, economics usually dictates otherwise - see for example the curves built into the Canada Line in Vancouver to get it around a nasty bit of really hard granite under Queen Elizabeth Park
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Made me instantly recall "Finchley Central" (1967) - the video includes footage of period Northern Line tube stock http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvMYHbN5baw
Toggle Commented Jan 4, 2012 on singing the metro at Human Transit
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Jan 4, 2012