On Runaway Truck Ramps

If you’ve ever taken I-70 through the Rockies, you’ve probably seen those steep gravel turnoffs leading up from the road, then abruptly dead-ending, as well as all the signs advertising them.

Those are runaway truck ramps, and they’re for semis whose brakes have blown.

The idea is pretty simple: an out-of-control truck can’t stop, so the driver keeps his foot off the gas, waits for a truck ramp, then expends all the truck’s momentum going up it.

In practice, though, these ramps are pretty complicated.

First off, you’ve got to make sure the truck won’t roll back down. One way to do that is to have a long flat stretch after an initial rise (though this obviously doesn’t work in the Rockies).

Another version uses sand to absorb all the momentum: semi tires are big, but not big enough to take a semi through sand. The problem with sand ramps is that the semis have a tendency to flip on them.

Finally, there are the ones made of loose, ungraded gravel. They work great but rip up tires and undercarriages.

Steep gravel ramps—like the ones on I-70 are the most common. Moderate damage is better than overturning or rolling back onto the road. It’s not an overly complicated issue, but the sheer force of a fast-moving semi complicates the solution, especially since they’re nowhere near as durable as they are in movies.

All of that said: never, ever drive a non-semi vehicle up there. It will not survive.

Those Star Wars & Trek Ramps

I never really watched much science fiction as a kid, but my boys loved it. Dragged me to all those Star Wars movies, always had Star Trek and all those other space shows on the TV. I can’t say as I’m a huge fan now, but I can definitely see the appeal. (Except for robots. We’ve already lost enough jobs to them; manufacturing lines hardly even need people anymore.)

Something always bothered me about a lot of those movies, though, and I only recently figured out what.

In Star Wars, when they want to travel between ships they climb the ramp into a shuttle, raise the ramp, fly over, lower the ramp. When they’re delivering cargo, same thing. It makes sense.

In Star Trek, though, they have teleporters, and they use them all the time. I don’t know if that stuff is possible, but it just nagged at me until I realized: they’re basically like lifts.

When you’re loading or unloading something, a ramp is almost always going to be cheaper, easier, and faster. Not always by much, but it will be. Less upkeep, too. I don’t know how much power teleporters use, but I feel like it can’t be cheap to run one. Plus, the teleporters come out in those nice, carpeted rooms. They can’t possibly load all their stuff from there. There’d be marks all over the carpet.

Since they have imitation gravity on those things, why don’t they just lower the gravity there and push them up ramps like they’re full of feathers? Heck, you’ll be saving on power this way.

I know I’m being nitpicky here, but it kinda feels like the writers on the show assumed that technology would get rid of the need for logistics. You’re always going to need to load and unload things, no matter how many years in the future you are and, if you ask me, teleporters aren’t going to replace ramps anytime soon.